2009 -> 2019 Decade in Review

What a significant decade in my life! So many ups and downs and interesting experiences. So much learning and growing! So many dreams accomplished and so much evidence of God’s providence and faithfulness. How can I not be thankful?

I still consider 2009 to be one of the most significant years of my life. I would say it was the peak of my existence but that’s a little dramatic and also kind of depressing for the rest of my years here on earth… *ahem, nervous laughter* so, anyway I thought I’d share the highlights from that year and then the highlights from the rest of the decade. Maybe I’ll throw in some lowlights too just to be real…

2009

The year I turned 20! I finished my sophomore year at Lee University and started my junior year in the fall. I had gotten involved in a community tutoring and mentorship ministry in an immigrant neighborhood near my college campus that I would end up leading the following year. The experiences and friendships formed through this ministry were nothing short of life-changing for me. And my Spanish advanced exponentially this year!

The summer of 2009 was packed for me. I don’t remember the specific order but it involved traveling as a volunteer to Honduras, Mexico, and DISNEY WORLD. Yes, I went to Disney World on a paid trip as a volunteer Spanish interpreter with a Mexican family for a type of make-a-wish dream vacation. Occasionally I think about that opportunity and wonder WHAT IS MY LIFE. (that trip was not without its mishaps and fails – which make for hilarious stories – but it was overall truly MAGICAL)

After having traveled for 5 years with teams, my cousin and I were able to travel to Honduras solo for the first time as independent volunteers. I think the trip was a total of about 3 weeks, which was cut short because of Honduras’ infamous MILITARY COUP that took place smack dab in the middle of our stay. Of course, at 20-years-old I was more concerned about my missions adventure being thwarted than the actual political ramifications that it meant for the country. #typical

Thank God that I have grown as an individual and as a missionary since that trip. I was naïve in so many ways.

We were also in Honduras when Michael Jackson died but that had no implication on my life. I just remembered that being big in the news.

The Disney World experience was enriching in so many ways. I got to see the incredible collaboration of Children’s Hospital of Alabama and the organization, Magic Moments, in granting the wish of a precious little patient whose cancer was in remission. The organization, Give Kids the World, in Kissimee, FL was super impressive as they provided housing, food, and activities to all their guests – families of children with terminal illnesses. One activity in their “village” allowed the sick children to write their name on a gold star and choose where they wanted to hang the star along the roof of “Castle of Miracles” along with thousands of other stars from kids in similar situations. We got park hopper entrances to all Disney parks and to Universal Studios, fast passes to every ride, park meals and souvenirs covered, and the patient’s Give Kids the World button she wore on her shirt signaled all characters in autograph signing lines to stop the line and direct their attention to her. I had never seen anything like it.

The biggest mishap of the trip was that I was the only licensed driver of the group (and the only English speaker) and the family’s vehicle broke down somewhere in south Georgia on our way to Orlando and it was a Sunday and we couldn’t find any mechanic shops open. This was also before smartphones so I guess we were just calling random people asking for help. (we actually waved on a police officer who stopped to ask if we were ok) We finally got in touch with a friend of a friend, some latino mechanic who came and helped us out. That day I learned the Spanish word for spark plugs. And I learned a few other things about my own privilege.

For the first part of this year I was working as an office assistant and board operator at Christian radio station J103 in Chattanooga.

2010

I visited Costa Rica for the first time with a group from college this summer. I tried gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans) and my life hasn’t been the same since.

I think this was the year that I started working in retail – JCPenny!

2011

This was the year I graduated from my incredible alma mater, Lee U, with a bachelor’s of arts in Telecommunications, minors in Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Religion. I was interning (and eventually worked) at Church of God World Missions editing video footage for missionaries around the world. I loved it! I eventually had to leave Cleveland, TN and was super sad.

My highest highlight of the year was visiting Puerto Rico for the first time. ¡Me enamoré con la Isla del Encanto! And I halfway learned to dance Bomba. Second highlight was getting my first DSLR camera (Canon T2i).

In the fall of this year I moved to Panama City, Panamá for three months as a volunteer with a Honduran missionary family.

This was the year I started getting more involved in fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically against a state-level anti-immigrant bill that was promoting self-deportation of undocumented immigrants. I wrote to my representatives and traveled to the state capital by bus with a group of activists to rally against it.

