For our first-ever photo contest, we asked the SEND community to share their favorite images from 2016. These 13 images — and the stories behind them — show the diversity of the missionary experience. Cherry blossoms in Japan remind a missionary kid of home. A lone man on a bike fuels a family’s passion to serve in Slovenia. Caribou on a road reflect a worker’s understanding of the physical needs of his village. And two little shepherds illustrate a family finally at home.
First place: ‘Sweetheart in the slums’ by Hania Szymczak
Hania grew up as a missionary kid in Poland. She now lives in Germany. She took this photo in Hyderabad, India, where she was serving short-term with another mission organization.
“Most mornings, I would go to slums with Indians who were missionaries in their own country. We would tell Bible stories to the mostly Hindu and Muslim women and children, pray with them, and teach basic English. I was struck by the children’s joy. Despite their difficult life situations, they constantly had these contagious smiles on their sweet faces.
“Most of the people I met in the slums had neither smartphones nor cameras and seemed to prize their few physical photos (mostly from special occasions) quite highly. So, capturing smiles on camera became one of my personal projects, and when I left, I printed out some physical prints for the families as a thank you to them for sharing their language, food, and culture, and opening their homes to me, a Christian and a foreigner. This photo is one of them.”
Second place: ‘Norwegian fjords’ by Caleb Myers
Caleb Myers lived in Hungary for nine years as a missionary kid. He now attends university in America. This photo was taken in Norway, where he studied photography for nine months.
“My sister, our friends and I went hiking in the fjords. We camped exactly where this photo was taken. It was amazing to wake up to a sunrise coming through the Norwegian fjords. I wanted to capture the beautiful fjords and my sister in the same photo. I love photography and being able to capture the experiences I get to have as an MK.”
Third place: ‘Fitting in’ by Nathan Garrett, Romania
Nathan and his wife, Brittany, are church planters in Romania. He took this photo at their church, Calea Spre Cer, in the village of Rastu Nou.
“Our boys were invited to be part of the Christmas pageant for the first time this year. They were so proud! They were chosen to play shepherds and none of the plentiful shepherds around us wear bathrobes and headdresses. So this was a new experience trying to dress them like real Romanian shepherds! This picture was taken in haste on a phone as the kids quickly changed clothes and lined up to begin the pageant. It signifies our assimilation into this new life. We are just coming to the end of our first term and are finally starting to see our family settling in and becoming part of this new home. The kids participating in this Christmas program was the highlight of their entire Christmas. And we enjoyed watching them fit right in.”
Honorable mention: ‘Calvary in the city’ by April McDonald, Poland
April arrived in Poland just three months ago. In addition to learning Polish so that she can serve on a church-planting team, she teaches English and builds relationships with her students. She took this photo near First Baptist Church of Wroclaw, which hosts both her English school and an international church plant.
“It was a bright, sunny, winter’s day, so I decided to take an afternoon walk and explore a little bit more of my new city. Near the end of my walk I saw a beautiful sight. This apartment building looks like many others in my city: boxy and tan, with a bit of graffiti dotting the bottom that usually catches my eye as I walk by. But on this particular afternoon, something amazing drew my attention up. The shadows of the cross, rooftops, and trees reminded me of Calvary Hill — and also reminded me that Christ is present and working in people’s lives in Poland. In the midst of everyday life, He’s right there. He’s bringing people closer to Him, and I feel truly blessed and honored to be a part of this work!”
Honorable mention: ‘Caribou crossing’ by Daniel Buehler, SEND North
Daniel lives in Canada’s Northwest Territories. He works with men in a village and has been on the field for nine year. He took this photo on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon. The road is the lifeline of his village, connecting the Northwest Territories with the Yukon Territory.
“I was traveling to SEND North’s annual conference in Alaska as I saw these caribou. It is always great to see caribou on the road. They are the most important animals with my people and are their favorite food.”
