Kidnapping and Photo Snapping

I have a very cute best friend. She is far kinder than me, but far less tan so it all evens out.   We have a few classic sayings in our friendship but one that rings true through it all is this:  “Kelsey always has a vision, and Fran helps make it happen.”

That makes it sound like she’s my minion, and while I would love that, it’s not quite the case. God’s given us this friendship to not only change the world for Him, but have one hell of a time while doing it.

When I was in South Africa, I was helping my supervisor Marcy with the planning and marketing of the Read Baby Read literacy program with the Hillsong Africa Foundation.  We found out right before the conference that Pastor Bobbie had chosen it as the feature project for the South African Colour Conference and we needed photos and documents designed ASAP so that it could all go to print and be at the conference on time.  We had an opportunity to empower 5,000 women to impact our project, so despite the insane time crunch, we were doing it.


We didn’t have a photo shoot arranged, we didn’t have a photographer, we didn’t have a plan…but we had Fran, and Fran was currently unemployed.  I called up Fran, told her to grab her camera because I had a freelance gig for her. 


I still remember scooping our male office mate’s jaws off the floor when we told them that we were going into a township (slum) completely unannounced with only some books, cookies, and indemnity forms to give to the parents so we had legal permission to use the photos.  “The kids will see the food and flock to us, we’ll replace it with a book, snap some pics, and then reward them with cookies.  It’s foolproof.”  They warned us how dangerous it could be to go as young, vulnerable, white females start snapping photos.  They tried to stop us, but we needed photos!  How do you tell the story of how literacy is the first step to educating a nation, if you don’t have pictures of illiterate children with books?   


We compromised by agreeing to bring one of the male volunteers with us as backup protection.  He knew the area we were going into better than us, and well, he was buff.  And looked like a badass.   Someone called Jayde and told him to meet us by my car in 15. 


He comes out to the car and is chuckling a naughty laugh and says “What are you afraid of, Kelsey?”  and I said “Well, I was warned I might get shot doing this, which is why you’re coming with.”  He reassured me “Oh, they won’t shoot you, Kelsey.”  I knew there was something cheeky in his tone so I asked “They won’t?!”  to which he replied “No… they’ll stab you,” as he motioned one arm thrusting towards me, “it’s much more personal that way.”


Great.  We all headed to the nearest township and amidst all of the comments about my awful driving (to be fair I shouldn’t have a license, it’s awful) someone realized there was a pre-teen that attended youth group that lived in this area and they randomly had his phone number.  My supervisor Marcy said “I feel weird calling him, I don’t even know him!” 


I grabbed her phone and said “I don’t, kids love me…Chiefton, it’s Kelsey from Hillsong.” (knowing full well that he didn’t know who I was, but would totally pretend like he did to seem cool) “I need to get some pictures of kids holding some books we’re giving them.  I have some cookies to give to them too.  Can you help us round up some kids?” He was excited at the opportunity and told us to pick him up down the block and he’d get us to a good spot.


Yes, I realize that in America this might be considered kidnapping, but in SA it was basically just carpooling.  It’s a good thing his mom never taught him about “stranger danger” because I was the carbon copy of everything my parents warned me against: stranger, in a car, offering candy and wanting to meet other children.

We ended up getting the photos we needed and the literacy program has since gone all around the country and is being reworked to be sold to other non-profit organizations that desire to grow literacy in their communities.  The kids loved their books and cookies.  Most importantly, no one was shot.  Or stabbed – thanks Jayde.

In most cases, bravery is just a matter of weighing the costs and advantages, and choosing to see things as an adventure and not a challenge.  Yes, it was last minute and had the potential to be stressful to pull this off – but with the right people and right attitude it was one of the most fun memories I have of my time in South Africa.  And, it is going to help millions of children because we took the opportunity and empowered 5,000 women to kick it off strong.  Bravery paid off.

Kelsey LindellComment