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Summer: The Photographs Await

Summer's change of pace is here. Although planning and preparation for future initiatives and assignments never end, many of the more weighty projects have just been completed. At last, we're able to turn our attention to those things we've looked forward to for a long, long time.

For some this may mean a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience abroad, while for others it might be a simple, long-delayed trip to a spot only a short distance from home. Summer provides time for other things too, like backyard Bible clubs, VBS, mission trips and family gatherings. Regardless of how we spend our time, we are likely to have experiences that will become our stories in the fall.

In only a few days, our family will rendezvous in a location that most may not think of as a dream vacation spot. There are no fabulous vistas, cobblestone streets, beaches, malls, examples of classic architecture or hotel pools. We're headed for south Arkansas, a place where the heat and humidity compete every day for the highest number. Mosquitoes and ticks call it home. So do I.

Carol and I were raised in the small town of Fordyce. Over the years her Dad, Jack, converted a small dairy barn into a house, surrounded by farmland and forest. There are a couple of ponds, a barn, cows and a long gravel lane leading back to the house. Although their primary home was in town, Jack went to the farm every day to feed the cows and work on the house for as long as we can remember. Some in the family call it, "the house that Jack built."

Most of what we do next week will be of our own design. Without ready-made entertainment, we'll think up what happens next. Our meals will consist of family favorites, each prepared right there in the farm's kitchen. And hopefully, we'll have the chance to try several versions of homemade ice cream.

Currently there are no big plans, but at week's end I know we'll have stories to tell. We're about to have some great fun, and the photographs taken next week will be enjoyed for years.

I can almost see some of the pictures. There will be broad perspectives of the farm, cows grazing with the farmhouse in the distance, a freshly caught fish, board game winners, Frisbee golf, storytelling, late-night snack-making and laughter, lots of laughter.

BCA members will scatter all over the world this summer. Like me, some of you will stay close to home, while others will travel great distances. Regardless of where the summer takes you, make photographs along the way. Think about the visual stories you'd like to tell.

Provide a glimpse of where the story is taking place. Find a wide perspective that shows the character of the location, even if you're inside a building. These photographs give us the chance to go with you and to gain a better understanding of the overall story.

And as important as the place can be, people almost always provide the best storytelling images. Look for ways to show their relationships with each other within the environment. These moments can be truly magical, but they're not that easy to capture. Rather than being an active part of what is happening, as the photographer you may need to pull away to observe and anticipate what will happen next.

Another type of photograph that helps provide the feel of a place is detail. Like photographing a moment, noticing the details in an environment is very deliberate. Think about the best stories youve ever read. Very likely the details probably helped make the story memorable.

When it comes to visual storytelling, there are many considerations, but these are at least a start. When fall gets here, you'll not only have stories to tell, but to show.

Enjoy your travels this summer. Take plenty of photographs. And as for me, I'm just making sure to pack plenty of bug spray.

POSTED: Jun 27, 2013 | Jim Veneman, Freelance Photographer, - jimveneman@gmail.com

The power of a moment: Newtown & Christmas

Over the next couple of weeks there is a good chance that more photographs will be taken than any other time of the year. With the Christmas season come some of the most powerful photo opportunities we will ever see: Moments.

From the first day of photography classes here at Union University, students hear me talk about capturing moments. In order to make a photograph of something so elusive, one needs to be very aware and have an ability to anticipate. Strategically linked to awareness and anticipation also will be the capacity to concentrate completely for a few brief seconds, blocking out all the other things that are happening.

When a great moment is about to occur, the temptation that most controls us is a desire to be involved. We want to clap and cheer too, or provide a needed hug. Sometimes what could have been a wonderful photograph turns into a group photo of smiling faces, all looking at the camera. Only our memory can recount what had happened seconds earlier. The moment had passed.

