Summer in Moldova

Sometimes when someone tells you about a place where they’ve had a wonderful experience, you aren’t sure if their experience was swayed by their personal circumstance or if it truly is an objective review of a place’s culture and setting. That’s how I felt when one of my (Cassie’s) friends told us we were going to LOVE Moldova, the teeny-tiny landlocked country in between Romania and Ukraine, and the poorest country in Europe.

After FOUR days of continual air travel with a ridiculous number of delays and cancelled flights (with an overnight in Raleigh, a 12-hour layover in DC, an overnight flight on our way to Germany, and then an overnight in Munich) we FINALLY arrived in Moldova. As we drove out of the capital city of Chișinău (which sort of sounds like “kiss you now” in Romanian), we too fell deeply in love with this gorgeous country. This country truly is a special place.

Moldova might not have an ocean, but in summer, it has seas of yellow sunflowers. We were overwhelmed by the beauty as we drove past miles upon miles of giant sunflower fields. It also has delicious fruits and vegetables that put our too-early-to-be-picked-to-then-export-to-the-U.S. fruits and vegetables to shame. But beyond those superficial reasons of taste and beauty, we met inspiring people. We saw incredible work being done. We met people empowered to change the course of their lives and their children’s lives. We saw sex trafficking survivors living restored lives. We are better people because of the people we met and experiences we shared with them in Moldova.

In Moldova, we were working with two organizations to produce three videos for each organization.

The first organization we were working with is Moldova Mission. Moldova Mission is a nonprofit organization that was created to bring hope, faith, safety, purpose and, ultimately, to elevate the quality of life for Moldovan children and future generations. One of the ways they do that is through a summer camp for youth in the southern part of the country, in a city called Cahul. By bringing together kids from broken families who might be at risk for human trafficking, they provide them with a safe and fun atmosphere where the truth of the Gospel is taught and transforms their lives. By partnering with the local church in Cahul, the kids who decide to accept Christ in their lives can grow in their walk with God and be discipled year-round.

Watch the video we produced to see their work in action!

 

Below is Ian’s story, just one of the many kids whose lives was transformed from this camp.

 

Human trafficking is a problem in Moldova, just like it is all over the world. After escaping her traffickers, Nadia wants to prevent human trafficking and help young women who have returned home after being exploited. With Moldova Mission’s new campus in Cahul, they will be able to help her do that. Watch Nadia’s story below to find out how!

 

After our week serving with Moldova Mission, we documented the work of Invest-Credit, a Moldovan-run micro finance (and self-sustaining) organization that gives small loans to help Moldovan entrepreneurs launch or expand their business. We saw the first-hand impact these loans have on not only the businessmen and women who receive the loans, but also the impact it has on their families and employees. Among the hard-working loan-recipients and clients we visited were a seamstress, greenhouse farmer, open-field farmer, beekeeper, fence maker, retailer, and a driving school business owner. We visited clients both in the rural area of Cahul as well as the more urban setting in the capital of Chișinău.

Below is an overview of Invest-Credit, which provides you with a little historical background of why micro finance is so important for this country, which only received its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The work they’re doing is incredible, and we highly encourage you to watch the videos we produced for them!

 

We had the pleasure of meeting Mihai, a greenhouse farmer who has been a client of Invest-Credit for the past 10 years. The first loan he took out was for $2,000 and since then he’s taken out three or four more to expand his now booming agriculture business. His gratitude was apparent not only during his interview, but afterward when he invited us to eat watermelon on his patio with his family and gifted us a 10-pound bag of green peppers and cucumbers from his farm. It was such a joy to capture his story, and we are thankful we can share it with you!

 

After our work in Moldova was complete, we decided to take a side trip to visit some common tourist destinations since we don’t find ourselves in Europe that often! On our trip, we visited Germany (Munich, Stuttgart, Triberg and the Black Forest), Switzerland (Zurich), Hungary (Budapest) and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Of course we loved all the places we visited, each for unique reasons. All of them, though, had the flaw of secondhand cigarette smoke, which was appalling, perhaps Europe’s worst quality.

