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Our Hawaiian Honeymoon!

Wowzers, my wife and I had a fabulous Hawaiian honeymoon!

It was Briana’s first time ever in Hawaii, and my first time returning since I lived there over 10 years ago. We planned to spend the first half of our honeymoon on the island of Kauai, where the pace is a little bit slower. Then, we’d kick things up a notch on the island of Maui for the second half.

Before we arrived in Hawaii, we had a layover in Los Angeles. That could only mean one thing…In N Out Burger!

Kevin’s aunt and uncle graciously gifted us with a stay at the Beach Boy resort on Kauai. It was a wonderful place to stay. We especially enjoyed the pool 🙂

     

On our first day in Kauai, we rented beach cruisers and had a relaxing ride along the oceanside near our resort.

Later that evening, we attended a “hula” show at the resort. We learned a lot about the traditional Hawaiian dance, and Briana even braved the stage herself to show off her hula moves.

The next day, we set off to do some exploring around the northern part of the island. Kauai might be the most beautiful of all the islands. It seemed like there was breathtaking scenery around every corner.

We finished the day with a spectacular hike along the NaPali Coast. We had to really work to keep our eyes on the path with such stunning views along the way.

Our wonderful wedding coordinator also happened to honeymoon on Kauai a couple years earlier. She recommended a chocolate farm tour with Steelgrass Farms, and said it was the best activity they did. With a plug like that, we decided to take the tour ourselves. We learned so much about the local fruits, the art of chocolate making, and were treated to samples of chocolates from all over the world. It was incredible!

Our tour guides were funny and informative, and kept us entertained the entire time.

I volunteered for the honey challenge. She kept pouring fresh, local honey down my throat until I told her to stop. Mmm, a mouth full of golden deliciousness.

 

Perhaps the most adventurous activity we embarked on during our whole trip was our helicopter tour. Neither of us had been in a helicopter before, so this was a big leap of faith. We’d heard about how amazing the views were from above, so we splurged and went for it. It was totally worth it. We both agreed it was one of the most amazing things we’d ever done before in our lives!

 

Briana got to experience many firsts while being in Hawaii. Among those was snorkeling, which she mastered almost immediately. Our friend let us borrow his GoPro camera and we captured some super fun underwater photos!

We swam with lots of Honu…Hawaiian Sea Turtles!

Double rainbow, almost all the way. What does this mean?!?!

After our superb stay in Kauai, we were off to Maui for round 2. Our first stop was one of Kevin’s favorite local eateries, Maui Tacos. It was just like he remembered it, so delicious.

That evening, we chased the sunset together and were rewarded by this fantastic array of color and sunlight.

And of course there was time for a few portraits of my new Bride 🙂

If you’ve ever been to Maui, you know about the road to Hana. It’s sort of an infamous place around the backside of the island that takes all day to drive to. And as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t exist. Even though I spent 6 months living in Maui in my early 20’s, I never even tried the road to Hana. So on my honeymoon, I was determined to make it.

Well, we only made it half way. But it was a beautiful drive nonetheless and yielded many scenic stops. The first of those was the little beachside town of Paia, and the delicious Fish Market! 

 

We saved the best for the last day of our honeymoon: an all-day sailing trip with Trilogy Excursions. I was a crew member for Trilogy during my days in Maui, and have always had fond memories of my experience. I knew I just had to bring Briana along for a trip with them.

We traveled over to the adjacent island of Lanai for a day of hiking, snorkeling and a fresh-cooked BBQ lunch.

Bri says this is her favorite photo from the whole trip 🙂

Incredibly, Kevin’s favorite captain, Captain Turtle, is still manning the ship for Trilogy, over 10 years later! He led an amazing trip and his crew took such good care of us. We highly recommend Trilogy if you’re ever in Maui – www.sailtrilogy.com!

Even though we were wiped out from the day’s adventure, we drove up to Honolua Bay in Kapalua for one last Maui sunset. Briana did yoga while I took sunset photos.

The following day, we had an evening flight back home to the mainland, so we had most of the day open for more exploring. I had fond memories of hiking through Iao Valley during my time in Maui, so we made that our first stop. Iao Valley is a lush paradise, since it receives lots of rainfall. It’s green all over!  

 

One of our friends recommended a rewarding hike on Maui’s Northeast side, called the Waihee Ridge Trail. He insisted the views were worth the effort.

We agree 🙂

At last we said farewell to Hawaii. I think we were both ready to head back home.

On our way back to Nashville, we stopped in California to introduce Briana to some of my extended family, and show her around my old stomping grounds.

I spent my childhood swimming in these waters and jumping off these rocks. It was really neat to share these special places with my wife.

I especially enjoyed showing Briana the fruit farm in Newcastle where I spent my high school years. This farm was the inspiration for our family smoothie business, and holds a special place in our family’s history.

Here I am in front of our faithful orange tree. We may or may not have tasted the forbidden fruit…

And that’s all she wrote! Our honeymoon was a very memorable time, filled with fun activities, adventures, and delicious food. We both agreed it was challenging to try learning how to live together for the first time while traveling in a far-off, exotic place. We had our share of tough moments, but ultimately had a wonderful experience.

Garden of the Gods at Shawnee National Forrest

Some friends and I planned a recent trip to the Shawnee National Forrest in Southern Illinois. It’s an area known for many trees (duh), but also a few natural wonders. The “Garden of the gods” is probably the most famous of those, and attracts multitudes of tourists each year.

We had a good-sized group, 9 of us to be exact, and set out from Nashville very early on Saturday morning. It’s quite a long drive, but that meant we were in for a road trip! I love the conversations that seem to come up when several people are stuck in the car like that.


After a lunch stop in Paducah, Kentucky, we arrived at our first destination: Heron Pond. Imagine walking through swamp lands, surrounded by towering trees. Well, you don’t have to imagine, just check out these photos.

It was good to have another photographer on the trip. I met Isaac for the first time, but we bonded over our mutual hobby.

Turns out there’s a champion Cherry Bark tree at Heron Pond. It was huge! Still, our group was able to stretch out and hold hands all the way around the base.