Over the last few days we've all seen powerful moments that are hard to forget. Images of children being led to a safer place, and the faces of those lost amid the tragedy. Moments indeed can be sad and sometimes very hard. Although photographs like these can take us to emotional depths, they can also be a starting point for change. The photograph of a moment can have tremendous power by simply making us more aware.

Although our nation has been hurt deeply, in this season we also have reason to celebrate. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can push back the darkness that engulfs us and experience a God-given moment if we choose to see it. A photograph of such a moment can be a reminder of hope and can help lead us forward.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to pull out that little camera or camera phone and be ready. Be ready to capture the moment that might help remind us of God's love for us and the joy we can have through Him.

Jim Veneman is director of visual communication and assistant professor at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

This column first appeared on Baptist Press (bpnews.net) on Dec. 19.

POSTED: Dec 20, 2012 | Jim Veneman, Freelance Photographer, - jimveneman@gmail.com

Make the most out of that Instagram account

Walking to get a glass of water from the hallway, I saw Georgia Baptist Convention archivist George Houston carrying a set of dusty black folders chock full of yellowing papers. Asked if he was getting rid of some old, useless stuff he corrected me in saying, "Just old."

That led to my going with Houston into the archives (conveniently, for me, located across the hall from my office) and getting a quick rundown of items donated by a career Home Mission Board-appointed police chaplain. Not having my regular camera with me, I clicked off a few shots with my phone.

At one time accepting pictures taken from a phone was... well, unacceptable. But with higher resolutions becoming the norm and online becoming the preferred option for consumers, those parameters are falling. A quick check by our designer showed my pictures were a high-enough resolution to fill most of a page in our print edition.

I've just been baptized into the world of the iPhone thanks to an unfortunate meeting of my previous phone with our kitchen floor. I'm still finding my way around, but in exploring its possibilities for journalism I've become fixated on Instagram.

Instagram is the quirky (their term, but yes, it fits) program where iPhone owners can take photos and edit with various light and color settings. More important for journalists, it's also a social network where others can follow your photos and make comments. For Android, where I lived up until about a week ago, there are similar applications such as Vignette and picplz. These apps are picking up on a seemingly nostalgia-led craze by providing filters that make your top-of-the-line, highly-technological photo appear like it came straight out of 1977.

Perhaps the closest thing to Instagram on Android is Lightbox. Until checking my account recently, I'd forgotten just how many pictures I'd placed there. In terms of sharing it actually has a leg up on Instagram by providing a link to your Google+ account.

Those are just options, though. The point is whenever there's a way to transmit pictures of an event quickly and easily - especially to social networks where more of your audience is living - it's another tool to share your story.

Taking a couple of photos in the archives with Houston, it struck me how easy it would be to use these apps to create an online photostream at an ongoing event. There's live blogging and live tweeting, why not live photoing? In addition to uploading to your photo site, you can share through various other sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. A photo of Houston I took was shared over Twitter as well as posted directly to The Christian Index's Facebook wall.

As for professional development, in Instagram a search through my Twitter list revealed profiles by ABC World News and The Washington Post. Reputable media outlets are already seeing the benefits of having securing a presence. Baptists aren't behind the curve on social media or photo sharing. No reason for those of us telling their stories to be.

POSTED: Dec 7, 2011 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Mentoring: Keeping Good Company

Several years ago I went to gallery opening. It could have been Saturday night in the art district of any American city. But it wasn't New York, San Francisco, Birmingham, Richmond, Houston or Dallas. It was Temple, Texas. And the gallery was in Temple's First Baptist Church.

Still it was an opening in the truest sense. Wood floors, warm walls, generous lighting set the stage for simply framed photographs spaced precisely about the room. People with plates of finger food circled the exhibit featuring the lifework of an internationally known artist while a string ensemble and keyboard played beneath the murmur of quiet conversation.

All that was missing was the wine.

