Neil Craigan Photography: Blog en-us (C) Neil Craigan Photography (Neil Craigan Photography) Wed, 24 Jan 2018 16:14:00 GMT Wed, 24 Jan 2018 16:14:00 GMT Neil Craigan Photography: Blog 120 109 "Is Jesus White?" "Is Jesus white?" That was the question that hit me the hardest. I had been sitting in the shade to avoid the hot African sun and was engaged with a young man in a conversation on issues of faith when he threw out this question. A couple of days later, on Sunday afternoon, I was chatting with a young Muslim man and, to my surprise, I was once again asked, "Is Jesus white?"

I was quick to tell both of these men that Jesus was most definitely not a white man. I explained that he came from the Middle-East and would have looked more like the Lebanese people that come to the city of Bo than a pale European like myself. Roman Catholic Church: Tikonko I added that God doesn't have a skin color. God incarnate in Christ had a skin color based on the region of the world into which he came, but all people, of all skin colors, are created in the image of God and have equal value and dignity in the eyes of God.

Where did the idea of a white Jesus come from? 

The local Catholic church was locked so I took this photo from through the grates at the back of the church. The sanctuary is sparse by western standards but on the left is a statue of the Madonna and child and on the right is a print of the Madonna and child. Here in the heart of a rural community in Sierra Leone sits a western image of a white Jesus. Roman Catholic Church

The first Christian missionaries to Sierra Leone date back to the early 1600's. You'd think that by 2018 they'd have figured out a way to make it clear that Jesus wasn't a white European. Apparently not. There's still a lot of work to do if we ever hope to accurately represent Christ in the world today.

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Wed, 24 Jan 2018 16:09:04 GMT
Where everyone knows you name, or do they? This morning at church I was given the Mende name, Kinnie Tikonko. Kinnie simply translates as "a man" and Tikonko is the village we are staying in. In 1995 the Massai of Kenya gave me the name "Oloodo" which means tall giraffe! I now have my given name and also two African names. Names matter, they provide us with a sense of identity. They tell people who we are. 

While being here in Sierra Leone I have tried to get the name of every adult I have photographed as they all have stories to tell. It's a little different with the children, they all want their photo taken so I simply oblige and move on.

In one village this woman approached me as I was taking photos of the Rural Health Care Initiative Community Health Workers and asked me to take her photo. I took the photo and moved on. That moment has haunted me over the last few days. Who was she? What is her name? What story does she need to tell the world? I don't know. 

It struck me that I could ask to go back to her village and find her, and learn her name and story. However I have chosen not to. Why? Because this photograph will forever serve as a reminder of how important it is to learn someone's name and listen to her story.

For that reason I have title this image, "Grace." Grace

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) beauty grace hope muslim nameless portrait sierra leone women Sun, 14 Jan 2018 23:02:04 GMT
Children: Created in the image of God It doesn't happen often, but today words fail me. As I sit here in Sierra Leone and hear about the words spoken by the President my heart is crushed. I wept as I rode from my hotel into the village this morning and I wept tonight as I reflected on my day and the wonderful people I met. If pictures speak a a thousand words then consider this post a little over 3,000 words long. I'll let the images speak for themselves.

A child, created in the image of God. Kids Just Wanna Have Fun! Longing for a hopeful future

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) children image of god imago dei sierra leone tikonko Fri, 12 Jan 2018 23:27:18 GMT
The Beautiful, Hard Working, Amazing People of Tikonko Today marked my first full day in the Tikonko Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. I had my own personal tour guide, Joseph, who took me to a couple of different villages today. I have to say it was quite the experience riding on the back of his motorcycle as we navigated the well rutted dirt roads of Tikonko! Our first stop was in the village of Gbalehun. It was here that I met Mamae, Masuman and Aminata.  RHCI Health Care Workers These three women are committed to helping improve health care for the pregnant women and their children. They are being trained by Rural Health Care Initiative to provide quality care for the women and children in their village. 

