A story.



I haven’t posted on this blog in a while, but yesterday, a pretty incredible thing happened and I wanted to share it. I hope it can inspire.

Over beautiful cups of coffee, my husband and I have developed a tradition of reading from scripture, discussing life and the topic of God, and praying in the mornings. It’s one of my favorite things in all the world. Lately, I have been really captivated by the parables of Jesus, particularly the “Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and give your cloak (in addition to just your coat)”. Pretty radical stuff if you think about it. It’s definitely not a natural thing for me to want to go the extra mile for my oppressor or take the path of love instead of revenge or give more generously than even asked of me. As Nick and I mulled over these words, we discussed a nudging I had to give a couple of my sweaters to a little old beggar woman and a younger leper woman whom I’ve been building a relationship with. When I explained the interaction with Nick yesterday morning, I became a little frustrated at the lack of verbal communication I was able to have with them as we do a lot of “charades”, but not much actual dialoging. (Because of the obvious language barrier)

Later in the day, I was excited to see the older woman wearing the sweater I gave, one of the many layers she was wearing as a tiny, frail woman in the cold. She began signaling to all the areas of her body that ached. She is a beggar, who sits for most hours of the day, on a brick in the dirt, and is obviously skin-and-bones. Completely out of my comfort zone, I felt I should sit beside her, in the dirt, and pray with her. I put my arm around her delicate little body and just started praying to Jesus. I didn’t know what to pray. I’m not sure my faith was strong enough to see healing for this woman, but I prayed anyways. I felt compassion run through my body in a new way. After I said my little prayer… the size, I promise, smaller than a mustard seed, I kept my arm wrapped around her and just began to hug her. We were cheek to cheek, in the dirt, just embracing. In complete silence. I just felt so much love for her all of a sudden. I didn’t feel her try to let go or pull away, so I continued to hug, as did she. The only thing that broke the silence was the sound of her tears. She started to cry. I just held her longer. Then, I looked straight into her eyes and told her that she is beautiful, and that I will continue to come visit her and pray for her.

I’m not sure what she understood of my words, but I am certain that both of us understood about love. A deeper love that is bigger than the both of us. Bigger than all of us.

And as I sit recalling this story, feeling blessed and humbled to have been witness to the power of love working in me, I pray that the scripture that says “we love because He first loved us” does not go trite in my life, or in yours. That the saying “blessed to a blessing” is a lifestyle and not a pretty saying to hang on our walls. Love still CAN speak louder than words, louder than cultural and language barriers and louder than caste systems or classes.

I’ll end this story with a few words from one of my favorite songs:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith would be made stronger- in the presence of my Savior.” Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong UNITED

 

Be blessed.

 

 

Young Monks. Northern India



Well, if you’re not attached to my facebook page or Paula Watts Photography blog, you may not have had the chance to see these images yet. If you are connected in those areas, I know you’ve seen these images at least once but I hope you can enjoy them again.
You might also check out the previous post as I have become aware that the “subscriber” notifications did not get sent for the last post. I apologize for any confusion. We’re still here, thriving and enjoying not only our beautiful surroundings of the Himalayan Mountains, but also the new friendships that are being built and the lives we have the extreme privilege of loving and serving. Just this morning, as Nick and I were talking over breakfast, we were realizing how privileged we actually feel to get to live life amongst the Tibetan people, who we are growing to love more and more each day. There is something so profound about the connection you feel with an entire people group after praying for them, loving on them, and serving them. They are quickly becoming friends, and people we cherish. We celebrate with them, we take on their struggles, we listen, and most importantly, we just try to be here and be present for them. See them and love them. For who they are. Who they were created to be, and encourage them however we can. Jesus did that when He lived here on earth, and He is our example. The ultimate example of servanthood, love, and sacrifice, but also speaking life and truth into the very lives of those he encountered. This is our prayer.
young smiling Tibetan buddhist monk boy portrait of young buddhist monk against interesting wall

young tibetan buddhist monk in classroom with alphabet

portrait tibetan buddhist monk poses with serious face

serious young tibetan buddhist monk in group

Refugee Status



Tibetan Refugees in India, Documentary Photographer Paula Watts

 

