July 22, 2020 • Washington DC
It was the spring of 2014 and I was sitting across from a woman named Mary Sunshine. She was a refugee from Burundi who had to flee her own husband and family. She ended up in Kigali, Rwanda. We were sitting in the tiny room next to where her coworkers were sewing bags to be sold in the states. I was there with my camera to do the first film I ever made. I sat with Mary Sunshine to interview her as she told her story of God providing not only a job, but food for her table, and education for her daughter Phoebe, who was already learning 3 languages at the time. But God had also provided friendship with a young missionary named Betsie who had spent her first year in Rwanda not only teaching these women to sew but teaching them about her God.
Betsie asked me to come because she wondered how a video might help answer some of the questions she would get from folks back home in America about why on earth she would move all that way to teach women to sew. I’ll never forget Mary Sunshine’s joy and her tears while she answered my many questions. That day, she professed her love for God in her own language and how God had changed her life. After a week with the women of Umucyo Sewing Cooperative, I returned home. I edited the film for a few weeks and made it into a short video in time for Betsie to return that summer to raise support for a second year in Kigali. Betsie went around to all the same cities as she had been the year before. She went to all the same groups of people. But this time, she took a video. That summer Betsie raised double the support in half the amount of time.
Later that year I helped start Communications Arts Initiative at Mission to the World along with the MTW Marketing and Communications Department. The goal of this ministry is to tell stories through short films and photos about what God is doing around the world in order to encourage the church to pray, give, and go.
God called me to tell these stories long before I walked into that tiny room that day in Rwanda. I remember when I first started playing around with cameras. I was in high school and that beautifully dreaded season of life was approaching where it was time to decide what I would “do with my life.” I was looking at colleges and it felt like the world was open to me. The things I didn’t know about how the world works created fertile ground for me to dream bigger dreams than most around me were comfortable with. As I took photos of friends and began to spend my spare time learning about photojournalists, God put in my heart a desire to not just see the world. That wouldn’t be enough for me. I wanted to tell about it. God placed in me a desire to show a brokenness I didn’t even fully understand. I wanted to be the one to show it so that someone would do something about it.
I decided to major in photography at Louisiana State University (LSU). It was also in college that I gained a deeper understanding of who God is. I fell in love with God’s word and his letters to me on each page. Because of experiences I had and the community of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), college was a time of understanding in a new way that God’s letters were for me. What Jesus had done was for me, and His church went beyond the place I’d called home Through mission trips with RUF and volunteering with local ministries who existed to serve the poor in my city, God began to solidify the reason he had given me a camera in the first place. He began to focus and transform the “why” behind my desire to show, with my camera, the brokenness in the world. From the time I was hanging photos to dry in a dark room in college to the day I first stepped foot outside the airport in Kigali, God had guided every single step in between in order to bring me to this calling. Through all of this God called me to use my camera to tell His story. The greatest thing I’ve learned in all the years of stepping foot in these different countries is that God’s good news really is the hope of the world.
A few months before I was to move to Baton Rouge to go to LSU, I announced to my parents that I had finally decided on a major. I told them photography was what I wanted to do because I wanted to use the camera for good. I’ll never forget what my Dad said to me that day. With an assurance that has stuck with me He said,
“Claire, most people and most parents would tell you that you can’t be a photographer for a living or you shouldn’t chase this. But I disagree. I think you can do this.”
When deciding what to do with our lives we’re often taught to value productivity and practicality more than beauty. Storytelling through beautiful art has everything to do with productivity, increasing resources, mobilizing, and compound interest. God’s work through these films has created ripple effects that are far reaching. He has magnified the work he does in one area of the world by communicating it to the complete opposite end of the map. Visuals, audio, and storytelling are the medium that God has blessed us with in this time just as he blessed Paul with letters to communicate between churches and missionary journeys. God has given us these things so that we will tell of Him. We’ve seen God use films to call people into the field, to call people to give thousands of dollars to strangers, to call people to pray more intentionally, more often, and with more passion to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Creativity has everything to do with furthering God’s Kingdom because it is God’s creativity that captivated our hearts in the first place.
For one week in Kigali I got to see how Mary Sunshine was using her hands and her gifts to bring glory to God through sewing. And it is Mary Sunshine’s gifts, her smile, her art, her story, and her willingness to tell it that has forever connected her to people who otherwise never would have heard her story.
This is why we make films.
This is why we take photos.
This is why we tell stories.
Whatever our gifts, whatever our resources, whatever art we make and stories we tell, may we never forget that God has empowered us by His spirit and by His letters to us to tell the wonders of His beauty to a broken world.
Claire Rodger is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and speaker. She makes short films for Mission to the World with her husband, Murray, who she met through filmmaking. They married in 2018 and live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Claire and Murray are currently raising support for Murray to join the ministry full time. Please consider partnering with them to help them tell stories. You can learn more at: clairerodger.com/zoom.