Journal

LIFE ON THEME

I've read a fair bit of cynicism, recently, espousing the contrived nature of "new-ness" at the New Year. The majority of these critics take issue with some perceived falsehood present in the practice of making resolutions. The most well intentioned of them employ a line of logic that typically goes like this:

Everyday you have an opportunity start fresh. Don't let the arbitrariness of a calendar define your story.

But, I take issue with this line of thinking.

Life is Story

 
Story is metaphor for life and life is lived in time.
— Robert McKee
 
Don't let cynicism keep you from the change you desire. (photo by Trey Hill)

Don't let cynicism keep you from the change you desire. (photo by Trey Hill)

Much has been written by more accomplished men & women than me about the subject of life as story. I believe this line of thinking to have great value & will proceed from this point assuming you agree. We are living lives that (we hope) will be worthy tales, inspiring adventure and noblity and come to a happy end. The best of them will echo in eternity, to quote Gladiator's Maximus. 

Stories have a few key ingredients — character, conflict & theme among them. So if stories have these things & we are living stories, then life should have these things as well. 

You are the character in your story, therefore you must want something & will have to overcome much in pursuit of that desire. It's this desire that compels us at each new year to resolve in our hearts to be, do or change something. 

Where we are is not where we wish to remain.

A Caution Against Cliché

 
A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change.
— Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
 

I think the cynicism against New Years resolutions comes from how quickly we abandon them. If Marty McFly gives up on getting home & fades into oblivion in 1955, we have no story. If Frodo says "to hell with it" and chucks the ring, we have no story. If I resolve to quit smoking and can't make it to the end of January without opening a new pack, I cut the legs out from under the narrative I want to live. 

When you resolve to lose weight or write more or quit smoking, you are making two mistakes. First, you're telling (yourself) a boring story. Second, you're telling that boring story in a completely unoriginal way. 

Find your unique vantage point on life; p erspective is everything. (photo by Trey Hill)

Find your unique vantage point on life; perspective is everything. (photo by Trey Hill)

Don't be cliché. Abandoning resolutions is cliché & stories rooted in cliché are well deserving of every eyeroll they receive.  

Honestly, you are wonderfully unique. You see and experience the world unlike anyone else. Why would you waste time & energy on some homogenized version of a story that you can't stay interested in living for more than a couple of weeks?

The answer, I believe, lies at the root of the desired thing. Going back to my smoking analogy, why do I want to quit? Health reasons? Social? Financial? Spiritual? The why behind a particular resolution is the key.

Start With Theme

 
When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller.
— Robert McKee
 
If stories are trains, theme is the track. (photo by Trey Hill)

If stories are trains, theme is the track. (photo by Trey Hill)

As I said, a story is simply a character who wants something & overcomes conflict to get it. The sum of the waves of conflict one must endure during the course of a story, in the end, means something; this something we call theme. It's the emotionally satisfying nougat core in the candy bar of a well told story. 

To say it another way, theme is the guiding idea that strings together all the choices — success & failure — a character makes and gives them singular, overarching purpose. 

For three years now, when the story title changes — that epic story of endurance called Two Thousand Fourteen ends with fireworks & a kiss; a new story, titled Twenty Fifteen, opens on a cold, quiet morning — I change the theme instead of making a resolution.

marquee.jpg

2013 was The Year of Collaboration.

2014 was The Year of Patience.

And 2015 will be The Year of Creation.  

By starting with a theme, I'm able to determine the trajectory of my year's story. The personal & professional choices I am faced with are weighed against their value to the idea of the story I want to live in a given year. A new year is the perfect occasion for such a reset because it offers a timeline (did you read the McKee quote?), beginning and end, complete with a new title. 

So many incredible things have come about because of living on theme. In 2013, I was able to pull together a collaboration between myself, my friends at Ditore Mayo Entertainment, I Am Second & KoRn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch; the resulting feature length documentary should release later this year. 2014 was an incredibly difficult year, but I believe I was ultimately able to weather her storms because I had built the story of the year on a foundation of patience. 

