Julia Cox and Taylor Rae Aydelotte left Anacortes in September of 2011, just after graduating from Anacortes High School in June. They headed to a base in Herrnhut, Germany for seven months – cameras in hand – with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for Discipleship Training School (DTS). It happened without request that they were together the entire time. They were roommates throughout their travels, in the same art track – photography, and on the same mission trip to South Eastern Europe. When Julia and Taylor Rae arrived in Germany they spent the first four months of DTS, from September 4th to December 17th, in what is called the Lecture Phase. Their first night in Herrnhut, Germany they slept in tents their group fashioned from things found in the dumpsters at the school. The idea was for them to experience one week of what a refugee camp was like, but massive lightning and thunderstorms forced the staff to bring them indoors the next day.
During their Lecture Phase, Taylor Rae states “…we learned about God, how to be a missionaries, how to minister to others, and because of our specialized art track we learned how to use our camera – our photography – as a ministry tool.”
The second half of the school is called Outreach, when they finally go out on missions to apply what they’ve learned. Even though Taylor Rae and Julia were together on every step of this journey, there was one day where they were sent in separate directions.
Julia Cox moved from Idaho to Fidalgo Island in March of 2005 and felt quickly embraced into our town’s culture. Festivals lined the streets throughout the following months. “Art surrounded me…a community that encouraged me more than I had ever experienced anywhere else surrounded me.” Once she reached high school, Julia enrolled in the ever-popular photography class. She submersed herself into photography, fell in love with this newly acquired art form, and soon college plans changed to filling out her application for “Marriage of the Arts” DTS with YWAM on a photography track.
“The world around me began to look different as my perspective changed through the eye of my camera.” – Julia Cox
This is Julia’s story as she told it to me, through her newly acquired focus, of the third room on the right…
The third room on the right, the bed to the left of the door, laid Alex. She looked no more than twelve or thirteen – much older than the rest of the patients. Our translator, Jenechka, spoke with the woman standing next to Alex much more than any time before. The young girl looked frail, tired, dazed, and emotionally detached. When I asked to take her photograph, the woman next to her snatched a hat to cover her bare head and fiddled with the girl’s blankets before she seemed satisfied with Alex’s appearance. I doubt Alex cared much. It seemed a vain attempt between her lack of hair, her washed out skin, and feet and ankles engulfed in gauze bandages. I pressed the shutter knowing this was the only way I would ever see her – always in this bed, under these blankets, hat covered head, and gauzed feet. Before I could learn anything about her condition, we were pulled into the next room. My time in the hospital was over before I realized we had left the last room.
After four months of lectures and assignments, long nights and challenging decisions, twenty-four others and I left our temporary home in Herrnhut, Germany and embarked on a ten-week adventure throughout Eastern Europe. My home was ever changing. We went from Germany to Serbia, Macedonia to Greece, Greece to Romania, and finally, Moldova. Moldova – had I even heard of this country before? My team’s final three weeks were spent in the below-freezing villages of Moldova. I had never experienced a colder winter. With record-breaking temperatures, we could barely stand to be outside for more than an hour.
In Chisinau, Moldova was a hospital like none I had ever visited. A children’s burn unit was not where I imagined spending my time. But there I was – for just one day. As I sat in the hospital’s waiting room I felt my stomach moving about as if some strange creature fluttered its wings against my insides. My heart pounded in nervous anticipation of what this day would bring. My thoughts scrambled away from me. Was it really only six months ago that I was home in Anacortes?
We traveled from room to room, equipped with cameras and handmade teddy bears, visiting each child. Most rooms contained three or four children with a variety of burns. Each child had a parent or guardian. I had never seen such innocent beauty. However, the pain on their faces made their unspoken pain beyond apparent as the burns silently screamed at them. Everything inside me wanted to break down. After we left the last room I sat again in the waiting room with the same feeling as before. Jenechka sat beside me as if she knew what was on my mind and told me the story of the girl in the third room on the right – Alex.
Alex just arrived at the hospital earlier that morning. Abandoned by both her father and mother, she was left in the unstable care of an aunt. For reasons unknown, Alex was left outside with hardly any clothing or covering for her feet for approximately two days in this cold that my team couldn’t handle overly clothed for more than an hour. Upon her arrival to the hospital both feet were severely frostbitten. She was scheduled for surgery for the following day. Amputation was the only answer. My mind began to race with questions, confusion, and anger. How could this child be left alone in -25 Celsius (-13 F) for two days, not to mention her inadequate clothing? Where was the love I had always known growing up? The love that I had seen around me all my life Alex knew nothing of. All of these children had a home much different from my own. Being in this hospital may have been the most cared for they had ever been. The beds and the rooms may have been the best home they’d ever known. These children were possibly among the most fortunate in Chisinau, Moldova. I had seen and heard of countless children who were homeless or orphaned in this small city. At least these children, including Alex, had found home within the walls of this hospital that to me seemed so desolate.
I wanted to show them love, that they are children of a God who knit them together in their mother’s womb. What better way than to literally let them see that. Photographing them was an honor. Knowing I would send their portraits back to the hospital that showed them the beauty I saw in them allowed me the courage to follow through in pressing the camera’s shutter in front of each child. My lens unveiled more than what simply sat in front of me. I no longer just took photographs, but became deeply involved in my surroundings. The world around me became more alive and more real for me with each shot.
“Home is where the heart is” – possibly one of the most over-used phrases I have heard yet never fully understood until the day I took that photograph of Alex. All I knew of home before this journey with YWAM was living with my loving family in our comfortable house in the safe harbor of Anacortes. But now I more clearly see through the focus of my camera that home is much more than that – home is in fact where the heart is. Home is where you are, the people you are with, and the life you are living. In the safety and community of Anacortes, we may hear of distant difficulties, but many of us never see them for ourselves. Leaving was the best decision I could have made. And it was in coming back that I fully realized home is the best place to be… whether it be Anacortes, Germany, Chisinau, Moldova, or the third room on the right.
As for Taylor Rae, her heart calls her back to their home at the YWAM base in Herrnhut, Germany.
“When I got to the base I felt like I was coming home. I loved everything about the school from the moment I got there, refugee camp and all. I actually was sad when they made us come inside because of the lightning storm the first night Julia and I slept outside. I miss the base, the people, the atmosphere, and just the simple way of life. I’m planning on heading back this August – hopefully the 14th. I don’t have my ticket yet, but I’m almost halfway to having the money. I’m currently working with the base on the exact date I will return – this time as staff instead of student. It costs about $500 a month to work as a staff member. For the first few months I will be working specifically with the students, helping them process everything as they go through their schools, and hopefully working in the cafe in the castle. All proceeds from the cafe go to “Impact Hunger”, a ministry working with people who have eating disorders as well as working with children in Africa and other third world countries. After I learn how the base runs from a staff perspective, I will be able to staff schools as they come through the base. My goal is to work with the “Marriage of the Arts” DTS that Julia and I attended, working with the photography students and teaching photography – and just helping out anyway I can.” – Taylor Rae
Taylor will not be returning alone to the YWAM base in Herrnhut, Germany – Derek Hiles will accompany her for one month. Derek also graduated from Anacortes High School with Taylor Rae and Julia Cox in June of 2011, was a photography student at AHS, and is now going to DTS with YWAM for photography. After his month at the base in Herrnhut, Hiles begins his student training in Switzerland, a nine-hour drive from what will soon be Taylor Rae’s new home.