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It All Adds Up
By Mandy Novotny

A pile of textbooks at my elbow, I sat at my desk, slogging through the assignments of the day. Halfway through seventh grade, I had little idea what I would be doing with the rest of my life or how the grammar and math and Bible studies and science and language and history would all add up. These things I knew: I loved God, I wanted to serve Him, and I loved writing.

The thriving school conducted at the kitchen table on East Ninth Street was the perfect environment for me and my six siblings to gain training and skills, develop character, and build relationships. Mom and Dad did double duty as superintendent and principal, pouring their lives into ours day after day. Learning filled the moments, whether it came as actual book work or took the form of music lessons, community service, home economics, competitions, or leadership.

High school behind me, I embarked on an internship a state away. God began to refine and expand my passion to include not just written but also visual communication. At this internship, I learned the fundamentals of graphic design, printing, and publishing and picked up other invaluable skills at the same time (all those things you learn in a small office environment where job descriptions tend to blend), such as people skills, management, and negotiating.

To my delight, I had the opportunity to learn both the creative and the technical side of visual communication as I worked on a team that developed projects from concept to completion. In due time, I also began a foray into the world of photography when my boss handed me a camera and said, “Here. We need good pictures for our next brochure.”

Discovering my interests in these areas motivated my shy, reserved self to begin asking questions, to get involved, and to build skills for the future. During the first week of the internship, I called my father and said, “Now I know how you can have so much fun and call it a job. I want to do this for the rest of my life!” After several months, I traded my internship for a full-time job as a graphic artist and continued gathering the skills needed for successful ministry.


Three years later found me on a plane to Beijing, China, my brain telling my stiff legs that the very long ride of more than twelve hours would be worth it all. Little did I know how well the past—whether homeschooling or internships or ministry—had prepared me for this adventure!

One on a team of fifteen, our primary mission was to meet with business and nonprofit organizations and discuss the vital need for character development. I never knew what exactly would fill each day, whether it was a twenty-course meal with the vice president of a large corporation or helping with skits in front of 150 children or speaking to the mayor of a city of two million.

I became the trip scribe with camera and pen in hand. The only time to work on this assignment, however, was well into the night, between the hours of 10 and 6. When responsibilities and expectations were compressed into such a short space, I discovered that I did not have time to “get ready.” I could not go out and read a book or conduct a study or practice more. I had to “be ready”—there was no time for anything else. Each picture and each sentence was a not-so-silent tribute to those who had taken part in my training and education.

Of all the places I visited in China, though, my favorites were the markets, with people thronging the narrow alleyways to sell or to buy or to steal. Whether in Chengdu or Urumqi or Beijing, the noise of men hawking suit jackets, ladies selling scarves, and children offering dried nuts created a grand cacophony of hustle and bustle.

So much humanity in one place, with such a dichotomy between the rich and the poor, moved me at times to tears and at times to smile, but these scenes always moved my camera into action. I felt that my ministry was greater there, just one person in a crowd, than anywhere else.

I knew the sum total of six Chinese words. But with camera in hand, I wandered through the marketplace. In the eyes of those I photographed, I saw unspoken pain or hope or loss or beauty. Each person had a story I would never know—but I could tell part of it.


One day on such a marketplace adventure, I took a picture of two young girls, both around 6 or 7 years old. Since my camera was digital, I showed the image to them and watched their cautious gazes turn to smiles. Suddenly, I had been blessed with two new friends. To my amazement, I was quickly surrounded by men, women, and children, all wanting me to take their pictures. I could give them only a sincere smile and glimpses of their portraits, but they asked for nothing more in return. There, in a busy courtyard filled with people I could not talk with and would probably never see again, I discovered that a picture is worth a thousand words.

As I look back over the life God has blessed me with, I can see His fingerprints throughout, from English lessons at the kitchen table to internships in Oklahoma, to mission trips and more. Each event has prepared me for the next one, which prepares me for the next. I do not know what is contained in the days ahead, but this I know: I love writing, I love photography, I love God, and I want to serve Him.

Mandy writes with light and words from the home base of Bonham, Texas. Home educated from kindergarten through high school, she is now an artist and instructor with the Institute of Photographic Studies ( Her big passion is to communicate Biblical truth with creativity and love through writing, design, and photography, and her favorite people in the world are American families.

Copyright 2008. Originally appeared in The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2008.

Used with permission. Visit them at


 Related Resources

Photography Unit Study
Photography Unit Study

China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book
China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book


A Heart 4 You: China--Study Guide and Student Workbook
A Heart 4 You: China--Study Guide and Student Workbook


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