The exhibit featured the work of Don Rutledge. His photography documented the work of Southern Baptist missions for more than 30 years. It was elegant, beautiful, and recognized in both the secular and religious arenas. He helped make the Southern Baptist publications he served - MissionsUSA and theCommission - become internationally recognized for their use of photography and the visual impact of their storytelling.

Among the crowd gathered that evening were many admirers, people who had followed Don's work through the years and others who he had photographed while on assignment in far-flung corners of the world. There was also a smaller group - some of the photographers he had mentored over those years.

There is a whole cadre of them working today that Don nurtured and encouraged. No one knows how many, but four of us showed up that night. We were very different - a fine art photographer, a commercial shooter, a photojournalist and a news photographer - yet as we talked it was clear all four of us owed much of how we have lived our lives and the quality of the work we have done to this man who cared enough show some interest and invest something of himself in us.

Don touched our lives. At crucial moments he lit the way for us, nudged us along on our tottering careers, encouraged us when we were most vulnerable, saw things in us we often didn't see ourselves and taught us the intangibles of the craft at moments we needed them most.

People sought him out, and he sought them. I remember studying his work long before I met him. I was struggling with my calling, how I was going to express it and where that was going to be. I would look at his work and think: That's what I want to do. Later, when he saw some of my work, he wrote me a note telling me that he liked it. It was like winning a Pulitzer.

I soon learned he was one of the most approachable and giving men I have ever met. I once asked him to critique a project I was working on and he sent it on to the director of photography at National Geographic to review. That was Don.

For me, most of his mentoring was at a distance. I finally got to work with him before he retired, the last year he was at the International Mission Board, and see something of the scope of his involvement in others.

Beginning photographers would wander in and Don would spend incredible amounts of time with them. To be honest, some didn't evidence much promise and I would wonder at the effort he put into them. But later, they would return with some rather elegant work. On other days, some of the best photographers working today would stop by and Don would invite his colleagues into the conversation. Those days opened worlds I had yet to consider.

While Don was never an editor or department director, I learned from him that leadership is more a function of influence than title. The evidence of Don's influence is seen, not in the recognition he received or the friends he kept, but in the lives he touched.

When someone asks me how to become better in their craft, I tell them to keep good company. Find a mentor:

  • Study the work of those you admire and would most like to emulate. Take it apart. See what makes it work.
  • Contact them. Ask how they do what they do and why they do what they do. You will be surprised how often they will respond.
  • Go see them.
  • Invest in yourself by allowing them to invest in you.
  • And when you have mastered some things yourself, become a mentor. Do the same for others.

Standing in the midst of Don's images that evening - the signature of his lifetime - I thought about his legacy. It would be fitting enough if he were remembered for those images alone. But his legacy extends far beyond them. It lives on in the lives he touched, those he mentored, the ones who allowed him to mentor them.

Bill Bangham is director, editorial and photography, for the International Mission Board in Richmond, Va.

Additional Don Rutledge Coverage by Stanley Leary, Aug. 2007: How to Make the Most of a Mentor

POSTED: Sep 21, 2007 | Bill Bangham, Director, Media Production/Editor, CommissionStories magazine, International Mission Board - bbangham@imb.org

Gooooooo Team!

I took my son to a minor league baseball game the other day. It was his first real baseball experience. When we arrived, he wanted to walk around the stadium and see everything. "Where do we buy the ICEEs?" he asked. "Can we get one of those big, foam fingers?"

We found our seats as the public address announcer read the starting line-ups. "Wow Dad. You can see everything from here!" he said. It didn't take long for the home team to score the first runs of the game. Erik did a celebration dance in his seat. Whenever one of the opposing players struck out, he transformed into a mini-umpire shouting "Yer out!" while jerking his thumb in the air.

I'm a life-long baseball fan, but this game was special. Seeing the game from my son's perspective made it brand new again. We talked about what various abbreviations on the scoreboard meant and he couldn't believe we could put peanut shells on the ground under our seats. "Is this really okay with Mom?" he asked.