(Aside: This is the preachy part)I believe that quite often we romanticize life in the rural villages of the developing world. When we do that it might help raise funds for the N.G.O.s that are working in those areas but the truth is that life is hard in these areas. We dare not give as charity or to justify our own exuberant lifestyles in the western world. Rather we must give because we have been blessed to have the resources to help others. We must not give out of guilt, as guilt is a poor motivator. We must not give out of pity for the people here are not to be pitied, they are a wonderful, welcoming, compassionate and caring people. Rather we must support these fine folks our of gratitude.

Bono said that an accident of longitude and latitude should not determine whether someone lives or dies. He is correct in that assessment. However, it is also true that an accident of longitude and latitude should not become a reason for an exuberant lifestyle at the expense of others. (Aside over)  

Peter Dyfan, School Principal Then there's Peter. Peter works as the principle of the village elementary school. They currently have about 50 students attending the school. He is also responsible for some of the teacher training. When he's not working at the school Peter serves the local Catholic church as a Catechist. I had to ask what that was and he explained that because there is only priest who serves several villages (he happens to be a white guy so many of the kids called me "Father") on the 2 or 3 Sundays a month when the priest is absent Peter is the one with the responsibility to officiate the Mass. Peter's school is part of the World Vision Sierra Leone's Area Development Program for Tikonko. World Vision Hong Kong has been partnering with World Vision Sierra Leone since 2006 with a focus on Child Sponsorship, savings program and their WASH program.

Peter's school has a set of latrines for the students provided by World Vision that helps the whole community in learning and developing healthy sanitation practices. Something that we, western world dwellers, take for granted but is not as clear cut in a village with no running water, sewer system or electricity. Zainaba

Another program World Vision  sponsors is a savings program. Each week members contribute a small amount of their earning to the program in order to develop a savings account that they can draw from when times get tough. The program is part of the investment in the economic future of the area and well being of the people. Zainaba is a member of the savings group in Gabalehun. 

After leaving Gabalehun we rode to the village of Kassama. A beautiful village sitting on the edge of the Kiewa river. In this village I met another member of the savings program, Hawa. She makes her living by making palm oil. It is a labor intensive process that requires roasting/burning the beans from which the oil is derived and then pounding it to pulp that is then heated and strained to separate the oil so it can be sold in the market.

Hawa making palm oil One last person that I want to introduce you too is Kinnie. Kinnie lives in Kassama and makes his living on the river. About four times a day he makes a trip downstream to dig sand from the river bed. With a full boat he makes his way back upstream where the sand is deposited on the river bank. This sand is then sold for use in the construction industry, primarily in the cities of Freetown and Bo. Kinne

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) people portrait sierra leone tikonko Thu, 11 Jan 2018 23:01:00 GMT
Broken I have an 18x12 print of this image in my office and have been living with it for the better part of a year. I feel it's impact every time I look at it. 

The original idea for this image came to me in late 2016 as I reflected on the tensions created in Shusaku Endo's novel Silence and Scorsese's movie adaptation of it, along with some of the song lyrics written by my friend Bryan Gormley. My hope was to create an image that juxtaposed the oppositional nature of the sacred and profane, saint and sinner, violence and peace. BrokenBroken

The theology behind this image reflects the reality that we live in a broken world, that innate sense that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Christians refer to this brokenness as sin. 

The apostle Paul wrote, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15). What allows him to say this is not a false sense of humility but rather an acceptance of reality. The more Paul came to know and understand the holiness of God the more clearly he came to see the huge gulf that existed between his best and who God was and is in Jesus Christ.

Tragically too many Christians today take a position in which they pretend to be "better" than other sinners and are often heard castigating people for their failures. Yet Christians, more than any other group, should be the first to declare that sin is the great leveler of all people, we are all guilty. We all have the same starting point as part of humanity, created in the image of God, but due to sin our humanity is fractured and broken. So everyone has the same need to receive forgiveness and experience the grace of God.  

