My four-year-old daughter, Hope, LOVES taking pictures. I mean LOVES it. Spend a moment scrolling through our phones and you’ll typically see three types of photos:
1. Those obviously taken by my husband and me, typically featuring our family or sometimes a scenic landscape;
2. Those obviously taken by Hope, most often distinguished by the fact that they come in burst mode containing 200 pictures of the same thing;
3. Those requested by Hope, typically featuring pictures of an interesting cake from The Great British Bake Off or a cookie she wanted to memorialize before devouring.
Along the way, Hope’s picture taking obsession has led to some awkward moments. Often, when we’re eating at a restaurant, Hope will point wildly to someone at a nearby table and say something about them, their clothes, or their food that’s captured her attention. She’ll then ask VERY LOUDLY to take a picture of them. At first, I was mortified by this behavior. Who wants to be the parent of a kid who’s always pointing at other people?
But then I realized this was actually a teachable moment.
The next time we were out and about and Hope gestured at someone and asked to take their picture, I calmly explained that it’s not OK to take pictures of people without their permission, to which Hope quickly asked, “Why not Mama?”
In response, I explained how ALL people have inherent worth and value and how, when you take pictures of them without asking, it feels like you’re stripping this worth and value away. You’re treating them like an object rather than a person filled with God-given dignity.
It’s a message I’ve given what feels like a bazillion times – but never to my own daughter, always to the big kids I pastor, typically prior to embarking on a mission trip where a desire to capture photos for Instagram accounts and church slideshows often leaves those you seek to serve feeling used, as though they’re animals at a zoo being photographed for someone else’s benefit.
That’s why over the years, I’ve come to believe that creating picture rules can be one of the easiest, most effective ways to ensure that you do missions without long-term harm. Typically, I work with teens in our pre-trip meetings to craft photo rules that then become part of our team covenant. Photo rules almost always include:
1. Don’t take photos on your first day in a community. Get to know the locals first.
2. Don’t take before and after shots. Those are ALWAYS about you and the work YOU’VE accomplished, never about those you’ve gotten to know.
3. Ask first. If you want to take a picture of someone, get their permission. If there’s too many people to ask their permission, then you shouldn’t take the shot. And if you want to post a picture online, ask those in it separately if that’s OK.
4. Take pictures WITH people, not of people. After you get someone’s permission to be in a photo, take pictures that highlight your relationship with one another.
5. Rather than have EVERYONE on your team take the same picture, designate one person in your group each day to be your photographer. That makes pictures much less overwhelming for locals and forces your team to work together.
When followed, these rules help ensure that the work you do on mission trips isn’t harmed by the pictures you take. It helps teach others about people’s dignity and worth.
That’s a lesson I want all people to learn… Whether they’re 16 years old and on a mission trip or 4 years old and sitting at a local restaurant.
To learn more about how to do short-term mission trips without long-term harm, check out my book, A Mission That Matters.