D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: War Photographer

Authentic Mobility: Guest Post by Rachel Pieh Jones

*****Quick plug: I wrote something on the Trayvon Martin case for Out of Ur. You can find that article here.******



Rachel Pieh Jones has shared her astounding thoughts in this space before, and I was thrilled when she agreed to tackle this subject. Her post resonated so much with me, because I too find myself in so many seemingly contradictory spaces--and I am learning to love them all. Rachel continually inspires me with her commitment to celebrating her life (while not white-washing it either). I call her the "Katherine Boo" of Djibouti, since this is one lady who has definitely earned her facts. If you are anything like me (and even if you aren't) I am positive you will find this piece to be both relatable and encouraging. 



Authentic Mobility: Guest Post by Rachel Pieh Jones

I haven’t thought much about downward mobility but I have thought a lot about moving toward need.

Not just moving toward need but moving toward need and bringing comfort, attention, and affection. Bringing Jesus, dignity, and relationship. And not just bringing these things to deliver, but bearing them in my skin and in my soul and receiving them back.

I don’t view need in purely economic terms, but also in community and spiritual terms. A wealthy, childless widow. A toddler begging on the street corner. A man searching for peace in Islam, then Buddhism, then pot. My own vulnerability and loneliness.

I spent last Wednesday with two other expatriates in a Djiboutian village. We visited fifteen members of the Girls Run 2 club I helped to start in 2008. Eighteen of us, plus more than a dozen neighborhood children, sat in an unlit cement room, and talked about running and school and family responsibilities.

Some of the girls have electricity, none have running water. Some have at least one permanent structure to call part of their home, some have walls made of sticks and flattened powdered milk cans and t-shirts. All of them are required by club rules to be in school. Most of them come from large families where the emphasis is on survival and hard labor – hauling water, scrubbing clothes, herding sheep, walking four miles to school, there is little time for affection or personal attention.

After all the girls arrived, after we kissed hands and cheeks, and after I had asked each of them about their running events and best times, about their dreams for their future, their favorite subjects in school, and what their mothers thought about them running, we walked to the car.

The Land Cruiser was heavy with thirty twenty-pound boxes of rice, with additional nutrients, from Feed My Starving Children. Each member of the club received one box and the extra were left at the stadium for when they needed more.

Then I drove the two hours home to Djibouti City and read an email about my upcoming family reunion this Christmas in Disney World.

And I cried.

I cried for the confusion and the contradiction in it. I cried for the joy I felt sitting in the dark room with the running team and for the joy I felt thinking about Christmas with my entire family, including a newly adopted niece I have never met. I wept for the joy in the conversation with the other expats in the car on the drive, about prayer and comfort and brokenness and Jesus.

I need God to show me how to live in this life of authentic engagement with girls in the depths of poverty, girls with strength and dignity, girls who crave and thrive on physical touch and individual attention, and at the same time how to live in a life of Land Cruisers and Disney World with my beloved family.

I think the way to live this life is to live like Jesus, to be always on the move toward need. My own and others’.

The girls in that village needed food. But they also needed to talk about school and their training. They needed to be told they are precious. They needed to hold my hand while they talked about mentally unstable fathers and dead babies. I needed to hear them laugh and I needed to watch them care for their siblings and their parents and each other. I needed to hear them defend their fellow runner who has never been to school before and can’t write her own name yet. I needed to know their names and their unique stories, unique personalities. And so we moved toward one another, meeting in our need-places.

My family needs to be together. We have said goodbye and been separated so many times over the years. My parents need to draw their four children from the four corners of the earth to celebrate who we are and to delight in each other for a week. I need to hold my new niece and hear my nephew explain Lacrosse to this clueless aunt. I need to hear how God is moving in my brother. I need to watch my children tackle their grandparents. And so we move toward one another, meeting in our need-places.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to go to Disney World with my family. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to sit in the cement room with the team. And I would be lying if I hid one side of this life from the other, that feels disingenuous. But this, this moving toward need with the confused-crying and the releasing-joy of it, feels like authenticity.

