Photographer’s Ministry with the Poor: Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey went to seminary and trained as a pastor but then God called him to work outside the walls of a church, way outside the walls! As a missionary journalist, he has traveled to 65 countries and been shot at, taken prisoner, caught in combat. He has won many awards for the powerful way he uses words and images to tell the story of The United Methodist Church in the world.
(Voice of The Rev. Paul Jeffrey) I'm repeatedly surprised by how hope thrives in an environment that might seem hopeless to many of us.
The Rev. Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist Missionary: Despair, I'm convinced, is often a privilege of class. The poor don't have the luxury of giving up.
My name is Paul Jeffrey. I'm a United Methodist missionary. My job as a missionary is to tell stories using both images and words about how God is moving in the world to empower people who've too long been relegated to the margins.
As part of that work of covering emergencies I often find myself with people who are traumatized, who are hungry, places like Darfur or Columbia or Gaza, or most recently in the Horn of Africa.
There are hard times photographing people who are suffering. In some ways the camera becomes a bit of a shield in that I remind myself that I have a job to do. It doesn't do that person any good if all I do is cathart with them. I'm there to document what's going on with them and to help them tell their story.
Nonetheless, there is an emotional burden that comes from that. It's not easy to witness that. And sometimes I cry. I can take photographs and cry at the same time, I've discovered. And also it moves me when I come back home to get involved in some ways that I might not otherwise have done.
I would hope that one of the effects of my work is to encourage people to ask more questions about the world they live in, and about how the church is responding to that world.
Some people want to use this adage about, 'You don't just give a person a fish, you teach them how to fish.' That works great, but what happens when the wealthy put a fence around the lake and the poor are no longer allowed to fish there at all? So you've trained somebody to fish. But there's a political and economic environment that makes it impossible for them to do that. And sometimes people in the church go 'Ooh&ellipsis; ooh&ellipsis; ooh&ellipsis; I'm nervous now. We're talking about politics.' Well, yeah. But if we're gonna talk about hungry people and why people are made hungry and what has to happen for them to be able to feed themselves, old adages about fish and fishing poles it quits working. And we've really then got to wrestle with more profound issues of dependency, of a global economy that links us in the United States to the smallest village in Africa whether we like it or not, that deals with our lifestyles as consumers. It's the politics of the smart phone that we buy, or the laptop or the camera that we buy and where the minerals come from that go into that. And it's one thing to say, 'Oh, I'm really sorry about those poor people in the Congo, and I'm gonna send money to an orphanage or to feed hungry people in the Congo,' but if we go on buying conflict minerals that are mined by war lords in the Congo who make people poor and who create, who manufacture orphans, then we haven't really changed anything at all. We're participating in this manufacturing of poverty, even though we think we have the best of intentions in wanting to help people who are victims of that process.
It can be tough emotionally. But I'm there for a reason. I'm not a tourist or a voyeur. I'm there to document what's happening and to help people tell their stories. So even in the midst of chaos and hunger, people understand that. And I'm constantly amazed at the hospitality of the poor. I can't tell you how many times I've been welcomed to a dirt-floor tent or house of someone who's extremely poor, but they can't wait to offer me something to drink or to eat or their only chair to sit on. I'm continually evangelized by the poor. But that encounter makes demands on me because of where I come from.
And in some ways for me that shows me how Jesus comes to us in the poor. I mean, the gospel talks about how we're supposed to respond to people who are poor and hungry and in jail and naked and thirsty. But I think that's in some ways a gimmick to get us to find Jesus in those people so that Jesus can minister to us through them. At the end of the day, it's that encounter with Christ who comes to us in the poor and in those who hurt and are suffering, that really nourishes my spirit and my soul, that makes me whole, and that keeps me doing what I do day after day and week after week."
To learn more about Paul Jeffrey, visit his site.
Posted: May 29, 2012