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Goodbye Kandi, Hello Cotonou!

Well that’s it guys! Filming is over! Today I am leaving Kandi and am on my way to the main city, Cotonou. We have a long 12 hour drive ahead of us, but its in a nice bus and shouldn’t bee too uncomfortable. On Tuesday i will fly back to America. This is  short update but just keeping you guys in the loop.

Hope to see you soon!

-Alex

Almost Finished in Benin

Greetings everyone. Its been a while since my last update. Not because nothing eventful has been happening as much as because I have been extremely busy. I have a few minutes now so I thought I would give you an idea of what has been happening.

A few days ago we had a HUGE shoot with over 25 people as actors. We had the local police on sight for crowd control and as actors in a scene. I will upload photos to this post once I get back to the states.

I also will be coming back to the states in less than a week. Filming in Africa is a lot of fun, but I’m glad to be coming home.

That’s all the time I have for now. More to come later.
– Alex

Spiritual Attacks

Before I came to Benin, supernatural occurances were things that were debatable for coincidence. In the course of making this film I have found there have been more acts by the devil to get in the way of this project than anything else I have done. You will recall that in preparing to leave for Benin there were several things that were standing in the way. It doesn’t stop there.

During my time in Benin there have been a number of events that I have witnessed that can’t be explained by coincidence. For example, the last night in Natitingou with the herrals we were recording the voiceover narrations. This was the last thing we needed before I could rest soundly knowing I had everything I needed from the Otammari project. The power had been having issues all day and I finally had enough power to record what I needed. We go out into his vehicle (which is, remarkably, a better recording studio than any of the studios in Natitingou) and I turn on my Mac… Or try to. Nothing happens. It gives the Mac startup sound but the display refuses to work. I tried to reset the PRAM which fixes most issues and still no luck. At that point Jason and I begin praying. We realized that this was a spiritual attack.

Now I don’t usually have issues with technology. In fact, I like to believe I know what I’m doing with technology, so a demon possession in my computer was kind of mind boggling. But here is the part I can’t explain. My computer was not even plugged into power as the power was out. By the time Jason had finished praying, not only was my computer running and ready for me to log in, but the power, in that same instant, had returned. I can confirm that there are a great number of supernatural events in Benin done by the devil, but God also is hard at work fighting the devil. God most certainly made a miracle happen for me. To me, that shows me that this project is exactly what God is wanting me to be doing right now.

Now I am in Kandi working on the Dendi film. Yesterday I had gotten very sick and I can’t explain why. After a great amount of prayer and charcoal I feel much better today and we have been incredibly productive, God healed whatever it was that had me sick. I cannot stress how important your support in prayer is over the next few weeks. Please pray for this project and those involved.

The devil also will attack you in your life, not just filmmakers in West Africa. Stay close to God and turn to Him in prayer at the first sign of trouble. You will be amazed at what God will do for you.

From Benin, Africa.
– Alexander Swensen

November 10 Update (And a lesson In Culture)

Hey there once again everyone. Just a few days left here in Natitingou before I head over to the Dendi project in Kandi. We have been moving along schedule this whole time I have been at the Otammari project, and we are super excited to see how God uses these films to bring in support and make a difference in these peoples lives.

I would like to spend some time talking about the extreme differences to what you are used to in life and what these people are used to. For example, knowledge is something we take for granted. If we want to know something, most of us can look it up on Google imidiately on our smart phones, or at least on a computer. We are used to speedy internet and instant access to information. That is not the case here. In fact, knowledge about how different things work is considered “special knowledge” or “mystical knowledge” that only a select few have access to, and they guard it out of fear for their business if people knew it. Most people consider items to be of a spiritual nature. A camera, a car, a computer, they don’t know how they work so it must be spiritual. These are some of the concepts that are prominent in the culture here. Its so backwards from what we perceive the world as, but it makes just as much sense to them as atoms and molecules make sense to us. We understand that an item needs to be taken care of in order to keep functioning, but these people see things as spiritual, so of course if it wants to survive it will take care of itself. Its such a complete reversal of the worldview.

Furthermore, its not as if these people don’t have access to the internet. They do have access. Its worse than dialup and only works half the time, but I have been able to utilize it fairly well. Those who can afford it can get broadband which isn’t our broadband, but it is considerably better. These people do have access to the knowledge of the world but do not know how to utilize it effectively. They mainly fall into the traps of pornography. While internet access is directly correlated to more developed countries, it is not the main reason for that successful development. There are underlying issues in the culture and society that prevent them from using it to it’s greatest potential.