Next we made our way towards the Garden of the gods. But first, we were told to stop at Rimrock Trail and see the infamous “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” Bobby’s more on the thin side, so he didn’t have to squeeze too much 😉

Finally as the afternoon gave way to sunset, we arrived at Garden of the gods. We were greeted by massive rock formations jutting out from the cliff side. Immediately all the guys went into “adult playground mode” and started trying to climb as high as possible.

The view looking out from atop the cliffside was spectacular. I wagered we could see for 10 or 15 miles. Of course, my friend Andrew was there to be the voice of reason. He said it was 5 miles max.

Shout out to my gorgeous fiancée 🙂

Here’s the whole group. It was a fun crew!

We kept hearing about this “Camel Rock,” but so far we hadn’t seen anything resembling a humped creature. Until we got to this certain vantage point. That was the “ahah” moment. Can you see it?


That’s all she wrote, folks. Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the wonders of Shawnee!

Muletown Musings on a Monday

Well my sister Kaylee and I took a wee break from our “Bankstameets” over the past year. The last one we went on was our California Coast trip a full year ago. I guess it was so epic that we needed some time off.

In any case, we decided to resurrect our tradition, and recently had a little adventure to “Muletown,” also known as Columbia, Tennessee. It’s a small town several miles Southwest of Nashville. Kaylee’s been there a few times, and she knew of a hipster coffee shop right on the square. So that’s where we started.

Having travelled all over this part of the country, I know that most small town squares look very similar. I have to hand it to Muletown, though. Their square is a little more interesting than the average. For starters, their capitol building sports some very unique architecture.

After coffee, we set off on foot to explore some of the downtown surroundings.

The obligatory double window selfie…

A nifty old tire shop.

When it comes to photography, old buildings never get old.

Not sure what she was going for here, but it made for a cool photo.

Next, Kaylee steered us towards a certain large farm property outside of Spring Hill. Word had it that there was a vintage barn and some other interesting sights to see.

Being in the right place and the right time with camera in hand is such a rewarding feeling! The sunset lighting was brilliant, and a deep blue sky and puffy clouds made for this wonderful landscape.

I experienced something for the first time on this trip: a silo. Who knew they were so fascinating to look up inside?

I’ll make a landscape photographer out of her yet…

I’m glad I took a second look inside the old barn. There was some neat farm equipment stowed away. Wonder how long it’s sat there.

I really enjoyed the chance to get outside and breathe some fresh air. As always, Kaylee was a fun companion :).

A Perfect Touch of Lightning

It’s been far too long since I took my camera out just for fun. No clients. No expectations. Just me and the scenery.

Tonight I had nothing planned. It’s Christmas break, and I’ve taken the week off from work, so there hasn’t been much going on all week. Earlier in the week, I made a list of some activities I’d enjoy with my free time. Near the top of that list was getting out for some landscape photography.

As soon as I stepped outside, I ran into a major snag. It was raining.

Ugh. I hate rain. It’s been ruining my outdoor plans since little league, 1994.

I checked the weather forecast, which turned out to be even more discouraging. 90% chance of rain, tapering off only slightly throughout the night. Eh, might as well take a risk and go out anyways. So I packed up my gear and drove out into the rainy night, heading towards Downtown Nashville.

As I drove around the Downtown loop, I noticed the Korean Veteran’s Bridge. It was shining out in brilliant red, white and blue, despite the dreary weather. Apparently they can change the color of the bridge lights whenever they want, and this particular version was really impressive.

I navigated my way to the base of the bridge, which happens to be in a quiet, dark area on the East side of the Cumberland River. It felt a little sketch…not gonna lie. To my pleasant surprise, the rain had subsided, at least for the moment. Thankfully I’d laced up my hiking boots, so I confidently strode out onto the muddy plateau in front of the bridge.

Right away, I knew there was a special image to be captured here. Sometimes you just get that good feeling when you’re approaching a scene like this one. As I was setting up my tripod, which is essential for nighttime photography, I looked around at the ominous sky, hoping the rain would continue to hold off. Being up close to the bridge necessitated a wide lens to capture the entire composition. So I snapped on my favorite lens, my ultra-wide Nikon.

I played around with a couple different compositions. At first, my thought was to capture both the bridge and the rest of the overpass. The yellow-ish lighting underneath the overpass had caught my eye, in addition to the red, white and blue of the bridge.

These shots were solid, but unspectacular. I kept searching for that magical shot I’d sensed earlier. As I walked closer to the bridge, I spotted a couple of puddles in the gravel ahead. A keen photographer knows that a random rain puddle can turn a mundane photo into a really cool reflection photo.

Sure enough, as I eyed the composition, I found an angle where I could catch a sweet reflection of both the bridge and the overpass. I excitedly set my tripod, still feeling grateful for reprieve from the rain. I’d learned from the previous shots that I needed a four second exposure to get the look I wanted. With the camera set for a super-steady shot (any vibration can cause a blurry image at long exposures), I pressed the shutter button and held my breath.

As I waited for the shutter to close, I was stunned by a sudden strike of lightning in the sky.

Wait a minute, did that happen while my shutter was open?!?!

In all my years as a photographer, I’ve never even tried to photograph lightning before. That’s probably because lightning is usually accompanied by rain and cold weather – not normally my ideal shooting conditions. I’ve admired many a fellow photographer’s surreal image of lightning strikes across the sky. But until now, it was only a dream to someday have my own.

And right then, totally unexpected, on this random rainy night in Nashville, I got my wish. I waited in suspense for the preview to pop up on the back of my camera. Sure enough, the burst of light had illuminated the entire sky above the bridge in my image. I let out a scream. Something like, “Aaaaaaaaah, God, yes, you did it!”

I mean, how lucky could I get? I’d wandered out of my house, into the city, onto this muddy plateau, and right up to these two hapless-looking puddles. It was going to be a great shot, don’t get me wrong. But the lightning strike was a delicious icing on the photographic cake.

It was only when I returned home later in the evening and pulled up the shot on my computer that I realized the best part: the actual lightning strikes showed up in the shot! When I’d looked at the small preview on my camera, I only saw the sky lit up, but couldn’t see the lightning. I screamed all over again when the image pulled up on my computer screen:

I’m thankful for the small voice that nudged me out into the rain with my camera tonight. It seems like I’m almost always rewarded for those moments when I push through my hesitation and go chasing after “the shot.” I believe that my lucky lightning strike was the Almighty adding his perfect touch to man’s magnificent cityscape.

