take heart.

We stopped under a shady tree next to a vegetable kiosk in Isiolo town, and hopped out of the van to follow Henry, our tour guide to all our family members in the Isiolo area. We followed Henry down between two indistinct buildings, paint chipping off of their concrete blocks from the harsh sun, through what Henry called the “valley.” The heavy rains had completely washed away the soil, leaving the pathway eroded and scattered with empty bottles and labels that had been caught in the floods. On days that it rained the road was impassable.

The sign above the mabati church greeted us “Karibuni” and we took a seat inside the coolness of the dark. Paul Kagua, the pastor of Neno Evangelism Church, greeted us and sent Henry to get his wife who was busy at home. Ten minutes later, a woman walks in, shakes our hands and takes a seat as Paul begins telling us his story.

He always had a rebellious spirit. Much of it he attributed to an abusive relationship with his father in his childhood. Secondary school was a series of new schools, quickly followed by expulsion. Five schools, and nearly ten years later, he found himself, thanks to the generosity of a family friend who paid his school fees, finally a graduate of form four. They had met and married in the midst of it, and they found themselves poor and struggling.

It was in secondary school that he had been introduced to Islam, since the majority of his classmates followed the religion. By the time he graduated it seemed the logical road.

“Islam fed us,” Paul said, matter-of-factly. “And we were poor and hungry.”

He tells us of the years of being inducted into the religion, and then one day the elders told him they had chosen a second wife for him to take, to make him a full member of the family.

This is where his wife jumps into the storytelling, and you can see as the words come flooding in rapid KiSwahili, that the memories were closer to the surface than any of us realized.

She told her husband no, he could not take a second wife. A day later, while they were sleeping during the night, their house was surrounded and rounds of shots were fired.

“At that time we slept on a mattress on a mat on the floor, so they did not get us,” Paul recalls. Eventually the police came and chased them away, but the next morning you could see the light spilling in through the holes the bullets left behind in the walls of their home.

They decided to run. So they left all of their belongings and caught a ride on a brewery truck heading for Isiolo. In the end, they settled in the town of Nanyuki, just an hour and a half matatu ride from where the beer lori had dropped them.

She started a business selling charcoal and was quite successful. She was invited to church by a neighbor and this was where she first became a believer. For her, things were looking better than they had in a long time.

Paul, however, was on a downward spiral. He used his wife’s profits to get drunk in the neighborhood pub. It wasn’t long before he was addicted to tobacco, then marijuana, then being arrested for shooting up with madras.

She tells us of the countless times she was called to come a bail him out of jail, and everyone in her family and their neighborhood begged her to leave. “He is good for nothing,” they told her. “He is a worthless man.”

One evening he arrived home high, with a panga in his hand, and sliced her wrist open. He dropped the panga under the bed and she took advantage of the distraction to ran out of the house and find safety. She runs her index finger back and forth over the scars on her wrist, as she displays them for us to see, a visual reminder of their dark past.

But to her, they are also a reminder of how far the Lord has brought her.

“I just kept praying,” she tells us with the same fiery determination. “I just kept believing that God could save this man. That God could use this man.”

When Paul finally became a believer, she didn’t even believe it herself. She had purchased his usual tobacco products for him, and upon arriving home with them, he looked at her and said “How long with these things have a hold on me? No more.”

And there they sat. For a day. And then another. And even when a friend came visiting from another town with a package of cigars, they were added to the pile.

On day four she asked herself, “Lord, can this be true? Has this man really changed?”


The sun streams in from the church door, and washes over the bible on the table. When first becoming a believer, Paul bought it from a man leaving town for two hundred shillings, and it is still the same one he uses today to preach to his congregation in Isiolo.

It has been a long road to get here, and even though they still face challenges, you can see the faith that has led them this far, is empowering them even now.

Paul laughs as she tells us, “Even now, the Lord has more things to teach this man, but we are seeing Him move.”

As we pass back through the “valley” to the van, I glance up and notice the sign with the large arrow “Neno Evangelism Church.” I didn’t even see it on the walk in because I was focused on my feet, on the shifting steps and treacherous ground.

I am so thankful for this woman, who reminded me what it looks like to be a person in Hebrews 11 in the world of today. To trust, beyond all circumstances, and beyond what all others tell you, that what God has said to you, what God has promised, is true. This is why I think it is so important to share our stories. In our stories is where we can meet one another in the beauty and chaos of this life and remind each other of the faithfulness of our Lord.

