By David Ray Skinner
In the early 1990s, Michael Belk was at the peak of his life and career with success as head of his own fashion-advertising agency. It had been a long climb from his early days as a photographer in his late 20s. Yet, by the age of 40, he was jetting throughout the world—from the streets of Paris to the Australian Outback—creating images for clients that included J. Crew, Nautica and Christian Dior. He would be on a photo shoot on a beach in Hawaii on Monday and, then, be in a Midtown Manhattan boardroom for a meeting on Wednesday. The hectic pace was exhilarating and addictive. Yet, Michael felt something was missing.
Eventually, the breakneck lifestyle took its toll. Michael crashed—both mentally and physically—and found himself spiraling into a dark abyss. He was gripped by panic and fear. He couldn’t sleep and went AWOL from the work that he dearly loved. The harder he tried to climb out of the darkness, the deeper it became. Eventually, he realized that he could not resolve the dilemma on his own, and it was at this point, he heard God speaking to him.
“What now, Michael?” he heard God ask, “Do you want to continue on your highway, or do you want to give My path a try?”
Michael confessed that he had squandered much of his life and talents, and that he really didn’t have a clue as to how to run his life.
“Get some sleep,” the Voice told him, “I’ll stand watch for the night.”
When he awoke the next day, the world was not restored, nor was it all sunshine and roses. However, a change had occurred in Michael’s life, and he began a journey to really know and understand the Lord. Although, he’d grown up in church as a “comfortable pew Christian,” he realized that he didn’t know how to really seek God and where God was in his own life.
“Two thousand years ago, Jesus began to teach a revolutionary message about the nature and will of God and the eternal Kingdom of Heaven,” Michael says. “His journey was brief, ending in His brutal death just three years later at the age of 33. Yet, the purpose of His journey and power of His story have continued to profoundly impact (and to divide) mankind throughout history. What could one man say that would have such an impact? I wanted to find out.”
Over the next 20 years, Michael invested his time learning about God and His significance in the world. Gradually, Michael began to understand God’s role in the grand scheme of all things, and in particular, who and where He was in his own life.
In 2004, Michael opened a photo gallery in a Santa Rosa Beach, Florida resort. He thought the gallery could be a sanctuary for vacationers to visit for a moment of quiet. It was in this sanctuary where, again, the Voice began to speak to him, asking, “What if all of the images in these photos depicted messages of Christ?” Then, in 2006, Michael heard Bruce Wilkinson speak on his book, “The Dream Giver,” in which he talks about the dream that he believes God places on all of our hearts and how we remain restless until we uncover it.
At that moment, Michael realized that the dream God had placed on his heart was to create a collection of photos depicting the messages of Jesus—messages that he wanted to share with others. He wanted people not to fear Jesus, but passionately embrace Him, as Michael himself had done. It was as if all of his life, experiences, and abilities had led to this one defining moment. He wanted to create a project as revolutionary as the messages that Jesus taught.
“What if I die and have not created this project?” he asked his wife, Cheryl. “How would I explain it to God? Would I say, ‘I had good intentions, but just ran out of time?!’” They both knew the answer to the question. And so, Michael took that leap of faith, closed the gallery and began the journey to create “the Journeys.”
The path started at the ancient town of Matera, Italy, a village that Michael felt resembled first-century Jerusalem. The next few months would involve research and planning, and in October of 2008, production began on what would become the culmination of Michael’s dream, “Journeys with the Messiah,” a collection of fine art photographs that would depict the modern-day relevance of Jesus. Eventually, the collection would be bound into a coffee table book and, later, followed by an abridged version of the same. The actual production would take almost a year and ultimately cost five times what Michael initially estimated—but the end result is amazingly beautiful.
The stunning, sepia-toned photographic images of “Journeys” were created as a way to depict Jesus’ messages from a unique point of view that helps the viewer/reader see His relevance in their life. Although not all are derived from a specific scripture, they are all biblically sound and based on Jesus’ teachings.
All the images picture a first-century Jesus in a seemingly first-century setting and then are juxtaposed with a modern-day person and/or element. Some are subtle. Some, like “The Second Mile,” (which features Jesus walking with a WWII Nazi soldier) are very bold. These are powerful images that demand a reaction from the viewer. The question in “The Second Mile” is, “How do Jews ever forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust?” Michael reminds us that Jesus says that just as God forgives us, we are expected to do the same for others.
As for the books, DVDs, artwork and poster replications of the artwork, Michael’s marketing approach has been “grassroots…like the Gospels,” he says. Most sales come through the website or at personal appearances where he tells and presents his testimony and the story of “Journeys with the Messiah” through images and videos.
At any rate, this experience, his“Journey of ‘Journeys’” has changed Michael’s life in ways he never imagined…drawing him closer to the Lord. It has also touched the lives of many who have heard him speak and have seen these amazing images. For information on Michael Belk and his books, and to see a sampling of his photos, check out his website: www.JourneyswiththeMessiah.org.