World AIDS Day 2010 : I Remember

Just last night I was visiting with a couple while riding home from a photo shoot… we got to talking about my experience in Malawi… I made the comment that I couldn’t believe that it’s been two and a half years since I boarded a plane and said my last goodbyes to that wonderful place. It is really scary how time gets away from you… I’m starting to understand what my dad means when he makes those statements.

Each year, days like today sneak up on me. I promised to never forget the things I saw. There is no doubt that I won’t forget the things I saw. But the reality is… I woke up today, and were it not for Twitter, I would have no clue that it is World AIDS Day. Each year, I find myself further and further away from my connections with the reality that people all over the world are suffering from a disease that is crippling societies… destroying families… stripping the last strands of hope that people are holding on to.

Yeah… it’s been two and a half years since I left that place. But, there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about Malawi. It may be a cup of hot tea that I drink in the morning… a dish that we have for dinner one night… when I just naturally call one of the kids in our Life Group “Iwe”… or give Sara and sad face when she is complaining about something and say “pepani” (“sorry”… said in a very childish-tone… yeah… I’m mean like that!).

Today I remember.

Today I’m wearing the shirt that a Malawian friend made me… randomly I already had it on before I remembered it was AIDS Day.

Today it is important that our friends and neighbors around the world know that they are not alone in this fight.

For those of you who didn’t know… I lived in Malawi, Africa for almost a year working with a program called HOPE for AIDS. Check out the wonderful work they are doing! I wrote about all my experiences on a blog called Hope From Malawi. Here’s a particular post I wrote when I was visiting an AIDS clinic that we supported.


World Malaria Day : 2010

As this blog is turning more and more into a photography blog, I’ve been getting more and more of a crowd around here. Fun times indeed!

But, I’m realizing that for those of you who don’t know me at all or just started getting to know me more recently, you might not realize that I’ve got a crazy infatuation with Africa… specifically Malawi. Hence the main image on top not being one of a bride, but of a young Malawian boy.

After I graduated from Texas A&M back in 2007, I decided to pack my bags and do something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I moved to Malawi, Africa for 9 months.

This experience changed my life. Forever.

Almost two years have gone by, and I honestly think about Malawi at some point every day. Little Chichewa phrases pop in and out of my mind and my heart drifts back to a place that was very different than where I am now.

I give you that bit of introduction because I don’t want you to ride off this post as just another one of those “jump on a band-wagon to help people” posts that seem to be around every corner of the internet. I’m all for helping people… indeed!

But, there are really only a few things that are pretty raw in my heart if I’m honest.

This is one of them.

When you’re in Africa, malaria is one of those things that you think about very often! I would compare it to brushing your teeth here in America. The threat of malaria comes into your mind every time you get in and out of bed (lifting up the mosquito net to quickly get in without letting anything else in with you), or when part of your morning routine is downing a pill as a proactive measure.

Now, the reality is, it’s pretty simple to keep yourself safe from getting this terrible sickness. Heck, you really don’t even have to take the pill at all if you just avoid the mosquito. But, the sad reality is that every day… EVERY DAY… more than 2,000 children DIE from malaria.




That’s a lot!

Statistics tend to just get all jumbled up in my mind usually, and the way I deal with that messiness is that I just put it in the compartment of my brain that says “crap that’s huge and I’m not huge… I’ll deal with that later”.

The reason why this is different for me is because of the faces I’ve seen. I haven’t just witnessed numbers walking around websites trying to vie for my attention. I have seen a little girl.

Her name is Gladys.

She lived in the house next door to me for several months, and was one of the most lifeless beings that I have ever seen.

For the longest time we couldn’t figure out if she was just malnourished or what.

But, finally, we figured out that this tiny child had severe malaria.

She wouldn’t have lived much longer had we not taken her to the hospital and started her on some heavy meds.

Gladys was one child out of millions. When I looked into her eyes or threw her up in the air to make her laugh, her life had tremendous value to me.

So, when I read a number like 2,000 children a day. I’m able to take it out of its compartment and put a face with that. I can place sounds and touch with that number.

So, allow me to be an advocate for the 2,000 Gladys’ that will die today from a disease that could be prevented by the simplest means.

Check out this website to see what you can do to help and to learn more about Malaria:

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

world . aids . day

Around the world today, people are stopping to consider the impact that HIV&AIDS has had on the human race.

As I stop and do just that, I’m reminded of many faces that became friends while I was in Malawi. Many people who contracted HIV and were doing their best to make the most of life with this virus.

