Saturday, August 09, 2008

Back in the Blogosphere

All right, so I’ve been terrible about blogging this past year, but there’ve been so many adventures that it’s been hard to keep up!  So I thought I’d recap the past year for those of you who’ve inquired about my blog.  And for those of you who’ve asked me whether or not I’d be blogging throughout my upcoming journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway, the answer is yes, as best I can from the middle of Siberia!

 So here, without further delay, is a slight overview of my travels from 2007-present.

I’d never done a spring break/reading week trip during my university years, and I was determined to go somewhere my last year at Emily Carr.  I’d also never done a major road trip with friends, so when my roommate Laura and I started talking about California, we approached a handful of friends and started planning.  In late February ’07, 4 guys and 3 girls piled into Laura’s dad’s ’92 Aerostar (which we nicknamed the Blue Behemoth) and drove nonstop from Vancouver, BC to Temecula, California where we stayed with my longtime friends, (practically family) the Jonkers.

Although the trip involved most of us coming down with a horrid flu that was sweeping through Southern California, the group had a blast hanging out with the Jonkers, going hiking, visiting the beach, checking out LA (the Getty was a huge highlight) and generally relaxing.  My favourite day was one of our first, which we kicked off by visiting my old church, Mountainview Community Church—a primarily black church in which us white kids from Canada stuck out like glue sticks!  Pastor John spotted me from the front and joked a bit about us Canadians, or the cold or something, and I just felt right back at home in this warm, dynamic congregation.  Later that afternoon we headed down to Tijuana with the Jonkers and some friends of theirs and had a blast checking out a lot of the typical tourist spots.

 Our trip back included stops in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and the Redwood Forest before bombing it back to BC.

Next stop, graduation from Emily Carr and a flight to England from my parents as a gift.  I called up my friend Mandee originally from Vernon whom I’d visited in England the year before on my way home from Morocco, and asked if I could come the following week to stay with her and her husband Sam.  Before I knew it I was back in southwest England enjoying springtime in Devon. 

If there is one place I’ve found that I long to be in the spring, it’s Devon.  This year April/May rolled around and I found myself craving a good walk through the fields and hills of the countryside, exploring castle ruins, long drives along the winding roads of the moor, and most of all (aside from spending time with Mandee, Sam and their friends & family) Devonshire cream teas.  OH.  MY.  GOODNESS.  I cannot even begin to describe how absolutely heavenly one of these delicacies melts in one’s mouth and warms the body.  Served with classic English tea, a scone is split in half and topped with strawberry jam and the most amazing clotted cream you have EVER tasted.  It’s an unpasturized cream, so if you think you’ve had a traditional cream tea in Canada think again because it’s illegal to sell unpastureized dairy products here (or so I was told by a leading local dairy when I tried to find the stuff).  The cream is probably thicker than whipped butter and just thinking about it oozing into the jam on top of a hot scone is making me salivate all over the computer.  I love it so much, that I froze tubs of it and brought it home in my luggage to share with family & friends (we used up the last of it in December!).

My favourite photographic exploits from the trip included a trip to the Devon County Fair—a massive agrarian fair with more sheep, ale, and Hunter wellies than you can imagine.  I also had the chance to visit a friends’ farm which had been in the family for multiple generations, and received a few driving lessons from Mandee—which scared the crap out of me as I wound through the narrow hedgerows and roundabouts on the opposite side of the road!

Whew…Mississippi.  All right, so I’ve been visiting Mississippi since my parents gave me a flight there for my high school graduation gift.  Just to give a bit of background even though I know I blogged about Mississippi last fall, when I was 16 I went to Russia on a missions trip and met my friend Liz who had joined the trip and happened to be from Mississippi…I’ve been visiting ever since!

