Digital Nomad pastor inspires thousands with mission work in Ukraine and around the globe

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Digital Nomad pastor inspires thousands with mission work in Ukraine and around the globe

Profiles | Philippines | Maryellen Hacko, for ANN

With a camera in hand and big smile on his face, Jasper Ivan Iturriaga is not like your regular Pastor. Born and raised in the Philippines, Jasper has been living out of his suitcase for the past five years, traveling to more than 50 countries to make films and take photos for Adventist supporting ministries. 
Recently, ANN sat down with Jasper to talk about his recent visit to Ukraine, and talk outreach, discipleship and being a Christian creative. 

Tell us more about what your job entails

“I guess you could say I’m a digital nomad, but that’s really just a fancy way to say I’m homeless,” Jasper laughs. “In a nutshell, I travel around the world to make films and videos for different ministries that can’t afford or struggle to create content that will help them get online exposure and financial support. Organizations like Hope Channel and 3ABN get lots of support because they’re mainstream in the Adventist community, but you rarely hear of leper colonies in China run by Adventists, or the jungle schools in the Philippines. So that’s where you’ll find me.” 

“I’ve never been paid in five years. Often, I’m traveling with $100 in my account or couch surfing between friends’ houses,” he admits. “Right now, I’m working as a field coordinator for a ministry called Child Impact, who support vulnerable and impoverished kids around the world.”

[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]
[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]

What inspired you to make the decision to pursue your digital nomad lifestyle?

“I actually used to work as a pastor,” explains Jasper. “I finished my degree in theology, worked as an Amazing Facts evangelist for two years, and then as a local church pastor in Jakarta, Indonesia. I had about five years pastoral experience by the time I decided it wasn’t for me. I felt like I was always in a box. So instead of trying to think outside the box, I decided to remove it entirely.”

Despite his bubbly explanation, this wasn’t an easy decision for Jasper, as it went against his cultural upbringing and disappointed some of his family and friends. 

“In the Philippines, priests and pastors are highly regarded, it’s the highest calling,” he explains. “But it was a struggle for me, I often couldn’t sleep at night because I knew it wasn’t what God had called me to do. I felt like I was sustaining something that already existed, but not advancing the work.”

“I remember doing short videos in the Philippines and one went viral with 1.4 million views on Facebook. I thought, ‘I can reach more people here than just at church’, so I started to make short nature videos, and it progressed from there. I’d always loved photography and videography, so I left full-time ministry to explore where God would lead.”

What does an average day in your life look like?

“Besides Jetlag?” Jasper chuckles. “Well, I mean the videography and photography take up a large chunk of my time but living with locals is something I really enjoy and make a conscious effort to do.”

Jasper explains that when he’s asked to produce films and digital content, he tries to stay in each place for 3-4 weeks at a time. While this timeframe is usually beyond what’s necessary to complete each project, he says it helps him to really understand the culture, and therefore improves his filmmaking. 

“I also just want to connect with local people and share the love of Christ with them,” he says “Most of the time I live with the locals, I talk with them, I eat with them. I want to feel what they feel, to empathize with them.”

This decision to stay and embrace local cultures is Jasper’s very intentional attempt at mirroring Jesus’ approach to ministry. “I’ve done ministry where people are considered projects,” confesses Jasper. “Pastors and church members are thinking, ‘How can we baptize them and bring them into the fold?’ As a Church we love to go to the community, but rarely we spend time with the community.”

Which ministries have you been involved with around the world

“There’s so many, I’ll probably forget some,” Jasper begins. “There’s a leper colony ministry run by Adventists in China, and a ministry focused on rescuing young girls from female genital mutilation in Massai Mara, Kenya. In Zambia, I’m involved in a plan to rescue young girls from human trafficking and bring them to Riverside Farm, to enrol them in school.”

[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]
[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]

Jasper has also done humanitarian projects in Bolivia, been the creative director for Lineage Journey in Europe, helped build jungle schools in Papua, and in the Philippines. “We’re onto our second jungle school in the Philippines now. I guess you could say I’m a father to 120 jungle school kids!” he laughs.

Most recently, Jasper returned from a month-long trip to war-torn Ukraine, where he helped rescue women and children from danger, and took them on the 26-30 hour bus ride to Austria.