And now, I can't wait for this time next year when I will be able to see tangible things I made with my hands & mind. More than anything, I'm excited because it gives my free time new purpose.  

Conflict Will Come

 
The world has come undone
Like to change it everyday
Change don’t come at once
It’s a wave building before it breaks.
— Pearl Jam, Undone
 
Like the ocean, a new year serves up wave after wave, set after set of possibility. (photo by Trey Hill)

Like the ocean, a new year serves up wave after wave, set after set of possibility. (photo by Trey Hill)

Living life in the context of a story doesn't mean trouble goes away. If anything, bending your conscious mind toward the story you are intentionally living brings a hyper-awareness to the conflicts that stand in your way. And their significance to the story is rarely lost.

I didn't realize just how much patience my Year of Patience would require when I decided to make that the theme one year ago. In fact, I think I failed more than I succeeded in the story of 2014. I lost my patience many, many times. And the stakes seemed to keep raising on me, demanding more patience than I was able to muster. But, for all the failures of 2014, I am better for having suffered her story. 

As Coldplay so eloquently sings, "just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost." You can't fail at thematic living because even failure leads to change.

If you reach deeper than a declaration of changing behavior & instead choose to let a singular idea shape your year, you will find that the behavior changes come along with a holistic growth that you didn't anticipate. 

Ask yourself what you want & then explore themes that will put you on the path to that goal. Do you want to lose weight? Choose to make 2015 The Year of Fit Living, which will impact not just the frequency with which you exercise but how often you take stairs over elevators, bike instead of drive, the food you eat, the people you invite into your life & a host of things that are completely unique to you.

There is nothing more revolutionary for a story than the author writing the first line. Make a new years revolution by picking an idea you want at the center of your story this year. After all, you have to make this trip around the sun so you might as well be in control of what it means.

RELATED CONTENT


IMTX 2014

For months, I've watched my brother-in-law, Jason, transform into an ironman... but that journey is not complete. Despite the thousands of miles logged in pursuit of it, the title has to be earned.

This morning, he & 2,800 other athletes — humans of a very, very rare breed — shook loose their muscles and zipped up their wet suits as their training came to an end.

The only thing left between them & the title of ironman is 140.6 miles.

I have an immense amount of respect for everyone who can endure what it takes to make it to the start of such a race.

The swimmers enter the water for Ironman Texas. May, 17, 2014.

The swimmers enter the water for Ironman Texas. May, 17, 2014.

I plan to release this as a complete photo story later this week. Stay tuned.

The Good Guys

 
He’s that guy... that just kind of does everything for you.
— Jeff Carter on Jamie Benn
 

Yesterday, Jamie Benn & Team Canada dispatched the mighty American’s in Sochi. My mighty Americans. Not long after, I received a text from my son, Brendan. He was mad. At Jamie Benn.

Jamie Benn faces off with Team Canada captain, Sidney Crosby, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX.

Jamie Benn faces off with Team Canada captain, Sidney Crosby, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX.

Here in Dallas, we’re big Benn fans. He’s our captain. So his anger didn’t last long… but, like Brendan, Jamie’s game winning goal (his second of the tournament), put most hockey fans in this city into an emotional conundrum.

But, not me. I’ll cheer for Benn every time. Even as he’s relegating USA Hockey to the Bronze Medal Game.

I will cheer because he’s one of the good guys. And, as the father of a young, impressionable hockey player, I’m of the opinion there aren’t nearly enough good guys. I’ve written before about the good guys we’ve had in Dallas. But, in all honesty, Jamie has quietly filled what I once thought were un-fillable shoes.

At this point, I could give you stats & examples that demonstrate his leadership & general hockey dominance, but, that’s not what this is about. Instead, I’ll tell you a story.

