Timpys in Asia (Part 1)

Thailand

We had a lot of work ahead of us for our five weeks in Asia, but first, we had to build in time for a big bucket list item. A trip to Southeast Asia would not have been complete without seeing Thailand, which is why we actually started our trip there, just for vacation. Cassie’s been dreaming of visiting Thailand ever since her sister traveled there more than a decade ago to scuba dive. Now that dream became a reality.

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We flew into Phuket and immediately took a ferry to the Phi Phi Islands where we spent two nights in paradise. A taxi boat took us across the crystal clear, turquoise water to our secluded beachfront lodging (aptly named Paradise Pearl Bungalows). We scuba dived (Jordan’s first time!), we got Thai massages (which hurt so good!), we drank Thai tea (so sweet and so good) and we ate Thai food three meals a day (and NEVER got sick of it!).

Reluctantly, we left paradise and headed to explore another island. Koh Lanta wasn’t quite as breathtaking as Koh Phi Phi Don, but there was a lot more to discover and experience there. The sunsets each night over the ocean were probably our favorite memories from Thailand. We ate dinner at really delicious restaurants on the beach for super cheap and watched the sky explode every night. Actually, we lied, one night we didn’t eat on the beach, we ate on a questionably engineered cliff hanging private booth overlooking the ocean. The tides were at their most drastic point because of the new moon, and low tide coincided with sunset, which meant that the huge, wide beach acted as a mirror to the sky’s nightly performance.

By day, we explored sights on a scooter — beach hopping to find the best swimming spots, hiking through a national park where we saw Komodo dragons and angry monkeys and wandering Lanta Old Town’s quaint downtown riverfront lined with shops and cafes frying up Thai pancakes. We were already huge fans of Thai cuisine so we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make four Thai dishes from scratch, and we can’t wait to try out the recipes on our own!

Our last two days in Thailand we spent at Kata Beach in Phuket. We were pleasantly surprised to see that mainland Thailand’s beaches were just as beautiful as the far-away Thai island destinations, and the food was just as good and just as cheap. After a good long, restful vacation, we were ready to head to our first project in Vietnam.

Vietnam

When we first arrived in Hanoi, we were greeted outside the airport by two smiley, bubbly Vietnamese women who run their own artisan jewelry business called Aulac Designs in the capital city of Vietnam. They also partner with Noonday Collection, an Austin-based fair-trade company that designs and sells an inspired collection of jewelry and accessories made by artisans across the globe. This is the second country where we’ve seen their work, and this time around we visited three artisan groups that have been practicing their craft for generations. We saw them hard at work casting metal, cutting marble, and transforming buffalo horns to make some unique and amazing pieces of jewelry.

It was our first time in Vietnam, but it seemed strangely familiar — probably because everywhere we looked we saw iconic images of people wearing Asian conical hats working in the rice fields, men and women balancing baskets of fruit on a stick over their shoulders, and vendors selling street food with wonderful smells.

Speaking of food, we jumped right in to experiencing Vietnam’s culture through food. We didn’t think anything would compare to the authentic Thai food we’d been loving, but we were pleasantly surprised with Vietnamese cuisine! We of course had pho, which was so hot and spicy and incredibly delicious (and filling!). We also had the opportunity to try lesser known dishes from different areas of the country including at least five different types of spring rolls, octopus, steak, and some weird (but sort of good) coconut milk drink filled with rainbow-colored jello — and all in one night’s meal! We were treated by the Aulac Designs team to this fabulously decadent meal, which they told us was like eating our way through the whole country. Another one of our culinary highlights was egg coffee (perhaps the most unexpectedly delicious thing we tried), which actually has a raw egg in it as a substitute for milk!

The area we stayed in was around Hoan Kiem Lake in the “Old Quarter” of Hanoi, which is a charming area where tourists and locals frequent. Our stay included a weekend, which meant we got to experience the night market where the streets are closed for miles and miles and pedestrians can stroll through to shop, eat and watch street performers — or even retake their wedding photos!

We ended our time in Vietnam with a daytrip to Halong Bay where we took a romantic cruise past an endless 360-degree panorama of limestone mountain islands. The boat weaved in between the islands and we got off at a couple of points to paddle on a bamboo boat and explore a massive cave with picture-perfect stalagmites and stalactites.

The only downside of our entire trip was that we both got sick with different ailments on our last night in the country. Jordan’s was foodborne and Cassie’s was airborne. Jordan quickly recovered with the help of antibiotics and Cassie’s stuck around for more than two weeks. Luckily, we had a week of vacation planned in Bali so we got to rest and recuperate before our next photo and video mission on another island in Indonesia.

Indonesia

Our intent of going to Bali was for Jordan to surf a world-famous wave at Uluwatu and for Cassie to visit the paradise inside a paradise on the Gili Islands. Unfortunately we were too sick to do either of these things, but we still had a nice time in the Uluwatu area. We rented a scooter for two days on the tail end of our trip when we were feeling a little better and got to visit and relax at a lot of beautiful beaches, watching surfers catch perfect waves all day long.

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After Bali, we hopped over to the island of Borneo, also in Indonesia. The island is so large (the third largest in the world) that it’s actually split into three different countries, but we were heading to the jungle town of Sanggau for our next project.

 

We were working with an organization that we’ve never worked with before — World Outreach International. Their mission is reaching unreached people groups with the Gospel, and they are doing this on the island of Borneo with a children’s boarding home called New Hope Ministries. The boarding home is run by a very sweet German missionary couple who graciously hosted us along with an Indonesian team who all work together to care for the children, some of whom have been orphaned. The 120 children come from remote villages that do not have access to education, but now have the opportunity to go to school, hear the word of God, and pursue their dreams.

Seeing the faith of the kids, their incredible creativity and talent in music, singing, and dancing as well as their kindness toward their “aunties” and “uncles” who take care of them was a true blessing for us. We also captured some great stories that we can’t wait to share with you! Until then, photos will have to do!

H70A7657-webwebWe were also blessed by our gracious hosts, the German couple who couldn’t have more German names. Wolfgang and Heidi were a hilarious duo in the quirkiest ways, including Wolfgang’s life motto, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” The way they practice this is their daily 2pm coffee break (usually paired with a sweet treat) and 8pm dessert when they dig into their special stockpile of German cookies and Swiss chocolates. Heidi keeps them healthy though, with their breakfast of homemade yogurt, granola and fruit and lunch of salad and homemade bread, which we thoroughly enjoyed and might also adopt! We even came away with the secret German rye-wheat-seed bread recipe and many tips on fermenting our own kombucha.

After a week of bonding with incredible people, we were a bit sad to leave, but at the same time, we were excited about part two of Timpys in Asia. More to come.

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.