As I write this, I am becoming aware of my tendency to move on from that experience. Faces and memories are getting blurry, and with each word of Chichewa that slips my mind, my soul forgets another detail of the reality for people living with AIDS in Malawi.

Today is as much for me as it is for them. For people living with HIV, they don’t need to be reminded that it exists. Each and every minute of every day, they know what HIV is doing to their body and to their society. It’s not for them that we pause to think… it’s for us.

It’s for us to consider the fact that 33 million of our fellow humans are currently living with a disease that is killing them at an alarming rate.

It’s a day for us to consider why 95% of those living with HIV are in developing countries.

It’s a time for us to think about the impact that this one tiny virus is having and will have on society.

It’s a chance for us to contemplate how we [you + I] need to respond.

You can’t simply ignore the fact that this is something plaguing the world.

I highly encourage you to check out this interactive AIDS experience. It will change the way you see those living with HIV.

If you’re new to this blog or haven’t known me for very long, you should also check out things I wrote while living in Malawi working with those affected by HIV&AIDS. I’ve pulled up some of the posts that I wrote specifically regarding HIV&AIDS… you can check them out here.

Refuse to not be educated about what’s happening around you.

Refuse to turn your head away from those sitting on the side of the road.




Crazy Day…

So, today has been a really interesting day for me.

It all started bright and early with a 5:30am phone call. Not knowing why my phone was ringing me out of deep sleep, I just answered it with an ID that read “unknown number” or something like that. On the other end was a lady with a British accent talking about something. So, I got out of bed and headed to the living room to have this weird conversation with this lady. She was actually a reporter with BBC News.

Yesterday, the BBC posted a “Have Your Say” forum on a new legislation that the Malawian government is proposing that would give loans to prostitutes in order to help them start a business and get off the streets. Of course there is plenty of debate about such a legislation. And, because I love Malawi so much, I just chimed in with my 2 cents, left a comment and then kinda forgot about it.

Now… here I am at 5:30 in the morning talking to this lady (who sounds just like the lady that says “BBC newwwws” on the radio … if you’ve ever listened, you would know exactly what I’m talking about) about what my thoughts are on this legislation. Honestly, I was pretty confused as to the reason why she: a) cared so much about this legislation and getting all this info about it; and b) why she cared what a guy in Texas thinks about it.

Turns out, out of the 120+ comments that people made, some people had pinged mine as an opinion they would want to hear more about. The reporter thought that I would offer an interesting perspective since I had lived in Malawi and worked with HIV/AIDS prevention and stuff.

So, she invited me to participate in an hour long live BBC Africa broadcast that started at 10:00am today.

Basically, it was kind of a forum where they start a discussion and then pull people in on the line to give their opinion about it. At the same time, people are e-mailing and texting in thoughts as well. I sat on the phone for quite a while and, based on the people they had on their talking (Malawian Minister of Gender, actual prostitutes, other important people from around the world), I was pretty sure that they probably weren’t going to get to me. But, I listened to this lively debate and had many thoughts throughout the hour.

Then, the guy said, “and now we’re going to go to Ryan in the States and see what he has to say about this. Ryan, do you think that this plan that the Malawian government is proposing is something that will actually work based on your time there?”

I had been practicing my non-Texan accent all morning to prepare for this opportunity… I really didn’t want to sound like a hick on world news! So, I talked really fast (like non-Americans tend to do) and said:

“I feel like we most certainly need to focus legislation on sex workers, but I think that the current proposal is lacking in that it only focuses on monetary things. By simply giving someone a loan, you are failing to address other important factors such as investing in the person spiritually and emotionally. Let’s try to get at the root of this issue and invest in people… invest in education. But, I also want to commend the Malawian government for at least starting down this road and developing progressive legislation that would attempt to tackle this hard issue. I just feel like it needs to be developed more and that the long-term implications need to be considered before this gets implemented. What we need is not a bandaid approach here… their needs to be a more holistic approach that deals with why people have gotten to this point.”

Then he asked me what I did while I was in Malawi, and I told him.

It was pretty short.

I just think it is crazy that I was just on world news talking about something that I honestly don’t have more than a few opinions about (by no means expert opinions).

Who would have thought that my Thursday morning would go this way?

This is the reason I LOVE BBC News!

You can check out the comment discussion here. If you click on “reader’s recommended” tab, my comment in the 8th one down. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they are going to post the audio from it. Oh well…

Lead Us Back


The words of this song have been wreaking havoc on my soul as of late.

This photo is inspired from the lyrics.

