Australian Christian Channel
WIN News Australia
Every filmmaker hopes that their work will be successful and reach a worldwide audience. That’s a hope that has come true for Christian documentary maker Simon Ives, for his award-winning film Milk and Honey, as he explains to Jen Vuk.
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As a first-time documentary maker, why did you want to make this particular story?
We have our own organisation in Cambodia, the English School and Community Centre, and Milk and Honey tells the inspiring story of a young Australian couple, Dan and Renuka Brooker, who are now running it.
The film articulates our vision in a way that would have been impossible to do as an outside observer. There are some beautiful moments in Milk and Honey that are glimpses of the future, and for me making the film helped clarify our vision and strategies. It’s also personal, as Renuka is my wife’s sister.
What’s the story behind the title?
The name Milk and Honey is a reference to the wilderness in Exodus, and the idea of a promised land. For many, Cambodia is a wilderness, but our vision is to see Cambodians discover God’s promises, and their own land of milk and honey.
There’s a lot of work to do, in a country that’s still scarred from war and genocide. We’re currently focused on developing internship programs for volunteers, short-term mission trip experiences and growing the team of long-term volunteers in Cambodia. Doing that gives us more capacity to inspire our Cambodian staff and students to find creative ways to make a difference in their community.
What challenges did you face in making the film?
The fact that I had no crew or team, and had to do everything from shooting, sound and editing, and all the other tasks involved with producing an hour-length film, made it a huge undertaking. I know it was God’s strength that enabled me to work full-time during the day, and edit through the night for six months in order to complete the film. There were plenty of times I felt overwhelmed, but I was determined to finish.
What do you think is Milk and Honey’s greatest strength?
Its approach of empowering middle- to upper-class Cambodians to use their influence, education and potential to deal with social issues such as poverty and corruption in their own country. Teaching English is just the initial point of connection and community, and it gives us the opportunity to foster creativity and initiative among our students, build relationships and lead them into an authentic relationship with Jesus. The really exciting part is seeing what they accomplish as a result.
How has winning the ‘Most Inspirational Documentary’ at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando, US changed your life?
Before we made the documentary, we tried to run the organisation our way, with our own resources and our own ideas. My wife and I were exhausted; we had run out of funds and ideas and had very little support.
Despite feeling this way, we felt compelled to make the film, and two weeks later we were on a plane to Cambodia to shoot. Receiving this award feels like God saying, ‘See what I can do, when you surrender control to me, and do things my way?’ The outcome from the film festival is distribution of the documentary in the United States and Canada, which gives the film massive exposure.
What would you do differently if there’s a next time?
Logically there’s a lot I would do differently, like working with a crew, a plan and a decent budget. There’s no right way to do this, no formula, and another film would probably be a different experience. I just want to continue to do things God’s way.
What’s next on your horizon?
My horizon is seeing more of the Milk and Honey vision fulfilled, and having people watch the film on our website, www.milkandhoney.asia.
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Australian Simon Ives, along with his wife Kamini, is the founder of charity Milk and Honey which works to empower Cambodians to tackle social issues through community projects, using English classes as a point of connection. He’s also made his first film, Missions in the Wilderness: Milk and Honey Cambodia, which recently won the ‘most inspirational documentary’ award at the International Christian Film Festival in the US. The 35-year-old, based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, speaks with DAVID ADAMS about why he made the film, his work with Milk and Honey and the role his Christian faith has played in both…
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Congratulations on your recent win any the Christian Film Festival in the US. What does winning such an award mean to you?
“It’s humbling, and completely unexpected, as this was my first film, but for me it means greater exposure for the film, for our work in Cambodia, and also more people being inspired and educated about cross-cultural ministry.”
What is the film about?
“It’s a one hour documentary about our organisation in Cambodia called Milk and Honey. It tells the inspiring story of Dan and Renuka Brooker, a young Australian couple who are now running our English school and community centre in Cambodia.”
Why did you decide to make it?
“It was a spontaneous ‘God Idea’, at a time when we were really struggling to keep the ministry going. My wife and I were exhausted, we had run our of funds and ideas, and had very little support. Despite feeling this way, we knew it was a God idea, and two weeks later we were on a plane to Cambodia to shoot for two weeks.”
What was the ‘journey’ of making the film like?
