When I started brainstorming about Slayed and Saved, I knew a big part of it would be sharing stories of of other Christians I’ve met along the way and how they’re working at living out their faith just like I am. I didn’t want it to be just my narrative, but rather chronicles of different perspectives that all pointed in the same direction, and different voices all proclaiming the same truth. Choosing the first person to interview really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, even though he wasn’t the obvious choice.
I met Joel through blogging as Ms. Understood (shockingly where I’ve met most of the influential people in my life), and in one of those rare moments, I just knew he was one of ‘my people’ – those people who will in some way or the other have a role to play in your purpose and seeing that come to fruition. So we sat down to a Facetime session one Saturday evening (or the middle of the night on his end) and really got down to talking about everything from faith and purpose to beards and a brand new piercing (which was tres cute btw).
So… I’m new at this interview thing so I’ll start off with the usual boring question and see where that leads us: Who’s Joel?
Who’s Joel? Joel is a 23 year old medical student in Ukraine, a son to pastors, a sibling, and a part-time photographer… I guess.
Medicine, huh? Why medicine?
Honestly? Because I like science and I got advice from a mentor who is a doctor to go into medicine. If I could backtrack, I might go down the Engineering route, but I was told mechanical engineers end up as fitters, so that kind of steered me away lol.
African parents lol. So you had the double whammy of not only having to live under that cultural expectation I guess, but also live as the child of parents in full time ministry – what was that like?
I guess I’d go with ‘Interesting’. It was different because a lot of people were not pastors kids at school, so there was having to fit in – or perhaps not fit in – and having to deal with that difference. But on the other hand, at church, all my friends were pastor’s kids too, so I did have a community of sorts where I felt I belonged and could be understood. I think I’d also say it was challenging, because as a pastor’s kid you’re never exposed to ‘the world’. For instance, I never really listened to secular music. Being sheltered like that as a child and then growing up and facing what the real world is like requires some adjustment. It gets harder growing up too, because people look up to you and expect you to be perfect – you’re held to a much higher standard even by your peers. And it can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes because you feel like you never had the opportunity to choose God for yourself. You were born into your faith and everyone just expects you to be Christian.
So when did that happen for you – when did you make the choice for yourself?
I don’t think I can pinpoint an exact moment when I made the decision for myself – a personal commitment to Christ. I think it was probably when I moved to Ukraine and realized how real life was and how living without supervision was a real test of my faith. It was either I was going to be all in or I was going to backslide and go completely left field. And I made the decision to follow Christ.
We’ve established that medicine isn’t really your passion – and I think it’s incredibly brave of you to be able to even admit that to yourself – but if not medicine, then what? What are you passionate about?
I think I try to figure that out every day to be honest. But it’s probably ministry. When I think about it, medicine is great, but it doesn’t last. We are working at preserving someone’s life for 60-70 years – but there’s a bigger picture. The opportunity to heal someone’s spirit? That lasts for all of eternity. I want to do something with my life that is about more than just right here, right now. I’m passionate about eternity.
That’s real. Well, in every career field, there’s a huge focus on personal development and on working today to improve our outcomes for the future. What would you say you’re working on today that is going to help you follow through on that passion for ministry?
I think a big part is just focusing on building my personal relationship with God and just learning to be authentic in this. I’m constantly questioning my motives for doing things, and at the end of the day I always want it to boil down to love – love for God and a desire to see other’s experience His love through Christ’s salvation. And it’s a struggle.
Why is it a struggle?
Hypocrisy. I worry a lot about being a hypocrite. We naturally have an inclination to do things because we’re supposed to or because the Bible says to, but I always want it to be out of love and not obligation. I don’t ever want to be a hypocrite and say something or do something and not really mean it. Like my group and I made the commitment to wake up at 3 every morning this week and pray, and it’s been hard because I don’t feel like doing it. It’s a struggle – I feel like I’m doing it because I agreed to. But I want to get to the point where I just want to. That getting up at any hour to talk to God excites me. I want to love it.
