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Seminarian focuses mission efforts through camera lens

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–While waiting for their lattés and café mochas, patrons at the Starbuck’s Café near Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Mill Valley, Calif., campus recently saw glimpses of African life through a seminary student’s photo display.

In one snapshot, colorful sandals bake in the hot African sun in the entrance of the village mosque. Next to that, an elderly, white-bearded Wolof man stares at the photographer with eyes of friendly suspicion. Under that one, young girls dressed in simple clothes offer big smiles to the camera.

Golden Gate student Jonathan Henderson, a former International Mission Board Journeyman to Senegal, confesses he sees life as a series of still images. “Photography is my passion,” the first-year intercultural studies student said. “It’s my own way of conveying to people how I see things.”

Henderson’s hobby has led to displays in coffee shops in Mill Valley and San Francisco and also a growing portfolio of wedding pictures and portraits. “It’s an encouragement to know that this is a talent I feel God has given me,” he said. “I want to be able to develop it more so I could use it in a career incorporated with missions, but I’ll keep taking pictures even if it’s just a hobby.”

Henderson, 28, has been able to use the sales of some of his photography to fund volunteer mission trips to the Middle East and central Asia during his time at seminary.

“I had a whole suitcase of photos and negatives from Senegal when I came back,” he said. “It’s just a way for me to record people and their culture and to convey emotions that connect them with people of another culture.”

From Little Rock, Ark., Henderson grew up the son of a pastoral counselor father and social worker mother. He became a Christian at age nine while his father served as associate pastor of a local church. “I’d been learning about Christ in Sunday school and I told my parents I wanted to know more about Jesus. They explained the plan of salvation to me, and I said that’s what I wanted to do.”

The photography bug didn’t hit him until he was 17 and attending an English class for gifted and talented students. “We were studying the lives of Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe, and we were supposed to write a paper on one of them. I asked if I could do a project instead of a paper because of the nature of the class.”

He ended up taking 12 black-and-white photos of nature in Ansel Adams’ style. “People said they turned out well, and from then on, I was bitten. My dad had done a little semi-professional work before, so I borrowed his camera.”

He practiced during a summer study tour of Europe after his junior year, but then joined the National Guard in the summer of 1990, days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and served for six years. Meanwhile, he enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and majored in psychology. There he took pictures for the newspaper and yearbook and took his first and only photography class, but also felt called to serve as a Journeyman. The International Mission Board appointed him to go to Senegal in 1996 and at orientation he heard about Golden Gate from Mike Thompson, associate professor of historical studies, during a series of spiritual development seminars he led.

“I liked his persona and how he spoke about Golden Gate. I’d spent all of my life in the Bible Belt, and I began to feel that if I ever went to seminary, I’d go to Golden Gate because I wanted to see Christianity lived out in a culture where it wasn’t predominant.”

In Dakar, Senegal, Henderson served as a community center worker and English-as-a-Second-Language teacher until summer 1998 and felt a pull toward career missions and seminary. “I was where God wanted me then because there were people there that he wanted me to be friends and share with,” he said. “And I feel I’m where I’m supposed to be now. Having already been on the mission field, I know what questions to ask in classes. I can put a lot of things together because I have experience behind me.”

He said he has appreciated the classes at Golden Gate as well as the school’s focus of unreached peoples, especially inside the 10/40 Window, where the majority of the world’s population lives. “I’m really interested in working with Muslims there,” he said. “What better place to study intercultural studies and missions than in the San Francisco Bay Area which is so multicultural.”

    About the Author

  • Brian L. Garland