Written by me, but taken from SearchforJoy.org When I was a little kid, all my friends were saying they wanted to be police officers or basketball stars and I trumped them with the more 'Christian answer': Missionary. I've always heard stories of Husdon Taylor, Amy Wilson Carmichael and so many others. They were heroes to me. Stories of getting malaria, thrown in jail and nearly killed for the sake of loving people with the Gospel were adventures to me. Plus, it was almost as fun to spell as "Mississippi".
Years later, when I was ten, I picked up my first video camera and since then, I've never had a doubt in my mind that God had destined a camera to be my tool, whether it be making wedding videos or feature films, I knew He was somehow going to use it in my life for His glory. Then I started thinking, "I guess that missionary thing was just a childhood dream like being a astronaut, eventually it gets crushed or you find greater passions".
A few years later, when I was twelve, I produced and directed my own public access show, "Tub-O-Popcorn" that aired on local cable TV. Around that same time I was to join my family on a short term mission trip to Mexico. After watching shows like Conan O'Brian and David Letterman, I loved their segments where they went out on the street and interacted with people. So I thought, Mexico would be no different, so I decided to make a special episode of my public access show of my Mexico trip. Since Tub-O-Popcorn was a comedy show, I filmed myself interacting with the kids, that were usually my age and telling jokes and stuff. I didn't see a difference, I just knew they couldn't speak my language, but we found ways around it to have fun.
It wasn't until years later, that I realized how strange of a concept that was to other people. Doing a comedy segment where there is poverty. You can't laugh at the same time that you are learning about poverty. It's insensitive. That's what I was told all the time. But I started realizing that it's insensitive to only show one emotion of the voiceless so I was determined to go to any foreign country with a camera and intentionally make a documentary on poverty focusing on the poor's other emotions, instead of only the initial ones that we see. I had this rolling around in my head for years. I knew it was something that God wanted me to do. I just didn't know when.
By the time I was 16 I was selling comedy DVDs that I made, to my friends, I started touring with local bands and slowly getting some recognition from my videos. When I was 19 I was touring with major Christian recording artists. While doing this, I had still this idea in the back of my mind. Every once and a while when I came across financially successful Christians that knew the Gospel well, I'd tell them my idea. So many heard me out then said, "a comedy documentary on poverty is impossible and if it is possible, it will be insensitive to the poor". I think everyone instantly assumed that I would be making fun of the poor. Which I kept telling them "I don't want to make fun of them, but to have fun with them, to live life with them, cook, play and eat with them all while laughing with them".
It wasn't all negative, the people that knew me well said, "if anyone could pull this off it'd be you". I don't think it's prideful to say that God has given me a pretty universal sense of humor, I say this because I know that He has given it to me for His glory. I've used it for my glory in the past, but learned from those mistakes and I pray that I live out those lessons. I've done stand up from New York, Georgia, California and a lot of places in between and I've often thought, hmm, I wonder why God has given me the passion for film and comedy. Then I started to think of my childhood dream and passion with missions. I started to realize that God has given me the ingredients to make this documentary series and that He has had this cake in the oven for a long time.
Another person that I told about this film idea was my very supportive mother. After explaining the idea to her she said, "do you remember the prophecy you've received when you were young?" I remembered parts, but not the whole thing, luckily, my church at the time recorded it onto cassette tape. So I pulled out the tape and heard the prophets speaking to me saying "God is saying that He is going to use you to inspire many to the missions field". What!? Whoa!
So I started thinking, what better way to encourage more Christians to the missions field than to show a funny documentary showing people living, learning, loving and laughing?
So I'm super encouraged to keep moving forward with this, not sure how, but I just kept it in the back of my mind while touring across America filming documentaries for bands. While doing that, I'd talk to many about this idea and I got mixed reviews, so most conversations ended with, "you'll just have to see it".
While working for one band in particular, Family Force 5, eventually some of their fans became my fans, they started keeping up with my own personal work, adding me on myspace, youtube and reading my blogs.
So one year, while on the Vans Warped tour, I was filming for Family Force 5. If you know anything about the warped tour it's very much an "all hands on deck" sort of thing where even the bands are carrying gear hundreds of yards through the hottest cities in America. Literally we'd wake up in a new major city and do the show and repeat every day for all summer long.
So one Saturday morning I woke up and I knew God was saying, "it's time to use your talents for me now". So I started calling people that I knew that did missions trips here or there and said "If you know of any short terms missions trips coming up that I could film, please let me know". Literally the second phone call I made was my friend Nick and he said "well, my pastor is leaving for Africa the week after tomorrow". So I said, that would be cool, it might not work but just let him know.
This is about the time that I remembered that I don't own my own camera. I've had two cameras stolen and haven't owned own in about 2 years. Think about this, I was a freelance camera man that didn't own a camera. But God provided for about 2 years thus far (and ended up providing cameras for around 2 more years which totaled to about 4-5 years of freelance camera work without owning a camera).
So the best way to tell the story of this week is to show it in calendar days:
Sunday (the next day): Nick called back saying "I talked to my pastor and they were praying for a camera man, he'll call you tomorrow".
Monday: Nick's pastor, Ron Sukut called and said "we've been praying for a camera man and two people just cancelled on the trip, so there is room. The plane ticket is $2,500 so is that possible?" I said, "I have $160 to my name, is there a way that your church could front me the money and I send out support letters when I get back to pay for it?" and then he said "yes". So I called friends to see who had a camera that I could borrow and one of those calls was my ex-girlfriend, who is into film and acting, etc. We are still really great friends so she actually sent her camera to Los Angeles for me to pick up when I'd arrive.
