Pt. 1: An Invitation
My name is Henry Head, (most people call me Heno), and this is my story. I was born in Dallas, Texas & moved to Branson, Missouri when I was 7. I have two amazing parents & an awesome little sister. I’ve known privilege & comfortability most of my life. Despite my sterile, Catholic, but loving upbringing, there’ve been waves of rebellion & ego-centric electricity pulsing through my veins since I could walk. Ever since I was a child I was reckless & had perpetual issues with complying to authority. When I was 5 I intentionally rode my plastic tricycle through the sliding glass door of my childhood home, -twice. I would peddle as fast as I could & launch myself from the driveway into our living room, sending shards of glass & diabolic man-boy laughter everywhere. I would steal & bite & hide & scheme. I wanted very badly to be a herpetologist throughout my early years. Every day I’d venture out to catch snakes & lizards, contaminating all of my mother’s tupperware as I converted them into little homes. Dallas suburbia didn’t have much to offer to feed that fascination, so moving to rural Missouri was a dream for me.
I spent my early teenage years in a private Christian school and had a hard time believing, even as a clueless boy, that this separatism, this “every day is Sunday here” mentality, was going to end up equating to holiness (or whatever). Before hitting the growth spurt that most boys do at some point in their maturation, I found my chubbiness at the center of the jokes that the peers I longed to be friends with cracked, both directly and indirectly. Those words cut like daggers. Let me stop to say this, -we, brothers & sisters, are not allowed to determine what is “trivial” to someone else. If words really are the overflow of our hearts, then they carry weight. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21) The relentless teasing continued as I transitioned into the public school system when I was 14 & most of my days ended in me having a very real disdain for myself. After battling an eating disorder & allowing my mind to warp itself around the false reality that I was unsightly & unlovable, I began to taste the flavor of contempt towards the "Christians" I had gotten to observe over the years. I remember hearing from a friend's religious mother, “If you encounter an atheist, don’t try to engage in a conversation about your faith because they will convince you it’s a lie with with their ‘logic’”. Awesome. So the Creator of the Universe, if he is real, cannot defend himself to that which he created? No thank you. I began to take note of the constant gossip, masked with the typical Christianese jargon of, “did you hear about so & so? We need to be praying for them…..”
If God is synonymous for truth, and He asks us to be honest, I think that maybe questioning is something that He longs for us to do. So I began to question everything. How geographic is my religion? I live in the "Bible Belt" of westernized, capitalistic America, -of course I’m going to have my arm twisted towards institutionalized Christianity for all the agendas it propagates as a means to control the wallets of its congregation. If I was born in India I’d probably be Hindu, or Muslim if I was born in the Middle East. So, what is the truth?
After watching a relationship I invested my heart & body into throughout my junior year of high school turn to sand and fall through my fingers, all of my questioning, disappointment, feelings of unworthiness & pain manifested itself in a tidal wave of sheer destruction. It was time to party. I found myself a friend group more than willing to enable my debauchery & got to it. I left a tornado trail behind me of girls I was able to manipulate, drugs I was able to experiment with, whiskey bottles shared with the other pain stricken kids who so easily masqueraded themselves as "free spirits” & I fell madly in love with myself. I was desperate to fill my void. I found myself getting into fist fights on a regular basis, I was arrested for shoplifting, I severed my relationship with my parents for the sake of a “good time”, I was rarely attending classes & on the fast track to not graduating.
In March of my senior year of high school, one night changed the entire course of my existence. I was up all night, wrestling with myself. In one fell swoop I recognized I had completely abandoned my family, my heart, my future, all for the sake of vanity & validation from my peers. If there was a God I did not know him, and if there was a hell, I should burn in it. I tiptoed into my parent’s room & woke my dad up close to 4am & told him I needed help. We went into the living room & I confessed that I did not know I was, I did not know my purpose & I don’t know why I’m here. After a long pause, he said,
“Son, do you mind if I pray for you?”
It was the last thing I wanted, but to my surprise, what I needed the most. I consented & as soon as he called out on the name of Jesus & began to pray for me, the room began to fill up with a hope & a presence that was greater than any romantic encounter, more euphoric than any high. All I had ever known was the fire & brimstone of the whistleblower, never the Grace or Hope of Christ. I committed my life to God that night. I celebrated my brokenness because it brought glory to His righteousness. I felt the weight of the world lift, as I was no longer carrying my pain alone. After this monumental experience, I wandered out the back door of my home & into the woods to rest in His presence.
"What was next? My heart has been changed.. I have tasted a fruit far sweeter than anything I’ve ever known, I’ve swallowed a sip of the eternal, I’ve been consumed by His love like a log cabin that’s been set ablaze from the inside out."
The icing on the cake came with my mothers smile the following morning. See, I thought she had been on a really strange diet of nuts & berries the weeks prior to work on her "summer bod”, but she wasn’t. She was fasting. For me. On the final day of her month long commitment to prayer on my behalf, God met me & rescued me. We held each other & cried tears of joy.
Pt. 2: To Be Born Again
One of the reasons I’ve never been able to stand Christian pop culture is that so much of it seems dishonest. The majority of family-friendly, safe, "Godly" films paint a picture that says, “Are you confused & vulnerable? Join our tribe & watch all of your problems dissipate!” -all for the sake of evangelism. This is a lie. God doesn’t want us to have an easy life, but the courage to trust that He is with us as we navigate a hard one. The gospel wasn’t meant to bring us into clean-cut, untainted circles. In fact the people that Jesus rebuked were the religious, the pharisees who used their pious posture & societal status to elevate themselves, and friends, let me tell you that same arrogant spirit plagues many churches today. You see, as soon as God reveals himself to us through His love and revelation, it was intended to change our hearts that He might have the glory, that His love might be made known, but too often we hijack that divine purpose to make us feel like we are the ones from where the goodness comes. I am just as guilty of doing this myself, if not more so, and it is only through the grace of God that my filth is continuing to be redeemed.