It feels like authentic mobility. Not necessarily downward or upward, possibly both. I move both ways in my Djibouti life and while it feels like a split down my middle some days, on most days it feels true and honest.

Sometimes moving toward need means bringing rice to hungry families and accepting a chilled Coke from them. Sometimes it means going to Disney World and accepting the gift of family. Sometimes it means bringing my own brokenness into the conversation and accepting the step of someone moving toward me, bearing Jesus in the soul and in the skin.




downward1Doesn't she just look like the coolest/nicest War Photographer ever? Rachel can be found here: Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones







For more in the Downward Mobility series, click here.

Banging on the Door of Photojournalism

Peter Anderson (a pretty spectacular War Photographer himself) directed me to this essay by Chicago photojournalist, Alex Garcia. Here is an excerpt:


The man was pounding on my door, angry drunk, slurring loudly in Spanish and imploring “Maria!” to come out of my apartment.

But Maria wasn’t in my apartment. I didn’t even know who Maria was.

He must have been on the wrong floor.

Like I said, he was drunk.

He kept banging, violent and insistent.  Although I was screaming back in Spanish, “No vive aquí!” he wouldn’t listen. Then I heard him trying to bust the lock.

The whole thing was escalating out of control.

Did he have a weapon? The thought of him breaking the door down was in the back of my mind. I didn’t know what I would do. I called building security. No one answered.

I called 911.

Minutes later, he mercifully stopped. But I still heard him fuming at the end of the hallway, in the stairway, as if lying in wait.

Finally, the police came.

When they did, one cop took down my record of what happened while the other rolled his eyes. I was insulted and called him on it. He didn’t care.

After all, I was living in a low-income apartment in a city that saw frequent violent crime. What did I expect?




Read the rest here.


Garcia's personal story is fascinating--but the rest gets even better. I appreciate this essay primarily for the essential truth: your photos (or writing) reflect where you live.

This is a very close-to-my-heart concept, although a bit secondary in my case. I identify with Garcia in that I am sick to death of the same old stories, and long to hear and see news of the kingdom in all its mustard-seed glory. So how many of us are willing to be embedded?




War Photographer: Tara Livesay

Tara Livesay is my real-life hero (she will throttle me for saying that, but still--it's true). She is a killer writer, thinker, mom, missionary, midwife, and long-distance runner. I love her because she is so honest, so in the thick of everything beautiful and awful about our world, and she can be absolutely hilarious in the midst of it all. I beg of you to check out her website, where you can learn all about her fabulous family and their life in Haiti. I have been looking forward to this post for a long time, and it dropped the hammer, just like I knew it would. Tara and her family are truly people who ask the question: how do we share these stories well? Because they must be told. 

photo by Troy Livesay

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. "That laundry is not very clean; she doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap." Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: "Look, she's finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this? " The husband replies, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows." And so it is with life... What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.–Author Unknown


When one of the poorest countries in the world happens to be positioned a mere 700 miles from the southern tip of one of the richest countries in the world,  short-term and long-term missions abound. I am citing no source but I’d venture to guess this is the most visited, blogged about, and photographed “mission” destination on the planet earth.


The convenient 90-minute plane ride from Miami means an estimated 200,000 people per year come to Haiti. Many seem to think that their group or purpose or trip is a one-of-a-kind and are incredulous when they hear how frequently large groups of matching T-shirts arrive here with similar plans. Additionally, there are thousands of longer-term workers sprinkled all across the island.


It is common for these expats to arrive thinking of people as projects.


As we are all prone to do, people show up here having already decided things about Haiti. They hear the tag lines and have watched or read the mass media news stories and they build their image of the country and her people and what they need before they ever set foot on Haitian soil. Wherever they hail from, they seem to arrive having heard about vodou, poverty, danger, an earthquake, and orphans.


For whatever reason there is a movement among evangelical churches and faith-based organizations that markets mission trips in such a way that it casts the missionary as a hero and those on the other side are in dire need of their help. This means that in addition to what the prospective visitor has heard and decided about Haiti, they are also being told that in one or two weeks they might be able to make a significant impact.