The Many Colors of Radnor Lake

These last couple of weeks in Nashville have brought unbelievably beautiful weather. How can you resist a weekend hike at Radnor Lake, Nashville’s hidden-but-not-so-secret nature park? That’s exactly what my girlfriend Briana and I did yesterday.

I challenged myself by only bringing one lens – a Nikon 58mm F1.4. It’s my new favorite lens, mostly because of the soft, creamy bokeh(the way the out of focus blur looks in the images). I can’t get enough of it.

Enjoy!


Thankfully Bri spotted these beauties as we were walking into the park.radnor_lake_with_belle_0001_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0002_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0003_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0004_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0005_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0006_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0007_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0008_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0009_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0010_161113

This is kind of our thing 🙂

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Feeling like a lucky guy right about now 🙂

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Remember to look up everyone once in awhile.

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The reflection on the still water as dusk was setting in was spectacular.radnor_lake_with_belle_0017_161113 radnor_lake_with_belle_0018_161113

Love the way the branches in the foreground frame this shot.

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If you’re in Nashville, make sure to get out and enjoy these last few weeks of fall. Leave a comment if you know of any other good local spots to hike and photograph!

 

The Master’s Work on Display in Nashville

Man oh man do I love Fall in Nashville! When it comes to landscape photography, color is the number one element that makes a great image in my opinion. Yes, composition and lighting are crucially important, but I think color is what really makes an image pop.

I had a little spare time this past weekend, and couldn’t resist capturing some of the beautiful fall colors here in Tennessee.

These first few were taken at the Ellington Agricultural Center in South Nashville. It’s one of my favorite family photo destinations, and truth be told, these were taken during a recent session 🙂

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Love the spectrum of Red to Yellow to Green in this one!

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A couple more random shots from a recent exploration around town…

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My friend Bobby called me up last week with a great idea…”Let’s go take pictures this weekend,” he said. He didn’t have to twist my arm, I happily obliged. We decided on a visit to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

We made a pit stop at the Double Arch Bridge over Highway 96, since Bobby hadn’t ever seen it before. I’ve photographed the bridge before, so this time, I kept my zoom lens on and tried to get some cool detail shots.

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Earlier last week, I’d driven out to the Trace on my day off, with the idea of capturing some aerial images. I got all the way out there only to realize that I’d left my memory card for my drone behind! I was totally bummed. So this time, I made sure to have my memory card with me, and found sweet redemption in the photos I captured.

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Bobby suggested we stop and hike one of the trails along the Trace, the name of which is escaping me. Chalk up another great idea to Bobby. There were lots of pretty trees, leaves, and other details to be seen and photographed.

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As we approached the trail head, we crossed paths with an elderly gentlemen who was hiking all by himself. He seemed friendly and eager to chat, so we stopped and talked for a few minutes. Apparently, it was his first time hiking this particular trail, and it was ours too. I stepped back to snag a candid portrait of him, but he saw my intentions, and quickly went about fixing his cap 😉

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We drove a little further South on the Trace and found another trail to hike for a bit. All in all, it was a wonderful day to be outside and enjoying the Master’s creativity on display. I’m thankful for Fall, for the colors, for beautiful landscapes, and for good friends. What are you thankful for this season?

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Here’s a bonus aerial video made with my Phantom 3 drone:

WMM Uganda Trip: Mission Accomplished

The World Music Mission to Kampala, Uganda has been accomplished! It’s been a week since we returned from our long and successful trip. After a little breathing room, I’m ready to recap the last few days of the trip. Buckle up, this will be a longer, but most insightful post.

With three days packed full of teaching and learning in the books, the last day of our conference kicked off. By the early afternoon, we had a full house of students eager to soak up the last bits of wisdom being offered.

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Towards the end of the day, students were invited to come up and share what they had learned during the conference. I was really touched by the several students who came forth and spoke. One of those was a young man named Emmanuel, who also participated in my photography workshop each day. You can see from the photo below that he had taken pages of notes during the conference, and he was clearly impacted by what he learned.

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There was also a time of gift giving for Kurt and the rest of our WMM team. The folks from EA Gospel were very generous in thinking through some specific gifts to bless the four of us with. They even gave us gifts to give our wives and girlfriends! It was very thoughtful of them.

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Continuing in the spirt of giving gifts, we officially presented the EA Gospel media team with a new Digital SLR camera. This is something they have been in desperate need of, as they have been renting camera gear and incurring a lot of expense. Now, they are more equipped to record photos and videos on their own, with the purpose of growing their outreach and their mission. I can tell you that they were SO GRATEFUL for this gift. Any of you who gave financially to support this mission played a role in this success. Thank you!

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Once the conference ended, there was a fun time of reminiscing and picture-taking in front of the “celebrity banner.” Does Frank’s smile ever get old? I say “nay.”

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Speaking of Frank, I had been given some new hats to give to some of my new friends in Uganda. They came from my friends at Agency MJ. You can see how pumped Moses and Frank were for their new “swag.”

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I completed a number of interviews during the course of the conference, to get feedback from the students and for use in some upcoming video projects. As I’ve said in previous posts, the feedback was incredibly and genuinely positive from all of the students. They felt so fortunate to have our team come and impart knowledge and experience to them. One of my favorite interview subjects was this young man, Joseph. He didn’t let a physical disability keep him from attending the conference, and always had this infectious smile on his face. He was a true inspiration to me.

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These two ladies kept the mood light and the laughs coming all week. Gladys and Brendah were sweet spirits to be around, and I’m especially thankful for their help on the last night of our trip. They walked several miles with me into Kampala so I could buy gifts for my girlfriend and family from the local market. Brendah may or may not have saved me from being run over by a boda boda…

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We gathered for a group photo in the gardens behind the hotel. This represents only a portion of all the attendees. Several had already left by the time we took this photo. However, you can see the delight in their faces. Cheers to Kurt for being the token white person in this image 😉

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A quick and exciting side story from the conference:

The first day of our trip, a man showed up at our hotel to greet us (in the middle of the photo below). He is a relative of one of Brian’s friends – yes, a distant connection for sure. Yet he was anxious to meet and talk with us. We found out that he and his family were Muslims, though he seemed interested in learning more about our faith and about the conference. He ended up coming for a day of the conference, and then on the very last morning of our trip, he showed up one more time. Through his conversation with Kurt, Brian and Anthony, he ended up making a commitment to believe in and follow Jesus! It was a stunning turnaround, and you could visibly see the brightness in his countenance. Coming from a family of Muslims, his conversion to following Christ will not be well-received, and he likely has a difficult path ahead of him. However, he clearly had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and had confidence to face the coming days. What an unexpected blessing it was to witness!