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2012

I went back to work with the World Missions video editing team for the first part of this year then I was invited to move to Honduras in August on an English teaching contract. I was nervous about teaching and living there for A YEAR but I jumped at the chance. One fateful month after starting my teaching job in San Pedro Sula, Honduras I met Natán Martínez at church. My first impression of him was him standing up in front of the congregation praying a passionate missions prayer for some chosen country of the month… it I weren’t so skeptical of these kind of things I would say it was love at first sight… or love at first prayer… idk. Basically a few weeks after that we were officially dating.

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This was also one of the last years that I was into death-defying stunts like hiking through a roaring waterfall with an amateur guide. (NEVER AGAIN) Yes, those tiny people in the photo are my friends and me.

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This year I traveled to Belize for the first time.

2013

I finished my teaching contract in June and made plans to move back to the states. Natán was preparing to start seminary in Guatemala and we were already talking about getting married. We both knew we wanted to be in ministry in Honduras but didn’t know what that would look like. I still had about $20,000+ of student loans to pay off and he had 3 years of seminary to get through. We pledged to do long distance until we met our goals. AND WE DID. 2013 was the start of 3.5 years of LONG DISTANCE dating (kind of already engaged) in two separate countries.

For the last half of 2013 I started the job search. My first contract job was teaching English to adults through a literacy program grant for Hoover City Schools at an elementary school. I eventually started teaching Spanish with a homeschool co-op, and doing Spanish interpreting in medical facilities and Tarrant City School System. I loved each of these jobs. At one point I was working 5 contract jobs at once!

I also started using my photography/videography as a side hustle, doing photo sessions and videoing events.

2016

Natán and I would see each other about twice a year when he’d go home to Honduras for break and I’d travel to see him or travel with a missions group. Finally, in spring of 2016 I traveled to visit him in Guatemala and then again in November to see him graduate. This was when we took engagement photos to announce our wedding date for the following March.

This was the year I paid off the last of my student loans! FREEDOM. And Natán graduated from seminary. I had started raising monthly missions support and that has sustained us in our ministry. We accomplished what we set out to do before getting married and starting our lives as full-time missionaries.

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2017

WEDDING TIME! Natán and I (finally) got married in an intimate ceremony on the Caribbean island of Roatan on March 27, 2017, four days before my 28th birthday. IT WAS A DREAM. It was at my dream location, I wore my dream dress, DSW clearance high heels, my grandmother did my hair AND made our delicious strawberry wedding cake. (don’t tell anyone she iced the cake in our hotel bathroom) We found a great local photographer and were surrounded by closest friends and family. Those who couldn’t be present watched via Skype.

2018

In February of this year I lost my paternal grandmother and it was really hard but I thank God that I happened to be home on a scheduled visit during her last days and I was able to say goodbye while she was lucid.

We got a slow start this year as we founded our poverty alleviation nonprofit organization and we kept hitting bumps in the road. The last few months of 2018 were pretty stressful in our personal lives but we made it through. I was glad to see 2018 go.

Four highlights were: loving married life, visiting El Salvador for the first time, having my mom and grandparents visit us in Honduras, and photographing the birth of my nephew, Brooks!

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2019

In 2019 we officially got 501c3 status as an organization! We hit a few important goals and had our first official benefit event for our org in Alabama. I also turned 30 this year and it felt fabulous.


This last decade brought many pleasant surprises but also a couple painful disappointments. I learned some ugly truths about the world but I think I grew and gained wisdom from it. I am not as carefree and naïve as I was at twenty but that would be kind of weird if I was.

I might not be exactly where I’d like to be for 2020 but as I reflect over the last ten years I think I can say it was a freakin’ good decade. I really don’t have any regrets. Here’s to the next!

Mrs. Martínez got Married on a Monday

It has been about 10 months since I have posted a new blog entry but I am back to announce that Natán and I got married 3 weeks ago on the dreamy island of Roatan, Honduras!! All I have to say is that we are loving married life and are in the preparation stage of a new ministry opportunity (that we’ll share soon) aaaannnddd are still just oogling over our photos from David Díaz Photography:

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This is part of an ongoing photojournalism project. See part 1 and part 2.

