Monday, March 02, 2015

Photography as mission... focusing in on building bridges

Selfie.  (/ˈselfiː/) A self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm's length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer.

They are everywhere. You text them to friends, attach them to emails, and make them your Facebook profile pic. You can post them to Tumblr, pin them on Pinterest, Instagram them to the world and, erase them in a few seconds with Snapchat.

Most of us have so many photos of ourselves and our families  we hardly think twice about them. With the advent of the digital age, many people have more photos then they can ever hope to display, let alone organize. 

The days of the Kodak Instamatic Camera with the square flash cube are long gone. And so are photo albums, drive thru film processing from Fotomat, and those classic frames with holes of every size and shape. 

Today, if you want a picture, you just pull out your phone, snap it, save it, and print it. 

But what if you lived in a place where that new fangled technology had not reached? What if you lived in a place like San Dionesio Ocotepec, Oaxaca?

Getting vitals checked at our clinic in San Dionesio Ocotepec, Oaxaca
I was there recently with my ministry, Adventures in Life, to hold a medical clinic for the people of that largely Zapotec community. Alongside the medical checkups and eye exams, we also offered personal photos to the people of the community.

Cyndy Smith of Mission Focused climbing to get the perfect shot

Using Mission Focused, a San Diego based non-profit dedicated to using the power of photography for God’s glory, we were able to give many of the people, like this man, of that small pueblo, and others around Oaxaca, the first photos of themselves.

Read those words again… the first photos of themselves!

You see, the selfie craze hasn’t quite reached many of the people of San Dionesio. Neither has the ability to quickly, and inexpensively print photos. 

As I think about mission, thoughts of connection are always closely intertwined. How do we, as believers, connect with people who are different from us? What are the ways we can develop bridges into communities to make a kingdom difference?

The ubiquitous Splash Mountain shot, complete with a selfie 

One of those ways is through photography. Even if you are that person who hates having your picture taken, I’ll bet you still go check out that candid photo Disneyland takes of you on Splash Mountain. We can’t help ourselves. There is just something about seeing our faces, smiling or not, on an artist’s canvas, or in this case, through the photographer’s lens.

Especially, if it is the first time. In. Your. Life!

Brother Joe printing out photos in San Dionesio Ocotepec

Now imagine if that gift comes from a group of people who love God and are freely giving you that gift. In a world where everything seems to come with strings attached, that idea seems like a relic of a bygone era.

Effective mission, the kind that connects to people for the long hard work of disciple making, takes relationship. It is not accomplished by giving one of Chick’s Tracts to someone you’ve just met. I place great value in the old Young Life saying that you need to “earn the right to be heard” before sharing about the Gospel. 

Those pictures Mission Focused took for us? Along with our medical mission, these were the first steps in relationship building for Adventures in Life in San Dionesio Ocotepec. My hope and prayer is that they will serve as a bridge for the local churches with whom we work in that area to challenge people to live for Jesus.


Here are a few of the portraits taken that week by Brother Joe and Cyndy Smith during our week of ministry in Oaxaca. We made sure everyone got a print of the photos we took of them. Check out more of their work on the Mission Focused Facebook page...