STUTTGART, GERMANY

We went to Stuttgart for one reason, to visit our friends and supporters Dennis and Amy. Unfortunately, Amy was visiting family in North Carolina when we were there, but Dennis still welcomed us into their beautiful home and introduced us to his village just a short train ride outside the city of Stuttgart. We wandered their quaint village taking pictures and enjoying Germany, probably our favorite country on our four country side trip. Germany is environmentally conscious, with lots of bikers and impeccably on-time public transportation as the main form of getting around. Everything in Germany seemed straightforward and efficient. Parks and green spaces abound and the cities we visited were always clean. The people were really nice too, and frequently volunteered help if we looked like we were struggling to figure something out (like using the machines to purchase our train tickets)! Jordan enjoyed the best beer in the world, at some of the cheapest prices we’ve ever seen and we developed a life-long hankering for soft pretzels!

Triberg, Germany and the Black Forest

Traveling to Triberg on the Deutsch Bahn train was like traveling through fairy tale, passing beautiful rolling fields dotted with small villages and castles perched on hills. Triberg itself is a tiny town that boasts the largest Cuckoo clock in the world, but we found that underwhelming after our day hike through the nearby Black Forest. The forest is so thick that sunlight can hardly penetrate to the ground, which is how it gets its name. We found hiking through the forest to be incredibly relaxing, passing by gorgeous waterfalls where we had a picnic lunch. And of course we had to try Black Forest cake as well!

Zurich, Switzerland

Switzerland had all the great qualities of Germany, the only downside was that it was insanely expensive! Thankfully, we knew this ahead of time and prepared ourselves by grocery shopping in Germany and eating many meals from our rations, which were actually pretty delicious (Nutella-covered bananas and bread for breakfast, German-style paprika salami, cheese and rolls for lunch and lots of apples for our serving of fruits). I hate to admit that we never had a fancy fondue dinner out, but something deep inside of us felt like it was wrong to pay a minimum of $50 per person for dipping meat into really, REALLY stinky cheese. What we didn’t spend on food, we spent renting bikes for exploring. Actually, the bike rental was free, and that’s precisely why we decided to spend a full 12-hours biking 60 miles in one day! Pedaling beside the crystal clear, refreshingly cold alpine lake with the Swiss Alps as our backdrop was definitely one of the highlights from our entire vacation. When we were thirsty, we filled our water bottle from fountains along the way. When we were famished, we gave into temptation (and got our calories in) by stopping in a discount grocery store and buying (and eating) an entire box of ice cream Mars Bars. When we were hot, we dove into the turquoise water and swam. When we were nearly done putting in our 60 miles and thought the day couldn’t get any better, we then stumbled upon the hip local hangout where arts and culture abound. Behind the cool-in-itself 550-yard-long railway bridge which has now been transformed into the Viadukt’s boutique shops and local farmer food market, we stumbled upon Frau Gerolds Garten in Zurich-West. Here, businessmen and women, artists, bankers, and foodies gather for a common cause: food. Well, two common causes: food and beer.

Budapest, Hungary

After taking an overnight train and resting our very sore legs from our previous day’s 60-mile bike ride, we decided the best way to stretch them out would be to walk miles upon miles exploring the HOT cities of Buda and Pest (separated by the Danube River but connected by a few bridges). A bit dirtier than we expected, Budapest’s architecture makes up for its littered streets. This destination must be an architect’s playground because everywhere you look, there are incredible buildings that have no historical importance, they are just the buildings that exist and house everyday people. Then you get to the real tourist destinations, which should be on the World Wonders list. It’s a tie whether the Hungarian Parliament Building or Matthias Church would come in second for the most impressive man-made building we’ve seen, only second to the Taj Mahal. We got to see the huge Hungarian Parliament Building (the largest building in Hungary) in many different lights: at dusk, lit up at night and in the early morning light. Across the river on the Pest side was our other favorite, the Roman Catholic Matthias Church. The roof is covered with the famous Zsolnay ceramic tiles, which make the church even more beautiful and colorful.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is a blur of gorgeous architecture. Around every corner is another baroque church or gothic castle, arch, bridge, tower, or even a mini Eiffel tower! We spent our days wandering the cobblestone streets, photographing every inch of the way. Cassie has always wanted to visit Prague, since her mother’s family is Bohemian Czech, and so it was a dream-come-true for us to explore this city together. One of the things we enjoyed over and over were the hot (horky) trdelniks, made by wrapping dough around a metal pole, cooking it over hot coals, and rolling it in your choice of sugary toppings. And of course Jordan enjoyed the traditional Czech pilsner beer, second only to the lager in Germany.

