Dave and Kathi Peters are Global Story2 Films, an American husband-and-wife film-making team who often tell stories about the world’s forgotten and abandoned on film. Their work has brought them to India, Guatemala, China, Haiti, Jamaica, and Uganda, as well as many parts of the United States.
TWI: When and how did you begin to work in and develop a passion for your field of work?
Dave Peters: My fascination with how imagery, both still and motion, affects and moves us began when I was in the sixth grade. It’s now become a welcome resident in my life to this moment.
I think my initial fascination was more technical than aesthetic. You simply push a shutter, capture a moment on film, and through the interesting, somewhat magical darkroom process, that image magically appears and stares back at you from the tray of developer. I found that this moment – now in print form – could engage the fancy of someone else.
It was in high school that still images turned to motion with my dad’s Super 8 movie camera. I stumbled onto the reality of how motion pictures provided a more stimulating way for people to “see” what I was seeing.
Now as a filmmaker who has created over 200 films of various lengths, I get an overwhelming sense of purpose and fulfillment as I capture stories in motion – breaking news, if you will – and later see people touched by these stories. Hopefully, my films have touched them in a way that causes a moment of reflection, inspiration, or most importantly, provides a reason for them to question their reality and/or priorities.
There are times my camera captures something so real and unexpected that I can barely contain the deep emotion flowing out of that moment. It seems that my audience is right there with me, peering over my shoulder, watching, and with great expectation, we all take in this once-in-a-lifetime moment together.
Kathi Peters: I fell in love with storytelling in a freshman speech class in college, and changed my major from nursing to speech as a result of that class. After graduation, I became a teacher and taught speech to high school students.
I never dreamed I would be telling stories on film, even though I married a filmmaker almost 32 years ago. Three years ago he invited me to join him in this work, and it’s been a wild ride ever since!
Tell us about your faith development.
DP: My mother is an awesome storyteller. As a child, I listened intently to her weave her story magic, which I guess rubbed off on me. I went to film school where I received a Bachelor’s and Master’s in cinema communications, and then set off to make “Christian” films right out of college.
Over the years I made numerous films for various organizations, ranging from the Air Force to different churches, but it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that life experiences acted as a catalyst to truly ignite my storytelling passion.
You see, most of my life I dutifully learned about what others had experienced and learned about God. I was taught that is was not ok to question these tried-and-true belief systems. Why bother? It all made sense to me. Everyone in my bubble had a similar slant on orthodoxy and orthopraxy, for that matter. Basically I was told what to think, not how to think.
In 2006, while I was serving as a media pastor at a church, I encountered some so-called “dangerous” people who had ventured out of the box that invited me to join them – to explore my faith and ask those nagging questions deemed off-limits. In the process I discovered how much faith can be deepened as we explore our doubts and ask deep probing questions about, well, everything.
But I quickly found out this exciting, stimulating, life-changing spiritual quest is an excellent way to get shown the door when you are part of the staff at a large, institutional church. Most of these institutions don’t like out-of-the-box challenges.
As my wife and I started this new chapter of our lives, I was slowly realizing that the Gospel was so much bigger than I ever imagined. It wasn’t just about obtaining an E.Z. Pass to heaven but about a cosmic struggle of seeking to bring heaven–with all of its joy, peace and justice–down here to earth now. Salvation is as much about the here and now as it is about the future.
KP: I am blessed to have a godly heritage. My parents and grandparents taught me well to love my church, God, and what He’s doing in the world. From my earliest memory, church was an integral part of my life. Our family was there every time the church doors were open and were often the last ones out the door. Some of my fondest memories are from youth group and youth conferences, and Dave and I continue to do projects for a ministry that is based in the church in Pennsylvania my family helped to start almost 50 years ago.
My faith journey has taken me over some significant bumps in the road. I discovered that faith isn’t a formula; that “if I do x, y, z, God will reward me with many blessings and a happy life.” It’s not like that at all. My faith remains strong, and I’m grateful I’m on this journey with God.
You are a husband-and-wife team. Could you talk about how it is to work together as a couple? How do your vocations “fit” or “not fit” sometimes?
DP: Kathi and I have been married for almost 32 years. We have raised three amazing kids, despite our parental foibles. But when we were left with an empty nest three years ago, we came to a crossroads. We realized how easy it would be for us to drift apart if we were to both fully engage in separate careers. So after much prayer and discussion—and some yelling, too—we made the decision to combine our skill sets and passions to make my film work a joint effort. We wanted to participate with God out in this world—together.