I hate the concept of religion! I’ve realized that a lot of the things we do as Christians are not even Biblical – but our culture has really blended with Christianity into what we have come to see today as religion. But basically here’s the thing – it feels like obligation till you hit that point of all-encompassing love. Because when it’s out of love, nothing feels like an obligation. Waking up at three shouldn’t be a task, but you want to get to a point where you’re doing it out of love. That’s the key. That’s the authenticity I’m looking for.
Do you have a routine for spiritual growth though? Like a time you set apart for God?
I definitely spend the first part of my day with God, but I want to get out of the habit of having a fixed time with God. I want to communicate with Him throughout my day – I don’t want to confine His voice to an hour a day. Think about being in a relationship with someone: you don’t text your wife at 6 in the morning and say, ‘I’ve texted her this morning so that’s enough for the day, we’ll talk again tomorrow’. Communication with who you love is something you just do unconsciously and consistently. I try to set reminders throughout the day to communicate with Him, and not just in the morning or at church.
OK, switching gears for a bit: Part-time photographer – how did that happen?
It started like 4 -5 years ago. My friend had a camera and I started playing around with it and enjoyed it. And looking back, I think my dad might have played a role in this passion because I remember growing up that we always had cameras around the house even though I don’t recall him ever using them. But I just love the angles and the art. It can be frustrating sometimes because you see the perfect shot and you take it and it looks nothing like you saw it to be in reality. I’ve deleted so many good photos because I’m a perfectionist and need to get it just right. But I like to carry my cameras around and just capture things around me.
So, I actually knew of you before we ever even spoke because of your photography. How did discovering your love for photography feed into you creating Persons of the Light?
So I spent a lot of time reading the Humans on New York posts and thought, why not have a Christian version of this? And it’s been harder – because I can’t just get up and talk to anyone like he does. I need to target Christians. And you can’t exactly just pick Christians off the street you know? And being in Ukraine makes it even harder since they speak a different language I haven’t quite mastered yet. So I try to do more when I go to English-speaking countries.
Basically the point of Persons of the Light was to bring out different Christian stories that people – both believers and non-believers – could be encouraged by. I want people to see a post and be able to relate, see real stories, and be inspired to seek relationship with God.
Any other hobbies or passions?
Music. I play a lot of instruments – one of the perks of being a pastor’s kid. I love the piano in particular. But aside from that, fitness. It’s therapeutic.
We’ve talked about your faith, and your photography, so now let’s talk fashion. I love your style. How would you describe it?
I’m mostly into blazers and suits, but I like the semi-formal look. I’m the guy who’d wear a suit with trainers or wear a t-shirt with proper dress shoes. I never want to be too formal or too casual. I wear about 90% black, but I’ve recently ventured into gray and navy – white in extreme heat. I generally prefer darker colors for no particular reason. I used to be into hats, but since I grew these dreads not as much because they just don’t fit comfortably under my hats.
OK, since you mentioned the dreads, I just have to ask: what’s up with the look?
LOL, the Look? What about it?
Well, personally I’m totally #BeardGang so I have no qualms, but your look doesn’t exactly scream medical doctor or pastor to the average person, I’m sure.
Well, let’s start with the beard then circle back round to the dreads. In secondary school we had to shave every day, so I never really realized how much hair I had. Fast-forward to graduation and I just couldn’t be bothered because no one was asking me to shave it. It’s not a Beard Gang movement or anything – never that deep – but I think I’m so used to it that I just don’t think I’d ever cut it.
My friend Rekia, who’s a beauty blogger, wrote this awesome piece about beard etiquette and I never realized just how much grooming actually goes into beard upkeep before I read that. Do you have any tips for the guys out there?
Well, first thing is make sure you don’t get food stuck in it lol. I actually have so many beard products you wouldn’t believe it. Beard shampoo, beard conditioner, beard oil, beard balm – like, it’s very deep lol. The key is to wash it regularly, keep it well-oiled and conditioned. Comb it, otherwise it starts to look patchy. Trim fray hairs and those extra-long strands. And don’t overgrow it! Sometimes overgrown beards just look plain silly. Some faces work better with a low trim. Just experiment with different shape-ups to see what works with your face or personal preferences.
And the hair?