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) broken endo faith gun redemption sin tension Fri, 05 Jan 2018 03:08:18 GMT
Back to blogging for 2018 I've been thinking about making a return to blogging  for quite a while now. I had my fifteen minutes of blogging fame a number of years ago when I was interviewed for an article in the Washington Post titled, "Cyber Savvy Pastors." At that time I was writing several posts a week on the pertinent issues of the day and often deliberately trying to push people's buttons in an attempt to think through issues from a biblical/theological perspective. I retired that blog about six years ago and have been largely silent since then. 

It is not an accident that this blog is tied to my photography website. They (whoever "they" are) say that photographers should have a blog so here's my photography blog on my photography website. If you're looking for this to be a blog discussing the technical details of the images or a storied account of photo shoots then you may be disappointed. As a pastor, who believes that God is active in all areas of our lives, it is my intention to use this photography blog to speak into the heart of the human condition from a Christian theological perspective while illustrating the conversation with the images I shoot.

There are already seven posts here on this page. They are from my series, "Created in God's image: Portrait of an immigrant" and reflect the reality that all people bear the image of God and have a story to tell that is worth listening to. My next post will be focused on an image I shot last February and will focus on the brokenness of our humanity.  

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Tue, 02 Jan 2018 22:14:54 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Anna

Anna is a Russian immigrant. After several years of waiting Anna’s family emigrated to the United States in 1996. Anna, the second of three children, was twelve years old when her family arrived in Illinois. She said, “It was hard, but at that age you make friends fast.” She remembers the move being more challenging for her older sister who was already a teenager at the time.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Anna said she enjoyed a “happy childhood.” She played with her friends and attended the Russian Baptist church without any concerns of persecution. She was educated at the local public school; she also attended a music and an art school. It was at art school that Anna began to find the focus and passion for her career.

Anna’s family moved to Minnesota. While attending high school she began working for a photo studio where she learned the art of portrait photography, eventually becoming a trainer for other photographers. Anna continued her education at the University of Minnesota where she focused her study on art. It was here that Anna would refine the artistic vision that brings to her photography.

Reflecting on her life in America, Anna says she loves the U.S.A. with its respect for other cultures and religious freedom. At the same time she values her roots and heritage as a Russian immigrant and, like many first generation immigrants, feels a there is a small disconnect in her life that others cannot relate to her childhood.

Anna has found her niche in wedding and portrait photography preferring to shoot with a medium format, film camera. This allows her to create a look and feel that is slowly disappearing in the world of digital photography. She notes how she is, “Passionate about what I do,” and “enjoys capturing emotions.” This is evident in the beauty of her art, which can be viewed at It is also apparent in the way she comes alive when sharing about her art. Anna believes there is joy to be found in “letting your creativity out.”

Viewing her art as a means of, “helping people,” she values the importance of connecting with and getting to know her clients. She hopes that through her interactions with them they will, “see the love of God through of me.”

Aesthetics and beauty are important elements in finding true enjoyment and pleasure in life. Through her work, Anna is able to bring joy and pleasure to the world.

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Russia immigrant immigration portrait Sun, 20 Nov 2016 18:59:45 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Jenipa

Jenipa is an immigrant from Cameroon. She was raised in a rural area as the second of six surviving children born to her mother. As a teenager Jenipa moved to the city and lived with her brother’s mother-in-law while she obtained her High School education. After graduation she began working as a housekeeper making about $60 a month. That same year her brother moved to the United States.

It was never Jenipa’s plan to leave Cameroon but after her brother’s move she put her name into the lottery for admission to the U.S.A.. A year later, in 2010, her name was drawn. She was now eligible to become a U.S. resident. In June of 2010 Jenipa arrived in America.

Jenipa began working in a group home and found that she cared deeply for the needs of others. In 2011 she graduated with her associates degree from Century College before completing her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work at St. Scholastica. Following the completion of her social work degree Jenipa continued her work in group homes now as contract case manager. She currently carries a caseload of about forty group home clients with another twenty-five vulnerable adults who, at this time, don’t qualify to live in a group home.   

Making a life for herself in America hasn’t always been easy for Jenipa. She hasn’t been back to Cameroon since she arrived in the United States and openly shares that she’s, “missing home so much.” As the mother of a sixteen month old son she longs for her own mother and siblings back in Cameroon to be able to meet him. He is the only grandson in the family.

