August 19, 2019

After years of photography through personal projects and an education at the Missouri School of Journalism, I’ve found that I experience life differently when I’m looking through the lens of my camera. I pay more attention to lighting, space, textures and, most importantly, faces. 

This summer, I traveled from camp to camp as the media specialist for Next Generation Ministries, which operates out of the Conference office and helps organize summer camps and other youth and college-age events.

I found that it would be pretty easy to just show up, point my camera, snap some shots and get out of there. However, I knew that these photos would not have the same power as those that clearly capture the campers’ faces. I learned this from my high school journalism teacher, but I had never really given the importance of this principle much thought. My work over the last few months revealed the answer to me.

Faces show the emotions of a scene; they give us a window into someone’s feelings and thoughts. During the first weeks of the summer, I realized that these photos needed to argue in defense of the camps’ existence. Once people saw the faces of the children attending camp, a church would feel confident in their choice to host one, or parents would decide they need to send their own children. 

After nine weeks of camps all across the state, I captured every facial expression one could imagine: smiles, frowns, excitement, surprise, cheers, fear, laughter, focus. All of these together sum up the NextGen camp experience. 

We can throw words around all day long, but emotions are what win people over. And while I can try to type paragraph upon paragraph to explain what kids get out of camp, a single photo can convey this instantaneously.

A face also creates a connection between the viewer and the subject. People looking at Facebook don’t know me, and they might not trust us when we say kids love camp and grow through it. But one look at a child’s expression while experiencing camp and the truth is obvious.

A child’s face doesn’t lie. Something might seem fun or it can appear mundane, but a kid will let you know how they really feel no matter what. We can force kids to do all these camp activities, but we can’t make them enjoy anything.

My photos captured raw, genuine emotions that happen every day at a NextGen camp. The primary destination of my photos is the NextGen Facebook page or promotional materials. So, one could say that I work in advertising, but I would disagree. I think that advertising almost always includes some sort of deception.

But with what I do, I can’t artificially create any of my material. If the campers were not engaged and loving it, I couldn’t hide that. The photos I took this summer are pure, honest journalism. All I did was show up and shoot what I saw and post it online with no added flavoring. 

This is all only achievable because of the loving, genuine people and churches who decide to give up their time to ensure the success of these camps. The counselors, volunteers and pastors working at every NextGen camp are not there for a paycheck or personal satisfaction but because they know they are helping to change children’s lives.

Kids can have a lot of fun doing all sorts of things during the summer, but NextGen camps go far beyond that. Entertaining children is one thing but planting the seed of faith is something else entirely. And this isn’t about converting children and adding to church numbers. 

It is about reaching kids in hard life situations and letting them know someone loves them. It is about showing them the benefit of community and team work. It is about investing in the next generation, hence the name of the ministry. 

I am so thankful to have experienced all of this. As a journalist, a huge part of my job is to observe and report, and that was a lot of this internship, too. I visited camps and shared what happened there.

It takes no effort to simply pop in and snap a few pictures because there is so much to photograph at these camps. However, on the faces of these young campers, it was impossible not to capture what makes these camps so different from just another summer camp: the love of Jesus.