Eugene Cho

Don’t escape. Sit in this pain. Recommit to the work of peacemaking. [Warning: Graphic Image]

I’ve always wanted to be a photographer but doodling on my phone camera and my new Instagram account will have to suffice for now. But I’ve been particular intrigued by the role of photography in humanitarian and various aspects of global development. This is why I was intrigued by an article that came through my reader about an Afghani photographer named Massoud Hossaini who was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

I clicked it and saw the image and in a split second, I wished I had NEVER clicked to read the article and of course, the accompanying “award winning” photograph. I wish I had a sudden blue screen, or back stalking on Facebook, or watching my Netflix, or laughing at some idiot on the Fail Blog, or perhaps some  beautiful and heartwarming image of local Africans smiling from ear to ear at their new clean water well…

Tthose were my initial thoughts.

Understand? My thoughts were to escape this reality and pain rather than entering in to better or more deeply understand the story and pain.

If you do click and see the image, what were your first thoughts?

How do you respond to such utter pain?

This image will be now with me forever. While I missed this image when it was first captured on December 6, 2011, it will be with me forever.

So, I warn you…before you click “read more” … know that you will be disturbed.

While my intent in sharing this photograph isn’t for the purposes of “shock and awe”, I think that all of us need reminders (however they come) of the broken and fallen world that we live in. While we clearly need to reminded of the other spectrum of beauty and hope, it’s possible that sometime we limit our view of the world to “I am so blessed”…that we forget we live in a fallen, broken, and evil world and that we have work to do. I say this not to be a voice of fatalism or utter hopelessness but a reminder that the world is not what it ought to be and that God promises to restores all things but we have to be a part of that work. And as such, we not only rely on God and the mercy and grace of God, but we must commit ourselves to Peace, Hope, and Love.

Restoration

As a Christian, I long for the return of Christ as He restores all things but till then, we partner with God to work towards that restoration.

As for the photographer Hossaini, he is fortunate to be alive. He was “just yards away” when the bomb – via a suicide bomber – went off on December 6, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The bomb killed anywhere from 54 to 70+ people (depending on sources).

“First of all I should say that I’m so happy and excited to be the first Afghan to win a Pulitzer,” said Hossaini. “I cannot sleep even. Also, I’m humbled to be an Afghan who can be a voice for the painful life and moments, which people have here. I know that whoever sees this photo will think about the photographer but I hope they don’t forget the pain Afghanistan’s people have in their life.”

Don’t escape. Sit in this pain.

I invite you and challenge you to sit in this pain, discomfort, and brokenness and ask you to join me and others in not only praying but living out our lives as peacemakers and reconcilers. Click on the image. Sit with it. Stay wit hit. Cry with it. Be angry. Look at the faces – recognized or unrecognized – of each baby, child or person in the high resolution photograph.

But I ask you…don’t escape it.

The young girl’s name in the center of the photograph is 12-year-old Afghan girl, Tarana Akbari. Here’s some important context to the photograph:

It was the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura, the day Shias mourn for Imam Hossain, their third imam and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

The imam was killed with his family during a war in 680 CE.

To mark the day, children wear green dresses to show their sympathy with the imam’s children, who were also killed.

Taraneh, the girl in the photograph, “had begged her parents to get her a green dress for Ashura”, Massoud Hossaini, the 30-year-old photographer, told the BBC.

Though the family is not wealthy, they granted her wish.

It was the green dress that attracted Hossaini’s attention at the start of the festival, a parade through the streets of Kabul.

Shortly after, a suicide bomber sat down in the middle of the crowd and blew himself up.

In sitting with this image for a bit this morning, I was reminded of couple quotes:

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” – Jesus 

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” – Einstein

“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t know how quite to write this appropriately but click on the image if you want to view it in high resolution.

“Lord, have mercy…”

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17 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    No words….praying through the tears.

  2. Joon says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Pastor Eugene.

  3. CF says:

    Maybe sometimes images like this should be shown to let people know exactly what kind of world we live in.

  4. beattieblog says:

    Unimaginable terror. Lord have mercy.

  5. What a heartbreaking photograph. I know it’s going to stick with me for some time, but I’m not regretting the fact that I chose to look (after all, you warned us!). On the contrary, I think that more people need to be made aware of this type of pain and tragedy. Thank you for being brave enough to post this picture for your readers.

  6. David BG says:

    Lord hear our prayer.

  7. zandaltwist says:

    When we become so desensitised that we cannot enter into someone else’s suffering, then Satan has truly succeeded in taking the heart of Christ from us. It seems so impossible to have a heart that is both compassionate enough and resilient enough to walk someone’s suffering with them. Yet, Jesus did that very thing by entering into our world and defying death’s sting for us.

    Whenever I see or hear of things like this, it is a severe challenge to stay in that moment. I pray we may all have our minds renewed by God, our hearts reclaimed by His sacrifice for us… and may we see the world the way He does. Else, we will detach, separate, isolate, and insulate trying to keep the fallenness of our world from finding us.

    My heart breaks for those in that situation, there aren’t words to express or explain. Jesus wept for many things, the fallen and broken reality where His beloved suffer was at the top of that list. Thank you for both the challenge and the example.