I had a high top fade, and got tired of combing it. So I just started twisting it out, and one day I noticed it was locked and just left it lol.
I actually just got a new eyebrow piercing too – did you notice?
I diiiiiiid! I was getting there. Very cute. How’d that happen?
I actually got it earlier this week. I really had no reason. I just get into these sanguine moods where I’m like, why not? If you’d asked me last week if I’d get a piercing, I would have said no, so it really was a spur of the moment thing.
Do you see yourself getting more piercings? Or a tattoo maybe?
I HOPE I don’t get any more piercings lol I really can’t say. I really want to get a tattoo of a cross and the Jesus fish. What I really want is a whole tattoo sleeve, but at that point my parents will probably disown me. I’m probably disowned already with this piercing – they have no idea lol.
I’ve always wanted a tattoo too, I just can’t think of anything significant enough to have as a tattoo. A piercing you can take out, but a tattoo is permanent.
Like marriage LOL
YES! Haha. Perfect segue. We’ve had this convo before, but for the sake of our audience, I think we can agree that we both suffer from varying levels of commitment phobia lol. And I think part of it IS that permanence – that we know that if we’re in it, it’s for good… like a tattoo.
So, now that we’re on the topic: team single or nah?
As in, am I single or am I on team single? Because there’s a difference. Being on team single means I’m an advocate for singleness.
So you’re single but not on team single?
I’m actually both.
Oops! Why team single?
Honestly? Because I think marriage in our culture is uber hyped and we place too much importance on it. Saying you don’t want to get married is practically taboo in our culture. I’m not against it. If it happens, great. But I just can’t picture it at all right now.
But you’re celibate right?
And how did you make that choice?
Who said I made the choice? lol Sometimes I feel like the Bible needs some tweaks here and there – the sex thing and having just one wife, because I think having multiple wives would be interesting haha.
I’m actually reading a book now called Every Young Man’s Battle so I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately. It’s a day to day struggle and our culture doesn’t speak of it – it’s a no-go area – and yet it’s so important. But it’s worth it – celibacy is worth it. Honestly I choose to be celibate because that’s what God requires of me in this season, and I have come to understand that the repercussions of sex go so much further than we could imagine. We think it’s temporary, just one hit, but really you are planting a seed that will eventually reap a harvest – and we never think about the reaping when we’re sowing. The roots of our actions always go deeper than we think. You don’t want to give up eternity or your future for a ‘piece of ass’.
So how do you manage it? Do you just wake up and try and get through the day, one day at a time? lol
Oh yea, pretty much. The weekends are the hardest – when I’m idle. I have to make a conscious effort – spend as little time as possible on social media and stuff. A lot of times we try to make being celibate so spiritual and focus solely on prayer, but a big part of it is practical. We also have to take responsibility and be wise about it – for me that means spending as little time on social media as possible and more time in His Word.
Tell me this: Is it weird that I find celibacy not that hard?
Yes, it is lol. But I think it’s (in part) a male/female thing. We’re wired differently. We are triggered by different things. I don’t think girls understand the passion guys have for sex. I mean, I haven’t been a girl before, so this might be pure conjecture, but I think guys are just more ‘sexual’. I definitely need whatever Grace you have though lol.
Haha. OK, final question: Slayed & Saved is really about balancing our humanness with our faith – it’s about authenticity, and bringing the things we have traditionally kept outside of the realms of Christianity into the Light. How do you fully embrace who you are – medicine, photography, beard, piercings and all – and embrace it in Christ?
We all have an image of what we think Christianity is supposed to be or look like – but the Bible is still the standard. Everyone has their opinions of faith that have been shaped by culture or circumstance, but the Bible should be the baseline. Christianity should reflect in my day to day life – my humanity should BE Christianity. I shouldn’t have to even mention Jesus for people to know who I represent. I should be so peaceful, so loving, so self-controlled and patient that people will pinpoint a difference that could only be traced back to Jesus. With everything I do – whether it’s photography or fitness or whatever – I try to take the Biblical view and apply excellence to it, to do it as if I were doing it for God. That should be our goal as Christians.
You can follow Joel’s photography on instagram, @chalejoelthis, and @personsofthelight!