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Finally, we left the hotel for one last meeting with friends. We were invited for breakfast at Jonah and Caleb’s house (two men who are on the media team for EA Gospel). It was great to venture out beyond the hotel for the first time in several days, and there were lots of intriguing sights to be captured along the way.

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Jonah and Caleb’s family treated us to a delicious, home-cooked meal. I especially enjoyed the company and prayer of their father, Pastor James.

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We also presented Jonah with a handheld recorder and lapel mike, which they can use for their video and audio production moving forward. It was another

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At last, it was time to pack up our bags and head back for home. Richard was gracious to help us load his Land Cruiser and drive us back to the airport. He impressed us with his audacious driving skills in order to get us to the aiport on time 🙂

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Luckily we had a few spare minutes to stop at Lake Victoria, the largest lake in all of Africa. I dipped my fingers in to the cold, refreshing water for just a few seconds.

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It was a difficult goodbye for all of us once we arrived at the airport. Many bonds were formed during our trip. The EA Gospel team made it clear how much they appreciated us, and how much they would miss us. Of course, the feeling was mutual.

Soon we were airborne and away from the African continent. We were treated to a splendid show of clouds and terrain along the way back to Dubai.

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As we entered Dubai airspace in the evening, I found the array of city lights to be intriguing.

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The airport in Dubai impressed us with it’s magnificent architecture.

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After a few hours of layover, which included a nice sampling of chocolate truffles, we boarded our Airbus for a 14 hour flight back to the USA. I think we all slept some, enjoyed some good movies and food, and then this absolutely spectacular sunrise.

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For the final leg of our trip, we had a day-long layover in Washington DC. We chose to rent a car and explore the many monuments, memorials, and museums.

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We did a good bit of walking, which felt great after nearly 36 hours of flights and layovers. A lunch stop at a local pizza joint called “&Pizza” was a hit with all of us, and a welcome change from airplane food.

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For this first time, I laid eyes on the Ford Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was shot. It’s so fascinating to stand there and try to imagine back in time to what life was like back then.

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Our final stop on this entire trip was the Holocaust Museum. Though we hadn’t planned this in advance, it ended up being a very sobering end to our adventure. I was struck by so much of what I saw and read, truly too much to put into words. I will forever be impacted by my experience at the museum, and plan to return for a longer tour in the future.

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This is the conclusion of the World Music Mission to Uganda. As I stated at the beginning, I feel as though we have fully accomplished our mission. Many new relationships were formed, and many others deepened. People from two different continents gathered together to share in worship of our God. Much wisdom was imparted during the conference, and also during the in-between time. I witnessed each member of our team spending quality 1 on 1 time with several different students and staff from EA Gospel. What’s more, the Ugandan people impacted us deeply, through their spirited worship music, prayers, and hospitality.

The model of World Music Mission is working, as evidenced by this trip. The impact of our team and the conference was significant. Beyond that, Kurt’s new vision for “Imagine Music Schools” is also in motion. Kurt helped plant the EA Gospel Academy last year, a school that is now being equipped to become self-sustaining over the next two years. The perfect example of the success of Imagine Music Schools is Frank, who appeared many times in my blog posts. 10 months ago, Frank couldn’t play the guitar. Now, he has graduated the beginner course, and is teaching this course to other beginners. He will soon graduate the intermediate course and begin teaching that as well. This is proof of the equipping model in action. We need more Franks!

On my end, I was able to capture over 4,000 photographs, and hours upon hours of video footage. This trip was extremely well documented, and we are hard at work preparing the images and videos for good use. They will be instruments for sharing the message and mission of World Music Mission for years to come, and for that, I feel extremely proud.

Finally, I would like to say a special thanks to the leadership team of EA Gospel. Samson, Brian and Richard, among others, were such gracious hosts to us. I will never forget their kindness and generosity towards us, despite the limited resources they have. I plan to keep in touch with them, and I am actively praying for how I might be able to support their ministries in Uganda.

I invite you to spend some time learning more about World Music Mission and EA Gospel Mission. They are both in need of partners to financially support the work they are doing for God’s Kingdom. I can personally attest to the genuineness and arduous faith of the leadership, and the legitimate needs of both.

Thank you for following along on this trip, and a special thanks to those who supported me financially. I am forever grateful.

WMM Uganda Trip: Passing It On

Today marked the halfway point of the World Music Mission Kampala Conference. We have seen such a great response already from everyone involved. Another busy day of teaching and breakout groups was in store for today.

Before all the action started, however, I had a mini-adventure in the early hours of the day. I was awake early again, which has been a regular occurrence this week. At first, I thought I would just take a walk around the hotel grounds, and leave my camera behind. But as I began my stroll, I took an unexpected turn. I decided to leave the hotel, and explore at least a little bit of the surrounding area. I probably shouldn’t have done this alone, since the streets can be slightly un-safe for someone like me, especially carrying my expensive camera and backpack.

No matter, I needed to escape our confines, if only for a short while. As soon as I’d taken ten steps, though, I realized I just HAD to have my camera. Too many unique sights to see that needed to be captured!

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Much like I experienced in India, Africa seems to be a very vibrant and colorful place. I absolutely love the array of colors and textures. A true photographer’s delight.

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As I was wandering down a side road near our hotel, I noticed a young man standing by a small intersection. We said hello, and before long we had struck up a conversation. His name was Fred, and he was a sharp guy. We talked about American and Ugandan politics, and he schooled me on the current state of Uganda, their president, and what the future might hold for them, at least according to him. It was a rousing conversation, and I felt enlightened afterwards. I also told him about the conference and invited him, and he was really excited!