Jamie & his brother Jordie Benn, for the Dallas Stars Foundation

Jamie & his brother Jordie Benn, for the Dallas Stars Foundation

Last summermy son was cut from his travel hockey team. As a parent, It was gut wrenching to watch, but to his credit, he hardened his resolve to play at that level and landed himself a roster spot on a new team. The excitement faded quickly as the team struggled, going winless in their first handful of games. I was shooting Jamie and his brother Jordie for the Dallas Stars Foundation during one of those games as the score updates from my wife kept rolling in and finally, as the sun was setting, the final score came back. Another loss.

As we finished the final shot (which ended up as the poster), I told Jamie & Jordie Brendan’s story. Then asked if they’d be willing to send him some encouragement. Without missing a beat, they grabbed my phone & recorded a simple video wishing him luck with his season & encouraging him to work hard.

I have to think that Jamie knows a thing or two about getting slighted by a team he desperately wanted to make. This past summer, Team Canada sent out 47 invites to its orientation camp, but nothing came Jamie’s way. He wasn’t considered one of the best 47 Canadian born players. But he worked hard & earned the honor of wearing his countries sweater.

Jamie in his Team Canada sweater, a week before departing for Sochi, Russia.

Jamie in his Team Canada sweater, a week before departing for Sochi, Russia.

Then, when he arrived in Sochi, he was relegated to the end of the bench where 4 forwards have to share 3 spots on the ice. But he worked hard, earning the praise of his coach and a little more ice time. But, for most, Canada still only had eyes for Crosby, so Jamie continued to work, scoring twice, both game winners, one dispatching Team USA, and earned the adoration of his nation.

The good guys, in my opinion, aren’t defined by the colors they wear, but by the character they show when the deck is stacked against them. By that definition, Jamie Benn gets the C, once again.

Speaking of good guys: good guys credit the photos they post online, so, please don’t post this on your blog/tumblr/Pinterest, etc. without a photo credit. Thanks!

On Courage & Tiananmen

Today, June 5th, is the anniversary of the Tank Man photo on Tiananmen Square. That got me thinking about life since that fateful day in 1989, the places I've visited and, ultimately, the miracles I take for granted.

Four years ago, I wrote about that image (PS, that link points to some really cool stories behind the Tank Man photo) and two summers ago, at about this time (how could I not have put two and two together?), I had the opportunity to stand just yards from the spot that drew the gaze of the planet back in 1989. As I reflected on the 24 years between Tank Man and today, I'm struck by a single thought: miraculous.

This image has stood as a reminder of the harsh reality that the world we live in is a lonely place for the courageous. Courage is a miracle. But miracles are transformative — just look where the courage of 1 in 1,000,000,000,000 has taken the people of China. In just 24 years this scene has rippled through the collective conscious of the globe, and today Tiananmen Square looks more like this:

A girl and her mother fly a kite in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. July, 2011.

A girl and her mother fly a kite in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. July, 2011.

Ponder that and be amazed. Then, go, and be courageous, too.

Where Goes Light

Last fall, en route to Ethiopia, I stopped and spent 48 hours in Oman with my closest friends in the world. In life, there is the family you are born into and the family you choose — Amber & Brady, for my wife and me, are the latter. In our hour of deepest need, they were there. In our moments of greatest joy, they were there.

Amber and Brady are "there" kind of people — and not just for my wife & me. Which is what makes them living in the effing desert of Oman* so tough to deal with. As much as I've travelled the last few years, you'd think I would have had a layover or two in their vicinity. Nope. Not one. Until Ethiopia.

I think it's safe to say that my visit was as glad a day for them as it was for me. I know this because we packed an epic discovery of their adopted home** into a matter of hours; they didn't want me to miss a thing.

Along the way we came across Seb, an abandoned village above the Ben Habib Wadi, and Harith, a man who was raised there. He made sure we had the chance to see his former home from it's most stunning angle.

Seb Ruins, Ben Habib Wadi, Oman. Oct. 2012.

Seb Ruins, Ben Habib Wadi, Oman. Oct. 2012.