Since being back from Europe, we’ve been able to get all of our Moldova videos edited (which I guess is obvious since we just shared them with you!). We’ve also been working on some filming projects stateside for Cassie’s sister’s church in Charlotte. It’s been a joy to dive deeper into their church’s community as we’ve interviewed nine different adults and couples from the church as well as 17 kids for a grand total of 10 video projects! Now when we walk into their church, we feel like we know so many more people in a much deeper way, making us feel like their church is a second home to us just as it is to Cassie’s sister and her family. This project has been a blessing to us, not making us feel like outsiders who never can break into the community since we aren’t permanent to the area, which can be a difficult aspect to our current lifestyle. Instead, we’ve felt more welcomed than ever, and it’s also been really encouraging to hear so many stories of how the church has come together to help so many of its members overcome difficult times and growing its congregation in their faith. We look forward to sharing some of those videos with you when they’re finalized!

P.S. We’ve now added a new section to our website, so in case you’re interested in supporting us and also want to cover your walls with our art, we’re now offering our photos for sale! Any photo, any size, any way — email us at info@agapevisuals.com with the photo and size you’re interested in! Prices start at $30 for signed matted 8×10 prints, plus shipping. Click here for the full prints price list and feel free to peruse through our blog photo galleries for the perfect image for you or a friend!

Nicaragua to NYC to NC

We’ve been stateside for seven weeks now and EVERYONE has been asking us — “What have you been up to?!” With the exception of a few filming projects in NYC and Charlotte, the answer is “EDITING!” We have lots of videos we’re excited to share with you!

The month of May marked the fourth time we’ve visited AMOS Health and Hope in the past six years. Each time we go back, we see improvements in Nicaragua — both in the Nicaraguan infrastructure and in the lives of people living in the communities where AMOS works. This year, AMOS is celebrating their 10th anniversary, and we had the opportunity to film and produce their anniversary video. It’s our honor to share with you the below video, which dives deep into the foundational approach of the organization that really began 50 years ago, and on through the organization’s growing impact in the lives of Nicaraguans so they everyone can enjoy health and hope.

 
During our six-year-back-and-forth relationship with AMOS, we have NOT often had the opportunity to accompany a mission team delegation into a rural community where AMOS works. Going with a group from the States is much different than tagging along with the AMOS staff on routine supervision trips. We got the special treatment, traveling with a talented Nicaraguan cook who prepared three meals a day for us. Though, that’s where the luxuries stopped. Everyone still had to sleep in cots on dirt floors and our generator only turned on for two hours a day. But that is just part of the raw, but rewarding experience serving with AMOS! We traveled 12 hours on bumpy, dusty roads with a group from the American Baptist Church of Pennsylvania and Delaware. They were such a joy to serve alongside — all of them had uniquely positive perspectives and hearts to serve the people living in the super remote community of El Bambú. We love how the below video turned out, which really gives you a glimpse into a delegation trip with AMOS. Enjoy!

 
One of the evident areas where AMOS has expanded and improved their work over the years, is their work in the urban areas. Just outside Nicaragua’s capital of Managua, the “city without center”, is an area called Nejapa, home of the new AMOS campus and their urban clinic. Check out the video below to see the work that they do to improve the heath for those living in this urban city.

 
After our four weeks serving with AMOS in Nicaragua, we took a week of vacation to celebrate our four-year wedding anniversary in Costa Rica! We rented a car so we could experience some of Costa Rica’s top sights — a surf break and beach town, the world-famous birding destination in a cloud forest, and a town at the bottom of a picturesque volcano with volcanically heated natural hot springs. We had a very romantic, relaxing anniversary and wanted to share some of our pictures from that side trip.