Then of course, I asked to take his portrait…

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It was getting close to starting time for the conference, and conveniently Fred’s sister Charity was walking back towards the hotel. She guided me back safely, and the day began.

I’ve been interviewing students all week, asking them for feedback and such. Today, Hilda was one of my candidates. She has a thirst learning, and she also helps out with the videos for EA Gospel Mission.

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Kurt led a Q & A session today, and I listened as several students chimed in with questions. I found this time to be just as informative as the regular classes, if not more.

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It rains a lot in Uganda…

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If you’ve been following along since our trip started, you’ll remember this smiling youngster, Denis. He happened to be at the hotel the first day we were here. His family attends a church service that meets at the hotel on Sundays.

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I struck up a conversation with Denis and his friends, and ended up inviting all of them to the conference. Of all his friends, Denis was the only one that actually came. But he has been here faithfully each day! He clearly has a heart for music, for singing and for playing the guitar.

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It’s been amazing to watch him learning, and to see Frank start to teach him right away, even though they’ve just met!

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During the afternoon session today, we had some guests speakers and musicians. It was nice to mix it up, and they were also talented worship leaders and speakers.

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They move and groove quite a bit over here. Definitely not what I’m used to, but it’s fun to watch!

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Before wrapping up, we had some important business to attend to. We officially presented the academy with their music gifts, the ones that YOU have helped provide!

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Elijah and Frank were presented with two new guitars from Instruments of Joy

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…Moses was presented with a new guitar petal from Truetone, plus instructional course on guitar and piano from Legacy Learning Systems. The students were so stoked!wmm_uganda_trip_day_8_0037_160923 wmm_uganda_trip_day_8_0038_160923 wmm_uganda_trip_day_8_0039_160923

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The breakout groups today went smoothly yet again. I had a splendid time with my photography students, who really seem to be learning quickly. And of course Frank, who ten months ago couldn’t play the guitar, is putting his new-found knowledge to practice and teaching it to new students. Incredible to see the fruit of World Music Mission in action.

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I’m loving the portraits I’m getting of these beautiful African people! Here are brothers Jonah and Caleb, who help lead the media team at EA Gospel.

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Pretty sure this is my favorite face that I’ve captured so far. This guy just beams…

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WMM Uganda Trip: Building on the Foundation

The second day of the World Music Mission Conference is in the books. Our team gathered together late last night to discuss what worked and how we could improve on the first day. I’m pleased to say that we put our ideas into action and had a successful day!

We saw many new faces today, and again the Spirit of God was among us.

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Pastor Brian built on the foundation he laid yesterday on the topic of discipleship. I especially appreciated his analogy of walking alongside another person. It was a powerful visual example of what true discipleship looks like: putting our arm around a fellow brother or sister, and walking together with them.

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Pastor Anthony got off easy on the first day, but he got his turn on the microphone today. That man has a gift for speaking the word of God. His engaging style of teaching keeps the students tuned in to the heart of his message.

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African Pastor Brian Ssali also runs a ministry apart from his leadership with EA Gospel, and being a father to over twenty orphans! We had a mini photoshoot sporting his ministry’s polo shirts in the afternoon.

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Kurt inspired the students with another level of wisdom and education, going deeper than the day before.

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At the end of the day, Samson surprised all of us with a very special moment. He called up the entire EA Gospel media team. All of these young men have been in my photography class the past two days. He praised their work, gave them a word of encouragement, and then invited me to come up and pray for them. What an honor! I believe in these men and the creative work they’re doing.

Unfortunately, they are currently limited in communicating the vision of EA Gospel. The reason for this is a lack of resources. Before this trip, they didn’t own any camera gear, and had almost no equipment for producing media. They’re finding a way to make it work by renting gear and using lower quality settings. This really breaks my heart. They need more resources! They need better cameras, better lenses, and better computers. They have heart, they have passion, they have creativity, but they need help transforming all of this into real change.

This is something I’ve resolved to ponder and pray about. I want to help this group of fellow artists.

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Kurt wrapped up the day with a bonus class, called “Songwriting as a Means for Learning Music Theory.” Though it’s an optional class, he’s had a full group of students both days so far.

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This one needs no caption 🙂

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We are anticipating a greater turnout for the last two days of the conference. The reviews from the students have been overwhelmingly positive so far. I wish you could see each and every one of the smiles on their faces throughout the day. Look for a recap video of the entire conference soon!

WMM Uganda Trip: Let the Conference Begin

The first day of the World Music Mission Kampala Conference was a big success. It passed like a blur, but many awesome moments took place, and God was definitely among us!

Things have been going at a fast pace, with lots of students attending and lots of responsibilities for each of our team members. I’ll have to let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

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We started off the conference with a spirited time of worship music. Africans know how to do it right.

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Kurt kicked off the teaching with a class on songwriting, and another on the Biblical Heritage of Musicianship. The students seemed to be locked in, taking notes, and soaking up the teaching.

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When Pastor Brian and Pastor Anthony weren’t teaching, they spent time building relationships and having good conversations with some of the students.

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After lunch, Pastor Brian spoke on the topic of “Passing it On,” encouraging the students to follow a biblical model of discipleship. Brian is a gifted preacher, and has a true heart for the things of God.

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In the afternoon each day, we will be splitting up into “breakout groups,” where students can choose a subject that they want to grow deeper in. We’re offering guitar, vocals, piano and even a photography class taught by yours truly 🙂

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I’m telling you, these birds are MASSIVE!

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Who knew that their Pastor Brian had so many dance moves?!

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Not quite sure what was happening with this guy, but the students thought he was hilarious.

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So many wonderful faces in this place.

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After the conference had officially ended for the day, several of the guys who took my photography class stuck around to talk shop. They are a talented bunch of creatives, and are eager to learn more. We asked each other questions, and I found myself being inspired by them too.

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Look for an update on day 2 of the conference very soon!

WMM Uganda Trip: Recruiting the Next Generation

I’m finding that sleep is a relative idea here in Uganda. It seems like the entire town, goats and dogs included, comes together to form a constant stream of noise. Perhaps the most perplexing is the local mosque that chooses to broadcast it’s morning prayer over a LOUDSPEAKER every morning at 5am. It’s woken me up every morning so far.

