The Story Behind the Project

“You need to do what you’re doing, for free.” 

What was that about? I pensively glanced to my friend as she put the car in park. Judging by her changeless expression I decided that what I had heard must’ve come from inside my head so I didn’t mention it. We had just pulled up to the church building and the words ran through my mind as we made our way into the building and to some open seats. The worship had already started and the music began to drown out the confusing thought that had felt more like an issue than it did a suggestion. As the next song began, I had already moved on. A few chords rang out to transition and the verse began. I cheered on the lyrics. I’m caught in your grace. I was lost in the melody of the song when my focus was interrupted. The words of the chorus snapped me back to my previous thoughts as if someone on the row behind me had tapped me on the shoulder right when I was most consumed with my own worship. My eyes came open and I looked around. No one around me seemed to be bothered. Once again I had heard the words, “Do what you do for, for free.” Well that’s interesting and slightly aggravating. I read the words to the chorus that were being projected on the screen to double check that I hadn’t just misinterpreted the lyrics of the song. That would be a funny worship song. I imagined everyone around me stretching out their arms and singing, “DooOOoo what you doooo, but doooo it for FREEEE.” Catchy. There was no sign my distracting thought on the screen but as the song continued I heard wordless confirmations of this idea that had seemed to randomly occur in the car. The chorus spoke things to me that were not being projected. I was a little dismayed that this song happened to be a song that the worship team chose to repeat the chorus over, and over and over before it’s conclusion but finally the song ended and the confusing commands stopped. We sat down. The preacher got up to begin his sermon, “Today, we’re going to begin a series called “Hearing God for dummies.” This Sunday we’re going to focus on the way that God can use urgings and seemingly random thoughts that he has put on our hearts, to speak to us.” OH, good. 

 “… OK. I’m listening.” 

I dabble at a good many things. I’ve got my hands in multiple jars when it comes to occupation. They all generally fall under the umbrella of the arts but they’re varied, and sometimes they’re cohesive to one another and sometimes they aren’t. I felt the call at the beginning of the summer (2010) to give my life’s work to someone free of charge… but what did that mean? At the time of the charge I had been meditating on ways to turn my business into one that merged all of the things that I do into a single entity that uses all of the visual medias to benefit non profits and similar organizations, like the Zambia Medical Mission that I had grown up so deeply connected to. So when I felt the pull to start giving it all away my thoughts naturally went to this idea- but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I had considered offering my services for free but under the stipulation that I didn’t have the money to send myself at first, and eventually allotting for myself a salary through the fundraising of each project. Did doing my work for free mean that I never got to the point of a salary, that I would always just offer my services in return for transport? Or did it mean that I didn’t even ask them to get me there? I didn’t know how either one of those things would play out logistically. I had heard the call, but failed to catch the details. My heart was leading me in the direction of the Zambia Medical Mission. It made sense. I felt like I needed to film a documentary and give back to Zambia, who had given so much to me but only the Lord knows why I thought I needed to film a documentary. I didn’t know how to make a documentary, but that is what I felt. Over the next month I began to see that for the first time in fifteen years, it didn’t look like I was going to make it to Zambia. In my mind I felt doubly cursed that I was being plagued by a call I could not shake and of all years, this was the year that going to Zambia was in question. What seemed to be the easy & obvious answer, was not.