For an extended time, our family has been learning and growing and being uncomfortably twisted and molded by living in this land that so many visit. During these years we’ve learned about our own pride, our own soul poverty, and our preconceived ideas. (Related: We have become cynical and skeptical and things we don’t like too.) We now better recognize the ways in which we have painted this place with a broad brush and forget that individual souls created in the image of God should not be reduced to our small-minded descriptions or looked upon as a project.


As a body of believers called to bring the justice of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven to earth it does little good to arrive with anything decided. Each one of us is wonderfully complex and unique and we would do well to remember that is true of everyone, everywhere. Media reports and the State Department don’t have the ability to summarize hearts of people. Churches and mission organizations should not market with the “go save them” narrative.


In our time here, working with and observing different organizations, we’ve had an opportunity to witness many visitors. Perhaps the marketing of short-term trips feeds the problem. When cast as the hero, you are bound to come in with an air of superiority.  That to say, at times we cringe over things said and done.  The cringing comes partially from a place of our own guilt, in knowing we once said and did disrespectful things; in knowing we probably still do sometimes.  Other times we gasp at the disdain some ‘heroes” carry with them.


It is not at all unusual to hear visitors botch something up they are working on and say, “Oh well, it is good enough for Haiti.” I confess that it is those people who I want to follow home with a gallon of ugly colored oil paint and an old tattered brush and walk into their kitchen to show them what my “good enough” looks like at their house.


On occasion our second daughter agrees to translate for teams.  One such medical team was performing minor surgeries.  One of the surgeons brought his fourteen-year-old son on the trip.  The son observed the surgeries and occasionally held a tool or handed his father something.  At one point in the week the father asked his son if he would like to do a spinal-block.  The Doctor stood nearby as his son performed the block.


I am certain the doctor didn’t necessarily mean harm, but when a well-trained, perfectly able physician allows his fourteen year old to stick a needle in someone’s back it says,  “This is good enough for a Haitian”.  As my daughter told me this story I wondered if the physician would appreciate a rookie shoving a needle in his child’s back.


The truth of the matter is this, somewhere along the line we all became convinced that we are a big deal arriving to a place or a people that need us.  Therefore, anything we do is better than nothing, right? (That doesn’t sound like Jesus to me.) This superiority leads us to think, and even say, “Well, it is good enough for them.”  Casting ourselves as the fixers and heroes and “them” as the project is troubling on many levels.


If we want to let the river of His justice flow through us, we have to arrive aware of how prone to superiority we are, how prejudiced we are. We must examine our motivation and presuppositions in the light.  What window am I looking through when I look at others?  What window am I seeing myself through? I know my tendency is to think I am needed. It is a difficult but necessary exercise to continually spend time asking Jesus to mercifully guide us as we attempt to walk with people in wisdom and humility.


God is not made manifest in our ability to “fix” or “heal” or “solve” anything.  He has not cast us as the heroes. He is made manifest in our humility and in our own need to receive healing.  When I can see my own weakness and pride and my need for grace and healing I am left in a position of having nothing to offer …


And you know what?

When I have nothing to offer, Jesus shows up.

Tara tries hard to learn life's lessons the first time but usually doesn't.  She is mom to a rambunctious crew of kids and is learning and working in the area of women's health/midwifery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She writes at www.livesayhaiti.com

For more in the War Photographer series, click here.

