The Words of the Owens Family

Photographing the True Family

Ken Owens
June 2013

For thirty-two years, I was truly blessed to be able to photograph our True Parents, in both their public and private lives. Beginning in 1980, with the help of Robert Davis, Hiromichi Shimoyama and New Future Photo, I was able to see our True Father as being the most serious, determined, wisest, funniest and most loving man I have ever met. I had so many wonderful (and a few nervous) moments with Father. I would like to share some of my experiences.

From the beginning, I helped photograph many of the great events, speaking tours and conferences that True Father organized. These included the International Conferences on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) in which scientific scholars were encouraged to focus on absolute values and the Assembly of the World's Religions and American Christian Leadership Conference, which brought together religious scholars and faith leaders to promote inter-religious harmony, something that no other man has been unable to do on a worldwide scale. In the political sphere, True Father invited ex-presidents, ex-prime ministers and former vice- presidents from dozens of the world's nations to the Summit Council for World Peace to discuss God-centered solutions to the world's problems.

A photograph of a drawing Father made to illustrate his thinking during a speech

When he would speak to the world's educators, such as at Professors World Peace Academy meetings, True Father would guide them toward ideas, systematically but firmly, that they may never have thought of before. True Father guided the Middle East Peace Initiative trips to Rome, Israel and Jordan, focusing world attention on helping bring the Israeli -- Palestinian conflict to a peaceful resolution. MEPI also, significantly achieved the historic coronation in which Jesus was crowned the king of kings.

At each of these events, True Father would speak to all the participants as if he were speaking to each one personally, inspiring them based on his revelation of the Divine Principle. At times, he would use a small piece of paper containing the important points he wanted to share with his guests. All the participants, no matter how well educated, powerful or well known, would sit there quietly, seemingly spellbound, listening and understanding every word True Father said. No matter how many times I photographed these events, in my heart, admiration and awe of True Father continually deepened.

Nevertheless, at times, I was anxious about our True Parents' safety. The tensest time was when a group of us was going to accompany True Parents into North Korea to visit Kim Il Sung. When we arrived in Beijing, we were told that the North Koreans wanted only the Korean contingent to enter the country with True Parents. True Father told us that he did not know what to expect and that he may not be coming back. Those of us that had stayed behind in Beijing were deeply worried for them. When they did return a week later, they appeared extremely happy as they left the plane, a slight snowfall sprinkled upon them. That night, we all sat on the floor of the hotel room and True Father, with a great big smile, showed us many of the photographs that he had brought back from North Korea.

Another harrowing time was at the Yankee Stadium Rally in 1976. The situation had become almost dangerous, but True Father still had to deliver his speech. I was assisting the main photographer, Michael Brownlee, in the stage area. Neil Salonen, then the church president, told me to follow True Father and Dr. Bo Hi Pak to the stage as extra security. All went well, but it was a very scary moment.

Ken Owens follows behind Father and Dr. Bo Hi Pak at the Yankee Stadium Rally. He had been asked on that occasion to serve as added protection for True Father in a volatile atmosphere than might become hostile.

Holy Matrimony

Over the years, I was able to photograph many matchings and blessings that True Parents performed. Whatever nationality the participants were, I could see True Father looked at people through God's eyes and brought them together in unity with God's heart. At the Blessing Ceremonies, the sparkle of love was in the couples' eyes. Only True Father could see and feel true love in each person and foresee what great people a couple's children would become.

Everyone Was Welcome

The First time I visited East Garden came about by accident. I was at Sunday service at Belvedere on Young Jin nim's birthday. True Mother had gone back to East Garden to make sure that all the arrangements for the birthday celebration were complete. Ye Jin nim stayed behind until True Father finished his sermon. At the end, True Father said, "Oh, today is my son's birthday. You are all invited to the celebration."

Ye Jin nim's mouth opened in shock. She immediately called True Mother saying, "Onuna, guess what Appa did! He just invited all two hundred members to East Garden for the birthday." What did True Mother do? She had McDonald's make lunches for everyone that came.

