Joy in Suffering

By Jay Walker
Portraits of Hope True Africa

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3b-5

David and I were once in Austin, eating dinner before photographing a Beard Competition, and we were discussing mutual friends’ art and how each of them were doing their best work from the outflow of their own worldview and experience. David asked me what I thought of his work in those terms.

I told him he was a master of his craft and was always looking to improve himself. Looking back at his early work, I could see over the years how he had continually developed what he could do with lighting and a camera. He also had that thing you can’t teach; the ability to give a representation of his subject that had a transcendence of his medium (photography), which I can see in his later work, but it is also present in his early work.

For a lot of his career, David worked as an advertisement photographer, shooting a lot of products, lifestyle shoots, and portraits for corporations, which he did all over the world. Between those gigs, he sought to photograph what he considered to be fantastic sub-cultures: mimes, Coney Island sideshowfreaks, roller derby girls, competition beardsman, etc,. He loved people living outside of cultural norms, who weren’t being paid much for what they were doing, but had passion for their niche pastime.

So when David asked me about my thoughts on his work I had a large range of photographs to consider, but at his artistic core, there was nothing more crucial to his narrative than his work for True Africa.

David was a man that suffered. I don’t want to get into the details, but his death from cancer at the age of 44, was just the final straw of life marked by hardships. Through his suffering, David was a man of character, never allowing himself the luxury of modern laziness, but also a man of joy and celebration. He was one of the hardest working people I ever met and he drank deeply from the Joys of the Lord.

When I look at David’s photographs of people destitute, stricken with poverty and pestilence, who live a life of extreme societal brokenness, I don’t see bitterness, nor pain, nor cries of injustice, but of endurance, character, hope, and a freedom from shame. David, while living in another financial stratosphere by being a moderately successful American, was able to identify with those people’s present suffering. Instead of shooting from a place that exploits their situation or looks down upon them, he was able to communicate their heart, and his heart, that is being regularly filled with God’s Love by his Holy Spirit. In my opinion, as an artist, there is no higher achievement.

Why should you own True Africa? The same reason I do, because it is a great artifact of a Godly man, who identified with the Man of Constant Sorrow and his fellow hurting man, and wanted to give to people by sharing his God given talent. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Editor's Note: Only two signed copies of True Afria left. Go to our store and choose the signed copy option.

Remembering David Sacks

By Doug Hayes
Ethiopia Portraits of Hope True Africa Uganda Zambia

David Sacks’ connection with Covenant Mercies began in January 2003, when he providentially visited my home church (and CM’s founding church, Covenant Fellowship) on the Sunday I was introducing our Orphan Sponsorship Program for the very first time.  David and I had been friends since we were schoolboys, but he was living in New York at the time and I was surprised to see him that Sunday morning.  He approached me after the service, signed up to sponsor a child, and told me he wanted to travel to Uganda with me (at his own expense) to give us the quality photos we needed to promote our cause.  David was already a world class photographer by then, and I’m no dummy.  Within three months we were on a plane bound for Uganda together. 

As we’d talk in the evenings on that April 2003 trip, I can vividly recall David’s excitement about the images he was capturing.  Though we couldn’t see them yet (this was still a year prior to his conversion to digital equipment), David believed he was capturing something unique.  Perhaps exhibit-worthy.  Perhaps of value beyond the brochure and web applications we’d originally had in mind.  As we talked and imagined what might lie ahead, the seed was planted for an event that would ultimately become a treasured fundraising tradition in Covenant Mercies, Portraits of Hope

In all, David’s five trips to Africa would lead to six Portraits of Hope exhibits and more than $300,000 raised toward our mission, ultimately culminating in the 2012 publication of True Africa, a photo book comprised exclusively of our Portraits of Hope images.  We were hoping to return to Africa together later this year, but it was not to be.  On Friday evening, April 12th, David went home to be with the Lord after a 1 ½ year battle with cancer.  He was two months shy of his 45th birthday. 