I flew down to Mississippi in July to photograph one of Liz’s brothers’ weddings, and while I was there, happened to become casually acquainted with her husband Michael’s best friend Will Fenwick.  He was playing bagpipes at the wedding I was shooting, and something about his confident nature and down to earth character caught my attention.  Apparently he thought I was worth getting to know more as well, and so we started emailing.  And email we did for four long months before we finally met up in November.

In between visits to Mississippi I whipped down to California again to visit the Jonkers for a week, and then came back home to photograph a few more fall weddings.  Nervousness about meeting Will again didn’t hit until about a half hour before he was due to arrive from Atlanta (where he’s currently finishing up his schooling this year) and then all of the sudden I wondered what on earth we were doing coming all this way to see what would happen with this newfound friendship.  It didn’t take long to figure out.  Will arrived at about 2pm and after spending the afternoon at the Knoxubee Wildlife Refuge talking and getting reacquainted in person, Will asked me out by 6pm that night.  Neither of us had ever dated and we both new what we were looking for, and we’d found that in each other.  But this really isn’t a blog about our romantic lives, so let me carry on! 


I spent that month mostly living with some good friends, Butch & Susan, and visiting with Liz & Michael, as well as building new friendships with other great people in Starkville.  And of course, Will brought a lot of adventure into my time there.  He took me to college football games (if you’ve never been to one in the Deep South, it is truly a cultural phenomenon!) squirrel hunting, deer hunting, to family gatherings, his childhood home, and great places to eat.  Susan was also able to secure me a sideline press pass for the biggest Mississippi State game (against Ole Miss) of the season which was absolutely incredible!

I forgot to mention that our family built a new place out near Okanagan Lake just outside of Vernon, so for a while I didn’t feel like I kept returning home and felt more at home on the road which was a bit strange!  Christmas wasn’t even spent there as our family decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week.  Jacqui & I had never been to an all-inclusive, and I have to admit that relaxing by the beachside bar has some definite perks!  We had a great Christmas together and hadn’t been on a family vacation for YEARS, so it was nice to get away together.

When we flew back to Vancouver I proceeded to fly to Prince George, BC and photograph a rather chilly, but beautiful winter wedding for a friend up north.  I got to warm up again though when I flew the following week to Cuba where I was shooting a wedding for a Canadian couple at a resort in Holguin.  The trip was extended when, back in November, I met six Cuban pastors visiting Mississippi who invited me to come photograph their families and churches.  I couldn’t believe God’s timing…I’d been praying for at least three years about an opportunity for me to photograph the Evangelical Christian community in Cuba before the end of Castro’s regime and finally, here was my open door. 

After shooting the wedding in Holguin, my cousin Stephanie (who was a bridesmaid) came with me to Santiago de Cuba for a day or so.  Once she left I traveled alone by bus throughout the country visiting churches and pastors’ families, even a seminary.  My eyes were opened to the various hardships faced by Evangelical Christians there, and I was amazed that despite the heavy restraints placed on the Church by the government, the Church continued to thrive.  I became amazing friends with one family in particular, and continue to pray for them as their son escaped to the US shortly after I left, leaving his young wife to have their first child, and his family in a panic as to his whereabouts for some time. 

I also had the chance to do some sightseeing in Trinidad, Vinales, and Havana, but did so while extremely sick, which made for an incredibly difficult end to the trip.  I’d never been so lonely, or so desperate to get home, but wanted to soak up the aura of a place that will change dramatically one day.  I felt the Lord’s presence with me continually and knew that people back home were praying.

Earlier on I mentioned God’s timing in working out contacts etc. for my trip, but I was blown away when I received an email from Will while in the northern Philippines the following month, telling me that Castro had resigned.  I had in fact, photographed the Evangelical church in Cuba during the dictator’s last days.  I was floored…it was an answer to a very specific prayer that I’d prayed for years, and I knew that God’s hand was upon my work.