So, brothers and sisters, if right now you are in your own valley, take heart. Let this brave woman of God remind you. Oftentimes, we cannot see the destination when we are in the valleys. We are distracted by the trials and struggles we face on a daily basis. We can’t see the sign above our heads that says we are on our way home to Him.

I can’t even begin to compare my pain with what this woman experienced, but comparison is a poisonous game. It doesn’t make my own hurt, or my own waiting, any less real or important to my Lord.

I only hope that in the valley moments that, like this woman, I can remember to look up. I hope that I can remember that where the Lord is leading me is for my good and for His glory. I hope He will give me the strength and steadfastness to simply believe. And I hope that I can trust above all that the His promises are just as true for me as they are for Paul Kagua and his beautiful wife.

So whether it seems as though you are descending into the deepest cavern, or climbing what seems like the steepest mountain, I remind you, as this woman reminded me, to persevere. Because our God writes His story of redemption into our lives every day. Even if we don’t see it today, or tomorrow, or in three years, we are promised victory in the end through the blood of the lamb.

Take heart, for He has overcome the world.


he is doing great things.

“The Lord has been giving me a picture that we should be patient,” Pastor Dionisio Mugendi tells Director Paul Njuguna as they sit inside Bread of Life Centre Church Maua on a Saturday morning. “And He is doing great things.”

Patience is definitely a word that would describe Pastor Mugendi, who has been faithfully following God’s call on his life now for many years. Coming from the small town of Kanyakine in Meru County, he first served under a pastor in the local church, until God called him to evangelize in the surrounding valleys and hills.


Pastor Mugendi comes to the door of the van to welcome the visitors from Divine Providence Training Center. Mugendi just finished the second session of his first year at the Bible School.


“My greatest passion is for people to receive Christ,” he tells me with a smile that rarely leaves his face. “I love to tell people about Christ, and even if one week goes by and someone has not come to know [him], I feel sick.”

Even upon arriving to his first session at Divine Providence, he stuck up a conversation with a motorbike driver, asking if he knew where the school was located.

The driver responded yes, saying, “I am [the pastors’] driver!”

Mugendi responded with, “Since you have been driving the big men of God, have you given your life to Christ?”

At this point several other motorbike drivers had gathered with them at the gates of Camp Chemi Chemi.

“No, but I am thinking about it,” one said.

“I don’t know how…” responded a second.

Next thing you know, their motorbike helmets have been removed and Mugendi is praying with three of the drivers who expressed a desire to accept Christ as their Savior. He still communicates with them today, checking to see if they have been able to get connected with a local congregation, so that they can be discipled in their faith.

The streets of Maua from inside Bread of Life Centre church.

The streets of Maua from inside Bread of Life Centre church.

Now Mugendi has been serving in a town called Maua. One of the main issues in this area is a crop called Miraa. The leaves of the tree act as an extreme stimulant when chewed, and so many people have come to abuse it as a drug. It has become so popular that it is now Maua’s main cash crop, and many people are harvesting it and exporting it to other parts of the country and even the world.

“There is so much resistance to the Word of God. In order to be accepted into the community, you must not speak out against Miraa. They know, if you are born again, that you will not agree.”

Even though he faces a lot of opposition, Mugendi has been patient, and you can see that the Lord has done great things. He tells story after story of the Lord’s faithfulness in this small church of only about twenty members.

“We did not have any seats,” he says. “Then one day a man comes and says, ‘Are you Mugendi?’

I told him, ‘Yes.’

‘I have been told to deliver these thirty seats to you.’

I asked him who paid him, and he said he did not know, he was only told to deliver them.

I still do not know who it was, but I thank the Lord that He provided.”


The plastic chairs that unexpectedly arrived at the door of Bread of Life Centre Church. Mugendi sees these chairs as just one of the ways the Lord has shown His faithfulness in providing for the church plant.


Another time there was a man from Nairobi who was in town visiting his parents. He walked into Bread of Life Centre on Sunday morning, where Mugendi was sharing a message about God’s divine favor. The man returned that week to Nairobi and found out that he had been given a plot of land near his parents home in Maua. He immediately tracked down Mugendi and told him that he wanted to bless him with a portion of the land for faithfully speaking God’s prophesy into his life.

Mugendi proudly shows us around his shamba.

Mugendi proudly shows us around his shamba.

Mugendi shows us proudly the plot of land where he plans on building a home for his family so they can move from their rental home in town, and his wife Esther, cuts down sugar cane for us to take on the journey back to Camp Chemi Chemi.

Since attending DPTC, Esther says she has seen “a renewed commitment and seriousness in his ministry.”