(Kristen Bruce Photography and Multimedia)

Favorite Photographs

Here are some of my absolute favorite shots from the last couple of years. ❤ See more on my Facebook photography page.

Marcela and Francisco got engaged last year and we had a beautiful shoot in Omoa, Honduras at the Fortaleza de San Fernando. IMG_5546-2 We used this dreamy sunset lighting in an open field right outside Nashville, TN for Eric & Katherine’s engagement shoot last Fall. IMG_3946 Incredible view of a lone house on a hill in Copán, Honduras during our medical trip in 2013. IMG_8671 My all time favorite portrait: a little Tolupan Indian girl in Honduras holds her baby brother right before their bath time. She sits against the outside wall of their hut. They now live in a new home with a laminate roof that will prevent parasites. IMG_9306

That time my camera and I angered a woman carrying a machete (Short-term missions Pt. 2)

I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t have any foundation of friendship with her; I hadn’t even met her before. She didn’t know my story and I didn’t know hers. I was passing her on the trail on my way out of her Honduran village and she was coming home after a tiresome day of work in the fields, machete in hand.

*read Part 1 from Short-term missions series here*

I had spent the afternoon with a couple local pastors getting to know some of her neighbors in the village and hearing their stories. After talking with them a bit, they agreed to let me take photos and video. They got comfortable with my camera and I got “in the zone.” I didn’t really think twice about snapping photos on my way back down the mountain.

The set up was perfect for a photo – she and another lady from the tribe trudging up the hill in their skirts, hauling farming tools, framed by mountains and tropical plants. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

NO! No pictures!” she yelled at me in Spanish after the shutter of my camera had already clicked twice. My eyes went straight to the machete she gripped in her right hand. I put my lens cap on as fast as I could and slung my camera around my back out of view. I had no idea what to say. Do I offer an apology? Introduce myself? Offer to delete the pictures? …and then explain exactly what deleting a picture even meant?aladdin7

My boyfriend, Natán, who was next to me, stepped in as a mediator. He began to explain to her that I was not from here, I didn’t speak Spanish (a lie), and I didn’t understand… she should excuse my mistake. It reminded me of the market scene from Disney’s Aladdin where he saves Jasmine from getting her hand cut off for committing a social faux pas. “She’s a little crazy.”

The lady calmed down and we continued on our separate ways. I still have her photo but I will never post it online out of respect for her. She has most likely never seen a computer in her life, much less ever gotten on the internet, and will never know if I ever used her photo for anything.

In the moment, tensions were a little high and I was embarrassed. I am usually careful about pulling my camera out and I always try to engage in some kind of interaction before taking someone’s photo. But in retrospect, I admire that woman. Good for her for telling the strange foreigner visiting her neighborhood that she did not appreciate being objectified on the other end of the lens. If someone I didn’t know started snapping pics of me one day on my way home from work I would be ticked off too!

One of my favorite bloggers wrote a hilarious (and sadly true) blog post about what it would be like if the tables were turned and we were the ones visited and pitied by the super rich.

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There have been a lot of blogs and articles in Christian missions circles written recently about the negative effects of “poverty tourism” (or slum tourism) – how we should avoid reducing our short-term service trips to an event that the affluent should experience at least once in their life in order to put everything into perspective. Yes, these trips usually do this. We go back home a little more appreciative of our country and comforts and material things. We keep the photos of the poor in their lean-to homes to remind us that we are blessed. But see how the focus is still… US?

What must the family of six living in a one-room mud house be thinking when a van full of foreign missionaries pile out with their cameras and phones snapping away… documenting intimate parts of their everyday lives…

If we approach these beautiful human beings and we first think, “I can’t wait until everyone back home sees this!” before we think “I wonder what this family’s story is…” we are in the wrong. There is certainly a time and place for photography during missions trips but this should be discussed and carefully considered before getting on the plane. Some cultures have superstitions about photography and some have deep fears for safety reasons – it is always best to check before taking a picture.

For someone who loves photography and documenting moments, this is especially hard for me! (as in the above example) In almost every situation I am thinking about what might make good photography. There are times when that is my role and my main objective. If I have been assigned as the photographer or videographer, I do my job… while still wrestling with the awareness to be respectful of those I photograph.