Tuesday: Ron called and said, "An architect in my church found out what you are doing and bought your plane ticket, you just have to pay for your malaria shots, pills and your flight to Los Angeles (because that's where they flight leaves from)". It totaled out to be around $800 for all the things that I had to buy. So I called three friends, explained the trip and they all paid for it and two of them aren't Christians. So I had four business days left to get a camera and malaria shots (luckily, warped tour goes to Canada so I already had my passport on me).
Wednesday: Since we were in a different city each day of this, I was looking on the internet of which cities had a clinic to get those shots. Each one that I called needed an appointment...
Thursday: ...except for Kansas city which welcomed walk-in visits. So I got a taxi from the venue to get there and when I walked in, they literally locked the doors behind me, because they were closing. I got the shots and prescription for malaria pills.
Friday: I fly out of Dallas, TX to Los Angeles, CA and one of my best friends, Bruce, who I started making videos with when I was 10, picked me up and I stayed at his house getting used to a camera that I've never used and hanging out with him until he dropped me off at the airport on Sunday
Sunday: I flew to Africa. Keep in mind, I'm going to a foreign country, haven't met anybody yet, arriving with no cell phone and also no way to recognize the people that were picking me up. It's weird thinking about that now, but I found them. The whole week of preparing for this trip I was also praying for a camera man to already be there or at least a guy my age that would be willing or able to run camera for me. Sure enough, when I got there, I met George, an African native, that moved to the states a few years before but he visited often. He was 16 at the time and he told me that he was praying for a guy his age to hang out with while all the older missionaries did there thing. So George and I became friends, shared hotel rooms and filmed around town when all the older folks stayed in the hotel.
That was July of 2009. When I got back I still did freelance film/video, but I forgot to mention, that I had to quit working for my main client, Family Force 5 so I could go to Africa. So I got back with no steady work and I had to spend a lot of my time looking for work or working. I tried to edit it in my free time but it was always so hard after doing an 8 hour day of editing and then trying to edit on my free time. It was slowly getting done but it eventually got to a halt. George wasn't a camera man, he was a kid that was willing to help and looking at the footage discouraged me greatly, because some great moments were missed, cut too short or the camera was somewhere else. Also, this being my first time showing poverty but also trying to show humor and joy. It was hard to focus because I was l teaching George how to film or what to film. I wore two hats and it affected my performance. So when I saw the footage and lost a bit of hope.
Two and a half years later, after having an editor friend of mine go through the footage, he pulled out a few clips that I've forgotten about and he found pretty funny and some others that were really interesting. I realized I had something here, because in those years, I've gotten better as an editor, editing things that don't work that well into something that does. So I thought I'd take a stab at it. But I knew from my past experience that I can't do this back-burner, but since this is how I pay the bills, I need to have someone pay my bills so I can turn down paying work to edit.
I started a Kickstarter internet campaign, where you set a goal and give people different rewards for different levels of donations. I sent it to all the fans I've accumulated from my work over the years and I'd sell DVDs and weird credits in the film like "Helicopter pilot" for a price and "Stunt man/woman" for a higher price. If you wanted to donate a little, $15 would give you a "Special Thanks" credit in the final film. With Kickstarter, you have to set a financial goal and a date. If you don't make that amount of money by that date, you don't get any of it. So I set the money to $800 in two weeks. After fours days we were at $852 and by the end we got to $2,230!
So with even more money than my goal I was able to edit Search for Joy again, but from scratch. I applied all the things I've learned over the years and I got to spend way more time on it. It made it so much better than the first edit and by the end I was very happy with it.
By the time it was done, I tweeted about it being done and heard stories of so many people, some I haven't even met, physically reacting to the news. Some screamed, some jumped and some even cried. Hearing this hit me in a big way. It made me realize that it is done. After so many years I have the first installment. It's been such a long journey and now with the help of so many people that believed in this project, I finally have a half an hour prototype of this idea. Hearing about these reactions also made me realize that this thing is bigger than me, way bigger than me. It's God's and he is already using it to affect people's lives. It's only the beginning and I need as many people as possible to get on board.
This first episode is a prototype or more of a proof-of-concept. I wanted to show people that I can truly make a comedy documentary on poverty. To show that poor people can and do laugh. That the people in foreign countries aren't limited to their diseases or the emotions that we see on the news and commercials. Joy doesn't know socioeconomic status. All we see on poverty is the kids on the corners with bloated stomachs and flies flying around them. We don't see them turning garbage into toys and playing with them.
And I know that a lot of Christians have it in their worldview, because of short terms missions, that there is joy worldwide, in the cracks of darkness. Not only do Christians need to be reminded of this but also the world needs to learn this. I was editing some of Search for Joy on a plane and the guy sitting next to me started asking me what I was editing. I told him what it was and I showed him a quick clip of children playing and laughing in the trash and his jaw fell onto his tray table. He was blown away. He told me that all that he has ever seen was the sad kids on the streets in the news.
The most common problem that the world has with God is "How can a loving God allow so much suffering in the world". I most certainly am not ignorant to true pain and suffering, but I know that we can have joy in the midst of that pain through Jesus. I think the world isn't seeing the whole picture, they see poverty and get mad at God for letting them be poor, but what if they saw the poor, laughing, dancing, playing, singing and filled with Joy? What then can they be mad at?
thanks for reading,
You can follow Search for Joy on Twitter: @SearchforJoy or check it out on SearchforJoy.orghttp://www.searchforjoy.org/