My Call to Filmmaking

Over the past couple of years and months, God has been clearing the fog that used to hang over my future. Now I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a great destiny in Him. And though I know that who Christ has made me to be is much more important than what He has designed me to do, I also know that identity is ultimately meant to lead to great Kingdom influence.  In other words, my “who” is to empower my “do.”

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

And I can get excited about my “do” because God is excited about my “do.” One of the biggest bummers in life is when God has prepared a person (from before the foundations of the earth) to release the glorious power-packed potential of the Kingdom…and they never walk it out. I believe that finding my destiny is not only about figuring out what makes me feel most alive, but rather is ultimately about others – about allowing my “do” to create more “who’s.” The faster the people in my sphere of influence realize their identity in Christ and share it with others, the faster the earth begins to look a whole lot like heaven.

All that is to say, that I’m getting stoked about the purpose and path that God is laying before me. At age 23, after searching for many confused years, I feel like I am finally beginning to “walk it out.” Here’s the story of how I found my destiny:

As a kid I would make funny videos with my cousins when we would go up to the cabin each summer. (I can safely say that our series of “Ghostbuster” movies will never be released to the public). I loved the shooting and editing process – I could sit for hours upon hours at the computer, sometimes even forgetting to eat. But I never conceived that my “career” in video would ever go beyond that. I studied sociology and religion at Luther College for four years – getting a great academic education, but all the while suppressing the creativity inside of me. Then, during my junior year of college I studied abroad in South Africa and God began to change the course of my life.

I was working at Masiyile Secondary School in one of Cape Town’s biggest slums. As part of a course, I started an after school program where I taught the kids how to use a video camera, and together we created a documentary. As all of this was unfolding, I came across the website: butterflyfilms.co.za and something happened that I will never forget. I read the caption: “Butterfly Films is an independent filmmaking company that specializes in promotional storytelling through film. We believe that the most powerful way for any organization to engage with the world is by telling their story through the powerful medium of film. We tell people’s stories in a simple yet emotive way, inspiring curiosity and a desire to learn more…” And as I realized that they were harnessing the power of video to empower non-profit work, break poverty, and release justice, the Holy Spirit rushed upon me like never before.

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I was weeping as God said, “Alyssa this is what I’ve created you to do, but do it for my glory.” All of a sudden, I knew how I could use the gifts He’d given me to expand His Kingdom – through film! Even beyond telling stories of non-profit organizations (like Butterflyfilms was already doing), I felt like God was saying that He wanted me to tell stories of various missions and ministry organizations…to use video as a witnessing tool for the message of the gospel…to break the bonds of hopelessness, poverty, and despair.

But then I started arguing with God. “God, this is ridiculous! After all, I’m about to be a senior in college and I haven’t taken a single art class or film class. This is crazy!” And then I heard Him let out a reassuring laugh and say, “This is only the beginning. You have no idea where I’m going to take you.” Oh man… It was like one of those times when someone sees something in you that you don’t see in yourself, and somehow you begin to see it too.

Wow… So fast forward to the following school year (my final year of college). I decided to take two art classes and a film class. LOVED them! At that time, I had also been introduced to a missions program called the “World Race,” which goes to 11 countries in 11 months – and some of the racers were creating videos and posting them on their blogs! (Here’s one racer whose videos inspired me: http://johnfrankdieguez.theworldrace.org/?category=All_Articles) I had a second experience with the Holy Spirit that was similar to the first. God’s Spirit touched a deep chord within me as I felt my spirit cry out, “God, I want to make films like that for you!” And I could feel His smile.

In the months following graduation, I came across a book called, “Dream Culture,” which prompted me to start making a list of all the dreams that I had in God. Though it was hard to start the list, once I started I couldn’t stop. Some things that I included ranged from: buy a nice camera to… start a faith-based non-profit organization that uses the medium of film to empower ministry. Writing down these dreams had, in a sense, made them more tangible, but several months passed and I hadn’t taken a single step in the direction of these dreams.

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Then something happened in February that jolted these dreams back into focus. I had been invited on a free trip to Kenya. Yup, you heard me right. God supernaturally provided me with the opportunity to return to Africa for a second time. I was traveling with a wonderful lady named Joyce who sponsored a couple girls through Compassion International Nairobi. (She was one of the host families that I stayed with the previous summer when I was a day camp leader, and I had only known her for three days before she invited me to go to Kenya with her – all expenses paid). How does that happen you ask? God. He likes to set up divine appointments.