During the game, I noticed a few people who weren't there for baseball. A man two rows in front of us talked on his cell phone through several innings. A woman nearby kept her nose buried in a crossword puzzle.

Sometimes as communicators we forget what the game is all about and telling the story just isn't fun anymore. Dont turn into someone who just sits through the game. Become an active participant in the Baptist communications community by interacting with other communications professionals like yourself and by sharing your expertise.

If you're new to BCA, it's ok to look around the "stadium." There's plenty to see here. One of the biggest benefits you'll enjoy is learning from others. Like my son, be willing to ask questions. One of our officers or myself is happy to help you understand those tricky BCA "abbreviations."

If you're a BCA veteran, you can add much to our organization. Remember, the "history" of the game is just as important as the current superstar. Maybe you'd like to mentor some of our rookies. We're always looking for links to add to the resources page. Or maybe you can write a "how-to" article that we can place on the site?

Whatever your position on our team, BCA is here to help you knock the ball out of the park. Play Ball!

POSTED: Jul 26, 2007 | Keith Beene, Administrative Coordinator, Baptist Communicators Association - bca.office@comcast.net

What's in my bag?: Gear is important but not only thing to pack for a story assignment

A few days ago I had just hung up the phone from talking with Justin, our oldest son, when my wife, Carol, said, "Jimmy, does it feel funny to be asking your son for advice about your next assignment?"

Actually, Justin and a growing number of students have heard me ask quite a few questions over the last few years. With technology giving birth to a new generation every 12 to 18 months, keeping up with the latest trends is challenging to say the least. The quicker you can reach someone who might have an answer, the more likely you will meet the next deadline creatively and on time.

Chances are your success in this field will be measured by the strength of your relationships.

In May four Union students along with journalism professor Michael Chute and myself stepped aboard a plane headed for South Africa. Our students wrote and photographed stories about the work of several International Mission Board personnel. The coverage and logistical challenges provided a realistic glimpse of what could lie ahead for each of these students.

In the short time I have been at Union, the processes involved in producing our content has changed so much. The changes have been amazing.

Other than always feeling a bit behind in what I should know, I believe they've been for the better. We have so many ways of telling our stories. Discovering and acting on the best way is the challenge.

Not too long ago, film would be near the top of my concern list before making a trip like this. Today there are so many more components.

For instance, before leaving Carol and I headed to the Apple Store in Germantown to pick up an extra hard drive to provide a second level of backup for our files. As trustworthy as the digital file has become, backing it up a couple of times helps to provide a better night's rest. This is certainly not a "Tri-X and be there" kind of world any longer.

When I step onto the plane I had tucked into my carryon bag:

  • A Nikon D200 camera body.
  • A Nikon D70 camera body.
  • A Sigma 18-50/2.8 lense
  • A Nikkor 18-200/3.5 lens,
  • A Nikkor 70-200/2.8 lens,
  • A Nikon SB800 flash.
  • Eight 2GB compact flash cards,
  • One Lacie 160GB hard drive.
  • An Apple PowerBook G4 complete with more software than I may ever really understand.
  • An Olympus digital recorder with lapel microphone.
  • A tiny radio about to be tuned to the BBC.
  • A set of earbuds, plus a slew of cords, chargers, converters and a small stack of blank DVDs.

Even with all this, most likely I will arrive in Cape Town only to realize I left something and will ask about the nearest Best Buy equivalent. Of course, it's always nice to be traveling to a place that can save you. So often this is not the case.

Few weeks go by without hearing questions about equipment. Coming up with the best answer is almost bewildering. The variables just go on and on.

Given that Nikon has been a part of my genetic code since I was in the 11th grade, it's always on my suggestion list. But given the outstanding performance of Canon equipment, I mention it just as quickly. I rarely suggest anything beyond those two companies, although it is common for me to suggest other brands of lenses and accessories purely from a financial perspective.