I could go on and on but to fully grasp the complete contrast you would have to come to Benin and see for yourself. This is why this project is so important and your support for this film and the AFM missionaries here is needed. I have seen a remarkable difference from the typical person you see on the street and one who believes in the Bibles message, it is truly making a difference.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into the culture here.

I look forward to the next half of my time in Kandi with my good friend Quentin. I will be heading that direction on the 13th.

Please continue praying for these projects. This film won’t come together without God’s help, and your support makes a big difference.

Until next time!

From Benin, Africa.

– Alexander Swensen

November 8 Update

November 8th

It’s time I gave you all an update on what’s happening. So far the Otammari project filming is going very well. A few challenges have been presented with both the heat (I don’t do well in 100¬į F weather) as well as finding a controlled environment for recording of narrations, but so far it hasn’t been a huge issue.

At the Dendi project Quentin has been hard at work finishing up the scripts and schedules, which is a good thing as I will be going out there on the 13th.

Overall I can’t say how much of a blessing both teams have been to this filming project. I would reveal more details as to what all is happening, but I don’t want to spoil the film too much. ūüėČ
I do plan, however, to compress a video I shot earlier and to upload it when I have access to a decent speed and reliable internet connection. This video will introduce the SDA church I attended last sabbath.

Finally I ask your continued prayer for both myself, the missionaries, and the people involved in this filming project. We have seen evidence that the Devil is not wanting this project to succeed and is doing everything to slow us down and distract us from what is most important. I know I have been slowly running out of energy.

Once again I hope this message finds you well.
From the sticks of Benin, Africa

– Alexander Swensen

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October 31 Update

Firstly, I would like to say that this is not meant to offend or gross out any of you. My purpose in writing this is actually much different. My intention is to help you appreciate some of the small things you may take for granted. Yes yes I know that sounds very stereotypical. Just hear me out. ūüôā

Most of us are grossed out at the idea of using a public bathroom; specifically, the toilet. I mean who knows how many other people have sat there? What if they have some weird disease? What if they were standing up and “had poor aim”. These and other thoughts are among those that go through most peoples minds on some level or another. Its part of our worldview. We live in a society that puts an emphasis on luxury and cleanliness. Every experience needs to be pleasurable and sanitary or it is looked down upon as being undesirable.¬†We even have luxurious bathrooms. Don’t kid yourself. Each of you reading this has experienced a bathroom where you thought “Wow, this is pretty nice!” And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you will, where you will prefer to use that particular bathroom because you know it is better than the others. But take a moment now and think about all the common elements a typical bathroom has in your home. I will attempt to make a list.

Most importantly, you have the toilet, a nice smooth surface upon which you sit, that usually is conformed to the standard shape of the human backside. Its usually comfortable to sit on. Next, you have running water and a sink where you wash your hands. After that, you have electricity and lights. You can actually see what you are doing! You also have a choice as to what type of toilet paper you use. You can buy the cheap stuff that leaves you with a rash, or you can spend a little more and and get toilet paper so soft and absorbent that “tiny animated bears on TV rub it on their faces”. If you don’t know what I mean you should just Google ‘toilet paper commercials.’ You will know it when you see it. Most importantly, however, you have privacy. You have 4 walls, and a door with a firm lock to keep out any unwanted guests. These are all elements that make up a modern day bathroom in your home…¬†Oh, there’s another thing. Your bathroom is in your house. Have you ever thought about that? You don’t have to go out in the freezing cold or pouring rain to take a tinkle. Its physically connected inside of your house in a climate controlled environment attuned specifically to your liking. Comfort at its best!

Now come with me to rural Africa. Not the capital cities that have the 3G internet and chaotic road traffic, I’m talking about where the majority of the people live…in extreme poverty. You have none of that. You would be lost in knowing how to do something as simple as using a toilet.¬†For most, the bathroom is as nature provides it. No privacy, no toilet paper, no running water, no artificial light or climate control, not even a nice porcelain seat to sit on. You find an empty spot, squat, and do your business. If you are lucky you can use some leaves to clean yourself up afterwards.

In this world I am one of the privileged few. I have a concrete shack with a concrete block with a hole to sit on. It has one tiny window to let in light and and a thin metal bar on the door for a lock. At night you use a flashlight pointed at the ceiling to create light in the room and live in hopes that the batteries don’t die. I also get to use toilet paper that feels like tree bark on my skin. To you this may sound awful, but here, I am living like a king.

