The Lausanne Congress

I’m standing in the corner, staring out over the crowd. Watching, waiting. I assess where the light is strongest, I consider my approach. The speaker is wrapping up, and giving the table groups their questions. The lights are up, I’m off. Wandering through the hundreds of tables filled with thousands of people from nearly every country in the world, I’m scanning the faces. I’m looking for a table of people who are engaging with each other—so occupied with their conversation that they won’t see me approach. A small frame of something that looks interesting. And I find it. Time and again. People from opposite sides of the world, men and women, young and old. People wearing their nation’s traditional dress, unusual hair styles, bright faces. People leaning in, listening to each other, agreeing, smiling. Sometimes I wish I could just sit and listen to their conversations, but after a few minutes, they notice me and I have to go.

Now it’s break time for the delegates, but no coffee and chats for me. I head back through the stage door, pass the security check to the shipping container out under the freeway overpass where the photography and video team are working. I pull open the trailer door and at least half of the 25-strong team are there for the same reason I am. Turn in our work, empty our memory card, and get back out the door. I add my memory card to the queue, my images now at the mercy of a lovely young college graduate who became affectionately known as ‘The Firewall’. Any that make it past her go on to Big Boss Bill for final editing and distribution to the press.

I check the board for the location of the afternoon break-out session that I’m assigned to.  I grab a snack, gear up and head off to Auditorium 2. On my way there I run into my colleague, Ann, from Manila who’s here on a journalistic assignment interviewing people about Bible poverty in their nation and ministry. We meet a man from Benin who happily agrees to an interview. He talks very expressively, with his hands. I like people who talk with their hands. Visually interesting. Ann and I make a plan to meet again in the afternoon break, when she spots a lady she interviewed earlier, and asks me to take a photo of her. Over the balcony we see her on the floor below, her beautiful Indian sari, bright green and blue, flowing as she walks. With almost 5,000 people here, it’s a miracle that we spotted her. I run down the stairs and Ann heads towards the escalator, watching her from the floor above. I’m running through the crowd, camera in hand, and somehow we both get to her at the same time only to see a big blue dot on her name tag. The blue dot means that she works in a sensitive area and cannot be photographed. At all. Breathless and disappointed, I hurry off to the multiplex session titled, ‘Media Messages Matter’.

Squashed between the audience and a huge powerpoint data screen, I look up at the podium with disgust. Ugh, the lighting is awful, the angle awful, the background – awful. Ahh.. how can I make this look interesting? I try an extreme angle from the left against the wall. I try a close up, I try from the front door, almost behind the speaker. What she is saying is interesting.  I wish I could take notes, but my eyes are busy constantly watching for what is going to happen. This session is so fast paced! There are dozens of speakers, all talking for less than 10 minutes each, with audience feedback in between. The Scandinavian man with the time cues in the front row is working hard, 3mins, 2mins, 1min, FINISH! His laminated cards scattered on the carpet. I hope that he will sort of ‘look after’ my camera bag I dumped next to him as I slink around the auditorium. I’m thrilled when one of the speakers abandons the podium for a wireless microphone and stands in the middle of stage under the huge data screen. Here, we go. I lay down on the carpet right in the front and point the wide angle up, grabbing the whole scene. Here it is. The powerpoint reads a strong clear message. My editor was happy with that shot.

I make my way back to the trailer, exhausted and ready to find a quiet dark corner to curl up. I arrived late last night after a 15-hour flight from Sydney, and I wonder when the jet lag will hit me. I’ve only travelled in Asia and the Pacific islands, so I’ve never had jet lag before. But I don’t have time to experience it now. Bill hands me a list and asks me which Regional Gathering I’d like to go to this afternoon. There are more regions than there are photographers, and I suspect all the remaining choices will be wearing blue dots. I choose South Asia anyway, and head back out into the wild. Blond and very white, I’m conscious of how noticeable I am at this small gathering. I hear the speaker talk about all the Chinese churches that have donated money especially so these Indian pastors can attend the Congress. Applause erupts with awe and gratitude. Knowing that many of the Chinese church leaders were detained at the airport, I take a deep breath.

After a tasty dinner of various curries, The Firewall and Big Boss Bill announce that they are very happy with my work from the day so far, and show me the images they chose. This encouragement gives me energy to keep going. Strangely, they are most impressed with images I would have passed over. I’m assigned to cover the night session, so I head into the auditorium and start shooting the worship team. About 100 other people are at the front doing the same thing with their handicams and cameraphones making it tough competition.Worship each night of the week is designated to a different area of the world, and tonight the focus is on Asia. (My favorite was Middle Eastern night, with a red piano accordion, worship songs in Arabic and people holding hands and dancing around wildly in the aisles. I marvelled at the fact that there are Christians in the Middle East who worship Jesus in Arabic! How beautiful!). Tonight, since nearly all of the 230 delegates from China were detained, people are asked to stand behind the empty chairs as they pray for China. The auditorium is filled with emotion, tears and prayers. It overwhelms me as I try to concentrate on my task. Keep watching, keep shooting.

Back in the trailer I hand in my images and pack up. What a huge day. What a historic event. What an incredible privilege to serve my God, to serve the Global church, with my skill as a photographer. What a thrill to see Christians from 198 nations worshipping together. What a joy to work with such a humble and dedicated media team. I am learning so much, stretching, tuning myself creatively, technically and socially. Praise God! But, I must get back to the hotel and go to bed, I’m exhausted and it’s only the first day – 5 more to go.

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