Regardless of my response that day, I am quick to add: The camera in one's hand is not as important as the person who is holding that camera.

To really tell a story, you must be a master of your equipment, whatever it might be, and have the instincts of a reporter to discover news value and significance. It is vital to understand the strengths and limitations of photographs and words, and how they together can tell a powerful story.

Our goal is to tell stories as clearly and accurately as possible without confusion, and to do this in a way that grips the viewers' attention and leads them to discovery and action. Whether we are talking film grain or file resolution, the real challenge is to use one's imagination to tell a fascinating story.

We might no longer be packing film into our carryon luggage, but some things will never change:

  • Never leave home without a sense of curiosity.
  • Keep asking yourself about the very best ways to tell the story.
  • Always gather more information than you think youll ever need.
  • Watch the edges of any circumstance.
  • Don't give up too early.
  • React rather than direct.
  • Allow for serendipity.
  • See beyond the surface.
  • Always wonder.
  • Wait. Anticipate the moment.

Today's communicators must have an ever-broadening skill set. Doing all you can to deepen your understanding of other avenues of communication will help make you an excellent storyteller. Versatility, determination and a clear understanding of your subject will help you give your readers the chance to see in fresh new ways. You will help them see from perspectives that were hidden before. Your words and photographs might even supply the fuel needed to bring about change.

And from my perspective, I see many more years of calls to my son asking for advice. It's the only way I'll be able to really tell the story.

Jim Veneman is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Director of Visual Communications at Union University. He is the former director of visual communications for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the managing photo editor at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

POSTED: Jun 4, 2007 | Jim Veneman, Freelance Photographer, - jimveneman@gmail.com

Walking The Red Carpet

It's a relief when you receive that "Congratulations! You're a winner..." e-mail from Keith Beene the end of March. You don't know what you won, but you know you will get to walk up in front of everyone and accept that certificate. Pretty cool.

Even better -- you get to tell your boss that you won. I don't know how it is where you work, but in our department having something that shows your work has been recognized by an outside entity means something.

Once you know you're a winner, it's time to start subtly asking around your office to see who else got the coveted e-mail from Keith. That is, unless you work in our office, where we shamelessly yell, "I won something!" to the whole department!

So, those who get to go to BCA pack something nice to wear for the awards banquet and hope for the best. Granted, we don't do the red carpet thing, but I bet most of us check out what everyone is wearing. You practice your gushing & Jesse, great tie! Lisa, your pedicure is perfect! Sue Ellen, your wrap is stunning! Great shoes, Brooke!

This year, it was extra exciting for us at LifeWay. Everyone in our office who submitted an entry won something. That makes the celebration even better ... not to mention so much less awkward! Kelly, Kent and I hardly let our awards cool off before we were up in my room calling our co-workers to tell them the great news.

When Stacey Hamby asked me to write a short piece on winning, I thought, "Is there any way to do that without sounding arrogantly self-promoting?" Well, no! So, here goes... deep breath... I love winning!

I do. I love to win.

I completely understand that with human judges there is a certain level of arbitrariness. In fact, what I thought was my best work was awarded - how do I put this - nothing. But, someone does receive the best scores in each category, and honestly, I'm glad it was I in mine! Yeah, there it is, my friends. I'm thrilled that I won a Burkhalter Award.

POSTED: May 8, 2007 | Polly House, Freelance Writer/Editor, - polly.house.bca@gmail.com

4 Things We Need From You

If you attended BCA's annual workshop in Mobile, there are 4 things this organization and your fellow Baptist communicators need from you:

  1. Talk back. Fill out the evaluation form for the Mobile workshop. Tell us what you liked most from the program Doug Rogers and his Alabama team put together. Let Elizabeth Young and her team in Arizona know what you want to see next year. Every year, workshop organizers try to develop the right mix of inspiration and education. If you're really ambitious, give us at least one idea for workshop topics on the technical skills as well as the broader issues we face as communicators.
  2. Stalk someone. Chances are, you made some new friends in Mobile. But if you don't talk to them until the next workshop, what good did it do you? Every month, for the next year, why not call or e-mail someone you met through BCA? Talk about life. Talk about work. Talk about projects. Ask for ideas or for a peer review of a piece you're working on. Expand your circle of influence, and it will benefit your work and your psyche.
  3. Get published. Not in a publication, but on this BCA Web site. Cam Tracy at Union University had done a great job of building a site that's designed to help BCA be a professional development organization throughout the year. But it won't reach its full potential if you don't share what you know.
  4. Pull a pre-emptive strike. If you have return to work from Mobile and have never shared what you learned, your boss has no idea that your membership in BCA is worthwhile. Please, before the day is done, write a one-page memo outlining two or three things you learned at the Mobile workshop that will improve your performance at your current job. Then, when the Phoenix workshop comes around next year, you already will have laid the groundwork for getting approval to go.

POSTED: Apr 26, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

A Message from Wilmer C. Fields

It is an honor, always an eye-opener, and a great pleasure for me to continue a long 48-year treasured connection with BPRA/BCA through the annual awards competition. My partnership in the group began in 1959, when BPRA was five years old. I resonated with this bunch from the start. I was completely in the dark, and blindsided at the 1986 meeting in the mountains at Glorieta, NM, when Stan Hastey made the announcement that the group had secretly voted to name the awards program after me. I think I swallowed my bubble gum!

It is a delight to sense the creativity and professionalism revealed in the entries every year. What an excellent way for members to mark your own growth, by being judged among the best of the best. And so very many, striving for superior workmanship! My connection with this skillful, productive new generation of dedicated people makes me feel like a lion in a den of Daniels. I hope 2007 is your best year! For one and all.

POSTED: Jan 24, 2007 | Wilmer C. Fields, Retired, SBC Executive Committee - wilcfields@comcast.net

Learning to say "NO"

This week, I joined the "CRACKBERRYS" of the world by purchasing a PDA.

My handy-dandy personal digital assistant can ...

  • Send e-mails about BCA business to Keith Beene in Nashville.
  • Hold digital photos of Jake after trying to feed him rice cereal and mashed sweet potatoes.
  • Store all my friends - and contacts - phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
  • Keep my personal and office calendars from scheduling me in two places at the same time.
  • Remember my wife's birthday (while reminding me not to mention how many).
  • Transport documents between work and home.
  • List of all the tasks I have at work and all the chores I have at home.
  • Call my wife to tell her I've missed the bus because I was too distracted playing with my PDA.

Whether I become an addict is yet to be determined. What already is evident is that my faithful paper-based "organizer" is no match for the multitude of meetings I have to keep up with.

Time management specialists will tell you to keep only one calendar with all your appointments. That explains why I was losing the battle trying to keep straight a paper-based organizer and the Microsoft Outlook calendar on my work computer. I never remembered to combine the things I'd said "Yes" to at work with the other things I'd said "Yes" to at home and elsewhere.

Now every day my PDA will "synchronize" my appointments from work, home, church, BCA, a non-profit board and the commitments I make to friends and others, assuming I don't misplace it.

One thing it won't do, however, is tell me when to say enough is enough.

I have to decide to quit trying to pack more into my day and instead remember to leave time for Mary Marcia and Jake, as well as the time to recharge my batteries with rest, reading and casual pursuits.

I was in my first year of grad school when a professor gave me some of the best advice of the whole program: "You need to decide now what you're going to say "No" to, because you can't do it all."

She was right, and it helped me set boundaries for my two years of study, focusing almost exclusively on work, school and family.

Now I'm finding that I need to rediscover that ability to say "No."

Maybe you're finding yourself in the same boat. If so, join me for my next few blogs, as I'm going explore a few ideas on how to get ones schedule under control.