Instead of worrying about it, I decided to make the best use of the early morning hours today. I grabbed my camera and my Bible, and walked towards the hotel gardens. Several fabulous photo ops awaited me.

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I managed to find a few of the culprits of the early morning wakeup calls…

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I sneaked in a mini-workout, which has been hard to come by so far. My hunger then took over and led me to the hotel cafe.

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I have so enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with the enchanting staff here. This morning, one of the managers Joan was around, so I invited her to join me for breakfast. She shared her story, about being a single mother and working a full time job so she can pay for her two children’s boarding school tuition.

Since I admittedly didn’t spend much time learning about Uganda before this trip, I had several questions for Joan about the culture here. I prefer to learn from the locals anyway.

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After breakfast, I wandered out into the lobby area, and discovered a friendly competition happening.

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Elijah has such a hunger for knowledge. I sat and marveled for an hour while Kurt instructed him and he played and sang his heart out.

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Later on, it was time to head out on our primary mission of the day. We were invited to visit Makerere University, a local college, to share about the worship conference. A few of the EA Gospel Academy students joined us as well, including Badru (in the yellow patterned shirt). He’s a spirited young man with plenty of ambition. His goal is to be the university student president next year.

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The university was actually close enough for us to walk, so we were spared from the crazy taxi vans this time.

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As we approached the hall where we would be presenting, we heard a familiar sound. Yet again, there was a room full of Ugandan believers singing aloud in worship music. And again, we walked right in and joined them.

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Bardu introduced Kurt and the guy, and they each shared briefly about the conference. We passed tickets for the conference (admission is free, but it helps to have a leave-behind), and the students were very excited.

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Finally, a young man from the student body gave a bold and challenging sermon to his peers. I think everyone in the room was encouraged.

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The university campus offered an interesting architectural style, which I was pleased to photograph.

Now for a special message. There are vultures as large as people in Uganda! Kurt’s been telling us about them, and we’ve seen them flying way up in the sky. But until today, we hadn’t really got a good look at them. Well, they were all over the school campus. They kind of freak me out. They basically sit atop high places looking for small children to eat…at least that’s my hypothesis.

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We made a pit stop to meet Alfred, the current student president. In the short time he spoke to us, he made it a point to say, “Forget being president, forget everything else…me, I am a Born-Again!” This is the term they use to describe being a follower of Christ.

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The rest of the day was set aside mostly for rest and final planning. I interviewed Elijah and another student, Micah. They sat and jammed on the guitars for several more hours in the afternoon. Unbelievable comittment.

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See the sights and hear the sounds in today’s recap video:

It’s go-time now. The conference begins in the morning and we will be ready!

WMM Uganda Trip: Sending Out Sound Waves

African rains ushered in day 4 our of trip. I found them to be peaceful and relaxing.

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It made for a slower morning, since apparently everything here gets delayed when it rains. It gave me time to enjoy some time alone and a cup of African coffee (coffee with milk and sugar).

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A few more of our endearing hotel staff members.

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The main ticket on today’s agenda was a press conference to promote the upcoming worship conference. Samson and the EA Gospel team arrived in the early afternoon, dressed to the nines.

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 There was a media representative on hand to interview the teams, and we had multiple cameras rolling.

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It was neat to watch Kurt and the guys share straight from their hearts on why they’re here. I felt like they all spoke so well and really painted a great picture of what the conference will accomplish. These words will be broadcasted all over the city to draw in even more students.

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After the press conference, the leadership team circled up to hash out more details and firm up the vision for the worship conference. I think we’re all getting pumped up!

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The academy students were patiently waiting for us to return for another day of teaching and training. We made the short but lively trek back in the late afternoon.

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Taxi rides are always a little like playing the lottery here. You never know what you’re going to get. On this occasion, I got a rad shot of this woman riding on the back of a “boda boda,” or motorcycle.

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Samson fired up the troops before Anthony and Kurt took turns doing their thing.

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Remember Frank from yesterday? Yeah, he’s still just as awesome as I remember. Today he stayed late to re-string the academy’s guitars with the new strings we gave them.

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Caleb and Patrick, two more faithful volunteers at EA Gospel Mission.

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A couple of the students posed for portraits afterwards.

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I’ve seen lots of street vendors making food, but not very many people buying it. It looked tasty to me. I may break down and try some street food before this trip is over.

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As we filtered out of the school building, I noticed the sunset light was really nice. I snooped around a bit, and found a few pleasant sights.

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Today’s recap video is probably the best one yet. Enjoy!

WMM Uganda Trip: Visiting Orphans, Training Leaders

Wow. What a day. It’s fairly late as I’m typing this. We packed a lot into our day today, and it’s taken me quite awhile to prepare the photos and video.

Still, I’m filled with joy after the day’s events. Our team spent some memorable moments with children in a local orphanage during the morning hours. In the afternoon, we went to the East African Gospel Academy, the school that Kurt and WMM team helped plant.

It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to spend time in fellowship with these precious African souls. I had a distinct awareness during the day that I felt so fortunate to be here with these fellow believers. It’s safe to say this was a highly impactful day for me.

It started off simply enough. Kurt and I enjoyed a complementary cup of coffee while soaking in some sun rays this morning. Our conversation touched on some topics that both of us feel challenged by. Our sweet server Betsy kept the coffee hot and the smiles brimming.

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The hotel manager Charles stopped by to introduce himself, and he was, as the British guest down the hall said, “a fine old geezer.”

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While we were having coffee, we noticed a church service taking place in the hotel conference room. When the service let out, several children were sitting at the tables nearby, and it wasn’t long before we were talking American politics…these kids were bright.

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Another amazing African individual who deserves mentioning here is Charis. He drove us home from the airport when we landed, and has been our faithful chaperone for most of the trip. He’s a stylish guy, as you can see.

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Our first destination of the day was an orphanage run by EAGM co-founder Brian and his wife. Apparently they simply started taking in children off the street. Now they have around 27. We were invited for an impromptu church service in their home.

Before we even got to the door, we could hear a chorus of singing children. It was a most beautiful sound. As we entered, they kept right on singing.