“Being clear about what we’re doing and why is the first step in doing it better. If you’re not happy about the honest answer to this question, make substantial changes until you are.” Seth Godin. Jan 15, 2013

Not a day goes by when I don’t have the extreme privilege of hearing stories of young Tibetans fleeing the Chinese government’s occupation of their land. The stories are shocking, filled with bravery, a fight for freedom and many times, end in tragedy.  Just today, a friend of mine told me his story of crossing the Himalayan Mountains (as they all do in order to get to India). He told me of being captured by the Chinese government the first 3 times he tried to escape, put in prison and then returned him to his home. The fourth and final time, he travelled for multiple weeks over the mountains, with some dying along the way. Food runs out, the temperatures are freezing, there are unmarked paths with dangerous cliffs. One young man fell to his death during their journey.

I want to help. I can’t just stand by. I serve a God who came to earth and died for justice, for us, un-deserving, but with Him, we have a hope for a future. He asks the same of us, to humble ourselves, to serve, and to fight for justice. “What you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

This has inspired me to start a documentary project of these young adults, coming from Tibet, as refugees, holding on to their culture, learning for the first time about their country’s history (as it is mostly banned in Tibet to learn of their own history), all the while trying to embrace their new surroundings in India, separated from their families and from the way of life they’re accustomed to. A beautiful mixture of tradition and modern appeals. Starting a new life…. with “Refugee Status”.

This is the first image of the series.

(Sengye, shown above, is a young Tibetan man from the Amdo region of Tibet. He wears a traditional fur hat and necklace, identifying him as Amdo. He was raised in a nomadic family (as most are in that region), breeding yaks, sheeps and goats. He fled Tibet on the same night of his father’s return from being imprisoned by the Chinese government for 14 years. They didn’t see each other.)

 

Please feel free to share your thoughts, input and comments.

 

 

The Watts are back in India…



Tibetan Dancer Dalai Lama's Monastery

Tibetan culture Northern India photography

Well, here we are again. Blogging. From a world away. Far from all our comfort zones. Far from all our family and close friendships. We have recently arrived back in Northern India amongst the Tibetan refugees and local Indians. We spent the summer months in the states searching and praying for God’s heart in our next direction in life, and felt like we were to return to Dharamsala, India, the beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. (where we stayed for 2 months last year) If there’s one major lesson we learned last year, it’s to hold all your plans loosely in front of God and to remain obedient if God directs you somewhere new. I had no idea our paths would lead us to living in Northern India, rather than Africa, but we keep our hearts open to where God directs.

So now, I sit here, tucked under a blanket, warming my hands by my mug of tea and the laptop that is warming my legs from Northern India’s winter. We are settling in. And as much mundane “business” as that required for us this last week, it’s been important to get our bearings and start the journey of making this country our new home. We have re-connected with some beautiful friends that we made here from our last trip and have unpacked all our worldly possessions into our new lil’ flat that will be our home. I am re-learning the art of washing laundry and dishes by hand, grocery shopping from small markets rather than mega-stores, and walking to all our destinations. It’s a wonderful, slow paced life that is as gracious to us as we allow it and is certainly a different approach than the fast-paced, result driven life we are accustomed to in the western world.

We are learning more than teaching and desiring to serve more than to be served. We are humbled by the relationships this community has already afforded us and we pray that we are able to love and serve the Tibetan refugees and Indians here just as Jesus would if He were standing in their midst.

{Above are two images I took from the Dalai Lama’s monastery yesterday, during a beautiful Tibetan celebration of the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Peace Prize. These young children were clothed in their traditional Tibetan dress and performed their time-honored dances and songs. It was a great cultural orientation as well as a serene moment of reflection as we celebrated a culture that is being oppressed and stifled in its homeland. Please continue to pray for the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama.}

The Taj Mahal



Yesterday, Nick and I had the incredible pleasure of visiting the Taj Mahal again. Despite the incredibly offensive heat (about 45C or 115F), we and our friends had a great time exploring and visiting this “wonder of the world“.