All of this required of us to navigate some tough challenges. We needed to significantly downsize our lifestyle as we started out this venture. Kathi had to wrestle though a career reboot in her early fifties. We both have to receive the daily grace necessary to lovingly share our lives with each other virtually 24/7. Most of our friends think we’re crazy. Maybe they’re right.
KP: Our older daughter marvels that we work together. She claims that she and her husband would only last a week if they had to work together!
We live together, play together, work together, and travel together, so it’s a lot of togetherness. Thanks be to God, we have a vibrant and happy marriage. We both feel we started off on the right foot in college where we memorized scripture and prayed together. (Bob Jones University is a very conservative school, so we often talked instead of touched!) That is, we learned well how to communicate and love talking together.
It’s not that we always agree. Our skill sets complement each other’s, which helps, but sometimes we butt heads, especially when it comes to finances. We feel blessed that we’re both passionate about the same issues. We espouse different approaches at times to our projects, but we feel the give and take sharpens our work and our marriage. I love working with David.
Where do you see God’s hand in the work that you do? When have you been “caught worshipping” as you work?
DP: A significant part of my journey has been wrestling with the question: “How does the way I live out my faith contribute to making this world a better place?” For the years, I was on a church staff where my focus was about getting people to come to our [church] campus and encounter God. But as I began to dig into church and culture and church history, and take a closer look at the life of Jesus, I realized that this model was not only unsustainable, but it was missing the point of God’s mission. Jesus told his disciples to go, and as they are going, to preach the gospel. The faith culture of my upbringing was more focused of getting people to come to church, than on the getting the Church to “be the Church” out in the world.
Redefining my mission around this new understanding changed virtually everything for me. My personal mission statement is “serving people who care about things that matter to God so together we can change the world.” We are called to light in this world, but if the light isn’t out-and-about, penetrating the darkness, I believe we are missing the core essence of the Gospel.
Furthermore, if the Gospel is “Good News,” should it not have a message that is relevant to the more significant problems in our world? The good news is not just personal salvation but the restoration of all things.
My heart has been awakened by God to his good news and how it can speak life, hope, and peace into the issues of extreme poverty, violence, and preserving the environment, God’s creation. For me, if the good news I’m declaring to the world doesn’t address these types of issues, then I’m not fully participating in God’s Kingdom here on earth.
KP: In a lot of ways, I feel much of what we do is worship. My soul often swells with emotion when I am behind a camera shooting film or still images.
One of my major roles in pre-production is to conduct interviews while David is behind the camera. I get to sit face-to-face with some of the most amazing people in the world, people who have given their lives to serve and love others. I ask them questions, and they tell me their stories (so they don’t have to look right into the lens). I have laughed, cried, gotten goose bumps head to toe, and marveled not only at what God is doing through them in the world but also that I get a front-row seat. It’s when I feel most “in the zone” in our film-making.
Tell us why you think God cares about the work you do in film-making.
DP: When we provide glimpses in the lives of individuals and organizations that are making a difference for the least and lost in this world, we feel God’s pleasure.
For example, we recently created a 9-minute film about a man whose life had been negatively affected by hydraulic fracking in his community. This film was instrumental in motivating Shell Oil to build him a home and a different part of his property so the disruption in his life will be minimized.
In December 2012, I was in China working on a feature documentary on Chinese adoption. While filming at a government orphanage, we learned about a little girl whose adoption had just fallen through. We put up a short video clip on Facebook about her story, and through that, a family found this precious little girl and has been pre-approved to adopt her. This developing story is now part of a larger documentary.
Now we are currently creating two films, one in the Bronx, the other near Philadelphia, investigating the work of faith-based groups seeking to reduce gun violence. I feel like all the lights are on in my head when I can see the gospel of peace brought to bear upon tangible problems in urban environments.
We see our films as a way to directly participate with God’s will being accomplished here on earth as it is in heaven. The Prince of Peace can change the world through un-armed love.
KP: God is doing amazing things in this world, so often behind the scenes. The many people that act as his hands and feet often serve anonymously. We feel compelled to tell their stories, not so that they get kudos for their selfless acts, but so that the body of Christ can witness God’s mission being carried out, and as a result, be encouraged. We are bombarded with so much that is negative in the media. We feel our films are uplifting and that they offer hope.