To be honest, I was blown away imagining anyone ever living there. Humans have an amazing ability to dwell in such inhospitable environments. Nothing about life on that hillside, at any point in history, would have been easy. I asked Harith why his family abandoned the village a couple of decades earlier; what pushed them away? He told us the story of a government's unwillingness to run electricity to their homes, making modern life nearly impossible. After decades, possibly centuries, of living on the side of a cliff, the lack of light was what ultimately drove his family away.

Several months after returning from Oman, I came across this image on The Atlantic:

Palangan Village, Iraq. Photo by Amos Chapple.

Palangan Village, Iraq. Photo by Amos Chapple.

Palangan's resemblance to Seb, Oman is remarkable. Both share an architectural style, seem to have a similar number of dwellings, and their proximity to the wadi — a valley that fills with water in the rainy season — appears comparable. And, from my perspective, both seem equally inhospitable to human life. How exactly does one live on the side of a rocky cliff?

There is one striking difference, however: light. Palangan does not appear to have suffered Seb's fate. Where Seb is now a pile of crumbling buildings, the mere shadow of a fading story, Palangan is vibrant and alive. It may seem a simple thought, but I can't help but be reminded: where goes light, goes life.

Which brings me back to my tour guides in Oman. The landscape isn't the only inhospitable aspect of life in the Middle East. Culturally, life there is difficult for a Westerner. There are political, cultural and religious issues that make daily living as inhospitable as a rocky hillside. Maybe even more so. And yet, in today's world, with the global strains we see between Christians & Muslims, never has it been more important to get light onto those hillsides, both at home and abroad.

In the darkest hour of my marriage, Amber & Brady were life giving light to my wife and me, simply by being there and loving well. Today, I think our family life more closely resembles Palangan though it could have easily become Seb. That's the difference "there" people make in the world.

*Amber's pet name for Oman // **What Brady wishes Amber would call Oman

10 for 10

Morrow embodies nearly all the characteristics Canadians so admire in hockey players: bravery, unselfishness, resilience, toughness, honesty. That skill set made him important to Team Canada. Then he started scoring goals.
— Ian MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun

Hearing the news of Brenden Morrow's trade, I knew I wanted to share some of my favorite images from the last 5 seasons of The Captain. But, before I get to that, I'd like to put everything - my work as a photographer & storyteller for the Dallas Stars and life as a hockey fan - in a more personal context. Because Morrow is at the center of all of that, when you boil it down.

I became a Dallas Stars fan in the fall of 2000 thanks to my friend Sam Ditore. I was newly married & recently out of college. My sports consciousness was waking back up. Despite my parents meeting on a hockey rink in Houston back when all the Howe's played for the Aeros, I'd lost touch with my hockey roots. Sam told me I needed to pick a favorite player.

After watching a handful of games, I chose a fresh faced kid who was in his first full season with the big club. He'd just received the number 10 from Brett Hull, a real hockey number. I chose Brenden Morrow because he seemed to embody the qualities I remembered my dad espousing as essential to hockey: honest play, self sacrifice and unfathomable toughness. Morrow led with his nose, didn't back down and played the way I hoped to live - right at the limit in pursuit of what mattered most. For him it was a piece of vulcanized rubber; I hadn't quite found my focus at that point, but when I did, I wanted to go for it the way he played every shift. No wonder he was such a great captain.

Fast forward a couple of years. My wife was pregnant and we had just found out we were having a little boy. A name, in my opinion means everything, so I wanted a name that he could grow into. A name representative of the right way to move through life; a name that was unflinchingly tough and inspired the pursuit of what mattered most. I jokingly went through the entire 2002-2003 Dallas Stars roster. When I finally got to Brenden, my wife & I felt like it fit. When we finally met our son a few months later, it absolutely fit, though we did change the spelling just a bit.

Brendan meets Brenden, Oct. 2008

Brendan meets Brenden, Oct. 2008

So, you see, when you hear that guy has been traded away after spending every minute of his career in your favorite team's sweater, it makes you feel two very polarizing things.

