A Voluminous Vision of Venice

On a recent trip overseas I was able to stop over in Italy on my way home. I had the incredible blessing of returning to what is perhaps my favorite city on earth, Venice. The scenes of this enchanting city of water provide a limitless potential for photography, with an abundance of light, atmosphere, and water as the backdrop for waterborne vessels, classic architecture, weathered doors, and untold mysteries waiting to be discovered around every corner. These are a few of my favorite photos from the visit.

Holy Land Day 1: Tel Aviv, Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Har Bracha Winery

Again I have the unexpected honor of traveling with Ecclesia Houston on a very special tour of the holy land with Breaking Bread Journeys, led by Pastor Chris Seay. We’re hearing from all sides of the complex issues that face this land and its diverse population, while we also visit sacred sites and enjoy local foods and wines prepared by those we’re hearing from. This is my fifth Ecclesia group to shoot for; it’s an absolute thrill to be with them again.

Our journey began in Tel Aviv yesterday where we caught a breathtaking sunset. A local friend told me it’s only this clear about 2 days of the year. We caught the sky at a good time after recent rains.

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We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. I was pretty thrilled that they were actually allowing photos of the well today!

Next, we made our way into Nablus city to tour an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap.

We then began walking through the old city of Nablus to sample various snacks, spices and sweets of the merchants. We were also invited to tour a famous Sufi mosque where were able to hear from the local Imam, a moderate Muslim who campaigns for peace. Our pastor is making plans for him to visit our church in Houston in the interest in inter-faith dialog and peace.

Next we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. After the meal, I wandered around the dining hall to capture some more local street scenes. If you haven’t noticed, I have a slight obsession with doors.

Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. After that, we were treated to a breathtaking view of Nablus and environs from the top of the mountain. Next, we were able to hear a Jewish perspective, from a winery owner on Mt. Gerizim who allowed us to sample his award-winning wines at Har Bracha Winery.

Alaska Day 3: Chugach National Forest

Today was my last day of my all-too-brief visit with dear friends John & Heather. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the stunning Chugach National Forest south of Anchorage, where we explored a few trails and drove to various scenic vistas. The weather was amazing, in the high 30s; sunny yet still quite invigorating for this coastal Texas boy (I consider anything under 45f “freezing”). We took the Seward Highway from Anchorage around the fjord-like Turnagain Arm toward the town of Hope, Alaska. The morning fog soon lifted to reveal brilliant cloud-dotted blue skies. Heavenly.

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Nicaragua Day 4: Barrio Nuevo, Finco Popoyo

Today we made our way to the village of Barrio Nuevo, situated 135 km southwest of Managua in the Rivas District. The village has no access to clean water. Living Water is in the planning stages of drilling a safe water well for this community. Currently, residents are complaining of parasites, kidney infections, and frequent diarrhea. We attended a church worship meeting which was held outdoors under the shade of trees in the center of the village. The people we met were very warm and welcoming. Local staff members from Living Water showed us some of the existing open wells which produce limited and contaminated water.

After this, some of us made our way to the Nicaraguan National Circuit Surfing Championship at Finca Popoyo. Two Living Water local staff members were in the competition and placed among the top four finalists. I fell in love with the little community there; what a gorgeous coastline. The day ended catching up with the rest of the group while enjoying another stunning sunset over Redondo Bay.

In a rare moment, my new friend and fellow photographer Missy Hill picked up my backup Leica and, after giving her a crash course on using the rangefinder, shot a portrait of me. So I actually made it onto my own blog in this post. Hope you’re enjoying following along on our Nicaragua adventure.

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Nicaragua Day 3: Rivas District

This morning began with group yoga followed by a devotional teaching at the beach. I didn’t make it to yoga but I managed to stop by the devotional. It was a beautiful morning. We then met up to head to a village where many pastors and community members were gathered. They were leaders of communities where our church, Ecclesia Houston, has drilled safe water wells in partnership with Living Water. They had a beautiful cultural presentation involving dance, music, and greetings from all the leaders expressing their gratitude for the wells. We all sat at tables mixed with the leaders and had interpreters present. It was a very engaging experience.

The road trip back was filled with conversations about everyone’s encounters with the locals and their stories. It was again another very moving experience, especially to hear how something as simple as clean water has completely transformed these communities. We enjoyed yet another stunning sunset as we gathered at our meeting house for appetizers and drinks to unwind after a long day. The views from the meeting house are breathtaking; I could never imagine them getting old. We have such a diverse group, it’s been a pleasure to see how we’re all getting along and making new friendships quickly. Believe it or not, there are 60 people in our group!

Please excuse the stream of consciousness in my blog ramblings… these are written at odd hours, inspired largely by caffeine. Oh, that’s another thing… we’re traveling with the founder of Mueva Coffee, a direct trade coffee roasting company that buys direct from various farmers around the world, including a farm here in Nicaragua! Suffice it to say, the coffee she brought along is amazing. You can buy it at Paper Co. Coffee in Houston.

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Nicaragua: Compassion International visit

Continuing my tour with Ecclesia Houston… Today we woke up at the crack of dawn to begin our journey back to Managua to visit a Compassion International program. There we met 20 children that members of our group sponsor for education and nutrition support through Compassion. It was a very moving experience that neither the sponsors nor the children will soon forget. Compassion staff had several activities planned for the group, and all involved had a great time. There are over 46,000 children sponsored by Compassion donors in Nicaragua alone. It’s an absolutely impressive operation, making an exponential difference in the lives of an entire generation.

Then we made our way back to the coastal village we’re basing out of just in time for a spectacular sunset. Pastor Chris Seay led us in prayer before our evening meal. This group of 60 has already begun to bond and all are having a great time getting to know each other and the local culture.

These trips are always very challenging for me as a photographer because of the vast amount of subject matter, shooting hundreds of images, coupled with having to narrow them down and speed edit on a daily basis. Learning to let go and just release these as they are. Soooo hard! But I love it!

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Nablus, Mount Gerizim

August 2, 2015. On our first official tour stop we made our way past the security checkpoint into the West Bank to visit Nablus. It is very rare for tourists to come to this area. We were certainly a spectacle, but were received with warm welcomes by all we encountered.

Our first visit was to Jacob’s Well at The Greek Orthodox St. Photini Church. How fitting that our first site is recognized as a significant location for Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

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We were able to draw from the actual well that Jacob dug by hand to a depth of 41 meters (135 ft). Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the passage of John’s Gospel, Chapter 4 about the conversation of the Samaritan woman with Jesus.

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Next we visited a soap factory in Nablus run by Palestinians. The soap is made purely from olive oil and is cut by hand from large sheets poured onto the floor of the factory.

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Our tour of Nablus then took us through the market where were able to visit many shop owners who were kind enough to let us sample their fresh sweets, breads and snacks. Everyone was so friendly and embracing.

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Next we visited a Palestinian women’s volunteer center where women are trained in cooking and catering, and enjoyed a very generous, authentic Palestinian meal that was a true feast. We were able to hear from two local leaders their perspective on the region’s tensions.

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Some of my new friends from the group, a family traveling together…

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Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. This is Chris with his daughter who is traveling with us, greeting the Samaritan priest…

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Next we were able to hear a Jewish perspective, from a winery owner on Mt. Gerizim who allowed us to sample his award-winning wines…

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And finally I was able to photograph a horse! One of my favorite animals…

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Then we drove on to Galilee where we’re basing out of for three nights… managed to a get a few shots along the way. The scenery is breathtaking.

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