Drew Hayes is not your typical missionary. Armed with a camera in addition to a Bible, he traipsed across Africa, filming WorldVenture missionaries doing what they do best. His documentaries have enhanced the way missionaries tell their own stories to supporters and friends back in the United States.
What did your mission work using media look like?
I did a three-year mid-term with WorldVenture, which was mainly focused on producing short-format documentaries in Africa. I traveled to eight different countries in Africa (Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa) working with 20 to 25 different missionaries and several different organizations. It was three years of travel, production, and putting together these videos that people could see at vimeo.com/cadvideo.
What is it about visual storytelling that made you travel through Africa for three years?
I love visual storytelling and particularly documentaries. Pictures and video have a way of transporting you and bringing you into a story that really can’t be done any other way. Words are very powerful, create very convincing arguments, and can explain something that somebody has never seen before. But when you put a video in front of someone, they feel like they’ve been there.
I wanted other people who viewed these types of videos about mission work to see what mission work really looks like, to see what it means to lead a kids’ Bible study, what it means to do life-on-life ministry, what it means to work in a developing country’s hospital, to work within a church. It gives people that jumping-off point, so instead of starting off at zero, people can start to understand what missions look like, and how they can be involved at a much higher level.
How did telling stories about WorldVenture missionaries surprise you?
The thing that surprised me the most was how well suited so many missionaries were for the work they were doing. Their personalities fit the people groups they were working in, and their passion and their heart matched the people they were working with. The continuing theme and lesson that just kept surprising me in different ways was the diversity of the body, not only in the missionaries, but also in the local churches that were being served and were serving. God’s church is not monochromatic. It is colorful, it is vibrant, it is diverse.
Which documentary you produced especially captured your heart?
One of the pieces that’s most personal to me is a short visual postcard of a little town in Cote d’Ivoire. I did four months of language acquisition and culture acquisition living in an Ivorian family’s home: learning French, going to church with them, interacting with them, hanging out, playing games with people going to work with them. I put together this short video about what a day in the life of this little town looks like, and for me it’s a way to remember those people that meant so much to me—who became family, and a great way to share this little pocket of Ivorian life with other people.
What would you say was the most challenging part of your journey making these videos?
The stress load was the hardest thing to deal with. Thankfully, WorldVenture really prepped me in training, and not blowing the punch when they said, “Drew, this is going to be really hard for you.” Because of my constant transition, it meant that I was always at the peak of stress. The newness had worn off, but I hadn’t stayed in a place long enough to renormalize. So, having good people around me, the WorldVenture missionary staff, and local nationals who just came along and were friends beside me, those were gifts.
From your perspective, what are ways missionaries can better leverage media for their work on the field?
One of the biggest challenges for a missionary is translating between where they live and work to Americans, who live in a completely different context. What looks devastating and terrible in one place is nirvana and beautiful in another place.
I think media can surpass that, but only when it’s focused as a story. There’s been a lot of success with doing Bible storytelling across the nations, where outsiders come in and start telling stories, and biblical stories are countercultural in different ways, even here in the United States. They don’t make sense to us. But when we start to tell stories, people start to understand the context, the meanings, the messages, and the things you didn’t even mean to teach. That is the power of media and visuals and video and social media. It becomes much easier to tell stories.
How did traveling through Africa affect your own relationship with God?
Africans taught me the importance of being still. I’ve seen the power of being still and present with people cut through nationals and their ability to reach out and care for each other. They have so much heart and passion to be present with one another. And by being present, they know that they can do more than they ever could with their words, training, or financial giving. They’re just present and they’re just there.
I learned the importance of simplicity, and how by having a simple life you can make space for people and make time. The biggest lesson I learned over the course of the whole thing is God’s faithfulness.