DRAYTON, N.D. — The first time he uploaded a video online, Nate Aufenkamp, only 13 and in eighth grade, was hooked.
“I liked seeing people’s reactions when they saw my videos,” says Aufenkamp, now 25. “The laughs, the shaking of heads, those kinds of things; I enjoyed making people feel something.”
Even now, whenever he posts on Facebook or YouTube, Aufenkamp calls his siblings or friends and has them watch while remaining on the phone.
“I’ll listen to their reactions, and just from that, I can usually tell what part they’re at.”
“It started off pretty goofy and fun,” says his mother, Bev, of his earliest videos, “but we could see his creativity and his imagination, and that he had talent.”
After using her camera initially, Aufenkamp saved $50 and bought his own.
Later, Aufenkamp studied communication with a cinema-arts emphasis at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif., where he created “My Favorite Superhero” about a son’s love for his dad.
“It was very typical of a first film,” he says, but allowed him to hone his skills.
After working as a production assistant for Trinity Broadcasting Network in Tustin, Calif., in 2016 during his senior year, Aufenkamp graduated and spent several years freelancing and working at a coffee shop. But eventually he realized, “I’d reached an impasse.”
He headed back to North Dakota, and though reacquainting with cold weather, Aufenkamp found himself surrounded by the warmth and richness of unafraid dreamers.
“It’s one of the things I love about my family. They have ambitions, and what a lot of people wouldn’t go toward, they’re not afraid of, including callings,” he says.
All his siblings — two brothers and a sister — are pastors, following in the footsteps of their father, Leroy, and many ancestors on both sides. Additionally, his brother Lucas, a Bible camp administrator, has authored three books; sister Lindsey Culver and her husband, Brandon, are “evangelists who travel the country in the RV” with three kids under age 5. And Matt, who works in administration at a Bible college, aspires to be a comedian.
This past October, Aufenkamp started Nate’s Movies, a film and video production company, and in November released its first film, a project near to his heart.
“Faithfulness” shares the lives of his parents who’ve remained for nearly 40 years in the same place — a rarity these days — and how they’ve fared, by faith, leading Fleece Assembly of God Church in Drayton, through feast and famine.
“I wanted people to be able to see my parents the way my siblings and I do,” he says.
The film includes interviews with many who’ve been impacted by this couple who, preaching God in a town of 700, never gave up and now have a flourishing congregation.
“There have been multiple people Dad has brought to the faith on their deathbeds, at the beginning of their lives and in the middle,” Aufenkamp says, noting that relationship is key. “My parents have planted the seeds and also harvested the crops,” all the while raising four children and maintaining a united, cohesive marriage, he adds.
Bev says though the kids, growing up, “didn’t always get the newest toy or trendiest clothes, they look back on those years and see just that we had fun.” This reality helped them infuse a sense of adventure into their family. Instead of Disney World for summer vacation, they’d visit the Nebraska farm where Leroy was raised.
“The kids would go down in the barn, and there would be a rope they’d swing on and jump in the hay,” Bev says. “It was so simple, but even now, they can’t wait to go back.”
In those humble beginnings, she adds, “I always wanted to instill in them that they could be or do whatever.”
Aufenkamp says his father, a humble man, offered plenty of inspiration, too, in preaching even if from a wheelchair with a broken hip, reaching out to the needy in the hospital, writing a weekly column for the local newspaper, farming in all weather and never giving up on his flock.
“All those years of farming, it required steadfastness, determination and patience,” Leroy explains. “In high school, on the farm, there were a lot of years we had terrible droughts, but you kept pressing on. That helped in the ministry; it’s something my mother and father taught me.”
Leroy was only around 10 or 11, he says, when he remembers “very clearly the presence of God, and being greatly moved,” during an altar call. “I just never wanted to leave that.” And while he can’t explain what drew him to hospital visits, he’s appreciated the conversations.
“It’s important to be prepared for when we leave this world and go off into eternity,” he says. “We need to make sure we’re ready to stand before God.”
Both Leroy and Bev, while shy about being featured in their son’s film, are proud of him. “I felt a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t discourage him,” Leroy says.
Bev says though she knew her son was working on something important, she had no idea they were at the center. “When he’s on his computer, I’m not always sure what he’s working on, so it was very much a surprise,” she says. “I was very moved at how he saw us, and just the different people he had in it.”
Aufenkamp hopes to produce one film a year to start, supplementing his filmmaking with video work for churches and other organizations.
Explaining his motivation, beyond loving watching films himself, Aufenkamp shares: “People once asked Jerry Seinfeld, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ He responded by saying, ‘Because I can’t hear people’s laughter.’”
To view “Faithfulness,” go to https://www.youtube.com/user/natesmovies. Learn more about the business at NatesMovies.com.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 12, 2019.]