Exotic Locations

I had many personal experiences with True Father, such as the first time I saw him in Hawaii. He had a bright glow around him. At his great Madison Square Garden speech in 1974, the atmosphere was so chaotic that True Father asked if he could sing a song. The audience quieted to listen to him as he sang a beautiful Korean song. I also had the honor to accompany True Parents on their small plane during their fifty-state speaking tour of America. Being that close to them every day was a blessing -- very hard work -- but a great blessing.

While visiting Rio de Janeiro with True Parents and In Jin nim in the 1990s, we stopped at a beach. True Father saw a fisherman wearing a very small, nearly invisible, swimsuit, casting into the ocean. Father went to him, and through a translator, was able to borrow his fishing rod, to cast a few times into the ocean. So, there was True Father, with his pants rolled up to his knees, his bare feet in the ocean surf, with a big smile, standing alongside a scantily-clad fisherman, fishing from a beach in sunny Rio.

Ken Owens and others had been worriedly waiting in Beijing while True Parents were in North Korea. Ken was on hand to capture True Parents' ecstatic return from Pyongyang to Beijing in December 1991.

An Embracing Family

I have a pleasant memory of one of True Parents' anniversaries. During the ceremony, just before taking a picture of True Parents, I said, "Ah, honeymooners." To which Father quickly replied, "Yes, honeymoonerrrrrs!" Everyone laughed. They later asked me to come upstairs to take their passport photos. True Mother had given True Father a new jacket. She asked me to photograph them out on the balcony that overlooks the Hudson River. Afterward, they invited me to sit with them, Hyung Jin nim and Jeung Jin nim and have a snack. It was a quiet, personal moment with True Parents. It was special.

Dancing, a Work Hazard

After the joint Blessing Ceremony of Kwon Jin nim to Hwa Yun nim and Sun Jin nim to In Sup nim, I had to take various formal pictures of the brides and grooms with True Parents and the in-laws. The Manhattan Center, rather than providing me with a ladder, had me climb up a shaky scaffold to get a better angle for the photographs. True Father, wanting to make it a joyous experience, and seeing me in a scary predicament, yelled, Dance! With camera in hand and hundreds of people watching, I began swiveling and dancing atop the unstable platform. Everyone was laughing and clapping and True Parents had big smiles on their faces. I, too, was smiling, so no one guessed how scared I was dancing for True Parents at that moment.

Interaction of Love and Beauty

Most importantly, I would see how much love he had for True Mother, his children and the members that had followed him for many years. Even though he did not see his children as much as he may have wanted, he loved them dearly. I had a dream in which True Father sat on a balcony as thousands of people watched. He was holding his newly born son. He would play with him, and when he held him in the air, people would cheer and loudly applaud. This happened many times. A few hours after I woke up, True Mother gave birth to Hyung Jin nim.

Losing a Child

The most difficult moment I had photographing True Parents was during Heung Jin nim's Seunghwa Ceremony at Belvedere. Robert and I thought True Parents had gone to Korea for the ceremony there, but when I arrived at Belvedere, they were sitting on the floor next to the offering table. It was a very emotional time, quiet and somber. True Mother and her daughters had tears in their eyes. Seeing True Mother's face through a telephoto lens was heart wrenching. True Father said he could not shed any tears during the ceremony for special reasons. Yet, when I looked through the lens, I could see the sparkle of tears in the corner of his eyes. I had to record the event, but it was very painful see them so sad. It was very difficult for me to see through the lens with tears in my eyes.

When True Father spoke to members, he would be very serious in conveying God's heart and the Divine Principle to help members understand. Sometimes he even scolded them, so that they could become better people. At many other times, he would tell jokes to see them happy. Regardless, his love for us never changed. He wanted all of us to do our best.

Through the years, I came to realize that True Father was more than a leader, or even more than the Messiah. I came to feel him to be my real father, my real parent. I had a revelation from God in 1976 about how we should feel about True Father. God expressed his heart:

Now, my son is with you. Only he can show you how my heart really feels. He knows me so well, because he knows how I feel, and how all of you feel. Please look to him. Please listen to him. Please feel him. When you see him, you see me. When you hear him, you hear me. When you feel him, you feel me. When you cry with him, you cry with me. He is your father. You are his children. But, I am his Father, so all of you are my children.

Photographing our True Parents for so many years was a great honor and privilege. However, my greatest joy was being able to make our True Father happy, especially when I said, "Smile please," in my funny Korean. 

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