When I left for Slovenia I never imagined I would leave with a 4-week old baby back at home. The last month has been a difficult, surprising, and beautiful time. When Willow came home I had to make a lot of decisions about what I would keep and give up this summer – with constant travel booked, I knew I couldn’t make it all happen. I decided to forego every trip except this one with The Good Story for a lot of reasons, but leaving her at home is one of the more difficult things I have done.
I traveled to Slovenia through Venice, Italy, to photograph the Reach Global European Division Conference. Reach Global is a missions organization that has workers all around the world. Every two years they hold a conference to encourage, equip, and refresh these people who selflessly give all of themselves to serve hundreds upon thousands of people. To say it was an honor to in turn serve these missionaries is an understatement – I am truly in awe that I was able to participate in such an amazing endeavor.
The first few days of the conference were extremely difficult. It wasn’t hard to be there – the hotel, built into the side of a cliff, is absolutely stunning – but it was so much harder to be away from home than I anticipated. The entire week became a lesson in control, and learning to admit again that God is the one who is really in control of each and every situation. He can take care of Willow far better than I can, especially when I am thousands of miles away.
Each day was absolutely jam-packed from start to finish. For the first few mornings and evenings, Kelly, Ryan, and I (the whole team from The Good Story) photographed mini sessions for anyone who signed up so they could have updated portraits for use in newsletters, websites, and even just for personal enjoyment. Each family was so incredibly grateful, and one couple even told me they have not had an updated picture in 5 years!
Besides the mini sessions, I was solely in charge of photographing the conference itself. From workshops to large group seminars to the moments in between of networking and building relationships, I was constantly on the run from one event to the other. Each afternoon brought free time, which meant editing, resting when I could, and covering even the non-events that were happening while families were relaxing together. Because I had to create a slideshow for the last day of the event, the mounds of images I took every day had to be culled and edited immediately. It was incredibly exhausting but so much fun, and I fell into bed every night when I had finished.
The last thing I helped with was a DSLR workshop for anyone who was interested. We had a great group of people who wanted to learn how to use their camera for a variety of different reasons, from taking pictures of their grandkids to showcasing what was happening in their ministry. Watching people excitedly ‘get it,’ seeing the lightbulb go off in their eyes, and knowing they would use their skills for such an incredible purpose was beyond fulfilling.
The first few days I felt a little lonely – everyone else was connecting with old friends or people they were excited to meet after a two-year hiatus. Thankfully, I not only had a wonderful roommate who I could talk to and grab coffee with, but the team that came from Lynchburg to lead worship welcomed me in as part of the group. It was incredible to me that these friends were so eager to add someone new into the fold, and as I began to share parts of my story I was blown away by their interest in my life and the new addition to my family. Their kindness, along with amazing conversations I began to have with missionaries in all stages of service, is exactly what I needed as I continued to miss my family back home.
On the last day Kelly and I made the most of our short window of free time and sprinted down to Piran, a nearby village that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale. We shopped for souvenirs, climbed the steps of a church to see one of the most stunning views I could imagine, and began to process all that had happened at the conference.
There’s so much more I could say, but by the time the conference was finished I knew I had made the right decision. I was so grateful I cancelled my other trips – family time is too important this early in her life – but also very glad that I had decided to go and serve with The Good Story in Slovenia. The blessings from that conference will, I am sure, reverberate in my life for a long time to come.
And now what you’ve been waiting for: because of security reasons I have to be careful with what images I do share from the conference, but the beauty of the country itself will take your breath away – and they might just give you an idea for your next set of vacation plans ;)