With her younger siblings back in Cameroon Jenipa, like so many immigrants, has made it a point to send financial help back to her family in order to pay for the education of her siblings. She has a passion for education and is hopeful that it will be a way for her siblings to find access to opportunities that would not otherwise be open to them. She says she tells them, “If I’m sending you money to go to school you’d better be working hard. If you pull your pants down and sit on the street I will not pay.” As a result of Jenipa’s generosity two of her siblings are currently working on their university degrees.

In the villages of Cameroon the women work very hard. They are the ones who provide for the family. Jenipa brings that passion and drive for success to her life in the United States as she provides for her family both here and back home.

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) cameroon immigrant immigration portrait portrait of an immigrant Sat, 12 Nov 2016 23:42:14 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Alice

Alice is an immigrant from Sierra Leone. Raised in a poverty, Alice’s family moved to Monrovia, Liberia when she was sixteen in an attempt to find a better life. It was here, at the age of seventeen, that she married her first husband.

After almost losing her life in childbirth, Alice developed a lifelong passion to help young pregnant women and completed her training as a midwife. Alice struggled through thirteen years of an abusive marriage until she finally found the courage to walk away from the relationship.

Alice married a second time. Albert was a senior government official, who would serve as Liberia’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone. As the civil war continued in Liberia the government fell and Albert was removed from his post as Ambassador. As a prominent leader of the opposition, Albert was assassinated on the morning of May 1, 1992.

Fearing the very real possibility that her family might targeted next, Alice sought asylum in the U.S.A.. She approached the United Nations and in December, 1993 she landed in Philadelphia. Alice, now a refugee, arrived in America with her children and $20 in her pocket. Without any sense of bitterness, Alice explained, “You never know when humbling times will come.”  

At first the family survived on welfare and food stamps. “No one showed us anything,” remembers Alice, they were completely on their own. They had, “no chair, no table, only immediate needs. … No money for diapers, no telephone, they said it was luxury.” Alice notes, “There were challenges doing this, there were bad moments,” but then adds that, “God is so good, I’m sorry for grumbling.”  

Within a year Alice trained as a nursing assistant and began working in group homes. Just as Alice had cared for others in Africa she continued to do so in the United States.

After five years in Philadelphia Alice moved to Minnesota where she studied to become an LPN (licensed practical nurse). The week of graduation in 2004 tragedy struck her life once again when her sister died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. That summer Alice made her first trip back to Sierra Leone to bury her sister and be with her mother.

Alice’s compassion, drive and focus has remained strong, “All along my dream was to help young women and children.” In 2011 Alice founded Rural Health Care Initiative with a specific focus of reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in Sierra Leone. Alice explains that girls, “get married so early, sixteen or seventeen, and face lots of complications.” A key component of the work of RHCI is the construction of a birth waiting home, a place close to the health care facilities where pregnant women can spend the last few weeks of their pregnancy so they are spared the often long and difficult journey to the clinic after labor begins.

Alice has embraced all that life has thrown at her and continues to give of herself to help others. The construction of the first birth waiting home is well under way and lives are being saved because of Alice’s vision. She is, “so grateful to God that it’s coming to pass.”

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) immigrant portrait of an immigrant refugee rhci sierra leone Thu, 03 Nov 2016 02:27:58 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Sahro

Sahro is a Somali immigrant. Sahro grew up in Mogadishu where her father worked in the import/export industry and her mother was a supervisor in an Italian owned factory. As a child Sahro watched as her father was arrested for his political activism. Following his release she witnessed the taunting he received from the authorities.

In 1991, civil war broke out in Somalia. As inquisitive young people, Sahro and her friends had to see for themselves the damage caused by the fighting. Sahro recounts the sound and sight of the bombs falling on the city as being eerily similar to the images we see on TV from Syria today.  It was a devastating time, “most of my family never survived the war.”