During my time in Kenya, I saw many wonderful and difficult things and met many self-sacrificing people. But God met me in a very special way that I never expected. It started on our final morning as we arrived for one of Compassion’s graduation ceremonies. For some reason, my spiritual senses were heightened that morning as we climbed out of the car and met a group of Canadians who were also there for the ceremony. Shortly after we shook hands, I had a strange feeling that God was up to something, and I waited in anticipation to see what the day held.

Sure enough, a few moments later, three of the guys began to set up film equipment! “Wait… really? What are these guys up to?” I thought to myself. I got up the courage to walk over and ask some questions. It turned out that they were part of an outreach media team from a large church in Canada and they were using the power of film to share about the huge difference that Compassion was making around the world. They wanted to use the video to get their church more involved in the program and to give Compassion a way to expand their ministry.

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Whoa. This was uncanny. Up until that point, I had never actually seen people using film for ministry. I’d seen videos on youtube that were similar to what I desired to create, but never had I actually seen people on the ground filming (and doing it for their job!) Coolest thing ever. So naturally, I asked if I could follow them around like a puppy that morning and just watch them do what they do. They were extremely friendly and said that I could indeed shadow them and ask as many questions as I wanted! That experience alone was one of the single-most confirming experiences of God’s call on my life! As the ceremony began, I was brought to tears at the thought of my Papa Daddy setting all of this up just to re-energize the call He had placed on my life about two years prior. From the first call in South Africa to the confirmation call in Kenya, He had made my destiny clear: film + missions.

That prompted me to finally follow up on one of the dreams I had written down months before: buy a nice camera. Again I protested God a bit. “Lord, I don’t even know what camera to buy!” But shortly after that, the Lord made it clear that I had no excuse, because one of my good friends named Toby was an expert on cameras and could give me all the advice I needed. He even let me borrow his camera for a period of time to get a feel for what it was like to use a DSLR camera for video. And this is where it gets really good:

At the end of March, I was planning on going to Guatemala on a mission trip with some Luther and St. Olaf students and there was an undeniable nudge in the Spirit to buy a camera. Then, just two days before heading out of the country, God made the impossible possible… my friend Toby told me that he was thinking about upgrading his camera and would be willing to sell me his camera, mini tripod, memory card, and case for half of what he paid for it. What?! Are you serious right now God? Sure enough, I had the camera in my hands as I boarded the plane. I made good use of our insanely long layovers to basically learn how to run the camera! Struggle fest. Despite my insecurity, I did lots of shooting while in Guatemala. Another friend and I named Jordan combined our footage after the trip, and together we created the following video: http://vimeo.com/65532936.

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A couple months later as I was asking God what I should do with my summer, I felt a clear calling to pursue a practical training in filmmaking in a ministry context. As I was researching different opportunities, a friend of mine brought up the possibility of getting an internship with River Valley Church – the church that my family just recently started attending. I had been to several of their services and events and knew that their video work was of superior quality and similar to the style that I was hoping to produce myself…so I applied.

During the interview process, I found out that one of their big deciding factors was based on seeing examples of past work that I’d done in video – so naturally, I sent them the link to the Guatemala video! But here’s the kicker: Had I not stepped out in obedience and bought the camera before leaving for Guatemala, I wouldn’t have been able to create the video, and wouldn’t have had anything to submit with my application. But because I did, I was accepted to the River Valley Leadership Institute (RVLI) and am now spending the entire summer working in their video department! http://rvli.org/ 

I get to work with three of the coolest guys on the planet – super chill and hilarious, yet geniuses when it comes to filmmaking. As an intern, I have the privilege of working closely with my ministry mentor Tom who has been helping me get up to speed on all the basics of filmmaking! Working with the video department has been awesome because I get to see the entire creative process, go on shoots with the crew, help set up equipment, and gain experience with the editing software. I’m receiving tons of free training and experience that I do not even know how to begin to thank God for! 

My tool belt is no longer empty.  This summer has been about God equipping me to step into the fullness of the dreams and purposes He has placed in me – about Him showing me how to walk out my “who” and my “do.” I have found no greater fulfillment in life than knowing who I am in Jesus Christ and knowing how I have been designed to carry forth the message of His gospel!

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