When we got back from Central America, we headed to New York City for more video projects. For two consecutive years, we’ve had the pleasure of documenting the Communications Institute for The Opportunity Agenda. The Communications Institute is an annual event that brings together diverse social justice leaders from around the nation for intensive communications skill-building and support. The Institute, which takes place in New York City, is a four-day residency that prepares the movement’s up-and-coming voices to cut through the noise with effective messages that will persuade and mobilize key audiences. We produced a whopping 42 videos, most of which were takeaways for the fellows to use on social media to raise awareness for their work and promote their movements. Below is one of the short videos we produced to give people an idea of how effective this training is. To see more of our videos and to learn about the movements these social justice advocates are working on, click here.

 
After our work with Opportunity Agenda in Manhattan, we headed to Brooklyn for a creative film collaboration with our friends Jeff and Juhu. Jeff was the creative mastermind behind this social media film project, the idea for which he only revealed to us the night before we filmed! Even then, Jeff only gave us a loose outline of the approach: an exploration of water inspired by his essays, haikus, and photos. Jeff’s wife, Juhu, graciously agreed to let us film her as the surfer starlet in the film. Below, we present you with something a little bit different than what we normally produce! Hope it’s like a breath of fresh air (or a drink of cool water) for you, as it was for us.

 
After our filming projects in New York City, we headed upstate New York to visit Jordan’s grandfather before slowly making our way back south, camping and hiking along the way in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. We even got a chance to stop in D.C. to visit some of our best friends — Joe and Abbie and their two precious children!

Since being back in North Carolina, we’ve been furiously editing the 59 videos we’ve filmed in the past three months, but we’ve made sure to enjoy time with our family and friends (and even edit home movie projects for them too!). We even got to attend an unofficial family reunion with Cassie’s extended family over the Fourth of July. It’s been a joy to be “home” during this editing phase, but we’re looking forward to our next filming trip in Moldova, beginning this weekend!

Guatemala to Haiti to Nicaragua

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March in Guatemala

Back in March, we had the opportunity to work with two organizations in Guatemala. The first organization is RestoringVision, a nonprofit that provides nominally priced new readers and sunglasses to those throughout the world who otherwise would not have access. Vision is one of our most important senses — it impacts one’s ability to interact with the environment and other people. Unfortunately, 2.5 billion people worldwide suffer from uncorrected vision impairment, and of that number, 544 million people only need reading glasses to correct this issue but live in developing countries with limited or no access to glasses. That’s why RestoringVision is hoping to distribute 20 million pairs of reading glasses to 20 million people by 2020.

We produced three different videos for RestoringVision and its corporate sponsors. Below is one that we’d like to share with you.

Are you or your church going on a mission trip any time soon? Consider adding reading glasses to the impact you’ll have!

After working with RestoringVision in Guatemala City, we headed to the beautiful volcanic lake town of Atitlán, Guatemala to work with Noonday Collection, a socially responsible business that uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities around the world. Noonday designs and sells an inspired collection of jewelry and accessories made by artisans across the globe, and we had the opportunity to meet some of their indigenous artisans in Guatemala. Most of these artisans did not speak Spanish, as they instead spoke their indigenous tribal language, but their kindness and gratitude was extended through their smiles. Their tradition of using natural dyes to color their threads and yarn, weaving with looms that connected to their waists with a belt, and threading needles to do intricate beadwork was truly mesmerizing.

While we were in this beautiful tourist destination, we had the chance to hike to the top of one of the volcanoes on a clear Saturday morning. San Pedro volcano is 9,908 feet in elevation, and the hike took a few hours, but the view (and breeze) at the top was well worth it! Along the way, there were even some rope swings and lookouts to enjoy, breaking up the hike a bit.

