Reflecting God’s Love
Last year, a media team from the USA Eastern Territory’s Communications Department spent 12 days in the India Central Territory. They collected video footage and photographs for use by the Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO) and for the USA Eastern Territory’s 2016 World Services Tool Kit, which includes a variety of resources for corps, such as sermon outlines and bulletin inserts.
Joe Pritchard, media director; Alyssa Keeling, videographer; and Keri L. Shay, photographer, chronicled stories from Salvationists that will help raise awareness of the Eastern Territory’s influence in India as well as in other Mission Partner nations. These stories evoked tears of joy from the team.
JOE PRITCHARD never imagined that he would be the trip’s team leader, but when SAWSO’s personnel had to pass on the assignment, he was thrust into that role. Once in India, he was also surprised by requests from corps leaders that he deliver sermons. They also asked that he raise a Salvation Army flag at a corps founded by Booth Tucker, who in the early 1900s pioneered the Army’s work in India.
Pritchard, the son of Salvation Army officers, was moved when he saw people who had converted from Hinduism to Christianity stand firm on their new commitment, despite the challenges inherent in leaving India’s dominant religion. The new Christians must make a public proclamation of their faith to friends, to family, and to the government.
“When they do that, they may lose jobs, friends, and their place in the caste system,” Pritchard says. “When you understand the full commitment they are making, it really impacts you. That is a true commitment of faith.
“They lose a lot, but here in the United States, we don’t really understand that. It really makes you question the commitment you have in your life. How devoted or committed are you to your beliefs and to Christianity? And how can you profess that commitment daily?”
KERI L. SHAY came to The Salvation Army last year after living for seven years in Korea to build her photographic portfolio. She grew up in Chicago and has traveled to more than 30 countries.
“There are so many kids in this world and God keeps track of them all and cares for them all and loves them all. When they don’t have much … there’s just something different. They always have so much joy.”
Before every photoshoot, Shay prays silently, “God, just show me what You see.”
“I believe God uses the gifts that we’ve been given to share a piece of His heart, or His perspective,” Shay says. “I feel the reason I can do photography is because I can literally reflect Him. It’s not my perspective, it’s His.”
Shay says she also likes to photograph food, weddings, and portraits.
“They’re all a reflection of God’s beauty and His blessings,” she says. “I think that in everything I shoot, I try to be a reflection of what God sees or hopefully what He wants to show.
“I think photography is like a window into people’s lives. You can make a connection with people and tell their story.”
ALYSSA KEELING saw the trip to India as a long– awaited missional adventure.
“I’ve always been mission–minded and I wanted the opportunity to travel and to tell people’s stories,” she says. “I believe film production is best when it’s used to bridge cultures.”
Keeling, who had previously traveled to Ethiopia with her megachurch in 2013, continued, “Whether we’re here in the United States in our territory, or bringing these stories back from other countries, I think it’s so important that we make people aware of what else is happening in the world.
“I feel like I’ve been given a very specific skill set with filmmaking and it’s for a reason,” she says. “It’s to be able to tell stories, to make an impact, and to open people’s eyes to the things they otherwise wouldn’t have thought about.
“It’s my goal as a videographer to help change people’s perspective of the world and to open their eyes to who God is.”
Supplying all her needs
Mariyamma’s (left) bright clothes and radiant appearance made her a standout during a small church service in the town of Sitanagram.
Later that day, Mariyamma’s story brought the media team to tears. Her husband had lost his job with the railroad. Then he fell ill, losing his mobility and speech. Soon, the family could no longer afford his medical care.
They sent a daughter to college, hoping she would eventually make enough money to help. But because of her hometown’s poor reputation, students bullied her and forced her to actually leave the school. Tragically, she committed suicide.
Mariyamma soon found a Salvation Army program through SAWSO that loaned her enough money to start a small clothing business.
“She’s built this business so much that she is now making more money than her husband had ever made in the railroad business,” Pritchard said. “She is now supporting herself, two children, her mother–in–law, and her husband. She paid back all of her debt and is paying all of his medical bills.
“She has such a wonderful smile and spirit about her that you would think she is the wealthiest person on earth. And she is so grateful to The Salvation Army.”
Mariyamma started attending a Salvation Army corps, where she found Christ.
“She equates the complete success of her life and her family with the Army and the love of Jesus Christ,” Pritchard says. “We were all in tears during a rooftop interview. I’ll always remember that story. It will always be so powerful.”
Alyssa Keeling was equally moved.
“She’s now self–sufficient, thanks to The Salvation Army,” Keeling says. “It was really powerful to hear someone who literally had nothing but God and, through faith, she found everything that she needed.”
Pritchard, who studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says the potential of The Salvation Army to reach people through its publications, video, and social media is “beyond our comprehension.”
“What motivates me is the desire to make a video that has a spiritual component that may change somebody’s life,” he says. “I may not even know about it, and I’m okay with that. But God knows somebody out there who is going to be moved to change their life just by watching that video or seeing a picture or hearing a song.
“That’s really what motivates me—the potential that we have to reach an enormous number of people.”