David is survived by his beloved wife Angie and their four young children, and I’d like to ask everyone who loves Covenant Mercies to pray for this dear family.  They are surrounded by an abundance of love and support, but no amount of support can take away the sorrow they feel right now.  Less than an hour before David took his last breath on this earth, I had the unspeakable privilege of telling him that in addition to his own children, his legacy includes the thousands of children whose lives he has touched through his generosity toward Covenant Mercies.  Whatever the Lord does through the lives of those children will accrue toward his reward.  Though he has left us too soon, how sweet it is to know that he’s receiving that reward now.

For several years David and I had a running joke about his desire to be given an African name.  I told him I couldn’t allow it because I’d worked hard for mine, performing numerous feats of African-ness like eating bugs, taking an authentic African bath, etc.  Though David was never averse to performing such feats himself, I insisted that it would take him more than a couple of trips to earn his name.  On our fifth trip in 2009, I finally relented and informed him that he had earned his name.  After polling our friends in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zambia for their suggestions, I finally settled on the name that fit him best.  We decided to call him Mapalo, which means “blessing.” 

David Sacks was indeed a blessing.  And though he is no longer with us, the blessing of his life lives on and will never be forgotten.

The Wall Street Journal Review of True Africa

By Liz Wann
True Africa

There’s nothing like being talked well of, especially if it’s by The Wall Street Journal. The prestigious New York based publication wrote a review online this past Friday that appeared under Books & Ideas.

The review compared David Sacks, True Africa, to Charles Dickens literary masterpieces Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. The reviewer, Balthazar Korab says,

“A certain Dickensian sentimentality is unavoidable in portraits that show children facing down hard times with serenity and smiles, like that of a boy in a school uniform playfully leaping in front of a peeling but colorful mural of Africa.”

Korab captures a unique perspective of the photographs in Uganda, Zambia, and Ethiopia. Be sure to read the rest of his review and purchase a copy of the book on Covenant Mercies website.

True Africa

By Doug Hayes
True Africa


Last month at our Portraits of Hope event, we had the joy of celebrating the release of True Africa, a coffee table book comprised exclusively of David Sacks’ Portraits of Hope photography.  I had the privilege of writing the Foreword for the book, in which I tried to express my appreciation for both the photographer and his subject matter.  Here is an excerpt:

When I began traveling to Africa in 2002, I sensed a dissonance in my soul that I couldn’t shake.  I wasn’t quite able to put my finger on it at first, but over time I came to realize what it was.  In my life up till then, the images I had seen, and the news stories I had heard, had conditioned me to view this continent and its people almost exclusively through the lens of calamity.  Famine, starvation, disease, poverty, war; these were the themes I had patched together to form my view of Africa. 

But when my feet actually hit the ground there, my experience clashed radically with my preconceptions.  Encounters with a wide variety of African people left me unable to ignore the pervasive poverty with which they coexist, yet far more conscious of their beauty, their dignity, their generous hospitality, and their joy in the midst of profound hardship.  Extreme poverty is an assault on human dignity, but at the end of the day the former is no match for the latter.  Dignity can be obscured, beaten down, and dressed in tatters, but its essence remains.  If you are perceptive, you will see it.    

David Sacks is more than perceptive.  He is a master at drawing this beauty, dignity, and joy out of his subjects.  He mines for this treasure relentlessly as he works, and he usually finds it because he knows it is there. With conviction and genuine love, he refuses to believe his subjects are defined by the outer shell of their adversity.  As a result, his lens delivers a priceless gift to us.  I am proud to have played a small role in the publishing of these images, because I believe they honor their subject matter and render a worthy depiction of the True Africa I have come to know and love. 

You can purchase your own copy of this beautiful book at  It may be the most expensive book you ever buy (it was for me!), but I trust it will also be among the most rewarding; not only for the beauty of its pages but also for the knowledge that lives are being changed through the funds it helps us to raise.