Mugendi’s daughter Diana runs out to give her mother a hug before she walks the visitors out to say goodbye. Mugendi, his wife and two children, currently rent this house in town, but are hoping to one day build a home on the plot of land they have received.

Mugendi’s daughter Diana runs out to give her mother a hug before she walks the visitors out to say goodbye. Mugendi, his wife and two children currently rent this house in town, but are hoping to one day build a home on the plot of land they have received.

Mugendi first heard about the school from DPTC alumni Titus Kimathi who he has known for over fifteen years. Titus told him, “Pray that you will have a chance to study here.” Mugendi did, and now as a member of the fourth class of DPTC, he is excited about all of the new things he is learning.

“When you have been in ministry a long time, you think that the way you have been doing things is the only way or is the correct way, just because that is the way it has always been done. It isn’t until you have the opportunity to learn how things actually should be done, for example in church leadership or structure, and then you realize [that isn’t true].”

Mugendi still feels he has a lot to learn, but he is certainly up to the task.


Pastor Mugendi and his wife, Esther. Pastor Titus Kimathi was standing off to the side and as they went to smile for the picture shouted, “Give her a big smooch!” This was their reaction.


ballerinas and boxes.

Been in the process of moving in the last two weeks…but amidst the piles of boxes and bags of things I’m pretty sure I don’t need, I got to take portraits for Miss Emily Scott, a dance major at Alabama. Thanks Emily for letting me drag you out at the crack of dawn for a hike 🙂





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Emily Scott003





justin and ashley.

Sooooo excited to share these images with everyone. Back in April, I had the opportunity to take justin and ashley’s engagement pictures and was so happy when they asked if I would photograph their wedding in the lovely georgia autumn. I’m so thankful that I have all of these friends that let me follow them around on one of the biggest days of their lives and are willing to put up with my many requests in search of the perfect images to capture the joy of the moment. So on October 18th, I ventured back to Rockmart, GA, where we had taken their engagement photos and where their proposal had taken place, for justin and ashley to tie the knot. To say I’m in love with these images would be an understatement, but between the stunning couple, gorgeous sweeping landscapes, and access to a boat (I know…right?!), as a photographer, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.








































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anthony and lila.

Well it’s really quite long after the fact, but in August I got to photograph the wedding of two wonderful friends. I’ve known Anthony and Lila now for three, maybe four years? They both attended river hills when I worked there and I got to see their relationship from the very beginning stages. From weekly dinners at my house in athens for our college age small group, to both of them helping me desperately pull together children’s activities (including humoring me as I taught them the most extravagant and ridiculous hand motions to countless songs), I’ve been blessed to be an observer of watching these two grow as a couple and as followers of Christ. Being their on this big day was just an added gift. It was a day filled with old friends that feel more like family, lots of love and laughter, and a whole lot of fun. So to Anthony and Lila, thank you for letting me be there with you on your wedding day and for being two of the most humble, servant-hearted people I know.

































be still.

Staring at my calendar, all of the red and green boxes marking appointments and schedules make it seem like Christmas has come in October.

I mean, I know I took the day off today, but I don’t have to leave for my flight until 1 pm, so I’ll pack when I get home at 10pm, then if I wake up at 7, I can get in a half a days work, have time to grab lunch, cut my own bangs since I haven’t cut my hair in months, go on a walk with the dogs, and clean my entire apartment before I leave, right?!

This was seriously the thought process in my head a couple of weeks ago. Logical, right?


And I know this. Logically, really, I do. And yet, before I know it, every day for the next three months is filled to the max with work and events and expectations of things that people NEED me for.

The people pleaser in me is reveling. Nevermind the fact that this process for endless weeks and months at a time leaves my soul shriveled like a raisin.

I’ve never been very good at being still.

I come from a family of movers and shakers. For those of you who’ve met my mom, you know I’m not lying. The woman wakes up at 6am and by 1am when she’s finally back in bed has accomplished more than some people may accomplish in three weeks time. And she does this every day. Monday through Sunday. Without fail. Both of my parents are hard-working, self-motivated, go-getters.

And that’s a great thing.

But God has been teaching me some new old things lately. I say new old, because it’s not that I haven’t heard it before. Maybe before I brushed it off as “not my issue.” Let’s be real…I was just in denial.

I always think I have more time than I do. I always think I can fit just one more thing into my day. I always think “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” And I NEVER want to say no.

I’m always running, always striving, always going.

