art, photography, random thought, travel, writing

why?

I won’t propose to wrap up the questions of the universe in this post, but I found the “why” question swirling around my heart and head a lot while in South Sudan the last few weeks.

The question is seemingly always apropos.  Though there are few answers, if any, that we are able to come up with for this interrogation.

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And if most of us are honest, we often direct it at God.

There are so many things we see every day that beg this question.  Even lately, times here in a prosperous, free America, demand an answer.

I was watching a British TV show yesterday, Outnumbered.  Ben, a mischievous 8 year old boy, always making trouble for his parents, was serendipitously sat at a table with the local Vicar, as the family was attending a wedding.  What ensued was both hilarious and timely for a lot of people.

“Can I ask you another question about the bible?”  said Ben.

“Uh, well… of course you can, Ben,”  said a reluctant Vicar.

“King Herod sent out an order to kill baby Jesus, right?”

“Right, yes he did, yep.”

“Well…. why didn’t baby Jesus zap him.”

A little comic relief for such a massive subject, I hope.

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It seemed that every South Sudanese we spoke with had an incredible life story.  Filled with unimaginable hardships, obstacles, loss.  But more than those milestones was the overflowing grace, peace, forgiveness, redemption, and joy that permeated many of their lives.  And I began to wonder if this would be the case had they not experienced the contrast of such pain.

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And then I looked at my own life.  At once I saw great hurts and sorrows.  None as dramatic as my African brothers and sisters (isn’t it funny how we compare even our hardships to one another?), but still seemingly horrific injustices to me, none-the-less.  And even now, I have been moving through a season of great difficulty.  Many times over the last few months my inner voice has cried, “why!?”  only to receive no visible or audible answer.

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But thankfully we’re not left there in that place; in the dark.  Unless we choose to be.

Seed Effect is Christ-centered micro finance.  Anyone who wants, Christian, Muslim, Tribal, can receive a small business loan.  There are no religious requirements.  And that loan often changes peoples’ lives.

But that doesn’t mean they never face trials and heartache again.

Jesus, before his death said,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 ESV)

What really changes lives is the knowledge of ultimate peace and saving grace, and the heart change that follows.  And Seed Effect offers discipleship to the folks that are searching.

But again, it doesn’t mean a life free from tribulation.

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Now i’m sitting here, racking my brain, in a feeble attempt to wrap up a life changing experience in Africa into one blog post, and unfortunately I realize I’ve opened a really big can of worms here.

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In spite of an amazing experience in South Sudan, I’m still struggling with taking comfort in the words of scripture.  I think a lot of people do.  In fact, I think that’s the single biggest reason people don’t believe the words of the Bible or the claims of Jesus.  It is hard to find peace amidst the ever-present storms of life.  And the question of “why?” is always looming.

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But then I’m reminded that we’re asking the wrong question.  “Why?” suggests that we are owed an answer.  It doesn’t come from a place of humility.

In answer to this question, God put Job in his place, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding…”  (Job 38 ESV)

Really, it comes down to an issue of trust.  Are we willing to trust that God is, in fact, good?  Even though injustice surely lives?

Our world is broken.  I think this truth is self-evident.  To Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, whatever.  Something is massively wrong.  I saw much evidence of this truth while in Africa, but just as much upon my return home.

So for me, the “why” is beginning to fade, because really, the more I toil over it, the less it actually matters.  The question now is presented, “what”.  As in, “okay, so we will experience discomfort and terrible sorrows… what now?”

Now we have an opportunity to do something in the face of hardship.  Not to necessarily fix all of the problems on earth, and not to defy our circumstances, but to love and comfort one another in the midst of these trials.  And to share the Comforter with the brokenhearted.  This is real Christianity.

I’m thankful that Elle and I had the opportunity through working for Seed Effect to witness the financial empowerment of the South Sudanese people, but mostly to see again the true light of the Gospel.

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6: 2-13 ESV)

click the gallery above to view the photos larger

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I realize some of you are looking for specific stories.  I apologize.  There were just so many that are so amazing, that I truly had a difficult time putting them into words.

But Seed Effect has already shared some, and will be sharing many more on their blog… please check that out, and check it frequently!  I will also begin to add captions to as many of these photos as possible!