April in Haiti

In April, Cassie went on assignment without Jordan to document her sister’s church mission trip in Haiti. It had been three years since Cassie last visited Haiti, and when she arrived, she was overwhelmed by all the fond memories that came to mind from her four months serving in 2010 after the devastating earthquake and then again in 2012. She had forgotten how much she does love this desperate but beautiful country. Only a few steps out of the Port-au-Prince airport, she felt the heat of the sun instantly on her back, heard the familiar  phrases and rhythmic drawl of Creole and she couldn’t help but close her eyes, take a deep breath and grin. It was a relief to remember that her deep love for Haiti had not burned out. Even though the team immediately had a 10 hour bus ride to Jeremie after 13 hours of travel, Cassie was already looking forward to a swim in the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Cross Park Church‘s mission trip had a medical focus in the remote beach town of Bon Bon, in Jeremie, Haiti. Cassie’s sister, a nurse practitioner, diagnosed, treated and prescribed patients with two other medical professionals while the rest of the team helped out by triaging patients with translators, taking blood pressure and filling prescriptions with the medicines the team brought for the patients. For four consecutive days, the team saw more than 120 patients daily. Among the 500 people who came to the clinic was a woman carried by her family members on a stretcher. She was on her deathbed, and Cassie’s sister whose specialty is oncology, recognized that the woman was dying of cancer. With nothing else we could do for the woman, the team prayed for her along with a Haitian pastor and the woman accepted Jesus Christ into her heart. Beni swa Letènèl! (That’s “Praise the Lord!” in Creole)

Below is the first of two videos we’re producing from the trip. The second video will be focused on the Haitian partner organization, El Shaddai Ministries International, that we worked alongside.

 
Also, here’s some pictures from the trip to enjoy!

May in Nicaragua

When Cassie got back from her week away from Jordan (the longest we’d been apart since we first got married), we spent Easter weekend in Charlotte celebrating Christ’s resurrection with Cassie’s sister’s family. After a total of three days after the Haiti trip, we re-packed our bags and headed to Nicaragua — our current whereabouts. We’re here a total of five weeks, four weeks of which we’re serving with one of our favorite nonprofit organizations — AMOS Health and Hope.

This is our fourth time serving with AMOS in the past six years, and each time we come back, we get to see how much this organization has grown and how they’ve made an impact in Nicaragua. Their success is obvious to us by now. One of our friends who once was a rural community’s health promoters has been inspired to get his degree in nursing and is now working with the Nicaraguan government’s Ministry of Health. Another friend who was a part of AMOS’ youth club now works in the urban clinic here just outside of Managua. Children we recognize from having taken pictures of them before are now healthy young adults — some even have their own kids by now! It is always a joy to come back to Nicaragua and see firsthand the impact this organization has made by improving the health of impoverished communities by working alongside them in health, education and development.

We’re excited about the NINE videos we’re filming and producing for AMOS from this trip. We’ve been extremely busy between our week in a very remote community called El Bambú (an 11-hour drive from Managua), one week filming AMOS’ urban work just outside Managua in Nejapa and one week editing on site at AMOS’ headquarters. We’ve had some moments of rest where we’ve been able to visit a volcanic crater lake called Laguna de Apoyo, see actual bubbling lava at Volcán Masaya and hang out with our best (and craziest) friend at AMOS — Felicia! Even though we’ve been able to have some fun on the side, it has been mainly work, so we’re really looking forward to taking off next week to celebrate our fourth anniversary in Costa Rica!

To close, we just want to extend a huge thank you to you — for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support! We truly wouldn’t be able to continue serving awesome organizations with our passion and talents in photography and video storytelling without your support. Thank you for supporting us so that we can share the work of others with the world! We’re excited to help the organizations we serve to communicate their mission and impact in a compelling way so that they can raise even more funds, spread the word and make an even bigger impact where they work. Together with your help, we are accomplishing great things!

If you would like to financially support us, please visit our donate page to see how you can make a tax-deductible donation to support us in our mission of serving people and organizations with our cameras and passion for storytelling. Thanks again!

Winter in Iceland

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Something that has always been on our bucket lists is seeing the northern lights. So when we learned from a friend that Wow Airlines had $200 round-trip tickets to Iceland out of Baltimore in January, we didn’t have to think too hard about booking our trip. Within a few days, we had everything booked and at the same time, nothing planned. And this excited us most of all.