War Photographer: Liz Anderson

Liz is someone who is truly living an unorthodox life, and she makes it look quite fun. Dancer, thinker, killer ukulele-player: this girl is the whole package. Today I'm so excited for her words (couldn't we all use a little more poetry in our lives?) and I'm inspired again by the privilege of being a witness to the stories inside.  Making Space

i want people

to share

their stories

to find

their voices

to sing

what they love


what they need


what they've lived

so we remember

we are not alone.


some people find ways to do this

on their own

their story burns inside them

and bursts free


but more often

i find

that people stay silent

they think

i'm not talented





they think no one


enough to listen.


and listening

to someone's life

over a cuppa

is an honor


finding ways

to tell their stories


is an privilege.


but best

fiercest joy

is helping people discover

how to share their own stories

making space

for them to realize

other people want to hear too

revealing they do

in fact

have something to say


maybe their older brother

told them they couldn't sing

they believed that all these years

their first grade teacher told them

honey, the sky isn't red, that's wrong

maybe they never had a first grade teacher to begin with

maybe something in the past


silenced them.


but if a space is


a nudge

to try

an encouragement

to explore

a partner

to experiment with

(is that a bud i see?

then i try to get out of the way

the hardest part)


let's write a song together for your ukulele

with those four chords you know

what should it be about? spring? squirrels? both? excellent.

here's how easy it is to make a blog post

of course you should try making a dinosaur out of cardboard


hand the kids the camera and watch

their delight as their friends magically appear

teach them how that button works

ask why that photo's their favorite

blow up their best pictures to hang

in the cafe down the road

step back and watch their faces light up


witnessing revelation


happen in other people


a piece of themselves

they didn't know existed

they didn't dream was



provide a platform to broadcast from

set them loose

and learn to see through their eyes

see what their story has to say about

how we are not alone.


From Liz: this past October we had a songwriting workshop for our girl's holiday club. We taught them to play through four chords of a pop chorus they knew, the girls wrote verses and a rap bridge to go with it, and we gave a teeny tiny concert.  Here are some lyrics from girls ages 11-14:

You go to work so early in the morning on the tube

Your misery, I hear no breath, no words of life in you

Are you afraid to break a laugh, would that be breaking all the rules?

So come on, come on


In the community everyone should be caring and kind

So they won’t end up lonely – that’s the problem in my mind

It’s not right when you’re upset or bad or rude, you should be kind

So come on, come on


There’s no point of you wasting your time

Dealing with drugs and dealing with crime

You think all this stuff is gonna make it right

But hey, it just makes a bigger fight


It’s wrong, it affects other people

All this rubbish, why you wanna do it for?

You’re walking down the streets, what do you see?

You gotta open up your eyes, well what’s it gonna be?




ImageLiz Digitale Anderson wants to know what makes you feel most fiercely alive (tell her @lizdances). Her two current life philosophies are "If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance" and "I could be wrong." But she's pretty sure she's not wrong about your ability to sing and/or dance, and if you were willing to flail around and experiment for five minutes together we could find out. She's married to a ninja photographer named Peter (who wrote earlier for the series here) and they live in London and blog about it here (www.fiercelyalive.com/blog).

For more posts in the War Photographer series, click here

Waka Waka

The first time I saw the music video for Shakira's World Cup 2010 song, I grew teary without even really knowing why. I went on to use it in many of my ESL classes, usually playing it during our end-of-term class party, where people from Asia, Africa and Latin America were bound together in their love for the song (and soccer and beautiful women shaking what the good Lord gave them). We ate sambusas and cake and lukewarm orange soda, and we celebrated our small victories of grammar and friendship, all while Shakira danced in the background. I am the student now, taking a Somali language class in my new city. I hear the song in the hallways of the elementary school where my little community education class meets. The janitors have the same rotation of songs every week--mostly latin pop songs and love ballads. When Shakira comes on, everyone in my class gets silent. My teacher, a young Somali man, talks wistfully about football, which turns into conversations about politics and Africa in general. I am reminded of how important all these things are, how identity is a fragile thing, especially in our fractured world.

The song still makes me cry, every time I hear it (and especially if I watch the video). I can't really explain it. The shots of soccer victories and defeats, the people dancing from every tribe and nation, the repeated refrain "this time for Africa" being hailed as a joyous, prophetic truth. It's an infectious song, celebrating a country who more often than not gets nothing but bad press in my world: a place of orphans and AIDS and crisis and corruption. A place where we send teams of people for weeks at a time, a place in constant need of outside saviors, mysterious and unfathomable, mired in troubles.