The trip to the Philippines in February/March was another emotional experience.  My mom and I spent three weeks with my Uncle Cliff and his Filipino family whom we’d never met.  Mom’s brother has been a missionary in the Philippines for about 20 years, and 12 years ago married an Igorot tribeswoman from a remote village in the Cordillera region of Mountain Province.  Cliff, Josie, and their sons David & Jesse live, farm, and preach the Gospel in and around their village of Bakigan, several hours north of Bontoc—a village that we could only reach on foot, by climbing the steep and narrow rice terraces that ribbed the mountainsides.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins live simply in a renovated hut without beds or bathing facilities, only a few pieces of borrowed living area furniture and a basic squatty potty (pit toilet).  Refrigeration, and kitchen appliances are non-existent, and most in town cook by fire in their pine walled, tin-roofed huts, whereas Uncle Cliff turned this former relative’s hut into a cinder-block and cement two-story with electricity and a two-burner propane stove.  This has been their temporary housing since their previous home burned down during the Christmas of 2005, a tragedy that took the life of their 2-year old son Paul.  While this loss has affected their family tremendously, I was overwhelmed with the spirit of joy and faith that genuinely spill forth from their lives into the lives of those surrounding them.  Like I said, it was an emotional trip.

By the time I’d finished these exhausting travels, I was more than ready to book it down to Atlanta to visit Will, and so I did.  Along with spending a glorious three weeks with Will, (thanks to the gracious hospitality of his friends Charles & Christy whom I stayed with) we also got to spend a bit of time in Mississippi visiting friends and his family.  During this trip Will told me that he loved me and I of course, responded in kind…it was shortly after this that we began talking about marriage, and about the turn our relationship would soon take.

Spring was incredibly full with wedding photography in full swing and editing up the wazoo!  I was grateful for the work and glad that the busy schedule helped to pass the time quickly between visits with Will.  A week in Winnipeg shooting for my Uncle Gerry & Aunty Cathy’s business and visiting some extended family helped to speed along the time.  And on the July long weekend, Will finally arrived in Canada.

I had the time of my life showing Will around Vancouver & Vernon, not to mention showing him off!  He really hit it off with my family and friends and we had some much needed time together just relaxing without work to do.  On Sunday, July 6 I went skydiving (my first tandem jump, something I’d dreamed of doing my whole life ever since watching my dad jump as a little girl) and then helped to host a potluck where close friends and family came to meet Will.  That night, exactly one year after we’d met at Joy & David’s rehearsal in Starkville, Mississippi, Will knelt down by the beach, presented me with an incredible ring he’d had made, and asked me to be his wife.  Oh the adventures we’ll have!!!

And here I am, on the cusp of another truly awesome adventure: a 5-week trip from Moscow to Beijing, via Mongolia along the Trans-Siberian Railway—a trip I’ve been dreaming of since I first went to Russia in 1999 and met Liz, my friend from Mississippi who eventually introduced me to my future husband.  This time I’m headed out with my friend Alison Tishenko who’s joined me in dreaming about this trip for the last few years.  Our mission is to spend a good portion of our travels helping out in churches, orphanages, and ministries in Russia & Mongolia before headed to Beijing for a few days of touring the major sites.  As Alison is a music teacher and I’m a photographer, we’re hoping to bless those we meet with using our skills and gifts as needed.  We’ve made arrangements with tentative contacts and are planning our itinerary somewhat spontaneously, which should be fun!

I will do my best to keep a blog running during the trip (hopefully with updates once a week) so you can follow along.  And don’t worry, they won’t be NEAR as long as this one!   I’m excited to compile a series of images based on the Christian church along the Trans-Siberian Railway, but am not quite sure what will come of this project.  Recently my work was featured in ‘Testimony’ magazine (affiliated with the PAOC) and ChristianWeek is also covering my work in their September issue.  My goal with documenting the Christian church around the world is to break down stereotypes of what the modern Evangelical church looks like, as well as to contribute to the strong heritage of the Christian church for generations to come. 

Thanks again for all your support and I can’t wait to share this trip with you!