Honorable mention: ‘Love language’ by Elaine Loewen, Japan
Elaine and her husband, Joel, work in a church plant in the northeastern part of Japan. This church was started after the triple disaster in March 2011. Most of the people who attend are elderly tsunami survivors. This photo was taken in the Loewens’ home during a fellowship meal with people who come to church but are not yet believers.
“It was very close to Valentine’s Day when we had a fellowship meal in our home. Joel had a heart-shaped puzzle on which was written 1 John 4:10 in Japanese. We decided to have the people put it together and then read the verse. It was exciting for us to see their tenacity to get the puzzle put together, but even more exciting to hear them read this verse, which describes God’s love — true love. Likely, it was the first time for them to read this verse!”
Honorable mention: ‘Why we go’ by Chris Nite, Slovenia
Chris and his wife, Sherry, are appointees to Slovenia. They hope to move there with their two children this year. He took this photo on a vision trip in July.
“We were sitting in the main square of Ptuj, watching a wedding party come out of the town hall. I happened to look over and saw the man riding his bicycle. It was just a quick snap, but it captures a sense of why we feel called to Slovenia. Ptuj is the oldest town in Slovenia and other than SEND’s presence there, there are no evangelical missions working. There apparently hasn’t been a Protestant church in Ptuj in 400 years. I see the people of Ptuj and realize that many of them, like this old man on his bicycle, will live their entire lives without hearing the gospel. I prayed for him on that day and realized that there is a good chance that I will be the only person to specifically pray for his salvation.”
Honorable mention: ‘On the road to history’ by Michaela Eipperle, Ukraine
Michaela lives with her family in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is 16, and her family has lived in Ukraine for 14 years. She took this picture at the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle, built more than 700 years ago.
“I took this photo when my dad and I were traveling to Chernivtsi to teach a Bible college course. This is a really cool castle, and even though we didn’t go inside, we had fun taking pictures of the outside.”
Honorable mention: ‘Fall in Spain’ by Deysi Aracely Gomez Poroj, Spain
Deysi is a church planter from Guatemala who serves in Guadalajara, Spain. She has been on the field since 2011. She took this photo on the way to the town cemetery.
“I was walking with my friend Lupe along a path we often take through a forest of pine trees. When I saw this road, it was different. Calm, order and a good view of the fall. Plus, I wanted to remember this nice time with my friend.”
Honorable mention: ‘Memory of home’ by Esther Edwards, Japan
Esther, a missionary kid, recently left her home in Japan to study in the States. Her parents have been in Japan off and on since 1993. She took this photo at Shiroishi Castle.
“I was getting ready to leave for college, but I wanted to see the sakura (cherry blossoms) in full bloom, so we went to Shiroishi castle to picnic and get some shots that I could treasure even after leaving Japan.”
Honorable mention: ‘Before the goodbye’ by John Edwards, Japan
John runs the D House internship program in Tohoku, Japan. He has lived in Japan since 1993. He took this photo of his daughter, Esther, at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
“My daughter suggested taking a photo of her blowing snow. She is our youngest child and she was soon leaving for the United States to begin college, so we took this first trip to Hokkaido as a fun, memorable activity. We are now back in Japan as empty nest parents.”
Honorable mention: ‘Sky ride’ by Julie Cox, East Asia
Julie lives in East Asia where her husband teaches at an international school. Her parents have worked with SEND for 40 years.
Honorable mention: ‘Father’s love’ by Darwin Stoesz, Japan
Darwin and his wife, Karen, partner with a Japanese church, Nishibori Christ Gospel Church, to do evangelism. Darwin also is SEND Japan’s business manager. Karen serves on the board of the Christian Academy in Japan where their daughters, Clara and Anna, attend. Darwin took this photo during Sunday school at Nishibori Christ Gospel Church.
“The kids were making cards for Father’s Day. I was proud of Clara, so I took a picture of her making me a Father’s Day card. The other kids in this picture are kids from the church.”