POSTED: Jan 23, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

Attention BCA'ers: It's time to play ball!!

The 2007 Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition is now underway. You can download the Call for Entries here. The theme for the competition this year is "Field of Dreams." With apologies to Kevin Costner, we are hoping that if we hold a competition, you will come! This year there are some new categories for podcasting, adjustments within existing categories, as well as some enhancements in how to prepare and submit news writing, feature writing, and photography entries. The entry fee is the same as last year: $40 per entry. The deadline for postmarking your entries is January 31. We are setting up the judging to be complete by the second week in March. Send me an email or give me a call if you have any questions about the competition. I look forward to seeing everyone at the BCA conference in beautiful Mobile, Ala., April 11-14!

POSTED: Jan 5, 2007 | Brent Thompson, Associate Director of Communications, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary - bthompson@swbts.edu

Final moments with a friend

I first met Susan Crotts 25 years ago and soon considered her a friend. Most people who met Susan soon felt that way about her. She had the heart of a servant, dedicated to meeting other's needs. For 27 years she was photo librarian for the Home, then North American, Mission boards. For the past 18 months she served in that capacity for the International Mission Board.

For nearly 30 years, she cataloged, archived and supplied the images that chronicled the story of Southern Baptist missions at home and abroad. She made sure they were distributed through sister agencies, Baptist Press, state Baptist newspapers, denominational magazines and secular publications. Through those and other efforts - such as Southwestern seminary's annual photojournalism conference, for which she played a seminal role - she met a lot of people and garnered a lot of friends.

We worked together in Atlanta for six years. When an opportunity arose for us to work together again, I considered it a delight and something of a coup to be able to offer Susan a job in Richmond. It was not just that she was so very good at what she did, there were also the intangibles of personality she brought to the workplace, including a quick wit and an adroit ability to turn a phrase. Her timing was impeccable. She had a way of sticking it to someone at the most appropriate moment.

She was a lot of fun to be around.

Not long after Susan accepted the position as photo librarian at the IMB, but before she moved to Richmond, we met in Nashville to discuss an issue that had bearing on the future of our work together. I had made a decision Susan didn't like. She informed me I'd better have a good reason for it and be ready to tell it now or she would cut my heart out with a rusty spoon.

Susan was ill much of the past year. Early the week of June 26, we learned her health was a lot worse than we knew. Nursing homes and hospice were mentioned. Then Thursday morning her sister Pat told me Susan was not expected to live another two months, that she was going to bring her home and care for her there, and that plans were in the making for a ice cream party at Susan's apartment shortly after July 4 for everyone who had been helping out while she was ill.

But after lunch everything changed. A message came from Pat. The hospital had called. Susan had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. She was dying and they weren't sure Pat had time to get there before she did. I headed for the hospital, not wanting Pat to be alone. But Susan rallied, and when I rounded the corner into her room, she was reclined in bed, Pat sitting beside her. I sat down too and we began to talk.

I stroked her arm and held her hand. They were cold as ice. I don't remember much of what we said, just things friends say when there isn't anything - and everything - to say. She asked me what I was doing there, informed me I had work to do and should be about it. I asked if it was OK that I had come. She said yes. I told her there were a whole lot of people outside that hospital room who cared for her and loved her deeply. She cut her big eyes at me and asked, "Who are they?"

She caught me off guard. I sputtered, began throwing out names as they came off the top of my head, then I saw a smile flicker across her face. The joke was on me. Susan's humor was intact. She had gotten me one last time.

As the afternoon wore on, Susan seemed more somewhere else than with us. She began to sleep and rest. That evening she lapsed into a coma. In the morning on June30, only her body remained.

Bill Bangham is director of photography at the International Mission Board.

POSTED: Sep 16, 2006 | Bill Bangham, Director, Media Production/Editor, CommissionStories magazine, International Mission Board - bbangham@imb.org

© 2013 Baptist Communicators Association