Now, back to the story.
Before my entirely unexpected conversion, I had made plans to enjoy a rowdy couple weeks in Mexico with all of the lads, filled with all the freedom to indulge on whatever carnal desire presented itself. After the Spirit of God changed my heart, I quickly realized he was changing the way I viewed others as well. I opted out of the trip to Mexico, and with help from friends and family I fundraised enough money to serve at a couple orphanages in Ethiopia & Uganda. I, like many other American teens who want to feel like their walk with God is validated & desire to unlock the “poor black baby in profile picture” achievement, experienced an eye opening culture shock, but had the obscene privilege of flying back home to safety and abundance. Surely there is a better way to reach people, I thought.
The following year was a challenge, watching the spiritual bon fire in my heart shrink to a flicker as I had little understanding of how to grow in my faith. In an effort to please my well-intentioned parents I enrolled at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. My body was located on the university campus, but my mind & heart were far, far away. It was easy to find lots of people who knew the Bible front to back, but very hard to find people who were excited about what it had to say. I decided after my first semester that once I finished my freshman year, I would go travel. I wanted to know what other people thought. I wanted to adventure. I wanted to risk something. Plus, how, after a lifetime of being forced to go to school, was I supposed to know what to invest my time & money into as a career choice? So I put an application in at a summer camp I had gone to as a teen in Colorado & the summer following got the job and worked as a camp counselor & white water rafting guide. I began to realize that some of the kids I was encountering, were in the middle of broken situations that their own counselors weren’t able to relate to, but I could. God was continuing to redeem the fragmented, painful years of my wandering to heal the heart of another.
Pt. 3 Reckless Abandon
When I got home from Colorado, after an incredible summer of adventure & fresh perspective, I found myself in a similar place as all of my other hometown friends: working a job, in a relationship, paying bills, trying to find ways to fill my time, wondering why I wasn’t traveling like I had said I was going to. I was fearful. Then, almost as unexpectedly as my initial salvation, I met Michael Portugal.
The nature of God is rarely aligned with our own timing.
Michael was from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and found his heart breaking for the homeless in his city. He would skate down to the overpasses they lived under, stay with them from time to time, bring pizza to share, read his Bible with them, and love them despite their addictions and past. After some time he confronted one of the leaders of his church about putting more of the mega-church’s budget towards accommodating the needs of the hungry, -after all, that is the call of the Christ follower. ("But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:13-14). He was met with, the response,
“That is the government’s job, not the church’s"
Michael was greatly troubled & felt like the Spirit of God was calling him to live amongst the homeless and to take the initiative if the church itself would not. So he left. A year after living by faith, with no money, food or shelter, his faith had become tested, strengthened and blessed. He was beginning to see actual miracles happen. He was beginning to see change of heart through the Gospel narrative in the people he was embracing. Then, he was called to Springfield, Missouri, for a time. I met him by sheer coincidence, which as I know now was divine timing. I got to hear his stories of hitch hiking, dumpster diving, radical and unabashed love towards those who had no family, nor health, nor end sight from their addiction. His story moved me in ways I hadn’t been moved before. After three weeks of building a relationship with him, he asked me if I would be interested in leaving with him. I gave away the possessions I had bought for myself, quit my job, packed my bag & we left in my car using what money I had left to drive us to Santa Barbara, California where we left my vehicle with a friend and took off north on foot. The rest has been history. In trying to be obedient in my calling, I’ve found a love for taking photos in hopes that they may celebrate life, diversity, redemption and ultimately point beyond themselves to the one who not only created love, life & beauty but gave us the capacity to source it back to Him.
For those that have kept up with my photography over the last couple years, I want to share what God has been revealing to me since I first answered His beckoning to leave. I hope that my photos and words have met you like a friend, and that my agenda is not to convert, but just to point the reader to the place where I found my healing, and soon after, my calling.
- When we encounter God, He desires not to enslave us to a set of rules to keep us from "having fun", but to invite us on an adventure to bring hope to the world. Epic right? That adventure might not be in a season of intentional homelessness for more than a few, but everyone has a purpose that they were created to step into & that God wants to use them for, and no calling is greater than another. We know our calling when we recognize the love & of the One who created us, and when we admit our need for Him.
- Nobody is too far gone. No one. If all you have known about Christianity is judgment, you have only encountered people who are using the hope of the world for their own selfish gain. It doesn’t matter your age, sexual preference, your nationality, your economic situation or your past, you were created for an eternal purpose & God wants to meet you where you are at and to have a personal, living, relationship with Him.
- We will never have know the fullness of God if we construct our lives to be as safe & easy as possible. If all you are doing is working to buy your happiness, you will never own enough & it will divide you from deep, life-giving relationships. If the only people you interact with are people that look like you & believe like you, you will never fully know yourself & you will be entirely a product of your own environment with no way to know that your “truth” is actually as true as you think it is.
Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. And to you, reader, in an era saturated with questionable political figures, with photos & videos edited to be prettier than reality, with cultural success being defined by all things monetary, with the sexualization of the body & the depravity of our hearts, I hope you know that your story is important too. Speak out. Everyone has a voice and we must use it to remove falsehood where we see it & to restore hope where it's been lost.