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Every Picture Was a Gift for Her

Photographer Erica Manning was praying for God to provide new ways for her to serve others. To her surprise, how God ended up answering her request was far from what she imagined.

Erica’s church, Grace Fellowship, approached her with an opportunity to serve in Central Asia.

As she heard the words short-term mission trip, she said in her head, “Okay God! That’s not exactly what I meant.” She had never been on a mission trip before. Plus, she knew close to nothing about where she would be going. “Where is it exactly? Is it safe? Is it difficult to live in? How far away is it?”

You see, when she prayed for more serving opportunities, she was thinking more along the lines of helping people locally, not flying halfway across the world to do who knows what. “Wait, what exactly would I be doing on this trip”, she wondered. When she heard the answer, Erica began to see God’s cleverness and provision at work.

Erica was specifically asked to participate in the trip because of her photography skills and media experience. In fact, everyone asked to be on the team was handpicked because of their unique artistic gifting. That’s because this trip was not your average short-term mission trip.

In Central Asia, the church’s missionary partners serve their community through a unique business that utilizes the area’s natural resource; wool fiber. This business mills the fiber to produce cashmere, which they then sell globally. They use the profit from the cashmere to pour back into the community expanding the companies influence.

It is truly a wonderful and flourishing ministry.

However, one of their greatest needs is exposure. The ministry needs people to know their vision. And, in order to thrive as a business, they need to market their product at a professional level. So, to meet this need, they asked their supporters for a voluntary team of photographers, videographers, and writers.

Grace Fellowship stepped up to answer the call and began assembling a team. Erica was first on their list. She was a professional photographer with a lot of experience. Plus, she was a committed member of the church. She was perfect for the job. Though, Erica didn’t think so, not at first.

She had almost a full year to think about it. By the end, she decided it was worth doing. Even though it was way out of her comfort zone, she was beginning to see how impactful a trip like this could be, not just for others, but for her too.

Her soul began to feel at ease when she heard more about the ministry they would be serving. At first, she was confused at how this ministry was missional. But, when she realized that the ministry’s cashmere business gave them a reason to be in the country and aided their gaining respect from the community, it began to make sense.

Now that the team knew the vision and the plan, it was time to get on the plane.

The team flew to Central Asia with a full itinerary and a list of objectives. They went from village to village filming the whole milling process. They also visited the headquarters and some of the other ministry partners too. One of Erica’s favorite destinations was an old warehouse that used to be a wool fiber mill. For photographers, there’s just something about abandoned warehouses.

Back in the States, Erica specializes in portrait photography, but the trip was shot with more of a documentary style. That was no problem for her though. She had always dreamed of doing this kind of work. Plus, how could a photographer be upset being surrounded by majestic mountains and peaceful pastures? It was beautiful!

Erica was especially touched by the portraits she was able to get from some of the villagers. At first, she was nervous that the people would see her as an intrusion. But, she was pleasantly mistaken. They welcomed her in and treated her with such hospitality. Every picture she took that day was a gift for her.

With all the work done, it was time to go home.

When Erica returned, she realized how much she had changed. Her world had expanded. She felt full of purpose and hope. Her trip to Central Asia was one of the best experiences she’s ever had. It was hard, tiring, and uncomfortable at times, but it was well worth it.

After the trip, the team rejoined to go over some of the content they collected. As Erica looked at all that the team had captured, she felt so much satisfaction. In one week, they had made an impact that would grow far beyond the trip itself. Their work would ripple into the lives of people they may never meet.

Consider This

God was able to use Erica’s photography skills to make a huge impact. There’s no one way to reach people with the joys of Jesus. There may be wrong ways, but there are at least as many right ways to be missional as there are people. Why? Because God can use every person’s unique personalities, backgrounds, and passions to reach others.

How can you use your unique skills to bless others?