Falling down upon our knees
Sharing now in common shame
We have sought security
Not the cross that bears Your name
Fences guard our hearts and homes
Comfort sings a siren tune
We’re a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You

Lord we fall upon our knees
We have shunned the weak and poor
Worshipped beauty, courted kings
And the things their gold affords
Prayed for those we’d like to know
Favor sings a siren tune
We’ve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You

You have caused the blind to see
We have blinded him again
With our man-made laws and creeds
Eager, ready to condemn
Now we plead before Your throne
Power sings a siren tune
We’ve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You

We’re a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You
We’ve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You
We’ve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You

w/m: Bobby Gilles & Brooks Ritter
Sojourn Community Church
Listen here.


I just read this article from Al Jazeera a minute ago.

Basically, there are some new testimonies emerging from people who escaped from the oppressive regime of North Korea a while back. They are telling horrific facts about how the North Korean regime is using disabled (mentally and physically) children as guinea pigs for testing their chemical and biological weapons.

The government says that their “best contribution to society” is to be guinea pigs… and without much choice of their own, they are ripped away from their families and thrown into gas chambers and other horrible devices.

When I read stuff like this, I really get pissed-off/discouraged.

I think of a line from a great Sara Groves song that says: “Lord I have a heavy burden of all I’ve seen and known, it often overwhealms me“.

I mean, seriously, what do you do with crap like that?

I refuse to believe that you can just ignore it because they live on the other side of the world, look different than us, sound different than us and have closed themselves off from the rest of the world.

Does that mean we can just count it as a loss?

What’s even more depressing are the crazy other things that are happening in North Korea (and numerous other countries for that matter) that we aren’t really aware of.

Does it seem a little odd that we get all worked up and freaked out about things that only affect us and are rather insignificant to the rest of the world?

Healthcare overhaul?

Whether Michael Jackson’s death was foul play or not?

Whether your church has a children’s program or not?

Don’t some of those things just start to seem a little insignificant when we consider what’s going on around the world?

Is it just me, or are those things merely distractions that keep us from seeing things that are really important?

I find myself facing so many distractions. I really do.

At the end of the week, if I’m not careful, I will find myself consumed with: cooking a good meal and savoring it with my wife and a nice glass of wine; editing a photograph all night until I’m happy with it; reading a book about how church should/could/would/must be and letting it end there; imagining how we can make our worship/creative ministry better and cooler and more effective at our church.

If I’m not careful, I will wake up the next Monday and start all over again.

I will have taken all these good things and have made them into ultimate things. The only things that I do.

I strongly believe that life is a balance.

I believe there must be a place in my life for savoring good food and drink (especially with other people in community).

I feel alive when I have the chance to focus on photography and make images that will inspire.

I am all for revisiting how we do church and making sure it is in line with what Christ intended.

And I feel that the church should be a place where creativity happens, and am passionate about seeing us get there as a Body of believers.

However, if at the end of our lives we look back and say that we enjoyed good things with good people, were able to create and foster environments of creativity and in the end make a church that looks super-cool in our culture… yet the world is still full of horrible injustices and we didn’t even pause to pray that the God of justice would come and make things right.

Restore things to how they should be.

Then, have any of the other things even been worth it?

Don’t get me wrong… I am realizing the truth that humans (no matter how hard we try) will never be able to cure the injustices in the world. To set out on a mission to do that would be highly prideful and self-righteous.

I’m not talking about forsaking all things to make the world a perfect place. That’s not going to happen.

I’m talking about being aware of the realities that are occurring in the world that God has placed us in and then realizing that we have the ONLY hope for this world living inside us (if we are reginerate follower of Christ… not just humans with happy hearts).

Are we being good stewards of that hope?

Do our hearts break for the things that break God’s heart?

Do we even see the things that break God’s heart, or are we too distracted by our attempts to make sure we’re doing everything right?

Clean Water is Good

I thought this video was really impactful. It’s short and simple and doesn’t really pull at your heartstrings or anything.

Just true.

I think back to how many times I saw people getting water from much worse sources than this, yet I didn’t really think that much of it because that’s just what they do.

But, could I ever imagine having to do that myself? Having to serve this to my wife or children?

No one should.

There is a Bill in the Senate right now that isn’t getting a whole lot of attention that would provide 100 million people with first-time access to sustainable sources of clean water.

That’s a BIG deal!

All you need to do it click here and put your name down to say you think it should be so.

We wouldn’t think this is acceptable if it was happening on our soil… why should we think it acceptable for other people?