In 1992, Sahro and some family members abandoned their home in Mogadishu and went to a refugee camp outside of Nairobi, Kenya. They were displaced people with nowhere to call home. A year later, Sahro, along with her mother, and some of her siblings and cousins were, “very lucky to get sponsored.” So in November, 1993 they arrived in St. Louis under refugee status. It was the beginning of a new life, in a new culture. Tragically Sahro’s father wasn’t part of the group and within a year he died from a brain tumor.

Upon arrival in the United States Sahro had three goals, “get a job, go to school and help people back home.” Sahro accomplished this and more. In 1995 Sahro was married and has five children. Her oldest son is in college studying and playing football for a division two school while her youngest attends a local elementary school. Tending to the needs of her family Sahro also began to pursue studies in nursing but shifted her focus and graduated college with a degree in business and accounting.

Sahro’s career and life are devoted to advocacy. When working as a security guard she was the person to walk other women to their vehicles, ensuring their safety. After moving to Minnesota Sahro took a job in community outreach, teaching workshops on medical and mental health issues for the Somali and African American community. Today she continues her advocacy work in the local school district where she serves as the Somali Cultural Liaison in a school that is approximately one third Somali, one third hispanic and one third caucasian.

“It’s challenging,” Sahro explains when talking about what it’s like to live as a Muslim woman in America. “Before 9/11 we didn’t see it as a problem. … After 9/11 we were the outsiders.” As a citizen of the United States she experienced a lot of name calling, even being called a “terrorist” in front of her young children, “just because I wear a headscarf.” She would note that this is “exactly what ISIS wants.” Before adding, “I don’t think ISIS knows the religion!”

Sahro is a strong, courageous, advocate for herself and others. She wants us to understand that “we’re all the same, same wants, same needs. … We want our kids to go to college, graduate, be successful, find the right way. We want our kids to be safe and not hang with the wrong people.”

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Portrait of an immigrant U.S.A. immigrant muslim refugee somali somalia Thu, 27 Oct 2016 15:04:39 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Hassan

Hassan is a Ugandan immigrant. Born in Kampala, Hassan was raised in what he describes as a tough part of the city. Life was not easy growing up and violence on the streets was a common scene. Today Hassan says approximately 80% of the kids he grew up with are now dead as a direct result of violence, drugs and the AIDS pandemic.

Hassan cites boxing as the key element in his life that allowed him to escape the dangers of the city. In order to be viewed as “someone” in the neighborhood, you either joined the army or became a boxer. When reflecting on the dangers of the city, he explained that youth need “boxing not church in tough neighborhoods.” The church was viewed as unable to connect adequately with people, while the boxing club always felt like a safe haven from the streets.

Hassan, small in stature but big in heart, boxed in the featherweight division and would go on to train with the Ugandan national squad. In 1998, Hassan arrived in the United States to debut as a professional boxer. The fight would go the distance with the judges awarding Hassan a unanimous victory.

A couple of years later Hassan was sponsored by a New York boxing club to come, live and work in the U.S.A.. After becoming a permanent resident, Hassan moved to Minnesota. Working a factory job, he continued to train as a boxer. The schedule he was keeping prohibited him from attending school so a friend suggested he make a career change. He qualified as a Certified Nursing Assistant and then as a Trained Medical Assistant.

Ten years ago, Hassan started working at a senior care facility and has found his life’s calling. Talking of his time in the factory he says, “a machine doesn’t talk to you, or care how you treat it” but now he says, “I don’t feel like I’m working, you just help people out.”

As Hassan shares about his work with seniors he does so with great gentleness, humility and joy. “This is what life is all about.” He adds, “When on the street you take life for granted.” Which is so different from the relationships Hassan has developed with the folks who live at the senior care center where, “they trust you, you can’t just get that anywhere.”

As Hassan shared stories of the people he has known over the last ten years it is clear that he is a man who puts people first. His calling is larger than just being part of the medical team, his calling serves as an extension of the family where he can befriend and spend time with residents when family is out of town or unable to make regular visits. Perhaps the most apt way to describe Hassan is as a man who takes the word, “Love you neighbor as yourself,” to heart.     


