Since moving to Branson in the late 90s, I’ve always been struck by the dissonance that exists between the facade of the town & the reality of what Branson is. Up and down the highways leading into this bustling tourist town, the rolling green Ozark hills are littered with massive billboards of air-brushed people promising you an escape from your mundane life as you enter a flag-waving, family-friendly, Christian utopia. But for many of us who live in the area, we know that the novel experiences that Branson offers come at the expense of the seasonal workers who have moved to town with the hopes of starting a new life for themselves.
Many of these workers who wait tables, bus dishes, run concessions, & clean the theater aisles aren’t paid enough to cover their rent when the tourist season tapers off, so they end up getting evicted from their apartments (which revokes their eligibility for future residency) and are forced to move into weekly stay hotels. It’s very easy for this transition to spiral downward, as the hotels are often glossed over by tourists and locals alike as places where “lazy people live” who “would be just fine if they chose to work.” But when you’re providing for an entire family with whom you share a single room hotel room, in a town that has given huge tax breaks to new businesses and timeshare developments while it withholds funding from social welfare programs and public transportation, it is almost impossible to find your way out.
Elevate Branson, formerly known as Jesus Was Homeless, has been working diligently for years now to build relationships with Branson’s working poor. They deliver meals to the weekly stay hotels every Thursday night and include crucial resource information to offer practical solutions to the complexity facing families stuck in cycles of poverty. The plight of the lower class often causes people to look away because it makes us feel uncomfortable. All too often this discomfort that is alleviated by reductionist narratives of how “laziness or addiction must be the reason why they are where they are.” The goal of this series is to move the viewer’s imagination away from the notion of “poverty” as mere data and to draw our gaze directly towards the faces of our brothers and sisters in our community who each have a story to tell. This series chronicles 5 months of visiting Branson’s weekly stay hotels and getting to know my neighbors, so that I -so that we - may have eyes to see the Image of God in those whom our broken culture deems unworthy.