But this is only a part of the story. In the singing and dancing of the video I find so much articulated that I see every day: the men in the Somali coffee shops, huddled around the TVs, catching the latest soccer game. My Sudanese brother-in-law, reading the news in Arabic every day, his watchful eye ever on the politics of Africa. The women who blast tinny African music from their cell phones as they cook fish and rice and bread for me, the Somali teenager who knows more about the Kenyan president than I will ever hope to. I see it, every day, in my city of immigrants, a people in a sort of exile I can never imagine. Every day, millions around the world, are thinking the same thought to themselves: when will it be time for Africa?

Shakira, unlikely war photographer. You captured what so many of us already believe, even if we never knew how to say. Of course it's time for Africa. It always was. The thought is so joyous and heartbreaking, the struggles so sharp and the continent so grand, I can't help but join in.


For like all my friends, I believe it: this time for Africa.





Jackie Pullinger: Go Write Your Own Books

I'm getting older. I'm due to celebrate my last year of my 20s, and so I am off for 24 hours in a hermitage--just me myself and Jesus for 24 long, silent, electricity-free hours. I know I'm getting older because this makes me positively giddy.  

But for my (early) Monday post I wanted to highlight a book that was extremely formative for me in my growing-up years: Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger. Pullinger was/is a missionary to Hong Kong, and her story is pretty incredible. In late 60s and 70s there was some pretty crazy stuff going on in that city--opium and heroin being readily available and the inner city being run by gangs. Pullinger lived a life of faith, all the way--she never had more than a few dollars on her, and she just started praying for addicts and watched them miraculously come off drugs with barely a pang of withdrawal. I am not doing justice to the story here, so I will just tell you to get a copy and read it for yourself. Old-school missionary biographies changed the course of my life; Jackie Pullinger is someone who instantly comes to mind as a woman of valor, or a spiritual midwife.

Here's a couple of excerpts from the updated edition of her book, which I thought pertinent to our discussion on this here blog. The first one comes from an additional chapter or two at the end, where she expounds on what happened in her city after she first published the book. Her descriptions of the short-termers who came in droves to see what she wrote about really impacted me:


Over the years we have had hundreds of short-termers who want to get the pictures immediately--if possible, on video--so they can show it to their home church and have an inspired evening. I have begged them to love the people and stay, just like Sai Di did of me 30 years ago. The disadvantage of short-term missions is a wrong perspective based on this generation's need for instant results.

The visitors leave and wonder why it does not work at home. They wonder why everything seems so easy in Hong Kong. At other times nothing goes right, even here. The man who prophesied last night beats up the helper the next morning, or the whole house runs away. Then the visitors leave disillusioned. "It's nothing like her book. We had a hard time." . . .

So the voyeurs leave. They have their video clips, but they never saw. It was either all too good or all too bad, and neither is accurate. We love our people whether they turn out well or not, and the successes do not vindicate the ministry nor do the disappointments nullify it. What is important is whether we have loved in a real way--not preached in an impassioned way from a pulpit.


BOOM! This is why I love me some Jackie. In the introduction for the new edition of the book she also brings it, in a different way:

Of course, Chasing the Dragon backfired on me. I had written it in the hope of recording history and inspiring hope. Having disposed of one decade, I had hoped to get on with life. Instead I was invited to retell the story over and over again, whereas I had meant that you, the reader, might see that the same God could impart His heart and His power in your city and write your own books . . .

So where can you find us today if you visit Hong Kong? Hopefully, in all the streets and blocks. We will probably be unnamed, for we care not to extend our work but rather His kingdom. There are many more adventures to be had.

There are many more battles to be fought. It would be such fun to be a part of them. So go! Write your own books. Go!


I love everything about this. This is the tension I am currently sitting in. I don't want to write books--I want to be living them. And I am.


I'm just going to sit in that for awhile. 24 hours, to be exact.


It should hardly be noted that I don't get money or anything if you buy and read anything I suggest. I just write about them cause they are awesome. 

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