Think about that the next time you use a public restroom at that cheap gas station. Its really not so bad. To most of the people in the world, you are sitting on a literal throne. (No pun intended)

From the sticks of Benin, Africa.

Until next time…

October 30 Update

Don’t let anyone fool you. The experience of going to a third world country is¬†different than you would ever expect. I never expected any of the things I¬†experienced just on my way into the country.¬†Let’s start with Brussels airlines. They do things differently than any other¬†airline I have ever been on. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not an entirely bad¬†thing. For instance, they serve better food and supply everyone with ear buds¬†for the entertainment systems. The entertainment systems have 720P displays for each person.¬†The only negative thing I can think of is it takes some persistence to get a flight attendant’s attention but other than that its good.

The experience arriving in Benin is very different than any other country I have been through. I step out of a freezing airplane into what feels like 90 degrees and high humidity. It hit me like a ton of bricks when you consider I felt like I was experiencing hypothermia on the plane WITH a blanket. I’m from Michigan and half Canadian. I’m not built for the heat. Michigan doesn’t raise the thermostat 60 degrees in 3 seconds.¬†Oh and then there was customs. I had to fill out immigration forms that were mostly French with poor English translation and not very clear instructions. I have never had to do that before so that was new, but to top it all off the customs officer didn’t like my handwriting (surprise surprise) and I had to redo it. Now it wouldn’t have been all that bad if I had decent rest, but I had gotten about 4-6 hours of sleep in the course of my 2 day trip so I was exhausted. All the same I did what I was asked and got through customs without issue.

Getting through the baggage claim when you don’t speak a bit of French or dattimari doesn’t work well, but a kind gentleman gave me a hand after we found a way to cross the language barrier. I met with Jason Herral, one of the career missionaries just outside the luggage pickup and made sure my “helping hand” was compensated for his trouble.¬†My gear seems to have all made it through just fine without any real questions by the customs officers. I’m just so thankful.

I look back on everything that  could have gone wrong and I see how God was working every step of the way. I am so thankful. God is protecting me and this project, so for all of you who are praying for me, keep it up. God is working miracles in the everyday situations.

Anyway I need to wrap up this post. I am going to do an interview soon. My phone is not working properly as of yet with the network so I am not sure when I will next have access to the internet. All the same I wish you all well and look forward to posting my next update.

For lack of a better word

Let me tell you about some people I know. I don’t know their names, but I know them. I don’t speak their language, but I know them. You see this couple only speaks French, while I, as any well rounded american would, only speak English. *cough*¬†On my connecting flight from Chicago to brussels, (a 7-8 hour flight), I was made aware that they do not speak English by attempting some humor as a means to break the ice. Sadly, they neither understood me nor my joke, so I took my seat in mild embarrassment thinking about how long the flight would be as a result.

After a short time I realized a way to remedy the situation. I remembered that my tablet has a translation app made by that wonderful company Google. So, I set it to translate between our two languages and attempted yet again to strike up a conversation. In the next few moments I learned they have a good sense of humor, but most of that time was spent by them asking questions about me. So I told them about this project I am working on. Long story short they were impressed. I’m not sure if it was by my age, where I was going, that an american could be a decent film maker, or a combination of the three. Non the less they were quite happy to meet me, and I happy to meet them.

Now comes the plot twist in my story. My translation app required a connection to the internet, and I did not have time to download an offline alternative, meaning that while in the air I would be unable to communicate. They understood as much and while en rout we communicated via a very strange and original method using wild gestures with our hands, as well as exaggerated smiles and nods.

By the time the flight was over we were exhausted from lack of sleep, but we left on what good terms we could considering the “conversations” we had on the plane. All in all this is just one example of many that I’m sure I will have on my way to Benin.

I am now in Brussels waiting for my next flight. Just thought I would share with you this experience. I’m off to get myself some breakfast. Good morning America. ūüôā

– Alex

Film Making, Budget, And God

Film making and budgets don’t match. For those of you who are creative individuals you know that nothing can compare to when you have accomplished a goal you are passionate about. Be it music, painting, events, or film. You will know that you are willing to go through great personal sacrifice in order to see it happen to the fullest of your dreams. Art in general is a priceless thing… sadly its also¬†very expensive. Making films of any kind that people are going to want to watch requires money. A lot of it. Equipment isn’t cheap. Sadly, neither is travel.

Over the last several days I have become painfully aware of that fact, and I have to fight for every penny spent to see this project get done. Today I have had to find a way to get the $400 required in order to pay for the travel costs of a third bag on my flight. Mind you, those in the finance department are great people and happy to help when they see the need and the cost is justified. Its just the time and effort needed to convey it as a real issue is not the most pleasant experience.