“It was extremely challenging; my wife and I both got severe fevers when we arrived in Cambodia, and the team there that we were filming and interviewing were also really sick. My wife ended up in hospital, unable to walk. We found out later that the reason our daughter (now two-year-old Elysabeth) couldn’t sleep was because she had an inner ear infection, that made lying down painful. So we were all sick, and none of us had any sleep, but we knew this was God’s assignment for us, so we pushed through and filmed anyway, and captured some beautiful and significant moments. We returned home with over 20 hours of footage, and I spent the next six months working full time as a marketing manager during the day and editing the film through the night.”
Tell us a bit about Milk and Honey (and why the name ‘Milk and Honey’)?
“Milk and Honey is an organisation focused on strategically empowering middle to upper class Cambodians to address social issues such as poverty and corruption. We start with high quality English classes for all ages, which helps build relationship, connection, and community. We work with students on community projects, like a community garden to provide fruit and vegetables for the poor, for example. Along the way, we are having a Godly influence on people and families that have education, influence, position and huge potential to make an impact on the nation of Cambodia in a way that would be impossible for those in poverty. The name Milk and Honey is a reference to the wilderness in Exodus, and the idea of a promised land. For many, Cambodia is a wilderness, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but our vision is to see Cambodians discover God’s promises, and their own land of Milk and Honey.”
What led you and your wife Kamini to found the charity and what were your backgrounds prior to doing so?
“In high school we were taken on short term trips to developing countries, and that opened our eyes to poverty and hopelessness, and amazing role models at the same time. The seeds were planted in us to do more of this work, and after we got married, we continued to volunteer overseas every chance we got. We thought we would become full time missionaries on the field, but that was not where God wanted us, so we continued to operate our small business as photographers in Australia. We never let go of the desire to do something really significant for God overseas. Milk and Honey started after Kamini’s sister Renuka married Dan, and our vision to work in Cambodia resonated with them. They responded by moving to Cambodia to become missionaries, and Milk and Honey was born. Our role is to support them from here in Australia, so their amazing work can continue. You can learn more about how it all unfolded in the documentary.”
“We had been to many countries on short term missions visits, but Cambodia felt like the most intense, broken place we had ever been to, and it made an impact on us, and we couldn’t stop thinking about it after we left. It has a horrific history of war, genocide, and outside occupation. We felt compelled to do something there.”
“It started with God giving us that desire to make a real difference, and then being willing to explore how and where we could do that.”
Obviously your Christian faith has been instrumental in that journey?
“It started with God giving us that desire to make a real difference, and then being willing to explore how and where we could do that. We have never had enough money, connections, or resources to do what we’re doing…but God has sustained this work because we’re learning to trust in his provision and protection every step of the way.”
The charity is also a registered church in Cambodia. How does the interplay between church/charity work?
“The church licence is preparation for church being established, as Cambodia is a Buddhist country with strict regulations about religious gatherings. For now we’re starting with simple discipleship with key Cambodians, who we believe will be the ones to establish the church in the way that God reveals to them to do so. Local people need to have ownership of the local church, and it needs to be their own expression of worship that’s culturally natural and authentic for them, so we’re hesitant to impose Western church culture or rituals.”
Was the film a “one-off” or are further films coming?
“Alex Kendrick, who produced and directed the film War Room, spoke at the film festival, and one piece of advice he gave that stuck with me was that for a film to work it can’t just be a good idea…it needs to be a ‘God idea’. It’s good advice. Never say never, but I’ll be very hesitant to tackle such a huge project like this on my own if there is a next time! I loved the process, but it’s a huge challenge. “
What do find the best – and most challenging – things about your work with Milk and Honey?
“There is always financial need, and the need for long term volunteers to help Dan and Nuka handle the huge workload in Cambodia. The best things are also the most challenging things, because when you see huge challenges overcome, it’s incredibly fulfilling. There is nothing better than seeing Cambodians learn, grow, take responsibility, take initiative, work together, lead, and become more Christlike in their values and conduct. Success is not about what we achieve, it’s what they achieve, and more than that, it’s about who they become along the way.”
What’s the greatest lesson God has taught you throughout this whole journey with Milk and Honey?
“Not to lean on our own understanding, and not to operate in our own strength. His ways are higher than our ways.”
The award-winning film Missions in the Wilderness: Milk and Honey Cambodia can be watched for free at www.milkandhoney.asia.
IN SHORT – SIMON IVES
A Bible verse that’s influenced me…
Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.”
A song that’s inspired me…
Crazy Faith has been our theme lately, from the movie War Room, which is about the power of prayer.
A person whom I admire…
Mentor, chaplain, missionary, teacher, and friend Allan Taylor, who tragically passed away in a car accident. He made the most of the time he had.
Read the original article at Sight Magazine
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