As a media team we not only tell stories. We also help give expression to ministries and ideas when the message needs a better way of getting through; where the concepts are well understood by those who use them, but are not yet distilled into something concise and complete—something that a person new to the idea can understand, pray for, be challenged by, and maybe even moved to action because of. This is one the most rewarding aspects of our role as AIM’s storytellers. It’s also one of the more difficult parts of what we do with video and images and the written word.
To do this, we often have to understand someone’s ministry and point of view almost as well as they do. So, on the cusp of a new project, we dive in: doing research, interviewing, listening, and praying for a final outcome that we haven’t yet visualized.
It’s a learning process for us, and I love that part too. I often learn far more than I could fit into the article or video. And I usually learn something new about God and faith and myself.
And so it was when I was assigned to create a series of videos for AIM’s AIDS ministry coordinator. At the onset, I was not looking forward to the project. I thought any video on AIDS would turn out flatly clinical, cold, and maybe even depressing. But I dove in. I spent days absorbed in research, learning everything I could about the epidemic—from the controversial theories on how it started, to the faint hopes of a cure in the not-to-distant future. I focused on Africa, which it turns out, really is the focus of the AIDS disaster. For a few weeks, I would come home from the office lost in somber introspection, meditate through the night, and start again the next day.
After careful copy-editing and recording the voice-overs, after visits with missionaries actively involved in AIDS ministry and interviews with a few men and woman who were infected, I set out to edit the videos. As I laid the clips down in the computer and began to cut and arrange them, the stories really hit me. Maybe I didn’t listen well while conducting the interviews and running the camera. Maybe I didn’t want to. But I sat there huddled at my desk now, headphones over my ears in a cone of solitude, and wept for the subjects on the timeline.
Each person shared about how they came to contract AIDS, and how they came to find out. They described what it felt like when the clinical officer broke the news that they were HIV positive. Each of them shared how they departed the clinic with a broken spirit and a plan to end thier life. They explained how they picked the best spot on the highway to walk out into the hurried traffic, how they bought the poison, and how they wrote the farewell note to their beloved son.
In Africa AIDS is considered a death sentence. It takes away everything. Not only your health, but your livelihood, family, friends, and in short order, your future. In Africa it is still poorly understood and poorly treated. And because of a perfect storm of culture and circumstances, it is far too easily spread.
The effect has been devastating. Over a million Africans die every year, and tens of millions more are affected in other ways: Dead parents, lost incomes, crippled communities. The numbers are staggering. But what struck me from my interactions with those who shared their stories was how AIDS, once the politics and economics and demographics are stripped away, is always about a person simply longing for transformation. From sick to well. From outcast to loved. From hopeless to hopeful.
The AIDS coordinator shared a video with me while we were filming our own. It was shot in South Africa for an initiative that provides ARVs to AIDS patients. (ARVs are drugs that slow, and even reverse the effects of AIDS.) The video is a simple portrait of a woman with AIDS who begins a treatment with ARVs. Ninety seconds spans ninety days of her life. For effect, the film is edited backwards, and in the end we see a dramatic picture of how sick she was before starting the treatment. I thought the video was a poignant example of transformation. (You can watch the 90-second video here)
The video showed the dramatic difference the ARV drugs could make. But it also reminded me of a spiritual reality—that we are all, in a very real sense, wasting away. That this is true for each of us physically is beyond a doubt. But it does not have to be true for us spiritually.
I sat and imagined the 90-second portrait of the woman run forwards, toward wellness, and saw not only her body made whole, but her soul as well. And I thought it was beautiful.
Each of the people I interviewed for my project had a story of inner transformation to tell. They talked about the difference some person had made in their life—how just one person who offered them acceptance, support, and hope in Jesus Christ, had helped turn their life around. This was the aim of our video project. To get the attention of missionaries and the African Church and help them to see that ordinary Christians can make a difference in the throes of the AIDS epidemic.
But in the process I was reminded of a great mystery: That God longs for our transformation as much as we do. Maybe even more.
“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2COR 4:16-17 ESV)
(Created for AIM’s AIDS Ministry Coordinator, this short video is a primer for the longer video I created. It was my first try with motion graphics.)