And if you appreciate what you’ve seen and read here, please consider supporting Seed Effect’s efforts in South Sudan.  I’ve seen the work they do first hand, and I could not give them a more glowing recommendation.

Fine art photographic prints will also be available soon, and a portion of the profits will be donated to Seed Effect!

Thanks for taking the time to read!  Please fell free to comment here if you have any thoughts or questions….

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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photography, random thought, travel

the beautiful faces

The first thing I noticed when we landed in South Sudan was all of the beautiful, interesting faces of the people. I guess that’s just the photographer in me. Many of them are truly striking.

But it’s more than just the aesthetics. My experience so far photographing the South Sudanese is that they wear it all on their faces. The sorrow, pain, hope and even the joy. We in America seem to have on masks that can hide the deepest parts of our souls. I see this all too often as a photographer.

Experiencing this raw, honest humanity has been moving. To visually witness the joy exuding from these believers’ faces is overwhelming and contagious. Their love for Christ and how He has set them free is evident. And reflecting on this yesterday, I was led to Psalm 27.

Verse 8 says, “You have said, ‘seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!”

I feel as though I have seen God’s face in his people here. I have also seen His work being done through Seed Effect, which tells me that the Lord will not hide His face from us, or His people here in Africa.

What a blessing it has been for me to see this, and to capture all the beautiful faces of Kajo Keji and Nimule, South Sudan.

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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photography, random thought, travel

thoughts swirling of africa

we landed in Africa a few days ago and it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. needless to say, my words feel incomplete and somewhat insecure at this point.

but a day or so before we left for south sudan, a friend of mine shared some thoughts she had while living in Africa some years ago. i found it really poignant and thought it worth sharing…. thank you Prisca.
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“Before I came to Tanzania I thought extreme poverty and destitution were equivalent. My image of poverty in Africa came from ‘starving children’ commercials and glossy magazine ads showing dirty, distraught looking faces. Perhaps the fallacy of that image did not fully strike me until an African friend asked me not to photograph dirty children for show in America. He objected because he believed Americans would misinterpret their dirtiness as a sign of neglect, degradation, and want. Although children in the village near where I live are poor and often dirty, neither they nor their parents are destitute.

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Destitution is living without the things necessary for human dignity. When Americans see people who lack things we think we (and by extension they) need to maintain self-respect, we see destitution. But the American concept of what comprises a dignified life has been formed with little knowledge of life in the developing world.

The poor in Tanzania live without excess, but not without dignity. Homes are small and constructed of mud bricks and straw. Clothes are few and well-worn. Ugali, a dough-like substance of maize flour and water, makes up the bulk of almost every meal. Yet Tanzanian villagers living on pennies a day practice generosity and hospitality. They maintain codes of interpersonal courtesy as intricate as those of the British court. They are individuals with complicated personalities, intelligence and humor. The poor have dignity proceeding not from their lifestyles or material possessions but from their humanity.”

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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photography, random thought, travel

south sudan | seed effect

i shot this image a few years ago in beirut, lebanon.

it is a simple a detail of a wall, but for me it says a whole lot more.

the middle east is full of faceless, nameless people.  the forgotten.

but it’s not just this part of the world that the forgotten call home…

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which brings me to my point; Elle and i have been invited by Seed Effect to use our photography to help give faces and names to the forgotten in South Sudan, Africa.

The Seed Effect from Seed Effect on Vimeo.

we are giving our time and talents to Seed Effect because we believe in what they are doing, and we want to keep as much money in the hands of the Sudanese people as possible.

because of this, Elle and i are raising support to help pay for our travel expenses.

if you appreciate what Seed Effect does, and what we will be doing for them, please consider supporting our efforts with a tax deductible donation.

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we also are holding a pre-sale for the Africa prints we’ll produce after the trip to benefit Seed Effect.

the proceeds from the print pre-sale will help with our out of pocket expenses, and will also go towards Seed Effect’s general fund.

visit the link below for more information.

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please consider helping Seed Effect bring us along in january to give greater exposure to their cause through photography.

and please check back regularly throughout the weeks and months to come to follow along with us on our journey!

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2012

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