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Brian and Samson each spoke briefly to the children, introducing our WMM team. Next, each of the children had the opportunity to stand and introduce themselves to us. They have such wonderful names…like “Immaculate” for example!

Next, each of our team members was invited to share a mini-sermon. I was greatly encouraged by what the other three shared. I found a last minute analogy somewhere in the back of my mind, so I shared about how Superman and the apostle Paul relate, and how God is the strength in our weakness.

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Afterwards, we were given a tour of the premises by Brian. They have many needs.

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Brian’s adorable daughter. I’m not kidding when I say that I had her bawling about 3 seconds after this photo. I tried to get her to laugh, but my plan backfired.

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Despite their shortage of resources, they still fed everyone present an enormous meal. We found the rice and spicy beef to be quite tasty.

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Naked baby African boy chasing goats for the win.

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Brian’s wife Edith was a quiet, beautiful, servant-hearted woman. I wish I’d had the chance to get to know her better.

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The children flock to me instinctively. It’s the camera.

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Switching gears, our second stop of the day was the East African Gospel Academy. It’s a small, unassuming building along a busy Kampala highway. No sooner had we entered, than Kurt had popped a squat and begun training the leaders of the school. For the next few days until the conference begins, he will be working with the school leaders to prepare them for the actual conference.

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Since I could only get so much footage of Kurt teaching, Anthony and I wandered the streets a wee bit. Let me tell you just how strange it is to be the only white person in a very busy city center. I’ve had this experience before (Fiji, India, Nepal), but it’s been awhile. I was reminded of what it feels like to be a minority. It’s not the most comforting feeling.

Thankfully, many of the locals were friendly, and most of them who I asked to pose for pictures were willing. One very stern-looking man gave me quite the finger-wag when I asked him. Probably should have read his body language a little better. But I’m telling you he would have made for an excellent portrait.

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There are a few key student-leaders at the academy. Elijah was one of my favorites. Unbelievable heart for music and for the gospel. Be sure to see his interview in today’s recap video below.

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Frank. See his smile. He radiates. Looking forward to being buddies with him.

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On the far right, Moses is another exemplary student-leader. So there’s Elijah, Moses….and Frank. Is that a Bible name?

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For those of you who donated money to our trip campaign, here are part of those funds in action. We were able to bless the school with several packs of new guitar strings and a few other music-y knick knacks (I’m a photographer, I’m not required to know musical terminology). As you can see by Frank’s aforementioned smile, he was delighted.

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Brian led the entire gathering in a spirited prayer, and we said our goodbyes for the day.

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 Today’s recap video features some slo-mo coolness and plenty of African gospel singing:

They tell me more training is on the agenda for tomorrow (technically today at this point). I’m going to hit the hay so I’ll be ready for another Ugandan adventure.

WMM Uganda Trip: A New Song – Zephaniah 3:14

It’s incredible to witness a talented songwriter in action.

During our layover in Washington DC, we enjoyed a relaxing evening around the fire pit at Kurt’s sister’s house. It’s customary for Kurt and the WMM team to write a song for each trip they take. They usually team up with the local musicians to create a song that encapsulates the vision for the trip.

On this night, we all sat down, and Kurt just started talking out of the blue about a scripture that’s been on his mind, Zephaniah 3:14. He said something like, “Wouldn’t it great to let the scripture dictate the rhythm and the tempo of the song?”

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The next thing we knew, he had his guitar in his hands, and a chorus and a bridge to a new song! It was truly remarkable to watch him read the words of the passage, then sound out the rhythm and find the tune, seemingly out of nowhere.

We recorded a rough cut of the new song, which you can watch below. Kurt will be teaming with Samson and the East African Gospel Academy musicians to develop the rest of the song during this trip. Look for a (mostly) finished version at the end!

WMM Uganda Trip: Arriving in Kampala

We made it to Africa! It’s been a pretty intense two solid days of travel, and our team is wiped out. Our travels from DC to Dubai to Kampala were arduous, but not without their joys.

For starters, we were treated to a beautiful display and full moon in the sky during our flight to Dubai.

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Golden sunrise light on a large range of sand dunes, somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

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Landed in Dubai. It’s quite a dusty place. We’re hoping to have more time to explore the city on our way back home.

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The Airbus is a GIGANTIC plane! The Emirates staff and their plane were both top notch.

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Our first view of the African continent. This is Lake Victoria, a large and scenic lake outside Kampala.

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Praising God for safe travels to Africa.

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Meet Samson, co-founder of East African Gospel Mission and the host of our trip. His smile says it all. He’s awesome. Look for him to a be a returning character this week.

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We had an interesting if not slightly death-defying car ride from the airport to our hotel in Kampala. The roads reminded me of my trip to India. Unorganized chaos that somehow just works.

I loved the colors and the vibrant street life along the way.

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We checked into our hotel and made a run to the local grocery store for some high quality H20.

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A little cafe at the hotel where we’re staying. I tried the fried chicken and french fries last night…not bad.

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The hotel is pretty nice, considering the location. We’re feeling fortunate. Kurt lead us in some stretches in the serene garden area behind the hotel.

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After that, it was game time. Even though our worship music conference doesn’t kick off until Wednesday, there are a lot of preparations that still need to take place. Kurt has a HUGE heart for teaching, which quickly became apparent this evening.

He poured out his wisdom and vision for the conference to Samson and Brian, another co-founder of East African Gospel Mission. It was really encouraging to witness their dialogue, and see two very different cultures begin to come together to create this week of worship and education.

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The “Brians”, their Brian and our Brian 🙂

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Here is today’s recap video:

Tomorrow, we’re planning to head to church with Samson, then continue the planning process for the conference. Stay tuned for much more!

WMM Uganda Trip – Day 1: Off to DC

The World Music Mission team is on mission to Kampala, Uganda. We’ll be teaming up with East African Gospel Mission to host a worship music conference for several students.

Our first stop is a layover in Washington DC, where we stayed with Kurt’s sister, Eileen. We were treated like kings, which was a nice way to rest and prepare for our time in Africa.

We’re about to board a flight for Dubai, then catch a connection to Uganda. Enjoy these shots from the road!

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Kurt Coble, our fearless leader.

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Anthony Furlow, our trip comedian, musician, and theologian.