The first is a deep sadness. It makes no sense that we get attached to pro athletes the way we do. Actually, it's really silly that we do. But, for me, Morrow was a guy that had come to symbolize something far more meaningful than sport. I modeled my pursuit of a career as a storyteller after his pursuit of a puck and I hope a little of that will rub off on my son as he grows into his name and finds his passion, vulcanized rubber or otherwise, to chase after.

The second feeling, however, is unbridled excitement. Brenden is the kind of player who does it right every shift and is the kind of player whose name deserves to be immortalized on the trophy of all trophies. For his entire NHL career, he's been on a team that was either non quite good enough (1999-2000 and 2007-2008 come to mind) or really pretty terrible. So, as a fan of Morrow, the man and the player, I hope his move to Pittsburg alongside some of the most dynamic players in the game, brings him a renewed passion to pursue the thing he's been after since he first came into the league.

And if he does get himself a Stanley Cup, you can bet my Brendan and I will be watching and cheering.

These are my 10 favorite images of #10 and a little bit of the story behind them:

10 - Father

Brenden-Morrow-calls-home-photo-by-Trey-Hill

One of my favorite stories coming out of Morrow's trade was this one about his daughter comforting her mom by saying, "Mom, it's going to be okay, it's only a couple of months and he has a chance to win the Cup."

It instantly reminded me of this image from December, 2011, after Richard Bachman's shutout at Madison Square Garden. It was late and we ended up having an epic haul to New Jersey in front of us, but Morrow stole a few minutes to call home. I guess he's human, after all.

9 - The Other Cup

Brenden-Morrow-tapes-his-stick-photo-by-Trey-Hill

I'll never forget walking into the AAC on opening night of the 2011-2012 season and seeing this image on the souvenir cups. I've had my images show up in a lot of places, but that was a first.

8 - Chirping

Brenden-Morrow-chirps-the-Chicago-Blackhawks-photo-by-Trey-Hill

Hockey moves fast, especially in that spot right between the two benches. It's a shooting position that gives you an incredible perspective on the game and the games within the game. This image really gives you the sense of the speed with which stories unfold during a game and the kind of Captain Morrow was.

7 - Karting

Brenden-Morrow-laughs-with-Dallas-Stars-teammates-photo-by-Trey-Hill

The access the Dallas Stars have afforded me in my five seasons of shooting is unprecedented. It's something I never take for granted. Morrow, as the captain, was always the gate keeper of that access. On occasion, I press in a little too close - not for lack of respect, but because I genuinely want to find images I haven't seen before - so, to be invited on a team outing in Washington, D.C., and photograph the guys away from the rink was a highlight.

6 - A Little Something Special

Dallas-Stars-captain-Brenden-Morrow-photo-by-Trey-Hill

This image is just a favorite, but there's no real story behind it. It was shot early in the 2011-2012 season as the Stars were facing New Jersey. If you looked at the scoresheet, you wouldn't see a mention of Morrow, however, he left the franchise with his name all over the place. In 13 seasons with the Stars he served as team captain for 7 of them, sits 2nd all time in Game-Winning Goals (42) and has 3 of the last 4 playoffs goals scored by Dallas in overtime, including that special evening in 2008. So, I figured there was room for at least one image that's just pretty cool to look at.

5 - Face Off

Brenden-Morrow-face-off-win-versus-Colorado-Avalanche-photo-by-Trey-Hill

The Dallas Stars were grasping for playoff hope as the 2010-2011 regular season was coming to an end. If ever there was a time for the captain to rise to the occasion, this was it. Just seconds into the second period, with the Stars up 2-1, Brenden Morrow scored a power play goal that would hold up as the eventual game winner. Playoff hope was alive, if only for a few more days.

4 - The Captain Returns

Brenden-Morrow-at-morning-skate-photo-by-Trey-Hill

This image was taken one year, to the day, after Brenden Morrow learned he'd suffered an ACL injury that would limit his 2008-2009 season to just 18 games. I remember standing outside the locker room at the morning skate as he walked by, the first guy onto the ice that day. I followed him and took two or three frames. It was only later realized the connection between the date of his injury and this image which has always been a favorite of mine.

