By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Columnist
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife Columns)-- As Assyrian Christians continue to suffer at the hands of the barbaric Islamic State, a newly published book of images is set to raise awareness in the West of their plight.
The book “Displaced” is a collection of compelling photographs of Iraqi Assyrian Cristians and Yezidis fighting for their lives and their lands. It follows book “Exiles,” which also depicted that struggle.
The books are published by the Picture Christians Project, a U.S.-based program launched by Jeff Gardner, a specialist in humanitarian media.
The new title comes at an opportune time: I recently wrote about “persecution fatigue” – a kind of helplessness felt by many Christians who are bombarded by so much relentless bad news about attacks on believers. I received responses from some Christians who admitted that it is indeed a problem.
“When we start feeling overwhelmed, it is easy to become numb, desensitized,” wrote one reader. “We check out emotionally, because there is too much gore to process. I don’t know how I should deal with the emotional stress of knowing about the rising persecution. I feel it, and I sometimes want to turn away and quit knowing it.”
The Picture Christians Project is intended to address these difficulties. By putting a face to victims suffering for their faith. And telling their story. On the Picture Christians Project website, Gardner commented: “What is the fastest way to make someone disappear? It doesn’t involve magic of any kind, but is as easy as not allowing that person to be seen. This is precisely what is happening to Christians on a global scale."
He noted: “In the 21st century, though Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide, images that inform us about who these people are and what their lives are like are rarely shown. I started the Picture Christians Project to change this misrepresentation.”
In a recent Skype conversation Gardner told me where he found examples of persecution.
“I thought, ‘where is the need most acute?’ I’ve worked in humanitarian media for many years. Where is the crisis most widespread, most acute? Hands down it’s Iraq," he said.
“So I went to the Middle East and I sat down with Assyrian Christians in exile. I said, ‘tell me your story. I want to bring your story back to people in the US. We’re going to un-disappear you.’ I sat in their living rooms and talked with them.”
The resulting books portray a proud people suffering for their faith and for their refusal to bend to the cruel demands of an evil enemy.
But are the books too late? I wonder if a majority of Christians have not already become too desensitized to all the horrific violence to be able to feel much compassion for the victims.
Time will tell. But in Gardner’s words to me: “If people don’t see things it is hard to comprehend them.”