Meet Skyler Russell '13, Photographer and Adventure-Seeker

by Bethany Wagner

From the wild bush country of Tanzania to the frigid waters of Alaska to the hectic bustle of downtown Los Angeles, biblical studies major and skilled photographer Skyler Russell ’13 traverses the globe, capturing his adventures through the lens of his camera and firmly trusting in God while embracing risk.

With the exception of six years living in Pasadena, Russell grew up in Kenya and Tanzania with missionary parents who work for Wild Hope International. His father trained local pastors, while his mother worked with African women and homeschooled her four children. Russell played soccer with local kids at a soccer club, learning the Swahili language and sharing Christ by building relationships. This immersion in both American and African cultures fostered in Russell an open mind and an ability to understand people from all walks of life.

“Having grown up overseas, I understand different cultures and value people’s unique perspectives which helps me relate to others,” said Russell.

Russell uses a passion discovered in middle school—photography—to connect with people. His love for photography began in Tanzania and continues today. “Photography is a way to capture those beautiful moments in time that appear and then disappear so quickly,” he said. “There is something really important about paying attention to the beauty around you. I think it is a form of worship.”

After finishing high school, Russell took his camera to Southern California to attend Azusa Pacific University. On impulse, he applied to APU’s High Sierra Semester and spent fall 2011 studying near Yosemite National Park, backpacking in the wilderness, rock climbing, and further developing his passion for adventure.

“I just go for whatever God brings my way. That’s how He guides me. Whenever I trust Him, He opens new, exciting doors.”

“My friends know me as a crazy, wild kid who loves the outdoors,” said Russell, who, after hearing stories from his cousin about salmon fishing in Alaska, spent summer 2011 doing just that. Working on a fishing boat and living on Kodiak Island in Alaska, Russell lived his entire summer completely off the grid with no Internet, computer, or cell phone. The work was hard, and at times, dangerous.

“We were in small skiffs and encountered 10-foot swells and 60-miles-per-hour winds,” said Russell. Sometimes sharks would get caught in the fishing nets, and he and his fellow workers would have to free them, narrowly avoiding injuries.

The 4 months of 14-hour workdays brought much sweat and satisfaction “It felt good to work hard and gain a sense of accomplishment,” he said.

The following fall, Russell traded the Alaskan wilderness for the loud, fast-paced life of Los Angeles as part of APU.

Moving from a quiet place where spending time with God and others was a natural part of life to a city constantly in motion was a difficult transition. “Spiritually, I was definitely in a dark valley,” said Russell. “But I also learned the most during my time in LA. I realized how important it is to make time with God and be in intentional community with others, especially when life is moving quickly around you.”

Another exciting opportunity surfaced last summer when a friend shared about a study abroad opportunity in Israel. Always up for a new adventure, Russell responded with, “Sounds fun, I want to do that.”

In June, Russell traveled to Israel to take an intensive biblical Hebrew course through Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Students learned one year of biblical Hebrew in just five-and-a-half weeks.

“Hebrew is a hard language,” said Russell, who taught himself the Hebrew alphabet on the plane ride to Israel. “It still takes me about an hour to translate 10 verses. Even though it is tedious to read a Hebrew Bible, I am blessed to be able to read Scripture in the language in which it was originally spoken, and I never read my Hebrew Bible without pausing first to thank God for this amazing opportunity He gave me.”

Now back in Azusa, Russell works as a photographer for APU’s University Relations office, using his camera to capture campus life. He looks forward to graduating this May. Not knowing what the future holds, he trusts God will present more thrilling adventures.

“My dream job would be working as a photographer for National Geographic,” said Russell. “But I just go for whatever God brings my way. That’s how He guides me. Whenever I trust Him, He opens new, exciting doors.”