Sonya VanderVeen Feddema: an interview with Ray Majoran
In a world where many people are oblivious to God’s glory, the beauty of his creation and the plight of marginalized people, Ray Majoran and Brian Klassen, cofounders of Compassion Gallery, are photographing people and creation in order to foster awareness and compassion through the lenses of their cameras. Christian Courier interviewed Ray Majoran (who also answered on behalf of Brian Klassen) to learn more about what God is doing through Compassion Gallery.
Christian Courier: What is Compassion Gallery? How did God lead you to establish it?
Ray Majoran: Brian and I had been shooting photography for a number of years. As we visited countries around the world, we desired to make a difference. Was there a way that we could help some of the people that we were taking pictures of, along with other ministries that had grown dear to our hearts? Our answer was yes, and we founded Compassion Gallery.
Compassion Gallery is a collection of fine art photography prints from both Brian and myself. At present, the gallery is only available via compassion.gallery, but one day, Lord willing, we will have physical galleries as well. For now we have developed a Room Preview tool, which enables users to create a visual representation of what the artwork will look like in a given room size, frame style or on a specific wall colour. Our hope is that when people are decorating their homes or offices, they will consider Compassion Gallery for their art prints.
In terms of how God led us to establish it, the Bible makes it clear that we are to use our talents and abilities to serve God and further his kingdom. He’s given both Brian and I talents in photography. We both desire to use our talent wisely and not bury it (Matt. 25:14-30). Therefore, we are using the gifts he has so graciously provided us in order to store up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20).
The other thing that he’s made very clear to us is that we are to be his ambassadors in the world (2 Cor. 5:20). In Romans 1:20, Paul says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Everywhere we look we see this evidence, and we document it using photography of both people and landscapes. We are, therefore, compelled to capture this reflection of our amazing God, and share it with the world.
How did you go about setting up Compassion Gallery?
Brian and I had many conversations about what Compassion Gallery could look like. Once we made the decision that we wanted to proceed, we drafted up all of the documentation and moved forward. One of our hesitancies with the name was its potential confusion with Compassion Canada. We are good friends with Compassion Canada and support their ministry. We reached out to them to get their blessing on our use of the word compassion in our name. We received their blessing and proceeded with the name.
After that, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for sample prints, along with a book we wanted to launch called unOblivious (see review on opposite page). The campaign was successful and we were able to raise over $40,000. You can watch the video and read about the Kickstarter campaign here.
You donate 100 percent of your profits to charity. What does that mean?
100 percent of profits is not a sales pitch or a play on words, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure it out. It simply means “what’s left over” (the surplus/balance) after we’ve paid for all our business expenses and taxes from the income we generate from sales.
Which charities do you support? Why did you choose to support those in particular?
We support Christian & Missionary Alliance, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, International Justice Mission and several others. I’d like to speak especially about Advocacy Global, a U.S.-based organization that we helped start in 2016. It was birthed out of our trips to India and our desire to help many of the widows, orphans and afflicted people whom we came in contact with. It started by helping two people in India – a homeless man and a 13-year-old girl who was about to be forced into marriage with a 30-year-old man. We were able to provide them and the girl’s family with provisions and share the Gospel with them. As of September 2017 we have 77 beneficiaries in total.
A tour through your digital museums (compassion.gallery/brianklassen and compassion.gallery/raymajoran) reveals that you’ve captured pictures of people and nature from many lands. Where have you travelled to and what have you discovered in different places?
Between the two of us (from a photography side of things), we’ve travelled to India, Peru, Nepal, Iceland, Cambodia, Mexico, Cuba, Thailand and many parts of Canada and the United States.
From a discovery standpoint, the main takeaway is always, “God is there.” Whether it be in a garbage dump in Peru, the slums of India or the majesty of Iceland, God is evident throughout his creation. Romans 1:20 continues to apply here in a big way!
How have people responded to Compassion Gallery?
Right from the get-go of the Kickstarter campaign, we’ve had positive feedback. People really resonate with the photos and the book, and the fact that we want to give back in a tangible way. We’ve sold a number of prints and books, but our favorite impact has come from abroad where we’ve had local contacts print our pictures and hand them out to families.
In June we hosted a gala in London, Ontario, where we invited a number of our supporters to come out and view some of our artwork. We were able to elaborate on our vision, share various stories, outline our techniques and talk about the future.
Is it possible for people to see an actual copy of your work?
