It takes a book for Craig Martin to share where on Earth he’s been. It’s much easier to ask where he hasn’t been.
“I have not been to Antarctica,” said Martin, a director, filmmaker and former communications manager for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “High on the list is Afghanistan. And I haven’t been to the Philippines. People can’t believe that one.”
But Martin did write a book about some of the roughly 90 nations he has visited. His newly published Confessions of a Philanthropist shares his exploits documenting human triumph and suffering around the globe during 21 years with the IMB.
“Everybody told me I should write a book telling all these crazy stories of adventure,” he said. “The book is a collection of stories with a lot of the things I learned and also some of the funny stuff that happened along the way.”
While it took him years to write, publication was timed to coincide with the airing of “The Good Road,” a new PBS series created and hosted by Martin and fellow philanthropist Earl Bridges. The series showcases stories of human generosity and courage on multiple continents.
Confessions likewise includes a series of stories detailing human beings at their best and worst from Africa to Europe to Asia. Anecdotes range from the humorous to the horrific, always with Martin right in the middle of the action.
Its themes include the dangers of the white savior complex and paternalistic attitudes in mission work and the importance of humility in ministry to others.
“It means you have to care about people enough to engage them, to talk to them, to get to know them and understand them,” he said. “And this part is hard for me: you have to see everybody as your equal because we are all equal under Christ.”
Martin recalls an experience of witnessing genocide in the late 1990s in a remote part of Indonesia — and how he and his film crew were nearly caught up in the religiously motivated conflagration.
“I am in a hotel where there are bullet holes in the walls, so we are all nervous,” said Martin, who attends River Road Church, Baptist, in Richmond. “I called home to say, ‘Pray for us.’”
The decision was made to escape by boat, he explained. “But we can’t even hire a policeman to take us across the bay because they are so afraid. If the cops are afraid, we should be afraid.”
Martin recalls in the book how after managing to hire a boat, he and his crew came close to being killed while on it: “I did something I had never done before. I turned the video camera on myself and said a few last words of love and appreciation for my wife, Erika. In that moment, I really didn’t know if we would make it.”
But the team did make it, and arriving at the airport was a relief, he confessed. “I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the wheels of that commercial plane hit the runway.”
Martin faced other kinds of dangers — the potentially career-ending kind — during his time with IMB. He writes of being in a remote lodge in Argentina with a group of traveling Baptist pastors and missionaries: “It was the perfect place for a nice oatmeal stout, but these weren’t ‘drinkin’ Baptists.’ Me having a beer would have been a real problem for my job.”
Another common hazard was the ever-present language barrier.
“The oddities of trying to have a good conversation with someone who doesn’t speak your language have some universal similarities,” he explained. “You think if you just speak louder and more slowly and repeat yourself a ton, the other party will soon understand what you are saying.”
He recalled a group of locals trying to do just that on a boat in the Brazilian rain forest.
“They did not speak a lick of English, and I didn’t speak any Portuguese, so I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of piranha as every word they said just got louder and louder.”
It’s likely Martin will be gathering more stories to tell in the coming months as “The Good Road” has been cleared for a second season. That means he and Bridges will be focused on more domestic locations this time.
But there is one more spot he definitely wants to see: Antarctica.
“With ‘The Good Road’ we have talked about trying to get to McMurdo,” a U.S. research station on the icy continent, he said. “The show is about people who are making the world a better place, which includes issues of climate change. We all need to be thinking globally and locally.”