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This spring, Jon Warren was in the Dominican Republic for a story on AIDS for World Vision magazine. Huge storms arose suddenly and Warren had a hunch that tragedy was rolling in alongside the thunder. He set out into the floodwaters and returned five hours later. He was the only photojournalist on the ground when mudslides killed more than 2,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless. The images were published the next day in newspapers worldwide.
For years, Warren's primary job has been to communicate God's work, causing us to dig deeper into our prayer life and our pocketbooks. To do so, he has been on the scene in some of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.
As director of photography for World Vision, Warren has spent most of his career circling the globe for organizations that involve themselves in faith, social justice, and cultural issues. He has photographed for four books, including Celebrate the God Who Loves and Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods, a look at traditional art in Bhutan. His images have ended up everywhere from postage stamps to European museums.
Despite a reputation for being on the frontline and dodging bullets, Warren discounts taking much personal risk. "I certainly qualify as faint of heart," he says. "I'm normally not covering the fighting itself. I just sometimes get stuck in it."
One enduring journalistic challenge is showing people's needs while preserving their dignity. Warren's goal is to make images that will stir others to action without desensitizing them. "How do I communicate that this person is suffering, but is still as valuable as you and I are?"
He doesn't want the people in his photos to become icons for the tragedy of the month. "If people looking at it don't feel like the person in the picture is valuable, I've failed spiritually, and I've also failed the organization."
Warren and other photographers say there are definitely long-term consequences to seeing so much suffering firsthand. To cope, Warren focuses on the good in each assignment—the rescue, the volunteers, and the presence of God. He also keeps the big picture in mind.
Life as a missionary kid in India gave Warren a positive mental image of the developing world, one he was surprised to find that most Americans don't share with him. He's made it his life's work to show Western Christians the commonalities they have with their neighbors around the world. "We have a ton we can learn from the poor."
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Warren's photographs appear in magazine.
Yesterday, we featured Joanna Pinneo.
More about Christians in Photojournalism, including more pictures, is available on their website.
Other Christianity Today photo essays include:
Saving Strangers | The journey of one Somali Bantu family in the largest group resettlement of African refugees in U.S. history. (July 02, 2004)
River Deep Mercy Wide | A medical journey on the Rio Negro in Brazil's Amazon Basin (Feb. 06, 2004)
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