We also feel compelled to bring to light the stories of those who are marginalized in this world with the hope that others will offer help in various ways. God cares about them, and we feel blessed to tell their stories.
What would you tell a young person entering this field of work who also wants to have their faith life and work be integrated?
DP: The film medium is such a powerful means to engage people. Even with all the technological changes in this world, people still love a great story. Never before has the opportunity for independent filmmakers been greater. Equipment gets cheaper and better all the time.
Social media has allowed anyone with a great story to find an audience. For example, we made a short film for some friends who adopted a child from China. We put it up on YouTube. Ten months later, nearly 50,000 people have watched it in over 100 countries. To gain that kind of international audience in the past would have cost a fortune; to reach small niches like this in a variety of countries was downright impossible.
Finally, funding films has also changed dramatically in the past five years. Through crowd funding, independent filmmakers can leverage their networks to seek a large number of angel investors through social media. Many filmmakers have raised over $50,000 with the average investment being around $70.
So we would tell a young storyteller and filmmaker to courageous engage their creativity and passion to use their gifts to shape the culture around them.
KP: It’s not an easy life. I remember David saying to me right after we got engaged, “If you marry me, life will never be normal.” Was he ever right! We are almost always on the go, living out of suitcases, shooting in crazy locations, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
It is amazing to consider that our faith life and our filmmaking are so closely integrated. It’s not that every aspect of what we do is wildly exciting, but we feel that we have a mission, one that that gives us a true reason to get out of bed every day.
Practically speaking, I would tell that young person to count the cost. The individuals and organizations we create films for are often either non-profits or have very little to invest in having their story told. We’re not in this for the money. We get by, but feel we’ll never get rich doing what we do.
What has inspired you, kept you going, has pointed you to the larger fabric of meaning, restored your hope?
DP: In 2007, I made the commitment to spend a year meditating on the four gospels, both reading and listening to the Bible on CD. Spending so much time with the gospels formed a hunger in me to reexamine my life through a Jesus lens. I was captured by the radical message of Christ like never before. It became apparent that I had molded my life around a rather sterile, institutional version of Christianity, rather than the simple, world-changing message of Jesus.
I was also deeply impacted by two particular books: Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus and Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Both underscored the powerful truth that love can truly overcome evil. And not just personal evil, but the injustices often created by the aggregate effects of our personal evil in our world – the structural evil. Our greed and opulence in the wealthy Western world has created a ripple effect of poverty elsewhere. Our quest for absolute security in the United States has caused innocent civilians in other nations to be crushed. Our fears and our obedience to our fears have led us to hide behind the power of military might rather than reaching out in the power of love.
Jesus demonstrated what true power is: it looks like Jesus on the cross. His message is that power is most clearly seen when we chose to lay it down. The Kingdom of the World is all about fighting back and building walls of protection, where the Kingdom of God is about turning the other cheek, tearing down walls, and breaking through cultural barriers, especially by refusing to use coercion to motivate change. As Jesus hung on the cross, he declared, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” He saw the people persecuting him as victims of a system where the solution was not to crush them with power, but to die for them with love. He lived out the story of love and the world has never been the same.
This beautiful truth drives me as a filmmaker. Tell simple yet powerful stories where the truth of love is undeniable. We can spend a lot of time and effort trying to prove to people that the message of Jesus is truth when the secret of changing hearts and lives is found in the way of Jesus. He constantly told stories that disarmed and sometimes confounded his audience. He prompted them to think, reflect, re-examine, thus evoking change from within. The only change he sought was change from the inside out. Could there be a better approach? Doesn’t the world need more storytellers imitating the greatest storyteller of all?
Perhaps Buckminster Fuller said it best, “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” As storytellers, our core passion is to tell the stories of people that are building that new model and to tell the stories in such a way that people will see the winsome, irresistible way of Jesus.
KP: I get to meet remarkable people doing remarkable things all over the world. Their lives inspire, enrich, and encourage me. When I start to feel sorry for myself, I ponder how much they’ve suffered and overcome, which often helps me to adjust my perspective. So many people we’ve met that have been through very difficult times have also been quite joyful, despite their circumstances. It makes my problems seem so much less significant.
I feel that what we’re doing has eternal value. We’re serving people and hopefully advancing God’s greater purpose in this world. If our films touch even one person’s heart or change one person’s life for the better, then it’s worth it.