Caleb Haakenson did not produce a video until he arrived at Union College, but his growing creativity with a camera and passion for evangelism helped him develop the winning entry in Adventist Mission’s recent My Story, My Mission international film contest.
The contest challenged young people around the world to creatively express what mission means in their lives through a one-minute film. As the winner, Haakenson, a junior marketing major at Union, will produce a Mission Spotlight film on location for Adventist Mission sometime next year. He also received the Judges Choice Award, which came with an additional prize: a Ricoh Theta SC Spherical camera.
The journey to finding a calling
Although the Missouri native was drawn to Union College for the extensive leadership opportunities, Haakenson never imagined that pursuing them would lead to his traveling around the world producing videos for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“I never made a video before coming to Union,” he said with a laugh, “and I never felt called to pastorship, but I wanted to be a Bible teacher.” Yet, everything fell together in a whirlwind of adventure. Only one year after joining Union College, Haakenson embarked on a course that would change his life.
From July 2016 to June 2017, Haakenson served as a student missionary in Pohnpei, Micronesia, where he taught Bible to freshmen, sophomore, and junior high schoolers. “The school had no curriculum set up … only Bibles,” Haakenson said, “so I created my own lesson plans.” This immersive hands-on experience allowed him to build deep relationships with the kids he taught, and he began filming bits and pieces of his day-to-day interactions with them and the surrounding environment. These videos catapulted him into a career as a videographer.
While out on the town with some friends, an Indigenous Roots Clothing Co. employee recognized Haakenson from his YouTube videos of Pohnpei. The young missionary was asked to create media to promote the company, and everything took off from there.
With a passion for videography and media, Haakenson soon found himself immersed in opportunities after his return to Union, including working as a freelance producer for Union’s Integrated Marketing Communications office.
“In September 2017, I wanted to go with the international rescue and relief program to Texas to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, but I couldn’t go since I’m not an IRR student,” he said. “So I spoke with IRR director Rick Young and offered to provide a documentary service of their experience.” Haakenson made the trip, serving as chaplain for the 23 Union students and instructors while creating a short promotional video and a longer-form documentary of the trip.
Then, last summer, he served as an intern at the Iowa-Missouri Conference, helping produce and edit video content.
Just weeks into the 2018-19 school year, a friend recommended Haakenson to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency for a two-week film project in Kenya. He made the trip, producing a yet-to-be-released documentary focusing on the challenges Kenyan women face getting an education.
Meanwhile, Haakenson condensed material he had filmed throughout his mission experiences and submitted My Story Continues to the My Story, My Mission contest before taking off for Kenya. In the contest, a panel of judges selected four finalists, and the winner was chosen by public vote.
As Haakenson waited in the airport for a flight home from Kenya, he was able to access the internet, only to discover that he was one of the four finalists. With just four days left in the voting, he posted his video and the poll to his social media channels, and his Union College family responded. Professors shared it at a chapel service and in classes, and friends shared the video across the internet. By the time the voting ceased, Haakenson and close to doubled the tally of the second-place contestant.
“Being able to share my passion in evangelism via a media outlet is the perfect combination,” he said, recognizing that his dream has been realized because of God’s leading and his choice in schools. “Union has an amazing understanding of how we pursue our paths, and my professors have been flexible because they understand the power of hands-on experiences in shaping an individual’s calling.”
Check out more of Haakenson’s work on his Youtube channel.