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Impact India 360
I’m getting ready to go to India in less than two weeks. I gotta get my stuff together:

Shaving Kit… Check.

Protein Bars… Check.

Several Breathable Shirts… Check.

Thirty Pounds of Camera Equipment… What?

I have a confession to make to you, even though we’ve only just met: I have an addiction.

It began almost ten years ago when I took a used 35mm camera, a couple of lenses and three dozen rolls of Kodachrome to a place some ten time zones removed from my home in suburban Detroit. I came back to the lab hoping to goodness that I had captured even an infinitesimal fraction of what I had experienced. I still have those photos in an album and occasionally look back nostalgically at my Indian adventure so long ago.

But it didn’t stop there. I went again a couple of years later. And it wasn’t for more pictures (although this time, I had gone digital!). It was because I missed my friends. I’m sure you’ll get to know a few of them as the stories on this blog unfold, but there are times when I’m with Jaya and the people of CEM that I feel more at home than when I’m in my own living room. Is it comfortable? Not always. But as you’ll hear from so many who have experienced it, we go expecting to bless them and God turns it all around and we end up blessed and changed.

It was then that I started realizing the truth of my “addiction:” Since I can’t bring any of my friends home with me, I need to pack as many of their images as possible into my camera and share their stories with my friends back in the U.S. The encounters that I have with my subjects are often brief, but each one of them conspires to re-shape my heart. I believe in this place so much that I humbly accepted a seat on II360’s board a few years ago.

Since that first trip in 2002, any time I’m on the ground in India (this will be my sixth trip), you will almost always see a camera slung over my shoulder. In all of my travels, I have never experienced a place so intensely human and ultimately beautiful and redeeming as the neighborhoods and villages surrounding the CEM campus in Dowlaiswaram. And I’m never the same after my encounters with the people there.

My passion for photography that found its roots in India has grown into an avocation as a freelance photographer; and I count a couple of moments there among some of the best images I’ve ever captured.

We were walking through the marketplace near the CEM Campus one Sunday, and I started a conversation with a boy in a bangle shop without even saying a word. I liked the composition of the bangles with him in the shadows behind them, so I raised my camera and squeezed off a couple of shots. He was caught by the novelty of this big white guy taking his picture and started mugging for the camera.

Obviously, I’m looking for more natural expressions in my shots; so I simply lowered my camera a bit, looked him in the eye and smiled. It didn’t take him long to figure it out and he began to relax and simply interact with me. I still count the resulting shot as the one I would have been willing to endure forty hours of travel time for.

Other encounters are much more brief, but can yield amazing results. On the last day of one of our trips, we were returning to the campus after taking the kids from the Grace Children’s home to school. We had only a little time left before we had to get to the airport for our flight.

There is quite a large Hindu temple on the way back, and you will occasionally see beggars and other locals hanging around its entrance. There was one in particular who caught my eye as I walked – a man who had clearly given his life in pursuit of discipline. I crouched down, engaged with his eyes, raised the camera and got the shot. I would have loved to stay and get to know him a little bit, but I had a plane to catch. I didn’t even realize what I had until I downloaded the image to my computer between flights on the journey home.

I’ve been by that corner since then, but I never saw him again.

I even get the honor of capturing love in action as it unfolds. One of the team’s favorite moments is after the Sunday Service when they get to pray for the locals who attend. It can take an hour or more as we engage with them, hear of their troubles through translators, and seek God together in prayer. I’ll let the interchange between one of our team members and a local woman speak for itself…

I will come home with literally thousands of images after a trip to CEM; but what I have realized is that it’s the relationships and the stories behind those images that make them so rich. So my advice to anyone going to CEM is to bring your camera, but prepare your heart as well.

PS – There are some exciting projects we have planned for this trip to tell the stories of the elderly of Dowlaiswaram. Stay tuned!

Written by Chris Cook, Impact India 360