]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) U.S.A. boxer hassan immigrant immigration uganda Sat, 22 Oct 2016 14:00:00 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Octavio Octavio is a Panamanian immigrant. The third of four children Octavio was raised Rio Piedras just outside the city of Colon. He describes his upbringing as “comfortable,” there was nothing he lacked and his family was very close.

To provide for the family his mother worked as a school principal and his father as a bus driver. Following high school, Octavio went to work for his father, helping collect fares and providing security on the bus. At his time his father rented the bus he drove. Eventually Octavio and his wife would help his father purchase the bus he now drives.  

One afternoon after he left work he was walking by a neighbor’s house when he saw an American girl sitting reading a book. Not being the shy type he walked over to speak to her and invited her on a date to the ocean. Mary, who was serving with the Peace Corps, accepted the invitation and the two started dating. After two years of dating, Mary’s time with the Peace Corps ended. Before returning to the United States Octavio and Mary decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. In speaking of his love for Mary he is quick to say, “She makes me stronger.” The gift of a committed relationship.

In December of 2005, Octavio arrived in Minnesota on a fiancé visa with $60 in his pocket, no winter jacket, no driver’s license and his grasp of English was almost non-existent. The things we will do for love!

Not speaking English Octavio explained how it was “really, really hard, people talking and you can’t understand.” When he went out he found it frustrating that that people would not look at him, “there was no eye contact,” only acknowledging the people around him. When asked how he overcame this, he explained, “You need to be tough.” You need to be courageous and committed as well.

Octavio went to work in the Quick Lane of Tousley Ford helping perform routine services on cars. He eventually left Tousley to work in the construction industry. Committed to working hard and seeing people treated fairly Octavio became active in his union, LiUNA, where he serves on the board of Local Union 563.

Octavio and Mary have now two children. They are the center of his life with his greatest passion being, “raising my kids well.”

People come first for Octavio as he explained, “You must include other people, the world is big for me.”


]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Panama U.S.A. hispanic immigrant immigration Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:47:55 GMT
Portrait of an Immigrant: Yvonne Yvonne: Poland Yvonne is a Polish immigrant. In 1940 there was a knock on their front door and the Nazi officer instructed her to get out of her home. At the age of 8, Yvonne, along with her sister and mother, would spend the war in a forced labor camp. Her mom worked in a munitions factory while Yvonne and her sister worked in the kitchens. For those five years her mother would say to them, “Don’t worry, God will not forsake us.” Her father had been drafted into the Polish army in 1939.

As the war ended their camp was liberated by the Americans. They moved the family to a camp for displaced persons. At this camp they were once again able to go to church. The only option was Roman Catholic and they were a Lutheran family. Yvonne remembers her mom telling them, “There is one God in heaven, it doesn’t matter what building you go to, we pray to the same God.”

With Europe in the throes of being divided between the allies they had to choose between moving west with the GI’s or living under Russian controlled territory. They kept moving.

Yvonne believed her father had died in the war and without a male head of house emigration was closed to them. Eventually, in early 1946, Yvonne’s mom made the decision to return to Poland. They were making preparations for the move when there was a knock on the door of their hut. Her dad had found them. After being liberated by the Russians It had taken him 9 months of searching to locate his family. They were together again but instead of returning to Poland, they headed for Canada.

In Canada Yvonne met a young man who was vacationing in Montreal. As a 15 year old Karl had been conscripted into the Nazi army. They fell in love and married in 1957. Some of Yvonne’s friends demanded to know how she could marry a German. She reminded them of the generosity many Germans showed them while in the camps, “we are only alive because of the Germans.” Grace and forgiveness were at work in her life. Love conquers all.

Yvonne and Karl raised their family in the United States. Karl worked General Electric and Yvonne as a bank teller. Eventually she rose through the ranks to become Vice President for Branch Operations at American National Bank.

Now retired Yvonne continues to share her financial acumen through her volunteer work with the local church where she also sings in the choir.

]]> (Neil Craigan Photography) Germany Immigrant Polish U.S.A. immigration Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:39:15 GMT