And some times that’s great. I love this crazy, beautiful, busy life of mine. God gave me this one life and I want to soak up every little bit of it that I can. I want to see historic landmarks, and visit museums, and climb mountains, and eat food so good it brings tears to my eyes, and drink great wine, and breathe fresh air, and appreciate quality films, and dance at concerts of my favorite bands, and drive with the windows down singing at the top of my lungs, and travel to foreign countries, and sit in backyards and BBQ with friends. I want to laugh more than I cry and I want to love people where they are. I want to make moments that matter.

But sometimes I get so caught up in the bustle and the excitement of it all, that I miss experiencing these things fully and deeply.

And lately I’ve found that when I run so much, I’m just running for the sake of running. Because it’s what I’ve always done, or because I don’t know what else to do. Because who would I be if I wasn’t running, achieving, doing.

And sure, there are some things I want to run from feeling deeply. There are some things I think, if I do enough things, I won’t have to feel this way. I run from fear and rejection and pain and loneliness and frustration and anxiety…you name it. Maybe I’m the only one, but I doubt it.

The unfortunate part is that when I run from these things I also run from joy and peace and truth and community and love. I run from the lessons the Lord is trying to teach me. I run from experiencing the deep, tough work He is doing in my heart. I’m running from Him.

And then after maybe days, or weeks, or months of running I find a tired, wrung-out, frustrated and frayed Elissa. I find a person who isn’t living out of a place of wholeness, but is scrambling to hold the broken pieces together before someone notices.

And in the moments when I come to this realization, I find myself sinking in an ocean of grace again. Because, oh how He loves. Oh how He pursues. Oh how He sees me even when I do my best to move so fast I think no one will notice.

And the words He has been speaking to me over the last three months have been the same over and over.

Be still.


Yes, be still.

“Be still and know that I am God” is what the scripture says.

And it’s going to take practice, this act of stillness. Taking days, or moments, of Sabbath requires discipline. In a book I recently read, Dallas Willard says this of rest and Sabbath:

“This will be pretty scary at first for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is ‘Do no work.’ Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. With practice, the ‘soul anchor’ established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.” (The Great Omission)

Stillness requires a lot of things that are challenging to me, to say the least. It requires patience. It requires finding beauty in the pain, and joy in the waiting.

Stillness requires leaning in to all of it. Opening myself to the full range of pain and joy and anxiety and peace and everything in between.

But it doesn’t require me to do any of this on my own, no matter how many times Satan whispers that lie into my ear.

Stillness, above all, requires leaning into Him and knowing who He is. It means trusting above all that the Lord is faithful. He is the God who sees. He fulfills His promises. He is good. And He is sovereign.

I recently was doing a devotional and the statement that stood out was from the writer’s bio at the bottom:

“She is a productive lady, but that is not what defines her—[her] heart beats for Jesus and His daughters, and that’s what makes her incredible.”

I love that. I hope people can say that about me. I don’t want to be a frayed and frazzled person my whole life. I want to be someone who is passionate about life and loving other people. Someone who can handle the chaos AND the silence with grace and charisma. As my favorite author, Shauna Niequist says, a person who is “present over perfect.” And what better time to start then now?


will and sara.

so my rooms is engaged! we celebrated with lots of pictures 🙂 And the best part about photographing your best friends is that they let you drag them all over the world at eight o’clock in the morning because it’s when you can get the best light. I think it was totally worth it…

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chad and haley.

So I am ridiculously behind in all things blog related, but there’s tons of fun stuff from this summer that I want to share. For example…

On June 21st, I had the privilege of shooting Chad and Haley’s wedding at the lovely Coverall Farms in Ellerslie, GA. The day was filled with so many wonderful moments from Taco Bell lunch with the bridesmaids and Haley and her grandfather’s prayer before the ceremony to the fact that the groomsmen received tasers as their gift from the groom and that Chad and Haley made their own wine as wedding favors. Anyways, the day was a ton of fun, but I guess I can let the pictures speak for themselves…


















































































I am so thankful to be a small part of the story God is telling in Kenya, and so I felt today was an appropriate day to share Samuel’s story:


Samuel dropped out of school at 13 years old. He was in standard five.

His dad was in prison.

His mom couldn’t afford to take care of him.

So he spent most of his first 12 years living with his grand mom.

When he was 13, his mom remarried and he was told he was going to have to go live with his step-dad’s mom instead.

But she was a disciplinarian, to the point of abuse.

“It was like I was a slave. I really struggled that year. I was number one in my class at first, but then I started to drop…#4, #5, #6…”

He ran away multiple times, and when they threatened to send him back to his step-dad’s mom, he ran to the streets.

First he hung around his hometown of Nyeri and then in an effort to further escape his family, he fled to Nairobi at the age of 15.

“I never knew anyone in Nairobi,” Samuel said.