“Child Impact is the ministry I worked with in Ukraine. Even before the war, they were tackling human trafficking in the country—it’s really bad there. We thought maybe we could start a ministry to rescue Ukrainians to safety, so we started ‘Project Safe Passage’.”

Tell us more about Project Safe Passage and your time in Ukraine—what was it like?

“Project Safe Passage is a partnership between one of the top mattress companies in Austria, and a crazy guy called Johan,” laughs Jasper. “Johan buys old buses in Germany and sells them in Romania. When he arrived there, he saw the women and children refugees and realized he couldn’t go back with an empty bus. So he called the mattress company, and asked if he could bring them there. They said, ‘Bring as many as you can’. They’ve been doing this every week for months now.”

Having converted their large showroom into a safe-house, the refugees are able to sleep in very comfortable beds, take a shower and settle while their papers are processed through the Austrian government. They are then sent to local Adventist homes, where families host them and help them integrate into daily life. 

“We weren’t just putting them on a big bus and sending them off; we were sending them to be integrated. We’re not preaching to them, we’re living with them. If I’m not mistaken, they’ve rescued about 300 people now, plus they’ve sponsored food, psychiatrists and psychologists to help out.”

According to Jasper—who only left Ukraine a couple of weeks ago—the country is still being bombed in the south, and the ongoing conflict is having a huge toll on the mental health of Ukranian children.

“Seeing the statistics that ‘millions of people are fleeing’ is one thing, but when you’re with them, it hits different. Kids were telling me stories about their school principal getting shot, or their teachers being forced to walk on landmines by the Russians. One time we were eating in Germany, when the fire alarm near the fire station went off. The kids were asking me ‘is there a war here?’ in Google Translate. They are traumatized. So we’re sending in psychiatrists and psychologists to help the kids.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a digital nomad? And what do you find most fulfilling about it?

“There is no miracle in comfort. That’s my biggest lesson so far. I’ll always go back to the story of Peter walking on water. We often use him as a bad example—that if you lose sight of Jesus, you will sink. But Peter was the only one who was willing to step out of the boat. The only way we can ever experience miracles is to actually step out of the boat. What leap of faith is God calling you to right now?”

“The Bible says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’. It’s an experience,” he continues. “It’s not just a podcast that you listen to. It doesn’t have to be the same pulpit, choir, Sabbath school experience each time. It can be art, photography, videography, travel—so many things!”

[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]
[Photo Courtesy of Jasper Ivan Iturriaga]

What advice would you give to people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

“I don’t really encourage people to do what I do,” Jasper laughs. “I always just tell people to do what makes you feel alive. If art makes you feel alive, do that. If it’s music, do that. If it’s travel, do that. There are enough Christians living out their faith like it’s a chore. Vibrant Christians are attractive—they’re settled in their calling, even if it’s not financially secure or a “normal” lifestyle. Let them ask questions and be fascinated. The gospel is more powerful that way!” 

Jasper also advises young people to not get GAS. “That’s gear acquisition syndrome,” he laughs. “We’re in a generation—especially us creatives—where we always want better equipment. When I was first starting out, I was shooting films on my iPhone! 1.5 years later, I was featured in National Geographic five times. And I was absolutely stoked because there are millions of submissions there. If you are faithful with what you have, faithfulness always equals opportunities. David’s opportunity to fight Goliath wasn’t because he was better than others, but because he’d fought the wolves and guarded the sheep before. If you want to do more for God, start with what you have.”

What do you think the future holds for you?

“I’m not sure if I’ll go back to Ukraine. It’s a miracle I got there in the first place, I was told it was impossible so many times on my Visa. I’m heading to Italy in 2-3 weeks for Lineage Journey—then to Patmos, Rome and the Vatican. Then more projects in Africa, Myanmar, Burma and India. I’m not sure what will happen. I’d love to get married one day but I’m not sure anyone will keep up with me,” he laughs. “I guess I’ll settle down then. 

How can people support you?

The best way to support me is to donate to Child Impact—they are planning to sponsor 1000 kids in Africa and the Philippines right now. They’re also actively saving mothers and children from the Ukraine. They also support my jungle school! You can also follow me and show the love on my Instagram page @pstrjasper