Of course, as a photographer, I am always intrigued to get another opportunity to shoot images for my stock portfolio as well as think creatively for different shots, since, lets face it, every photographer who has been to the Taj, has taken the famous reflection shot. It’s hard not to though. The Taj is a very symmetrical building, with great consideration by Mughal emperor Shah Jahanin in all its fine intricacies, and this is one of them. The reflection shot proves this nicely as well as frames a nice image of the front of the mausoleum.

Hope you enjoy the photos! THANKS!

Taj Mahal travel photographer clear sky stock photo

Luckily, the sky parted for some nice contrast and interest in the clouds.

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unique Taj Mahal imagery photographer stock image

Taj Mahal documentary photographer India travel

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reflection image of Taj Mahal photographer

 

Lasting Impressions



India Tibetan monks learning english documentary photographer

Today was our last day of having the wonderful opportunity to teach English to monks and Tibetan refugees here in Northern India. We taught advanced English Tuesday-Fridays since we’ve arrived and truly loved the experience. The students were all such eager, enthusiastic learners and so grateful for the time we spent with them. We built some beautiful relationships with some of the students that I hope and pray will be lasting.

As our final day, we prepared a little party, filled with music, games, snacks, and singing. The highlight for me was when the Tibetan students (all refugees) stood up to sing their national anthem. Some of them had tears in their eyes as they proudly and respectfully sang the words. It was touching and really made me reflect on the stories and experiences they have shared with us about their crossing the Himalayan Mountains to seek refuge in India. I have such respect for each and every one of our students for their bravery and sacrifice and desire for a better life. Their dedication to learning English is so much a part of that, and I am so blessed to have been able to serve them in that way.

Hiking the Himalayas



This weekend was so incredible. I got to hike with some beautiful people through the Himalayan Mountains, seeing spectacular views, culture, and wildlife. We went with our friends Evan + Katie Finley and Caleb + Hannah Showalter, as well as some new friends who are monks from Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. There were chai and dahl shops along the way to rest and enjoy the scenery, but the best part was making it to our final destination at snow-line and basking in the views.

Himalayan Mountains Travel Photographer India

Goat herders Himalayan Mountains trekking hiking photographer

Sonam from Bhutan, Rabten from Napal, and Tenzin from Myanmar

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I was able to hold a baby goat that was born the night before we arrived.

nomadic goat herders Indian Palestine documentary photographer

travel photographer India Himalayan Mountain range

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nomadic sherpa tents Himalayan Mountains trekking

tents camping trekking hiking Himalayan Mountains photographer

Our lovely view where we stayed in the Himalayas. Nick and I stayed in the sherpa’s tent but the tents made a nice photo.

goat herders photographer travel documentary Himalayan Mountains

I was so fortunate to get to photograph the nomadic goat herders in the middle of the Himalayas. They posed with their goats for a few photos and were so generous with their time to share about their lives.

nomadic people cultures Himalayan Mountains photography

Himalayan goats travel adventure photographer India

Sharing a morning cup of chai with our host in the Himalayas. We spent the night under his tent which doubles as his home, shop and kitchen. It was magical.

Our view from one of our hikes to the glacier in the Himalayan Mountains. Once in a lifetime trip. So thankful.

 

Life over Chai



I started my day by tripping and falling, saving my camera from destruction (not my pride however). Luckily, I was later able to meet and photograph a Tibetan monk who was a political prisoner in China for 20 years. He sipped his chai, I sat with my jaw probably hanging to my knees, and photographed him in the pauses of his life’s powerful journey.

(Over 110,000 Tibetans have left Tibet to seek sanctuary in other countries due to China’s occupation.)

It’s these beautiful people that we get to love and serve here in India.