Last night I was looking for a “container” that is the full size of a bag of luggage, sturdy enough to hold all my equipment, and light enough to minimize the impact on my weight limits. I found one, I bought two. During that process, however, my stress levels were high. I have found that the devil is attacking me at every point now trying to discourage me from making this film. As he has been doing more and more to get me discouraged and to put up road blocks in my path, I have found myself worrying even in my own abilities as a film maker. (Something that I usually don’t have an issue with… I usually find myself having to practice humility often) So it’s a big deal. As I felt more and more discouraged about every roadblock, however, I pray to God that somehow He will do the impossible and make a way for things to happen.

At the moment I have a large amount of equipment I have to bring. Somehow I have to divide it between 3 luggage containers and find a way to pack my clothes and other basic necessities. I also have my backpack and laptop bag which I plan to use as carry-ons as well but it is still a lot of stuff. Last night I had no idea how it would all fit in two containers and found myself struggling to stay positive. I found that I should be able to fit it all in two containers and hopefully get my clothes and such in a third. Last night I prayed for God to make a way for it all to work out. This morning, to my surprise, when I weighed the full container I had packed the night before, I found it was just 1 or 2 pounds below the weight limit. I have no idea how this is possible but it is and I praise God for it. I will be packing the rest of the equipment away today.

Then there is the issue of insurance and getting my personal equipment covered for this project. All in all I have a very decent amount of video and audio equipment I have invested in for my own projects. I am happy to use it as well as my investment has been more along the lines of creative cinematography equipment rather than big bulky heavy cameras. As such I can do many things with my gear that I could not do with the equipment that AFM has. My boss agrees. Getting it covered for the trip against theft, damage, or loss is a whole different matter. Thankfully God has made a way for that to work out as well.

It doesn’t seem as real as I write up this blog post, but please believe me when I say there have been several times in the last 24 hours that I didn’t think things would work out. In some ways I am still not 100% sure, however, God is working and encouraging me every step of the way. There are two verses that come to mind as a direct encouragement to this situation. The first is Jeremiah 29:11: “11¬†For I know the plans¬†I have for you,‚ÄĚ declares the¬†Lord, ‚Äúplans to prosper¬†you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”¬† The second verse is actually two verses. Romans 8:28,31: 28¬†And we know that in all things God works for the good¬†of those who love him, who¬†have been called¬†according to his purpose. 31¬†What, then, shall we say in response to these things?¬†If God is for us,¬†who can be against us?”

These verses, while they can be very stereotypical and heard often in church, are very real promises by God. Through this experience I am learning that you cannot fully understand the power and reality of Gods promises until you test them for yourself in life. I, for one, am honored to be put through these trials in the work God is leading me to do. I know I am not perfect, I know that I am not worthy, but the amazing thing about God is He takes the unqualified and qualifies them to do His work.

My prayer for you is that you will ask God where He wants you, and that you will go wherever He leads. The road is not easy. It’s often very hard. You will struggle, you will sacrifice. But you will also be very glad that you did. I know that I could not be happier than doing the work God has called me to do. God has given me a passion to use media to reach others. God has given you a passion that you can use for Him, and He will use you if you are willing.

Please continue to pray for me that God will make way for this project to be a success. Please also pray that the flight and the equipment all arrive safely. I will post more in the coming days.

Thanks again for all of your support,

– Alexander Swensen

6 Days Left! (Otammari project update)

The clock is ticking. Crunch time is on. With 6 days left until my flight we are working hard trying to get all the details worked out as fast as possible. Writing stories, making scripts. Oh, and did I mention a completely new framework for the Otammari film project?

Yep, Thats right. With 6 days left we realized we have enough content to do 2 half hour programs about the Otammari project. Its only a matter of if we can shoot it all in 14-15 days. The biggest thing that I can do now is try and get these scripts written up as fast as possible while the team in Benin work on the framework for what the two films would look like assuming we can shoot them both. (It might just end up being a 1 hour long film on a DVD that will be aired in two parts on 3ABN, it really depends how we put it together) If we don’t get enough content to make 2 half hour programs, I can at least take the two films, find the best of both of them, and edit them into 1 half hour program.

Alright guys, I have to get back to work. Thats all the updates I have time for right now. Please continue to pray for this project. Only with Gods help will we get it all done. One thing is for sure. I have never been so excited as I am right now!

– Alexander G. Swensen