Author Archives: srussell

Fun on the Farm (Lodi, California)

A summer job at a cherry packaging factory in Stockton, California becomes a high school reunion for a group of missionary kids from Rift Valley Academy, Kenya. After stringing together a series of east coast universities to gather the crew, 2 cars embark on the non-stop, 40-hour road trip to California’s Central Valley just before the cherries ripen. Long summer days yield beautiful sunsets, and long hours in the factory are rewarded by the joy of comradery. Mr. Decker lets us drive the tractor and a dirt clod war breaks out in a fallow field.  We missionary kids live an atypical lifestyle, to say the least. Yet, for all our peculiarities, I like to think we are well acquainted with the enjoyment of life.

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Storytelling-HeaderLately, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of storytelling: this two-fold process of absorbing and producing, gathering and distributing, input and output, seeing and telling.

We just got back from a few days of camping in Maasai land.  I feel like this gigantic sponge absorbing all that is going on around me: both comical and sobering, discouraging and inspiring.  Peter Kukan couldn’t get his kid to school in time because an elephant refused to get off the road.  Joloisa struggles to keep her kids in school because work is slow and the recent drought has plummeted the cow and goat market.  James Kukan builds a school in a remote valley in the heart of Maasai land and dreams of it producing national leaders, Harvard graduates, and presidents.  God is at work; he is moving in huge ways.  It is my job to see it, hear it, feel it; to not let it slip by un-noticed, to catch it, to pin it down.

And then I get to edit.  Whether it is drafting an interview questionnaire, weeding through thousands of pictures, or editing a video, the hard work of coming up with a finished product is no easy task.  And why should it be?  It is making something that wasn’t there before.  It is creating.  And while it can be wearisome, it resonates deeply with who we are because we are all made in the image of a Creator God.  When we are creating, we are exercising that divine gift in us.

But output can only go so long without input.  We need wonder.  We need awe.  We need inspiration.  We need to watch another creator do his work to get some ideas.  And the beauty of it is that God is everywhere always in the act of creating.  All we need to do is step out, open our eyes, look around, and see what he is creating; it is naturally inspiring.  And so we are back at absorbing.  And absorbing leads to producing.  And on and on it goes in this creative cycle of inspiration and communication, witnessing a great story and telling a great story.

I’ve decided that beauty is everywhere.  It is mine to see and to tell its story.

[Here’s a link to some of the recent storytelling I’ve been doing.]

Sea Turtles (Pangani, Tanzania)

Sea turtle hatching

A marvel


127 lives

Mad dash to the sea


A big thanks to Friends of Maziwe and all the work they are doing to keep these beautiful creatures alive.

Gorillas (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda)

As a graduation gift, my Dad bought permits for he and I to see the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.  For the full story of our trip (and more pictures) check out this blog.  These are some of my favorite images from the hour we spent with these gentle giants.


Camping: Tulali Gorge


We load up our Land Cruiser and bounce our way along hours of dusty and rocky roads to pitch camp in the sandy riverbeds that stream off of the Meto Hills.  We build a massive fire, put the teakettle on, and pull out a guitar.

We are a bit of a strange group, but we dismiss our oddities by labeling ourselves as lovers of life.  Don’t ask why we kids are so attached to our dollar-fifty-a-pair red Bata sandals, but we do everything in them, and Dad still can’t figure out why.  (Last month I stalked to within 30 yards of a bull elephant in my good’ole red “malapa” as they call them in Swahili.)  Dad’s got the typical safari look: hat, walking stick, binoculars (or “bins” as we call them.)  My brother Leighton and his boarding school friend Evan are practically twins.  With their red malapa, Casio watches, Maasai walking sticks, pocket knives, and beaded necklaces with a hippo tooth and a leopard claw on them, those two are set for all the adventure in the world (and fit the Missionary Kid fashion plate pretty well too).  We boys savor the painful beauty of this thorny land by adopting a strange sense of pride in our scratches and scars; the girls opt out on the blood and instead adorn their hair with owl feathers.  All of us, in our own way, savor the beauty of this land, and we love it not despite its desolation but precisely, I believe, because its desolation.  Life here is beautiful, for it springs forth from the deathly clutches of waterless rock, and the flowers that bud are rugged enough to endure the drought, and the trees that grow tall have fought their roots downward with impressive perseverance.  This is Tutali Gorge in all of its desolate beauty.




No two bottle caps are the same in this collection.  The differences between them may be subtle, but there are no duplicates.  Five hundred and sixty-four is the most recent count.  Fifty-one Fanta’s.  Forty-five Coca-Cola’s.  Dozens of caps he’s only ever found one of.  Most of them are from here in Tanzania, where he started inquisitively digging caps out of the ground outside of restaurants and sports bars 8 years ago.  Now he has caps from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Congo, America, Mexico, the UK, Israel, the Seychelles, and Trinidad and Tobogo.  All of them are now organized and sealed away in the five binders that comprise Leighton Kent Russell’s Bottle Cap Collection.

I had the joy of being with my brother as he went through his entire collection.  He loves all of his bottle caps, and he assigns not only value to them, but personality too.  One of his favorite bottle caps has a tiger on it.  “Oh!  I love this bottle cap!” he explained, and then preceded to tell me how rare it is and how he obtained it: namely, buying it off of another bottle cap collecting friend of his.  They all know the currency: a few Coca-Cola Enjoys and a handmade necklace with the rare Eagle bottle cap as its pendant seemed like a fair trade to the friend Leighton bought the Tiger off of.  Now the Tiger sits in a specially sealed page in the back of Leighton’s collection.

Finalizing the collection has been a fun sibling project.  Sianna helped seal the caps in their individual sleeves and also did the beautiful artwork on the title pages.

Engewa, Tanzania

Engewa is a beautiful valley in northern Tanzania and home to many dear Maasai friends.  Here are a few pictures from our last visit of Engewa Church and Engewa Primary School.  I must admit, my photographic eye is drawn to the children: I think you will see why.





Enduro Title Page-1


Adventure-loving Per Bjerre is the man to contact if your looking to have some fun on a dirt-bike here in Tanzania.  (He also teaches paragliding.  Check him out.)


Pink Grass

Pink is the grass
Setting the sun
On the land of
Wild Hope


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