Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried a lot of things: I studied engineering, then communications, pursued youth ministry, taught social skills to emotionally disturbed middle schoolers, advocated for political refugees, taught 4 different high school math subjects, and nearly moved to South Asia to plant churches among Muslims. God has used all of these experiences to shape me into the person I am today, but I point to one particular time in my life that has given me a vision for the future.
I spent the summer of 2008 in the middle of Turkey, producing a documentary about the first martyrs of the Turkish Church. I was given this responsibility not because of any skill, talent, or track record of success in filmmaking, but simply because I was available and willing.
The year we spent working on this film awakened a desire in me to use the power of film to inspire, motivate, and above all, to point people to Christ and His work in the world. In the years since the documentary, I’ve dreamed of several projects I would like to film someday, but for different reasons have not pursued.
I spent the summer of 2010 raising support, preparing to move to South Asia long-term to share the gospel with people who had never heard about Jesus. However, as I went through training with my teammates, I found that I spent more time daydreaming about a documentary following our church planting team than I spent actively preparing to be a church planter. When I confessed this to my teammates they affirmed me and encouraged me to pursue filmmaking.
I came back to Austin and started teaching again. My plan was to teach to pay the bills and find ways to get experience in film on weekends and during the summer, so I could eventually transition into making a living at it after a few years.
Last year I took a job at Summit Christian Academy as a math teacher, and I enjoyed it more than any job I’ve had. My students and I grew close very quickly, and I enjoyed spending my days with them and being an influence in their lives. However, the demands of the job squelched any hopes of doing film work on the side. I could see the time when I would be working on films for a living slipping further and further into the future.
This past April was the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of the men in Turkey who had been the subject of our documentary, so I watched our film again for the first time in years. Even though I had spent a full year immersed in the story and I knew it intimately, it was like I was seeing the film for the first time. I was blown away by the faith of the Turkish people in response to this tragedy, and by the goodness of God to give them hope during such a dark time. I was reminded that through this documentary, thousands of people around the world got to see this story for themselves and was thankful how God has used the film over the past few years.
With this fresh reminder, I found it very difficult to commit to teaching for another year. As I’d grown closer and closer to my students, I was becoming less and less interested in teaching them math. I started to realize that not only would I be better off doing something I cared more about, my students would be better off with a teacher who was more passionate about his subject! I explained this to my principal, who was very encouraging and supportive.
It was about this time that I started looking into opportunities at Austin Stone, my church home since my freshman year of college. I realized that the goals I have for filmmaking would be better served by apprenticing at a church with a film team rather than going through several years of film school.
The day came when I was supposed to sign my contract with the school, and I told my principal and superintendent that I was going to pursue film. At the time, I didn’t have a firm offer to intern with the film team, so this was quite a step of faith.
I got a call from Marcus Hsia (Director of Operations at Stone) a couple days later and he offered me a full time internship with the church. I was relieved to have the opportunity but I was somewhat apprehensive about raising support for a full year. I assumed I would substitute teach or do some tutoring to make enough money to live on, and then spend the rest of the time working at the church. But after a few conversations, I was convinced that I need to make the most out of this next year and the experience I will get from working 40-50 hours a week on film.
Honestly, every day since then has been a struggle to trust that God will provide for me, and it has been an attack on my pride that I won’t be able to “earn” my own living and that I’ll be dependent on the generosity of others. But, of course, I think God is using this time to build my character and make me more like Him.
I hope and pray that you’ll join me in this experience, especially through financially supporting me. I hope that in several years, I’ll look back fondly on this time, the way I think of my summer in Turkey, remembering how God has led me and blessed me with such spectacular opportunities to use my gifts and passions for His glory.