Photographer Jimmy Nelson who has captured beautiful photographs of tribal cultures all over the world warns against patronizing the subjects of one’s photography. He shares that in humanitarian photography we often see “foreign cultures represented as exotic and inferior – curiosities to amuse and bewilder more civilized eyes.”

I think that when our focus is restoring broken relationships (which is the eradication of poverty in it’s truest form) it will come as second nature to protect the dignity of those we serve, and all of our interactions will follow accordingly.

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Oh, how He loves us

If I don’t write a new blog post right now I might explode. I have no way to put into words what the past 10 days of my life have been like. Not even a couple of adjectives would cover it.

Before I recap/summarize/struggle with what all to disclose to an undefined cyber audience… I need to start with what all I experienced yesterday. Yes, I am about to post something out of chronological order but guess what – this is my blog. 🙂 I do what I want.

Saturday, Sept 29, 2012

Some friends from the church and I left bright and early Saturday morning for Copán, a beautiful rural mountainous region in west Honduras. The four of us set out on behalf of the church’s Christian Social Ministry to distribute food staples and water filtration systems to more than a dozen families with extreme needs. These selected families live in a village of Copán called El Limón. I have visited El Limón a couple times on medical brigades with missions teams from the states including last year’s trip in July. The Christian Social Ministry distributes food to this region monthly.

I joined Doctor Yanela, Jonathan and Gabriela on Saturday with the purpose of documenting the trip for a promotional video. Almost 20 gigabytes of footage and photos later, I am feeling the itch to work on a documentary some day soon. 🙂

When we arrived, all the families met us at the truck and received their food. I recognized many families from the year before and chatted a little with them. After food distribution we went house to house to explain the water filtration to each family. In comparison to seeing these families when they come to us at a certain location for the clinics, I really enjoyed being able to step foot in each of their homes. Yanela checked on the health conditions of each family we visited and gave hygiene speeches everywhere we went. The kids were told to bathe daily, wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom and to only drink the filtered water. The families showered us with gifts of bananas, oranges and eggs. I got to see children’s schoolwork proudly displayed on doors made of wood scraps sometimes with hinges made of tire pieces. I saw the single bed or two where a family of six sleeps and the swinging hammocks holding napping babies. I heard stories that many in the village are fearful at night and sleep together in groups.

I recognized one 11-year-old girl, Nohemí, although she had to remind me of her name because I had forgotten. She ran up and said, “Your name is Kristen!” I was stunned… How did she remember my name from over a year ago without any photo of me? I was one member among a large team of Americans. That meant so much to me.

Nohemí and her family with me from last year. Nohemí and her family photographed yesterday in their home with their new water filter. (the mother is not pictured in the first photo)

I was snapping photos and recording video when another sweet little girl came up and told me that she also remembered me from the year before. She asked if I had any photos of her mom so I started going through my camera to see. I asked her what her mom was wearing so that I could identify her but she stopped me and told me that her mom had died seven months ago when her baby brother was born. She was asking if I had any photos of her mother because she remembered I had my camera last year when their family came to our clinic. The only picture the family had of their mother was an old polaroid that a missions group had taken years before. That moment confirmed that my photography, my videography, is my ministry. Documenting people and events and telling stories is how I want to spend my life. Keeping the memory of loved ones alive like this girl’s mother is what I want to do. We take it for granted. We keep stacks of photo albums, slides, polaroids, computer files brimming over with moments that we’ve captured. Imagine how differently we would grieve for someone if we had no image or reminder of them left after they’re gone.

So I am going through my files from last year’s trip searching for anything I might have with the image this precious child’s mother. That got me thinking. One organization that I love, Help Portrait, takes family portraits around Christmas time for needy communities. I would love to organize a trip back to El Limón soon to give these families the gift of their first family portrait. I would have the photos printed and framed in time for Christmas.

One little boy we met, named Elder, rode in the truck with us as we drove around from house to house explaining the water filtration systems. It was his first time in a vehicle and Jonathan let him sit up front and “drive.” He was so excited! Yanela told him that one day he could get a car of his own. 🙂

Elder riding up front with Jonathan and Gaby!

We stopped by El Paraiso, which serves as our base while on medical trips, and I got to see my friend, Maily, and her new baby boy, Carlos José!

