“When you think missions, you think medical missions, preaching, sports or youth ministry, but you don’t normally think of video,” Elle Greco said. “But it’s such a needed thing. …Without people who are going to tell the stories, how are we going to learn what God is doing throughout the world?”
About five years ago, Greco felt called to use her talents in multimedia to pursue missionary work. Being a part of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, she knew she would need an internship to satisfy her degree requirements. So, she went to the Halbert Center for Missions and Global Service and WorldWide Witness, more specifically, to talk about possibilities.
A few emails later from the WorldWide Witness assistant coordinator, Anne Hocking, and Greco received an application within a couple of days. The application was from an organization based in Kamulu, Kenya called Made in the Streets (MITS). The application had a quick deadline due by the end of the week. She submitted her application quickly and within four weeks, Greco applied, interviewed and was given the internship.
“It’s funny though because what [Elle] did is becoming more and more of a desire from ministries,” Hocking said. “So at this point, we actually have more requests for this kind of skill than we have students wanting to or knowing that that’s a possibility for them to do.”
The internship Greco received would require her to shoot and edit videos capturing the ministry work of the organization in Kenya.
MITS’s main goal is to love and serve the street children of Nairobi. It provides a literacy program at the Learning Center to teach basic educational skills and Bible. Then once the students turn 16, they choose a career skill to train in at the Skills Center. MITS also offers a program called the Eastleigh Center, which is a community center in a slum area outside of Nairobi for street boys and young moms, where they can come to be fed and just hang out. A team from Made in the Street regularly goes out on “base walks,” which are quick trips to bases, essentially central locations for gangs that kids join at a young age. Team members hand out biscuits and milk while telling the kids about the programs MITS offers. The team members leave them with an encouraging word and tell them, “I hope to see you soon.”
Greco was based in Kamulu and she was given many different tasks. For some assignments, she filmed the stories of graduates that made it through the programs and what they went on to accomplish. Other times she might film an updated story of a donor’s support of a girl’s dorm and what life looks like there.
“The videos that I really loved doing were just beautiful shots of the Skill Center,” Greco said.
She noticed the MITS website didn’t provide a lot of information about the skills offered. So she spent a lot of time at the Skill Center getting to know the older kids and making promotional videos about what they were doing and learning. At the center kids can choose different skills to train in areas such as salon or catering. Catering is a popular choice because the tourism industry in Kenya is large. However, not every student can learn catering.
Greco said the purpose of her videos were two-fold.
“One side was showing people in the States what they’re doing, but also when the students are done with the Learning Center they get to choose a skill,” Greco said. “So I wanted them to say, ‘Whoa, that’s so cool. I want to do that!’”
Her goal was to get the students excited about the schools and choosing a skill by creating beautiful videos.
Some days she would be shooting videos and other days she would be teaching one of the staff members basic photography.
“Photography is really my first love,” Greco said.
Each day in Kamulu was different, but some things became normal. Each day, Greco would get up and walk half a mile, with the three other female interns she shared a living space with, down the rocky road to chapel at 8 a.m. They would attend chapel every day except for Saturdays and Sundays.
Greco said she remembered church services on Sundays in Kamulu lasting three hours, sometimes with translators and sometimes without. The hour of worship and singing in Swahili she remembers to be a fun experience. With the simple Swahili pronunciation rules, she would try to read the song books, regardless of not understanding what she was singing.
After chapel, on a regular weekday, she would spend time planning a shoot or going out to interview people.
“Every student’s story is unique and special and full of hardships,” Greco said. “What makes Made in the Streets so unique is that it’s not just a regular school. These students are choosing to go there. They are told, ‘You have the freedom to stay here. You have the freedom to leave. You don’t have to run away. We will take you back.’”
Greco said giving students this freedom is important to show them respect. Each student that comes in knows what it’s like to be on their own and fend for themselves.
“It’s not uncommon for female students to come to MITS pregnant, or already having a child,” Greco said. “You can’t really treat someone who has fended for themselves, raped probably multiple times, is a mother and has experienced so much more life, or hardships in life than you, like a normal 15-year-old. They are an adult. They’ve experienced more life than you ever will.”
Greco shared the story of one of the graduates she met from her time at MITS that had been abandoned at the age of 1, adopted by a gang leader, and began doing drugs at the age of 4. His gang leader and guardian was killed when he was 9 years old and he came to MITS around that time. He graduated from MITS a couple of years ago and now doing well at a restaurant he is working at and ultimately plans to pursue computer science. He is currently working in catering to save money to attend university.
“But those stories are not uncommon,” Greco said. “Even within those stories of hardship you don’t want to focus on that but look at where they are now. You are not your past.”
The focus, Greco said, was telling the kids: “you can overcome.”
“Part of my work as the storyteller is that we respect and tell the story of the past, but these kids are so much more,” Greco said. “They are children of God, made beautiful, wonderful and have a purpose.”
Throughout the internship, Greco remained in contact with a mentor through Whatsapp Messenger. Her mentor, an alumnus and past connection through work, helped to coach her through the most challenging parts of the internship. She would send weekly journal reflections about what was going on in her life, what she was seeing, send raw video files, video drafts, and he would provide feedback. Once a week they would schedule a voice call and talk through her experiences.
Greco explained that the mentorship became a great working relationship.
“He was super affirming of a lot of things,” Greco said.
Over the 12-week summer internship, Greco became sick four times and struggled with loneliness being in Kenya and away from home. She started questioning God, asking, “Why is this so hard?”
“And through those questions and hardships my mentor just affirmed, ‘Yes, it is hard,’” Greco said. “But that’s just part of living sent. It’s not going to be easy.”
However, from the beginning, Greco saw God’s provision through the process of raising money for her trip and the additional video equipment needed. She even quit her job months before sending out donation letters and still exceeded her funding goals.
“My experience this past summer was awesome and very clarifying as far as deciding what I want to do,” Greco said. “Where I was, Kenya was very open to the gospel but my mentor just recently moved to work with an unreached people group and I would love to work with him in the future.”
Her mentor is now working in an area where missionaries are not allowed. She said she hopes to soon join in this field of undercover missionary work. Now she must consider the implications of having her name related to the work of missionaries, so we have chosen to use the alias of Elle Greco to conceal her identity and protect the path of her future work.
Missionaries working in countries that are closed to the gospel must be cautious of their names being in connection to certain words. They must deter certain emails from their inbox. Greco has learned the security enforced for the safety of her mentor and his family, as they have created a blog for their supporters abroad that is password protected and only accessible through them granting specific access.
“It is a lot to think about,” Greco said. “But this experience has helped me to narrow everything down and put things into perspective.”