Tibetans Monks India Refugees Photographer

Quick Update



Quick update on our beautiful friend “Ann”… for those of you who weren’t able to read our last blog post “Settling In | Northern India”, I mentioned a newfound friend named “Ann” (name changed for privacy). We’ve continued talking almost every day, but today was actually the first of many that I didn’t get to see her.

Fortunately, on our way to dinner, I ran into her, and she said “Paula, I wanted to see you today and tell you that I think your prayers worked. I felt very angry today with a family issue, and I prayed to God, and I immediately felt peace all over. It was like I asked, and then received.”

I started to cry right there on the street. It was beautiful.

May you experience God today in a real, tangible way, just like our friend Ann.

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10

Settling In | Northern India



Nick and I have made it safely to Northern India and are settling in nicely to new cultures, peoples, and adventures. The diversity here is outstanding. From the time we walk out our flat, down our little corridor to our street, to the main square, we have passed Tibetan refugees, Hindus, Bhutanese, Nepalese… etc.  (Not to mention the westerners who have come in search of spiritual enlightenment from all over the world.) We are so excited to be here for the next two months to interact with, love on, and share life with all the many peoples we now find ourselves amongst.

The view from our little flat.

The view from our little flat.

Himalayan Mountains Dharamshala India Photography

The Himalayan Mountains are the backdrop of our new home for the next two months.

The first day we came, we went to a little chai stand down the main road for one of the best chais you can imagine (and for only 6rupees = $0.12). There, I had the lovely opportunity to meet an English woman named “Ann” (named changed for privacy). We started talking over this beautiful cup of chai and she began to tell me that she was feeling “jaded” towards people and more skeptical than ever. I could easily see the hurt in her eyes and disappointment she felt as she shared this intimate detail with me. At that moment, I felt saddened, but at the same time, very hopeful. I recalled to her that at the darkest time of my life, feeling hopeless and confused, I had a real experience with Jesus. This experience changed my life forever and I will live the rest of my days loving people because I am receiving first, love from God. I am full of peace, love and joy because of my experience with God and I am able to serve others out of that. With tears in her eyes and a soft hand on my arm, she said, “That’s what I’ve been missing. I have been searching for 15 years for that kind of experience. I want that.”

Okay, so maybe not all of my days will be filled with beautiful encounters and stories like this, but I pray they are. I pray that God is truly encountered by those searching for Him, and that His love will fulfill their deepest longings.

“Let God love you and let others watch”

Tibetan refugees India photographer

Our Tibetan neighbor, doing his daily recitations.

 

Jesus and his Message



Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, the Jesus who was raised by his parents Joseph and Mary, the one who grew up as all good Jewish boys did memorizing the Torah, attending the synagogue and pilgrimaging to the temple; this Jesus began his public ministry with a simple announcement, “The Kingdom of God is near!”

For Jesus of Nazareth, from that point on forward, what began as his opening announcement remained his central message in all that he said and did.  He stayed on course with his Kingdom of God motif right through to the very end of his life.

If this was Jesus’ main message then we might ask: “What is the Kingdom of God?” and “how is it near (at hand)?” Many did ask Jesus these questions and other questions just like them.

Now, Jesus had a peculiar way of communicating his message when people would ask their questions. Many times he simply answered people’s questions with another question.. He had a way of seeing behind people’s questions to something deeper and quite revealing.

He also wasn’t nearly as literal and precise as we are today. Our modern sensibilities seem to prefer describing things in more of a straight forward and direct approach.  In contrast, Jesus chose to explain his message through simile and short stories called parables. Jesus went about saying such things like:

The Kingdom of  God is like a mustard seed..

The Kingdom of God is like yeast the a woman mixes into flour..

It is like a man who scatters seed on the ground..

It is like.. when a certain man was preparing  a great feast..

If Jesus were around today we could imagine Jesus being interviewed on the TV show Larry King Live. Larry might ask Jesus if he could explain more about his main message.  Jesus would begin explaining, “The kingdom is like this.. or the Kingdom is like that ..”  Larry King might ask Jesus in the closing 15 seconds of the show to simply break down his message into a headline or soundbite, something short, concise and clear. Jesus might say, “Well Larry, the Kingdom of God is like..”