The work he put in to return from that injury was done in solitude, away from any spotlight and I've always felt you get a fleeting sense of the kind of work it took to come back in this image.

3 - The Warrior Sword

Brenden-Morrow-weilds-Warrior-Sword-photo-by-Trey-Hill

You may remember this story that blew up a few seasons ago. The sword became a symbol of camaraderie for a team that, at the time, couldn't lose. The moment in this image, in my opinion, the high point of that Stars season. A few days later after losses in Calgary and Vancouver, the season came unravelled in Boston.

2 - One of the Last

Brenden-Morrow-takes-the-ice-at-American-Airlines-Center-photo-by-Trey-Hill

Brenden Morrow makes his way to the ice at American Airlines center on Jan. 24th, 2013. A non-moment, really. But sometimes even the non-moments are beautiful, in retrospect. Little did I know at the time, this would be one of the last images I would make of Brenden Morrow in a Stars sweater.

1 - The Face of a Captain

Brenden-Morrow-has-a-black-eye-photo-by-Trey-Hill

I have no shortage of images of Brenden's battered face, but this one really sums it all up. Here you can see the embodiment of  "all the characteristics Canadians so admire in hockey players: bravery, unselfishness, resilience, toughness, honesty." Hands down, this image from Brett Hull night in 2009, is my favorite image of Morrow.

Air Review

Week before last, my love for music, visual storytelling and my friends all collided in a shoot I couldn't possibly be more excited about.

"I've got low wishes now that I am old / 'cause I don't really know what to ask for anymore / and I'm overwhelmed by the questions I can't ignore" — Low Wishes

"I've got low wishes now that I am old / 'cause I don't really know what to ask for anymore / and I'm overwhelmed by the questions I can't ignore" — Low Wishes

In case you haven't heard, Air Review has a new album out, so when Jeff Taylor — a long-time friend and member of the band — called me to say they needed some new promo photos, I jumped at the chance to work with them.

Jumped, not just because of my friendship or the fact that Jeff and Doug Hale (the world's most humble frontman) have scored almost every motion project I've ever done, but because as humans and artists, Jeff, Doug and the rest of the guys have my admiration and respect. They are so much better than they realize.

"'Cause we are planes heading for a lonely place / faking everything's okay / this is my automatic" — My Automatic

"'Cause we are planes heading for a lonely place / faking everything's okay / this is my automatic" — My Automatic

But I have a feeling that's about to change. NPR released their list of "100 artists worth discovering" at SXSW this year and atop the list sits Air Review:

"Handpicked from among thousands of artists, this genre-traversing playlist picks highlights, discoveries and future thrills from this year's festival."

Air Review's new album, which you must buy, could also be described as genre-traversing. It's a little electronic & a little folk-y with lyric depth and beautifully crafted melodies. It's a stunning bit of work that I've had it in constant rotation since first laying my hands on it several weeks ago. I cannot get enough.

"When we were kids we believed in everything / there's only one thing left to believe in now that we're old" — Rebel

"When we were kids we believed in everything / there's only one thing left to believe in now that we're old" — Rebel

"And I can't help that this heart beats in my chest / and that the blood fills up my bones like flesh and hope" — Rebel

"And I can't help that this heart beats in my chest / and that the blood fills up my bones like flesh and hope" — Rebel

Special thanks to Deep Ellum 42's Benton Payne. He works tirelessly to enable artists from around our city free access to shoot in these incredible Deep Ellum locations. If you have a photo or video project coming up, or need to host an art event in a truly unique space, give Benton a call. They have 19 buildings in Deep Ellum that are completely free, provided your project meets their requirements. I feel rather fortunate to have met him and hope they are successful in their attempts to revive this storied part of our city.