The Transition

I don’t remember exactly when it happened. All I remember is standing in the street late at night about a month after that day at church telling a friend of mine, who had asked about my plans for summer, that I felt like I was supposed to film a documentary for my church. I wish that I did, but I don’t remember the complexities of the transition between my feeling called to film in Africa and my decision that I was being called to stay. I wish that I could say I had more clarity about the situation. I wish I could say that I was certain at the moment of the call that it was the right decision and that I went forward without hesitation about how I was going to pay my bills or about the way it was going to look to others. I wish I could say that I was really excited about responding to the call… I was willing, but I can’t say that I was excited at the beginning. The next few months looked a little strange. I worked on the film every day of the summer for hours and hours but it continually looked like not much was happening. Every day I felt the pressure, to start making something materialize, grow a little heavier. At that point I still hadn’t even begun the physical film work because each day as I started to go that direction, things were just not in order. I was battling. I would start something and for one reason or another it wouldn’t come together. I couldn’t concrete a specific message for the film, I was getting nothing in the way of a venue to show it, or an audience. I had nothing. I knew there must be a purpose, but I couldn’t find it.  So every day I got up and I watched other people’s films for inspiration, I read books, I meditated on scripture, I wrote, I brainstormed, I listened… & let’s be real, I played the guitar. It began to seem like I was very wrong, like I was just caught in a day dream that stemmed from an egotistical desire to save the world… I began to think maybe it was time to start shooting more weddings.
When my dad called I was sitting on the mattress that makes up my sorry excuse for a couch, the same place I sat working on this ridiculous idea every day that summer. “Hey there, Hope is thinking about having a gathering about the time school starts back up. Think your friends would be interested in playing a show for us?”  Sure they would. I gave him my friend’s number and started to get off of the phone. Before I had a chance to hang up I heard him ask, “Do you think your video will be ready by then?” What? No. That was two weeks away. I had basically decided it was time to drop it altogether. I still wasn’t even sure what it was supposed to look like and every day it seemed more and more like I was just wasting time, and running lower and lower on money and my defenses. There was no video. With an unexpected hostility in my voice I heard myself say, “No. There’s no way.”  I sat on my couch slightly stunned and slightly angry. I argued with myself out loud. There was no way that I could film and edit and entire film in two weeks, because frankly, I didn’t even know how. But, as I argued I began to realize that this was the reason I was supposed to film and for whatever reason, I was given two weeks to do it. Five minutes later I was on the phone with my dad again. “Ok, I’ll do it.”

    Two weeks to film

 What happened in that two weeks was an incredible display of what happens when the Lord wants to make his point. All of the time leading up to then I had wanted to get going, to make something happen. I wanted reassurance and security but the Lord wanted me trust and therefore he had me wait. He had me sitting around with a daily opportunity to doubt and a daily opportunity to succumb to the way it appeared from the outside. The more impossible the situation seems, the more miraculous it is when it so purposefully comes together. It was not an easy two weeks. First, three very long days were spent shooting thousands of still frames in random places, with the help of many random people who just happened to pass by, and one very dedicated best friend. I had my mind set on making the introduction portion a stop motion film. I’m sure we looked like crazy people, me standing on tables or laying on the ground giving muffled instruction to my best friend from behind my camera. “Ok, now move it one inch to the left… no, wait. Move it back just a little. Nevermind, put it where it was. *click* Ok, now do it again… HEY, YOU IN THE BLUE SHIRT… yeah, will you hold this name tag for a second?
Next we took a trip to Austin to enlist the help of one of the best musicians there is, who also happens to be a good friend, and who also happens to be a really nice guy that got suckered into helping this scatterbrained artist with a soundtrack for the film. The poor guy, he probably had no idea what he was agreeing to when he agreed to help. We showed up to his house in Austin somewhere during the first week of filming with very little direction and very little time. I had given him some ideas over the summer about where I was going with the film and what I wanted but the truth was that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted and no idea how to get all the information from my brain to his brain so he could get it from his brain to his guitar. I gave him very little to work with but he managed to finish all of the audio in one day’s work and early the next morning we left and headed back to Abilene because I was scheduled to meet someone for my first shoot. Time was running out and all I had was most of a stop motion intro and a soundtrack.
We made it back to Abilene fifteen minutes before I was supposed to meet the people that I was filming that day. I was filming a couple who I didn’t know very well. A man from church had approached me at our weekly meal the Sunday before and asked if I knew their story. They hadn’t been going to Hope for long and I didn’t know their story but he said it was pretty incredible and asked if I would think about filming them. I didn’t tell him then, but it just so happened that I only had three of the six people that I needed in the film and at the moment he approached me I was playing with my food anxiously and desperately brainstorming about who else would be right to ask. Please keep in mind that I was, and continue to be, profoundly inept when it really boils down to it. I was not prepared and was not even positive what I was going to get that day that I showed up to film slightly agitated, and very stressed. What unfolded before me was utterly humbling. Pieces came together, unexpected testimonies were filmed, words of power and grace were spoken and I had my first of countless realizations that I was just there to hold the camera. From filming to post production it became more and more evident that I was not there to tell the stories of those people, but I was there simply as the vehicle to allow their stories to be told. If I detailed every nuance of the way this film came together you would have to be reading it in novel form because there’s too much, it’s much too complex. I won’t make this a novel. However if I didn’t  highlight some of the most incredible parts I would be keeping from you the most beautiful facets of the story is continuing to unfold and it is  important in the role that this experience plays into the project I’m about to undertake.

