Capturing Hope By James Bokovoy

Photo: James Bokovoy
The following article is in response to inSpire's request for James Bokovoy to share his story as it relates to his interest and use of photography in ministry.

I was born in Seattle, Washington in 1968, and promptly adopted by the most incredible young couple alive! My parents returned to Ethiopia, where they had been serving as missionaries. My father was a physician and mother worked in Children's and Youth Ministries. They served in Ethiopia for 18 years and for 2 years in Singapore.

My father always enjoyed photography and had purchased a couple of cameras in Germany while serving as a flight surgeon at the end of WWII. I still have my father's Leica Rangefinder and Rolleiflex cameras that he purchased there. My father used photography to help him document his medical work in Africa and that love of photography grew into capturing family memories. He shot still and movie film.

When our family returned to the U.S. in the mid 70's we settled in Keene, Texas. I attended Adventist schools from grade school through to graduation from Southwestern Adventist College (University now). During this time, my father continued his practice at Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.

My father continued to do photography for work and also as a stress-relieving hobby. When he had time off from work, this was an enjoyable way for the two of us to spend time together. I quickly developed a love for photography and for recording things in God's creation.

Growing up in Africa and Singapore, I learned at an early age to love nature. Photography just made that love grow deeper. I quickly outgrew my little Kodak 110 instamatic and began using my fathers Nikkormat EL. One of my favorite lenses was a Vivatar 70-210 Series One zoom. I also loved a couple of my dad’s macro primes (60mm and 105mm micro-Nikkors) that he used for surgical photography. In 1980 or 1981, we took a family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming that would change my budding photographic world forever. My dad was attending some continuing education meetings there and my mother and I were lucky enough tag along. I begged him to let me borrow his new Nikon F3 hp body and some lenses while I explored the areas parks with my mother. He graciously let me take both bodies (Nikkormat EL and Nikon F3) and I have been carrying two Nikons ever since.

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In 1982, Nikon released champagne colored F3/T (T for Titanium) body. The first 300 produced came in a special edition for the US market only. The body and 50mm f1.4 prime had matching serial numbers and came with a matching wooden display box. This was the camera my parents purchased for me as a gift. This was my first "real" camera! My fathers F3 and my first F3/T still sit on a shelf in my home as reminders of how good God is. I was adopted into the most wonderful family and I am so thankful that my parents choose to invest in tools/toys that would make a positive life long impact for me and also for others. I feel that God has blessed me with a gift to "see" things around me in a unique way and I also believe that God has called me to share that gift with others. It is my desire to honor God and further His kingdom through the gift of photography and the visual arts.

Throughout high school I shot images for fun and for the school yearbooks. My senior year in H.S., I attended Campion Academy where I was blessed to discover a whole new part of America. One of the guest speakers that came to campus that year was a very talented photographer named Dewitt Jones. He has a truly unique way of seeing things. One of my favorite magazines is Outdoor Photographer, and Dewitt was contributor to the magazine. I was very excited to meet him when I was just 16 or 17 years old and have the opportunity to learn to see things in different and unique ways from a professional that was willing to give back to young people.

One year of school at Walla Walla College and then three at Southwestern in Texas allowed me to contribute to the yearbook staff. While at Walla Walla, I was allowed to challenge the first module of photography and then took the advanced photography course. I loved the time in the dark room developing both b&w and color print film. Being a poor college student often times limited the amount of film that passed through my camera, but I kept shooting when possible. My passion was slide films however and I have shoot countless rolls of Kodachrome 64 and 200 and quite a bit of Fujichrome 50 and 100. Loved those greens and blues of Fuji chromes while living and shooting in Hawaii. By my senior year in academy I deeply wanted to attend Brooks Institute of Photography or our program at Andrews University, but God had other plans for my life.

While attending Southwestern I had my first image published in a non-school related forum. The now defunct Dallas Morning News ran one of my images on the cover of their paper. I was so excited to receive photo credit, several "bricks" of press film and also a check for $60. I then realized the importance of being compensated for the images you produce. While "photo credits" are great, I learned that they don't pay for film or equipment. This was this first time I received payment for something I produced and that allowed me to reinvest in more film.

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In 1991 received my degree in psychology from Southwestern and began a career in that field. My lovely wife and I had met while at Southwestern and were married our senior year, just before graduation. She received a call to help start a new Adventist school in Austin, Texas and we were blessed to live there for three years. Then we accepted a call to move to Maui to teach school at Maui Adventist School. We enjoyed living on Maui for three years. It was at this time that my career went from psychology to sales. After moving back to the mainland USA in 1997, I continued in a sales career, while attempting to do as much photography as possible.

In 2002, God really changed directions for us as a family and I accepted a call to the ministry. I worked as coordinator for Native Ministries North America based in the Oklahoma Conference. I was able to travel all over the U.S. doing ministry for the Lord, which allowed me some time to really get back into photography in a more serious way. I had wanted so badly to do photography my whole life and had always struggled to have the time and often the means to do it in that way that I desired. When I finally surrendered to the Lord's calling for my life, I was amazed to see Him opening doors for my love of photography.

I have been very blessed to be in the Oklahoma Conference for the last 10 years working in Native Ministries and as a full time pastor for the last 8 years. 
Serving the Lord has allowed me the opportunity to shoot for local, union, NAD and even GC events. The General Conference session in Atlanta and the NAD Women's Ministries Conference in Dallas were definitely highlights. Also serving as one of the photographers for recent national ASI conventions has opened many more doors for my photography.

My good friend Mark Bond and his wife Conna, have opened many doors for me to share my photography with the church. Mark Bond currently serves in the Rocky Mountain Conference as their Family Life Director and also as their Communications Director. He recently had served as the Communications Director for the Southwestern Union in Texas. During his years there, Mark and I worked on several projects for the Southwestern Union Record magazine, including several covers and feature stories. Even though Mark has accepted a call to another union, we continue to work closely together and I am still a contributing photographer for the Southwester Union Record.

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Mission trips and youth ministry has really begun to develop in my life recently and the Lord continues to bless. Traveling on several Share Him mission trips to Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe over the past few years has allowed me to share my images with the church and it's many mission and evangelistic ministries. These mission trips have also allowed me to return to the country that I love where I grew up, Ethiopia. I was able to take my daughter and another one of the youth from my church that had been in Zimbabwe preaching a Share Him campaign. A real joy on this last mission trip was to see the love of photography really develop in both my 15 year old daughter and the other youth from my church. I really feel that the Lord is calling me to share my knowledge of photography with the youth in our church in a way that will impact their lives eternally. It is my desire to give back just as others have given so freely to me.

Our church has a unique message that we are privileged to share with the world. I believe that media, in all its forms, is so critical in this message being delivered to a hurting world. We, as a worldwide church, have a need for the best in still and motion media. A special message requires special content on all our materials, print or digital. A lot of our needs are pretty event specific. While high quality stock still and video images are readily available, at increasingly less expensive investment for the church or independent ministry, there are many things that are just not available.

God as placed a burden on my heart to help train up an army of workers, mainly youth and young adults, to help create, produce and supply this most urgent need for our church. We need the highest quality media content to help us deliver the most important message there is. With a focus on the Adventist world, I am currently networking with other Christian photographers, videographers and software experts to create a media-training academy or program where this dream and need can become a reality.

Images by James Bokovoy

James Bokovoy writes from Oklahoma. All rights reserved © 2012 Click here for content usage information.