  8. pastoralan says:

    Terrible but I am glad you bring it to our attention. May God have mercy.

  9. Aaron says:

    Thanks – I’ve seen more of these type of images than I wish were possible. Especially as a parent they strike deep. But I agree with you – it’s important for us North Americans to keep our First World problems in perspective. And important to understand the role we have in such violence, but even more important to know the role we have to start the healing.

  10. Grace says:

    …Thanks for sharing the context. I admit to being a desensitized American and self-protecting by not caring to look deeper, to know more or to just be plain old overwhelmed by the “problems of the East.” But the context is what made me sit in the sorrow…seeing that dead toddler laying head down on his Mama…that got me. I have a 2.5 yr. old, so yeah, it got me. It’s a good good reminder to pray for God’s mercy and peace to permeate this earth!

  11. jefroa says:

    I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they had no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors – and they had no comforter. I declared to the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun

  12. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for sharing, we need photos like this to remind us why we must strive to spread love to all

  13. brokenclay2 says:

    There are so many horrific tragedies that have overwhelmed societies over the ages. It has a sobering affect that makes us pay closer attention to our own depravity. Will this experience drive these people into the arms of Jesus? Are their even Saints ready to comfort them and reveal the Love of God in the midst of their traumitized lives? I pray for their sake the Lord will send labourers to them.

  14. JG says:

    It makes me sick that I am viewing this on my $600 iPhone, sipping on a $5 coffee from Starbucks under the security of having a stable job living a comfortable middle class life in the richest and most isolated country in the world. And my problems consist of wondering when I can buy a new camera body or that 70-200.

    I don’t even know what to say. My heart aches for these people. Their pain and suffering is something so foreign to most of us in the West living in our plastic bubbles. It’s just not right.

  15. Lori says:

    What a powerful photo portraying tragedy in life. Dear little Tarana will never be the same. We look at things like this sometimes and ask why did God allow this? No one has an answer but God. But He doesn’t tell us why. If He did, would it make a difference? Would we like and accept His reasons? Would it stop this girl’s pain? We must trust God as Job did when he said “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”

    My son was walking down to the beach through the woods today and found a friend hanging dead in a tree. The young man took his own life, thinking that there was no hope. And my son will, like you Eugene, and all who have seen this photo, never get that image out of his mind. I cannot take it out for him. I cannot take his pain from him or from that poor boy’s family, but we have a God who moves mountains and I am trusting Him to work and glorify Himself in this awful tragedy. We must trust him for Tarana, her family, and for this photographer as well.

    I know your focus was on peace and the horrors of violence and war, but it struck me where I am at in this moment. I like how Jeremiah had the following epiphany in his lament:

    I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
    Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
    The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
    Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
    I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”
    (Lamentations 3:20-24)

  16. Lou says:

    If we turn our heads and never look into the face of terrorism, then we are like the ones who walked on the other side until the Good Samaritan did look, and did, act. Yes this is a heartbreaking photo, but we can share the pain of this child, the people impacted in all ways and do something – if it only to be informed – this is a beginning. Thank you for posting this.

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One Day’s Wages

My Instagram

Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Thanks for your prayers. 
I have numerous stories to share but for now, the following came up in every conversation with Iraqi/Syrian refugees:

1 Have tea with us. Or coffee. Or juice. Or something with lots of sugar in it. Or better yet, all of the above.
2 We want peace. We want security. 
3 We hate ISIS. 
4 We just want to go home.
5 Please don't forget us.

Please don't forget them... Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

For security purposes, I haven't been able to share at all but I'm now able to start sharing some photos and stories. For now, I'll be sharing numerous photos through my IG stories and will be sharing some longer written pieces in couple months when ODW launches another wave of partnerships to come alongside refugees in these areas. Four of us are traveling together also for the purpose of creating a short documentary that we hope to release early next year.

While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

I hope you follow along as I share photos, stories, and help release this mini-documentary. Please tag friends that might be interested.

Please pray for safety, for empathy, for humility and integrity, for divine meetings. Pray that we listen well; To be present and not just be a consumer of these vulnerable stories. That's my biggest prayer.

Special thanks to @worldvisionusa and @worldrelief for hosting us on this journey. 9/11
Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.

Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

But indeed: Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.
May it be so. Amen. Mount Rainier is simply epic. There's nothing like flying in and out of Seattle.

#mountrainier
#seattle
#northwestisbest

my tweets

  • Boom. Final fishing trip. Grateful. A nice way to end my 3 month sabbatical. #catchandrelease twitter.com/i/web/status/9… || 1 day ago
  • Christians: May we be guided by the Scriptures that remind us, "Seek first the Kingdom of God" and not, "Seek first the kingdom of America." || 1 day ago
  • Every convo with Iraqi/Syrian refugees included: 1 Have tea with us 2 We want peace 3 We hate ISIS 4 We want to go home 5 Don't forget us || 4 days ago
  • Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan to assess @OneDaysWages' partnerships & to film mini-documentary on refugee crisis. So many emotions. || 4 days ago
  • Pray for Mexico. For those mourning loved ones. For those fighting for life - even under rubbles. For rescue workers. Lord, in your mercy. || 4 days ago
  • Don't underestimate what God can do through you. God has a very long history of using foolish and broken people for His purposes and glory. || 6 days ago