He had to learn from the other street boys how to survive in the big city. This meant making clothing from thrown away sacks and stealing anything that could fetch a price in the markets-  hubcaps, headlights, or even breaking into homes to steal valuables from inside. He learned to sniff petrol, smoke cigarettes, and later, marijuana.

“I came to be a professional,” Samuel said, referring to his criminal activity.

The first time he was arrested was in 1993. He was put in a juvenile home for nine months and then sent to a juvenile school for five years.

“But the problem was I had tasted money. I had tasted petrol. I had tasted marijuana,” Samuel said,”so there was no way I would stay in school.”

And he was right. He lasted only eight months in the juvenile school before escaping and running back to the streets of his capital city.

He continued to steal, learning to snatch phones from cars in the city, and got more involved with the street gangs, spending time fighting and beating up other boys on the street.

And sniffing petrol and glue weren’t enough anymore. So he took it to the next level: heroine.

“Because you were so nervous about a job, you had to smoke so that you would have a curtain over your eyes, and you would be able to snatch phones.”

In 2002, he was arrested again. 6 months of prison.

Again, in 2004, for stealing the headlight of a car. 3 years in prison this time.

When he was released after serving two years of his sentence, he ran back to the streets he knew.

“I found out that most of my other friends had died.” They had beaten death by either the mob or the police when they were caught stealing something. “You would be beaten so hard that you would wake up three days later and wonder where you were,” Samuel said, running his fingers over the countless scars on his head, most of which he didn’t remember how they got there.

“The time I remember most, [two friends] and I wanted to steal a gold chain from a Hindu man and an armed guard saw and shot my two friends. By the grace of God, he didn’t see me.”

In April of 2009, Samuel met John Makyao, a Tanzanian contractor who was working on a job in Nairobi and doing street ministry in his free time. “He would buy me tea and we would talk. I kept asking myself, ‘Who is this guy and what is his agenda?'”

Eventually, Makyao invited Samuel to attend church with him at Kileleshwa Community Church.

“After the service I felt like that was the place where I was supposed to be. I didn’t belong to the street.”

Not long after their first visit to Kileleshwa, Makyao offered Samuel a job working on cell phone towers out of town. The job was located in a remote part of the country where he didn’t have access to the drugs he usually bought, so it allowed Samuel the opportunity to earn some money and go through the withdrawal process.

Even upon returning to the city, Samuel struggled to remain drug free when he reconnected with his old friends from the street, but Makyao was there to disciple and lead him, and continued helping him find jobs away from the city. One of these jobs led him to Turkana county, a remote region of Northwest Kenya bordering Uganda and South Sudan.

This is where Samuel finally made the choice to follow this Jesus that Makyao had been telling him about.

“From that moment and that time, I have never smoked cigarette or done drugs again. Jesus is able to do anything to transform your life. If [anyone] saw me before [I met Christ] and they saw me now, they would have to say, ‘Wow. There is a God out there.'”

Now Samuel is married with two kids and working in one of the slum areas outside Nairobi. He has a passion for reaching street boys, and who better to do that than Samuel?

I wanted to share Samuel’s story with you, to remind us of the importance of testimonies, but I also want to caution you. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in testimonies, in experience-centered faith, in ourselves and worldly things, that we miss the point.

The point of testimonies is not to gawk and awe and ourselves, or others.

This story really isn’t Samuel’s story at all. It’s God’s.

It’s Him telling his story, the story of redemption, through Samuel’s life.

It’s the story of grace. Of forgiveness. Of healing. Of the gospel.

The story that he tells throughout eternity. It’s a reminder that though we are far, he is jealous for us. He finds us in our darkest places and moments. He loves us. So much so that he died, and conquered death, so that we can be called from death into everlasting life.

Sometimes I think we read scripture and we think, “That was then, but this is now.”

But God has not changed. “I AM that I AM,” He tells us. He is constant. He is unswerving. He is faithful.

He is still performing miracles. He still heals the blind. He still comforts the weary and the weak. He still sees. He still brings hope to the hopeless. He is still moving and breathing and pulsing through our very veins.


And he is still changing lives. Because He has changed mine, and because He has changed Samuel’s.

And when Samuel finished telling me his story, he spoke these words that should be comfort to everyone:

“In this life, you have to fight. You have to struggle. But not alone.”


justin and ashley.

So my friends Justin and Ashley are finally getting hitched! On Easter Sunday, we ventured out to Rockmart, GA to the land where they will being saying their vows in October to take some engagement pics. Fishing boats, poles, docks, chalkboard signs, and of course lots of laughter…but you can see for yourself…