Our hope is to one day open up a physical gallery. For now, people are welcome to book appointments where we can show them a small sample collection of our work, or point them to businesses, ministries or people that have our work on display.
We may do something similar to our June gala in the future.
Do you have goals for Compassion Gallery’s expansion? If so, what are they?
Lord willing, we would one day like to launch galleries around the world that inspire people to see what we see. However, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. If the Lord wills it, we will do this (James 4:15), and if it’s not his will, then we are pleasantly content to be in his perfect will, reflecting his light in the capacity that he has enabled us to do so.
Has your work on Compassion Gallery had an impact on your walk with God?
In the short time since we’ve started Compassion Gallery, both Brian and I have been immeasurably refined by the Potter. As an example, at the inception of Compassion Gallery while Brian and I were travelling in Iceland, we knew we had some issues that we needed to work through – mostly centered around the vision for the company that God had placed on both of our hearts. But the issues were tricky, even hovering on theological differences. As such, Brian and I were more than happy not to deal with the matter (and the tension), while we soaked up God’s beauty, all along knowing that God wanted us to stop and have a long conversation.
Because of our stubbornness, one of our vehicles broke down. Now, that alone wouldn’t set off any major alarm bells for a reader. But how about when you continue in your stubbornness, and, within an hour, your second vehicle – which was just flat-bedded to you across the country – breaks down? Now you’re on 4×4 vehicle number three and it’s only been four days. Are you getting the picture? We finally submitted to God and had a long, amazing conversation and an incredible ending to the trip. This set the stage for Compassion Gallery as it is today.
Beyond that, God continues to impact us daily, reminding us that all things are created by him and for his glory. When we look through the lens of a camera, whether it be at a person or a landscape, we see things for what they are – fearfully and wonderfully made.
In the book Don’t Waste Your Life, author John Piper says, “The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”
And as such, one can’t help but contemplate John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” So it is with us. Our prayer for the future of Compassion Gallery is simply that his light would be reflected in all that we do, so that his name would be made great among the nations (Mal. 1:1).
unOblivious: A Photographic Journal
by Ray Majoran (Compassion Gallery, 2016)
Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
unOblivious is the first volume in a series of books which will be released over the next few years by Compassion Gallery’s cofounders, Ray Majoran and Brian Klassen. Through stunning photographs and compelling narrative, readers are encouraged to ponder how forsaking being oblivious (unmindful and forgetful) and becoming unoblivious (mindful and remembering) can set one on the road to compassion.
Ray Majoran, author and photographer of this volume, shares with readers the personal filters which shape his work, namely, that the world is upside down in regard to what is considered to be truly spiritually valuable; we don’t bring God to the places we go, he is already present there; the church is one body with many parts; it’s imperative to respect all people; and God deserves and desires all glory for all that he has created, including, Ray asserts, all the photos in unOblivious.
Majoran’s photographs are spectacular, capturing the dignity and plight of the people he met on his travels in Nepal and India, as well as the splendor and majesty of the landscape. His portraits reveal the hardships of poverty, the exaltation and emotion of people as they worship God, the joy of labour, the playfulness and mischievousness of children and the love evident between family members.
Majoran says, “Everywhere I go, everywhere I look – there’s God, showing off again. I am thankful for the opportunity that he’s given me to capture his creation through the lens: I don’t take it lightly. Without God, I am lifeless (Job 33:4). I find it absolutely impossible to look through the lens of the camera and think to myself, ‘Wow . . . that happened by chance!’ Instead, I am left in awe of the people he’s created, the skies he formed, the grass he grows, the planets he’s molded, the earth he moves. I can no longer ignore my surroundings; I have become unOblivious.”
Though the book consists predominantly of photos, Majoran shares stories of several people whom he and his team met and how all involved were impacted and changed by the encounter. Majoran says, “By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I am of the mindset that our hearts must be broken so that what we say we believe on the inside actually comes out and is reflected on the outside.”
unOblivious is first and foremost a celebration of God and his majesty as revealed through people and all else he has created. As well, the book affords a great avenue to reflect on Scripture since many of the photos are accompanied by a Bible verse. Readers interested in ordering a copy can do so by going to compassion.gallery/unoblivious and following the purchasing links or by emailing yrellag.noissapmoc@yar.
Ray Majoran (left) lives in London, Ont., and is the cofounder, along with Brian Klassen, of Compassion Gallery. Ray is a member of West London Alliance Church.