If I would’ve had all summer to film, it would have looked a lot more like I had something to do with the whole thing. With very little time, it was made apparent that I was just a marionette in the hands of a skilled designer. Almost exactly a year from the beginning of that story, I’m seeing the ways that I was being refined by that process to trust, to listen, to wait… and now to go.

Time to go

What makes me think that God is now giving me a similar calling to do something in Zambia? Well… mainly because it seems absolutely ridiculous to me. Which, according to my personal experience, means that I must be on the right track. I am thinking of writing a single chapter book entitled-

“How to Know if God is Calling You to Something- Based on My Personal Experience”

Chapter 1

Ask Yourself these questions.
  • Is it easy? No.
  • Does it seem completely nonsensical? Yes.
  • Do you want to do it? Not particularly.
  • Will it be difficult? Absolutely.
  • Is the completion of this task so far fetched and unlikely that there is no possible way you could complete it on your own? Yes.
  • Will it give him glory? Yes.

Then God is calling you to do it.


Ok, I’m just being cheeky but joking aside, those are the questions (and my answers) that I ask myself about this project because that is how I determine what to make of it. Why? Because a year ago, I heard a quiet voice say, “Give your life to me.”  and I said “Ok, but that’s hard.”  Then I heard a gentle voice say, “Now trust me with it.” and I said,  “Ok, but this is impossible, nonsensical and way out of my reach.” and to that, I heard a simple, “Not for me.” 


Everything about deciding to go to back to Zambia only three months before the fact seems nonsensical to me. I knew months and months ago what I was being called to do but life hasn’t exactly been predictable and I haven’t exactly been willing to consider it. Sitting in a hospital room with my mother on New Year’s eve I knew the decision that I was facing but at that moment I decided that nothing about leaving the country to go do something much bigger than me, that I didn’t even know how to do made any sense. Leaving the possibility open meant that I would wrestle with my decision to go until I was on the plane and it was too late to turn around. Too much has been uncertain and so the easiest thing to do was to just say no and close the door. My dad and I both came to the same conclusion. The thought of leaving was just too hard and too far fetched and just it seemed unnecessary. However, midway through March that door opened again and it turns out that my father had been struggling with a call to go as well. His call to Zambia looked very different than my call, but he was being called to face a decision we had both already made once and he asked me to also reconsider my answer. After a couple more weeks of serious struggle and prayer I decided that I would go to Zambia with my father and I would do this film.  Last year I said yes to something I didn’t understand, but when it was all said and done I had experienced the faithfulness of the Lord because I took one measly step towards trusting him. Now, knowing what I know and being where I am I can see with even more clarity the way I was being refined. I didn’t have to raise a lot of money to do that film, but I have to raise a lot of money to do this one. Responding to that call meant letting go of my idea of timing, and struggling with what my life looked like to others while I sat around and planned, letting go of control and learning to listen. Responding to this call means that I take all of those things that were used to teach me to trust and to remember them now while I try to make it happen financially, while I try to grasp the concept, while I plan to leave my mother behind right in the midst of her hardest season.

Sharing with you is hard because once it’s all out on the table you know the plan and I’ve just heaped an extra measure of pressure on myself. I would much prefer to keep it all a secret and then SURPRISE! Here’s a film you didn’t expect! I have exceeded your expectations. That’s not how it works I don’t suppose. To find out about my need and how to help click here or go to the Zambia Project page at the top of the blog.

To watch the full length film “Networks” for Hope Church of Christ  please click HERE.


4 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Project

  1. Pingback: The Story Behind the Film | CLAIRity by Jessalyn Claire

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