Me, Carlos José and proud mama Maily. 🙂

On our last stop before heading home and right before sunset, we visited the last family that needed to receive the water filter and food. I won’t go into detail but a mother living in the house was battling with some strong depression and feelings of hopelessness. I was amazed at how Yanela handled the situation. She told the lady who had been laying in bed for months, not bathing and rarely getting up, that she had plenty of reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and that the desire for her children to have a better life should be one of them. She shared the hope of Christ with her and we prayed. I could not contain the tears. Receiving food or clean water is not enough to give sustainable hope. But the good news of salvation through Christ is enough hope to sustain us and give us joy and peace and strength for the day. I pray that this precious mom grasps hold of that truth. Yanela asked the daughters to promise to pray for their mother each day and speak healing over her. She also encouraged them to hug her often and tell her that they loved her.

My go-to song in moments like this is “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan.

And all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory. I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.

I want the people of Copán, Honduras to understand how great Christ’s affections are for them. Oh, how He loves us.

And then I find it ironic that in the midst of so much desperation and suffering that I feel so much closer to my Savior. Everything else is stripped away and I am left with the simple truth that He alone satisfies. My typical life in the U.S. is so clouded with trivial distractions that I lose perspective. I need to be here to be reminded of what really matters.

And in the midst of prompting others toward their liberation, I am becoming more liberated myself I would have otherwise never realized I was so restricted.

Kids say the darndest things. And life would be boring otherwise.

I love being a teacher. I really never planned on being one. But I love it. I have 45+ students calling me Miss (which is pronounced more like Meess) and they listen in awe when I tell them the story about flying here from the United States. I know I only have two days under my belt but I can already tell that it is going to be an eventful year. The classroom is like a breeding ground for hilarious writing material. Kids really do say the darndest things…

Things I have been told so far:

  • Two “I love you’s” and one “la quiero,” (which also means “I love you”) from a soft-spoken first grade girl whom I did not understand the first two times and repeated it until I got it. Love is an unfortunate thing to misunderstand.
  • One “Meess, the color of your eyes is beeyooteefull!
  • I was asked, “What does ‘When I see your face…’ mean in Spanish?” And after I told him he proceeded to sing the entire chorus of Bruno Mars’ top hit. Without. Understanding. A word.
  • I gave a brief introduction of myself and my family to the first grade class. One child offered the information that her mother was pregnant. Then the class erupted as all fifteen students had to raise their hand and tell me about their pregnant mother, aunt or dog. (But I certainly remember being that age and being proud that my mom was pregnant with my first baby brother)
  • Really any time I say anything about anything my students have a related story… like how they have a friend or a relative who lives in the U.S. or that the shoes that they are wearing were sent to them from the states or how their older sister is the same age as me. All wonderful little facts that bring us closer together and blur the line of difference between us.

These last three days of this week is called Ambientación. We don’t have an English word for it but it is pretty much “environment adjustment.” The kids come for short days and we don’t keep to a strict schedule. They are pretty much easing back into school. We will begin the real coursework on Monday.

Lesson planning is just short of killing me. But is it weird that I get excited to teach the four different types of sentences, creative writing and then eventually sentence diagramming?! Yay!

I have been waking up before the sun and going to bed by 9:00 pm. I know. Pick your jaw up off the floor.

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In other news: I have a photography gig this weekend at a quinceañera birthday party and I am working on some updates for the children’s home, Hope House.

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Lilly and Nohe’s photo shoot.

Yesterday, Angie and I took baby Nohe and her dog, Lilly, to the park for a little photo shoot that I have been asking to do for a little while. We coordinated Nohe’s outfit to match Lilly’s bows and had it all planned out. I got a few cute shots (out of 700+) but I think the odds were against us. I felt like I was on a reality TV show doing a photography challenge. Nohe was feeling under the weather and was very leery about the location we chose… mainly because of the itchy grass. Meanwhile, I was stepping/kneeling in horse manure and Lilly darted into the street twice after Angie took her leash off. (I also have a few photos of the chase scene) I know Angie was scared to death for her dog but I couldn’t help but laugh. The whole situation was cracking me up. The only one who wasn’t giggling was the usually-bubbly and camera-ready Nohe. She was more interested in pulling her cute new hot pink bows out of her hair and trying to eat her new beaded bracelets. She was a tough model to work with that day. But I am not dismayed… There will be other photo ops. I will be here for the next year after all. 🙂