Photographer Josh Merrill met then-mobilizer Ryan Gilles at a conference held by Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Their conversations led to an internship with our Communications team to enhance his study of Communications at Moody. As part of his internship he visited the community of Mzamomhle, a township just outside East London in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Here's Josh's story...
My love for the art of photography began at a pretty early age. I had an insatiable curiosity for all things outdoors. I never lost that childlike curiosity for the natural world, but didn't really have an outlet for expressing it in a constructive way. Getting my first real camera opened the door to a new world of expressing my love for creation. I took as many pictures as I could, as often as I could, and eventually honed my skills into creating images that people enjoyed seeing. Through photography I was able to share the unique moments that I saw and invite others into celebrating those moments along with me.
I'm still passionate about perusing God's creation and sharing my discoveries with others. I look at the world around me and edit it with my camera hoping to tell a truthful and real story. Since I'm primarily a nature photographer, my focus upon people in the community of Mzamomhle was quite different.
I spent my time with Jonathan and Juliet Stuck who live and serve there. I was eager to help document the beginnings of integrated community transformation in Mzamomhle. This “township” consists mostly of informal shacks occupied by very low to zero income individuals that have experienced decades of racial oppression and have received very little development support from outside of the community.
Given these dire circumstances, many of the external conditions that I witnessed were much of what one would expect... very difficult, unhealthy living circumstances... ten-person families living in bedroom-sized shacks... most residents lacking regular access to healthy food.. uninsulated electrical wires running to-and-fro across the paths that children scurried over creating a major risk of electrocution... broken glass and garbage littering walkways, and open sewage clogging the ditches along the streets. All of this exists within an environment where HIV/AIDS infection rates are staggering. Violent crimes, especially rape, are commonplace.
These factors paint a bleak picture, but this is not where the story ends.
There's more to Mzamomhle than its obvious pain.
During a walk alongside the Stucks and some community members, I was struck with a sense of bountiful life present around every corner.
We were met with curiosity and intrigue, but also with a sense of welcome. Down every side trail and out of every shack's doorway poured streams of life. Children came in waves that started with shy interest and crested in youthful exuberance. Mothers peeked out from behind weathered door-jams, and noticing my big camera, asked if I would make a photograph of them.
These people tell the story of Mzamomhle. They reminded me once again that each one of us is created in God's image having dignity and value.
Being invited into their stories and into their lives was something that touched me and my photography in a profound way. I'm grateful for the opportunity to take honest and real photographs while still being available and present with the people around me. I hope the images I've captured tell the true story of a community filled with hope, life, and dignity.
Watch for more photos from Josh's time in Mzamomhle. Learn how you can use your gifts and passions with ITeams. Comment below... we'd love to hear from you.