You probably get the point already.

I have been on a journey of following this Jesus. The one who was born, lived, died and resurrected a couple millennia ago. When at first I started following Jesus, it was for a variety of different reasons and motivations (I could talk to you about those reasons some time in greater detail.) The point I want to make now is that I now find myself following Jesus for a different set of reasons. Some of the orignal reasons  remain, some have evolved, and many are brand new reasons altogether.

Paula and I are learning together what it means to follow Jesus. Recently we have been learning about and deeply exploring this central message of Jesus; the Kingdom of God. There are four accounts of the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When I first seriously started reading the story of Jesus I began in Matthew (because it was the first book in the New Testament). Matthew has Jesus going everywhere talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven“. At the time when I first started reading Matthew some people told me that Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. Therefore, I used to read Jesus’ parables explaining “the Kingdom of Heaven” and think that he was describing what Heaven will be like for us one day after we die and escape this earthy physical dwelling. I assumed he was talking about a place somewhere else, not here.

Kingdom Of Heaven, Kingdom of God

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean 19th century

In contrast, Luke’s and Mark’s Gospel’s tells us Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom of God”. Even though these Gospels had “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” I hadn’t really asked myself why the language was different in their account of things. I just assumed that all of these stories and parables were Jesus’ attempt at describing what Heaven was like and what we needed to do in order to get there some day.

Originally my motivations for following Jesus was more about getting to heaven, escaping this life. My hope was for a distant spiritual place far away from this physical place.

Recently, my motivations have been changing. I am waking up to the reality that actually Jesus wasn’t going around teaching people how to escape this world, rather he was planting creative stories in the minds and hearts of people which were explaining how God’s Kingdom was breaking into this one, the here and now, with renewing and transforming power.

I have been discovering that Jesus’ Kingdom of God Message is about the present, not simply the future. It is about what God is doing through us, not only what he does in and for us. Following Jesus and living for his Kingdom is not the least bit about escaping this world, rather, it is about shaping our world.

Our Lord teaches us to pray for the reality  of God’s-realm (heaven) to become meshed with our-space (earth).

“May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This has become our prayer. May the reality/life of heaven become reality in your life today. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Harrowing of Hell/ 15 c. Hermitage

Harrowing of Hell 15 centurey. Hermitage

 

Where in the world?



I can hardly believe we’ve been in Cape Town for six weeks already. In some ways we’ve experienced a lifetime worth, and on the other hand, it feels like yesterday we were waving our (temporary) goodbyes to our Zambian family for this next season. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if you ask me. The mountains tower high over the land as the ocean shores crash in all its wildness. We’ve been enjoying it’s countryside immensely all while journeying a heart’s path that will make these moments truly last forever.

Table Mountain Photographer South Africa

We’ve enjoying the life of a Jesus community that we happened upon in South Africa. This community has been grappling with things like: how to do life in an African setting while serving and empowering the Africans, how to celebrate the love of Jesus with people without changing their cultural context, and how to effectively serve the oppressed and walk a journey with them in contrast with the foal to “convert” people. Loving and serving people simply for the love of people. Imparting a vision of a valued and cared for humanity. God has really been in the midst of all this, shaping our hearts, bringing beautiful relationships to surround us with, and showing us His love and grace in this process.

Walter Wink wrote a book called Jesus and Non-violence, one that Nick and I are currently reading together. Some of you might have already seen this quote on my facebook. “What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?” It’s not, “How can I be virtuous?” But, “How can I participate in the struggle of the oppressed for a more just world?” That’s where we are. At the very core of who Nick and I are, we are seeking God’s heart to participate in this struggle. How to live out Isaiah 58 and “loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, and set the oppressed free… share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, clothe them.”
How it looks and where that takes us in the future is an open book.

 

But where is that taking us right now?

Nick and I are headed on yet another wild adventure, and heading to India. We will be there for approximately two months, staying at the base of the Himalayan Mountains, sharing life with the Tibetan people residing there.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.