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Beautiful architecture at Reagan National Airport.

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Brian Davis, newly ordained minister and bold sharer of faith.

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My first look at the Pentagon in person!

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Lots of jokes and laughter so far. Preparing for the hard work ahead.

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Eileen’s fortress of solitude outside of Downtown DC.

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Here’s a little recap video from our first day:

 

Uganda here we come!

On Mission to Uganda, Africa

Dear friends,

I have some very exciting news! I have been asked to join a team with World Music Mission that will be traveling to Uganda, Africa next month.

“What is World Music Mission?” you might be asking. World Music Mission, or WMM, was co-founded by a good friend of mine as a “multi-national network of musicians who are passionate about using their gifts and talents in service to the Kingdom of God.”

Wow, I realize that’s a lot to take in. If I had to summarize what they’re all about, I’d say they travel around the globe and equip local musicians to write and play worship songs in their own native language and cultural style. The ultimate purpose is to spread the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, to every nation and person. There’s much more to say about their mission and heart, and you can learn more on their website – http://www.worldmusicmission.org.

The next question you might have is, “Why are you going on this trip, Kevin?” Simply put, I’m going because I was asked to go. I’ve had a desire to travel to Africa for many years. Perhaps like you, I receive lots of letters and magazines highlighting mission work overseas. Personally, I’m always drawn to the images in those publications. I’ve found myself thinking, “I would love to go and serve with my photography skills like that some day.”

Thanks to Kurt and WMM, today is that day. Even though they’ve taken many trips over the past several years, they have never had a professional photographer come with them. A quick look at their website reveals this reality – they need better photos! I believe photos can convey powerful truths and communicate the heart behind a mission like theirs. I believe in their mission – in fact, I’ve been helping support them personally for the past couple of years. And now, I have a chance to go and physically serve alongside them…I feel so honored!

Specifically, I’ve been asked to join a team visiting Kampala, Uganda this June. We will be partnering with East African Gospel Mission, and putting on a number of workshops to equip local musicians and worship leaders. My personal mission is simple – to document the trip. I’ll be taking photos (and a few videos too!) of everything that happens. In doing so, I will be empowering WMM to communicate their mission so much more effectively in the future. I believe the images I take will lead to greater awareness and support of their efforts in the coming years. And I believe that is well worth going!

“So why have I written and shared all of this with you?” The reason is because I value your friendship, and I need your support. I know I cannot undertake a trip like this alone. For a guy like me, Africa is a crazy place. I’m sure the enemy will be opposing our team every step of the way. With that in mind, here’s how we can partner together:

  1. Follow the Journey – I will be blogging and sharing photos and stories during the trip. I will add you to my email list once I hear back from you.

  2. Pray – before, during and after my trip. I believe prayer is powerful and effective. Will you pray that our efforts will be successful, that we will stay healthy and energized, and that God will multiply our service for his Kingdom?

  3. Make a Financial Investment – As with all such trips, there is a sizeable financial investment needed. I’m estimating the total will be around $2,800 for everything. My desire is to partner with you to fund this trip together. If you’re involved, we can share in the joys and the challenges together. Would prayerfully consider giving?

  • Give Online – you can also give online, directly through this link. Just select my name from the “Select Fund” drop down – https://actintl.givingfuel.com/wmm

  • Write a Check – you can make checks out to “WMM/ACT”, but please send them to my home address. Send me a message if you’d like to go this route, and I’ll send you my address.

I’ve taken my time praying for this trip, and even specifically who to ask for support. Since the trip is coming up soon, I would greatly appreciate a speedy reply if you choose to give. I’m trusting God to provide the finances, and he just might want you to be a part of that plan!

– with thanks, Kevin

“All funds received for this trip are considered as gifts to World Music Mission/A.C.T. Intl and are tax deductible. While the gift you make will be credited to my portion of the funds required for the trip, in the event that I am unable to participate all monies raised will be used to offset the costs incurred for the trip or to fund ministries on the field where we are going to serve. Further, since my balance is due (2) weeks prior to date of departure, any donations received by WMM/ACT after that date may be applied to another later mission trip/project. Please do not decrease your normal giving to your home church in order to support this mission project.”

California Coast Trip Video

At long last, I’ve finished the video for my California Coast Trip. Much of this footage was taken with my quadcopter, and the rest was hand-held. This was one of my first attempts and creating a video of any kind, and I’m thoroughly pleased with how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it!

Celebrating Independence in Sewanee, Tennessee

My girlfriend Briana and I took a short but sweet camping trip to Sewanee to celebrate Independence Day this year. Briana lived in Sewanee during her high school years, so she knew the turf pretty well. We also invited my roommate Roy, as well as our friend Raychel. It turned out to be a great group and a great trip. Enjoy these highlights!


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Kentucky Countryside Adventures

It’s Summertime, and that means summer camp is getting close! I’m excited to help out with Barefoot Republic Camp for the third year in a row this summer.

Inspired by Barefoot, I’m reaching back to the archives from last Fall, for a trip my sister and I took to their camp facility in Southern Kentucky. I had the chance to photograph Tommy Rhodes, the founder of Barefoot, and his family at their home away from home.

Since it was such a beautiful Fall day, we decided to stick around and look for photo ops during the golden hour of the evening. We spent some time exploring the campground, then took our show on the road and found a really cool cabin to photograph on the way home too.

Barefoot’s property is a gem, nestled in the Kentucky countryside, just beyond Scottsville, Kentucky.

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Who knew a swarm of bugs could make for such a cool shot! Everything looks better when the light is this amazing.

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I enjoy getting to practice taking portraits just for fun whenever Kaylee and I travel together.

The bright orange light in these next few photos isn’t manufactured. It came directly from the sun, which was right at the horizon. This is the kind of light you dream about as a photographer!

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Having a little fun with the shadows 🙂

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A truly candid moment capture here.

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On the way back home, we drove past this old abandoned cabin. It was getting late, and we actually drove right past it at first. But something told me it was worth turning around to take a second look. I’m glad we did – it had a ton of character, and the trees behind it give a great contrast to the white siding.

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I’m thankful for this fun trip with Kaylee, and for the joy of summer camp that’s just around the corner!