"Oh to know where secrets go / we could start a fire and watch it grow" — Young

"Oh to know where secrets go / we could start a fire and watch it grow" — Young

"I'm not the only one / I am America's Son / and I'm so inclined to run" — American's Son

"I'm not the only one / I am America's Son / and I'm so inclined to run" — American's Son

Lather Up

Let's be honest, when the client says, "let's make a hand washing video," you don't exactly think - most. awesome. project. ever. But the subject is an important one. Annually, there are more than 2 million patients in hospitals across the United States that acquire an infection during their stay and simple hand hygiene can prevent many of those cases.

So, what's a storyteller to do? It's an interesting creative problem. Then, the client shows you this Samsung spot & says, "you think we could do something like this?" I smiled because I knew...

Most. Awesome. Project. Ever.

[vimeo 60981532 580 326]

I should point out, this is the director's cut of the film — you can see the client's official release here — and I just want to high-five a few people without whose talent this wouldn't have been possible.

Julian Daniels is the mega-stud from the Samsung film that inspired this whole thing. I still can't believe we landed him for our project. I genuinely wish that everyone with that kind of talent was equally awesome as a human.

Dr. Melanie Sulistio is not just the heroine of the film, she's a real life heroine to the cardiology patients she treats & the residents she trains. She's a shining example to the rest of us who complain there's not enough time to learn something new. Mel learned to tut (like a pro!) while healing people's hearts. She's crazy.

Kevin Shivers has done motion graphics on every film I've ever been proud of and his ability to translate the things only I can see in my head into pixels on a screen consistently amazes me.

Also, thanks to Allan Thompson & Ashlie McGill for taking a chance on me with this project. There were times in the nearly 10 and a half months from initial meeting to final release when they alone believed in the idea that this could be the most. awesome. project. ever.

Samuel Abate

We were driving north after several days in the Walayta District, when our driver slammed on his brakes. I swung my head around, trying to understand why we were stopping, trying to get my bearings. Out the rear window of the truck, I saw a police officer running up the road toward us.

These kinds of things happen when you're abroad. And to be honest, you swallow your heart every time it happens because it's rarely a good thing.

the road to Soddo, Ethiopia

the road to Soddo, Ethiopia

I was on assignment for SIM USA, an interdenominational mission organization dedicated to reaching the un-reached. Ernie Frey, an American missionary from Tenessee, and I had been working alongside Esayas Ersabo, the Ethiopian visionary behind a project we were covering. We'd gone, literally, to the end of the road, to see the fruit of a leadership program Esayas had developed.

Discipling Emerging Leaders (DEL) trains thousands of lay leaders in Ethiopia every year

Discipling Emerging Leaders (DEL) trains thousands of lay leaders in Ethiopia every year

Kale Hewyet elders

Kale Hewyet elders

One evening, a couple of children invited me to see where they collected water.

One evening, a couple of children invited me to see where they collected water.

Everywhere we went, people warmly welcomed Esayas. And we always returned with more people in the truck than we came with. Every time, Esayas would introduce us to the new passengers who always seemed to be family - a nephew or cousin. It became a running joke that Esayas was related to the whole of Walayta.

As the police officer neared the truck, I recognized the man. His name was Samuel Abate and he'd been one of our passengers the day before on a journey to the village of Areka, where Esayas was born. It was an unexpected but welcome detour. An uncle had passed away and we sat with them as they mourned the loss of a beloved man.

This kind of thing happens when you do what I do. By virtue of the story you're supposed to tell, you are invited into peoples lives. To share their food and their hospitality - and occasionally their grief.

Samuel Abate outside of Soddo, Ethiopia

Samuel Abate outside of Soddo, Ethiopia

I will never forget what Samuel said to us as he leaned into the truck to wish us well on our journey back to Addis:

"You came into our homes; you ate what we ate. This is the gospel in practice."

And to be honest, your heart surges into your throat when you hear things like that, because it's always good to be reminded that what you do is more than a job. These are stories of a real King and His kingdom; the simple act of telling a story like this one is as much an act of worship as you hope the audience can experience in its hearing.