I’m often asked how I’ve been able to photograph human suffering for so much of my career and still maintain my sanity and belief in the goodness of God.
Suffering is a mystery. I’ve met many good, righteous, faithful people who have lives full of misery. My dear sister-in-law, Karen, passed away last week after years of battling cancer. She volunteered with orphans in Haiti and gave to people in need in India. She made sure her home was always open to visitors, both family and strangers, even during her illness. She was generous to a fault, wonderfully kind, encouraging, and selfless. Her life of service was lived to the glory of God. Yet she died painfully and young. Suffering is a mystery.
One thing I do know: In the midst of the worst of the worst situations, God is still there.
When Layla Mohamed, 23, brought little baby Zam Zam to me at a camp in Somalia, she was confused and on the verge of panic. Her baby was dying, and she didn’t know what to do. She said, "I don't sleep enough because I am so worried. I wake up in the night and give drink to the baby."
Layla and Zam Zam in Somalia. ©2011 Jon Warren/World Vision
Nutrition and health staff with me measured Zam Zam’s upper arm circumference and confirmed what was obvious to see -- the baby was severely malnourished.
I only had time to ask a few questions and take some quick photos before dashing off to the airstrip. But I was tortured by what I had seen.
I have children, too. I can’t imagine the emotional and spiritual pain of watching your child suffer like this. Suffering from famine is ugly and horrific.
But it is a mystery.
You can imagine my relief and excitement several weeks later when I saw a Facebook posting about Zam Zam by my co-worker, Mindy Mizell. World Vision's staff members in Somalia had made sure Zam Zam was regularly fed high-nutrition Plumpy'Nut.™ Her face had filled out, and she was sitting up. And Layla was smiling again.
Layla and Zam Zam just a few weeks after Jon's original photograph of them in Somalia. ©2011 World Vision
This was a mystery of God's work -- hope made possible in the midst of the most desperate circumstances.
It’s too early for me to see how God will use Karen’s suffering for His glory. I’m still in the pain and grief stage. But I’ve already seen how humanitarian aid can help save lives like Zam Zam’s.
In the midst of the suffering in Somalia, God is at work.
Help bring hope to those who are suffering because of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.
Read related posts about the food crisis in East Africa.
See more photo blogs from Jon Warren.
Listen to Jon's interview on American Public Media's The Story: "Somalia: Through The Lens"