Our trip to the country known as the land of fire and ice was of the adventurer type, as we are in fact big adventurers (though I think most of you know this already). We wanted to make the most of our 10 days there while also not breaking the bank, so we opted to book a campervan. This was the best decision of our whole trip. We went with a fun and crazy branded campervan rental company called Kuku Campers and booked one of their cheapest rental options for two people (but not the cheapest option, as we splurged for one with a heater — a great idea for winter travelers!).

Traveling in a campervan had countless benefits. The most obvious benefit is that we got to see Iceland on our own terms. We got to spend our time where we wanted to spend it, whenever we wanted to. It also allowed us to be flexible so that we could check the weather each day and head in the direction of the sunny spots and camp in the areas where there was the best chances of seeing the aurora at night. This helped tremendously, as the forecast seemed to change every 4 hours! We weren’t tied down to hotel reservations that would determine our schedule each day — and it paid off. We were able to see aurora four different nights! We also drove the entire Ring Road route around the whole country, plus the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and into the West Fjords.

Another benefit to the campervan was the amount of money we saved by bringing our own food to cook in the fully equipped van. Our meals were pretty varied, from ramen noodles and just-add-water (and powdered milk) pasta meals with summer sausage to “fancy” dehydrated meals. Breakfasts were a bit more monotonous — instant coffee and tea or hot chocolate and oatmeal. Hot meals in the back of the campervan were always soothing and hit the spot, and with the heater in the back that ran off its own battery, we always were warm and cozy. We knew we’d save a lot of money, which is why we pretty much only packed food in our free tiny carry-on baggage allowance with Wow Air, but we didn’t realize how much money we had saved until we got to Iceland and scanned the menus outside restaurants a few different times. Iceland doesn’t really have cheap restaurants, and the ones that were on the bottom of the cost list averaged about $15 for one entrée. Imagine paying $15 for a Chipotle burrito, when in fact it’s about half the size of a Chipotle burrito, and does not come from Chipotle, but from a small shop in the middle of nowhere, Iceland, about as far from Mexico as you can get. So, unless you’re willing to drop $40-$100+ per meal for two, your camp stove will become your best friend in Iceland. We did treat ourselves to a few meals though, as you can’t go to a country and not try any of the local cuisine. Since we’d heard rave reviews about the gas station hot dogs, this was our first meal experience in Iceland.

Let me go on a tangent here — gas stations are actually pretty nice places in Iceland. They’re more like cultural centers, where people get together over a cup of coffee and hang out. We became loyal to one gas station in particular: Olí’s. Olí’s never let us down, as they always had free coffee every time you fill up along with having the cheapest gas prices with their discount card (which Kuku Campers kindly gives you when you rent from them).

Now back to the delicious Icelandic hot dogs… They look pretty unremarkable; however, when topped with raw onion, French fried onion and some sort of amazing dark gold mustard, you’ll forgive yourself from just having paid $5 for one gas station hotdog. Another item to splurge on while in Iceland, which can also be purchased at Olís, is Skyr, a brand of yogurt. This is something that you’ll wish you could get back home — it’s that good. Skyr is the thickest, creamiest yogurt packed with 16 grams of protein that will have you tossing your dry and frozen solid Clif bars out the window (not literally, obviously). The one-serving container is close to $3, but is a delicious breakfast to have on the road while enjoying the most amazing landscapes from the passenger seat with each creamy bite.

Our 10 days in Iceland were pure bliss. This trip was a time to refresh and refocus our mission and vision for 2017. We realized that we hadn’t taken a vacation to a place of our complete choosing since our honeymoon in 2014. We always get to travel to beautiful places (in the past two years we’ve worked in 17 different countries), and we even take trips to places we want to go, but it’s always based on the proximity of our project locations. This trip’s destination, however, was totally of our own choosing. After two years of traveling nonstop and producing more than 140 video projects in that timeframe, we felt the need to disconnect from the world and rest in God and creation. During our trip, we spent a lot of time in the Bible, doing devotions and praying. Being so far removed from planning a year’s worth of projects, we were able to concentrate on the breathtaking landscapes surrounding us, showcasing just a fraction of God’s glory — and what we saw is just the tip of the iceberg (and we saw those too).