Light in the darkness

Light in the darkness: Images of 2013

RICHMOND, Va.—A Syrian refugee grieves over a photo of his young son, murdered in the nation’s civil war.

A mother and daughter beg on the mean streets of Bangladesh, hoping for better things someday.

A follower of Christ in India lays a clean white sheet on the floor of a children’s hostel and places the frail body of a child who died in the night upon it. He gently cradles her body while winding the sheet around it.

A child plays near the ruins of buildings destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. In the same area, a Southern Baptist volunteer uses a cardboard box as an umbrella during relief distribution.

These images are among the top photographs selected from thousands taken by IMB photographers in 2013. The world experienced untold suffering during the year. Evil, hatred and lostness spread darkness in many places. But IMB workers and their partners were there, easing pain, bringing light and hope, lifting the name of Christ and extending the Gospel to the nations. These images show people being touched by the light — and others who still need touching.

The top photos of 2013 are presented in memory of photographer Don Rutledge, who died in February 2013 at age 82. Rutledge revolutionized missions storytelling and influenced several generations of Christian communicators. Traveling throughout the United States and to more than 140 countries over more than 40 years, he captured quiet moments of humanity and mission ministry in hundreds of classic photographs taken for the Home (now North American) Mission Board and later for the Foreign (now International) Mission Board. His images helped millions of inspired viewers to understand, pray for and participate in missions.



Mary Harper (name changed) was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2012 while serving in Central Asia. Her illness forced Mary and her family — husband, John (name changed), and daughters Lindsey and Jessica (names changed) — to leave the city where they served as Southern Baptist missionaries and return home to Missouri. On Jan. 20, 2014, Mary lost her battle with ALS at the age of 43. To read more about the Harpers and their journey, click here. (IMB photo by Joann Bradberry)


Rahima (name changed) squats on a railroad track in the middle of the slum where she lives in Bangladesh washing the hair of her daughter, Minara (name changed). It was a joyful moment in a day full of hard work and rejection. Rahima and Minara are beggars. Along with the dust and dirt it seemed to me that Rahima was washing off the indignities that no 9-year old child should have to bear. Rahima is doing her best to give Minara as close to a happy, normal life as she can, but it is an almost hopeless battle. What will happen to this girl with the impish smile? Who will visit this slum to care about their lives? Christian worker Geri Hennerman (name changed) did and reached out to Minara and other girls like her to start the Light of Hope Learning Center more than six years ago. Girls from impoverished families can attend and improve their lives with education, food, clothing, daily living skills and moral instruction. When I visited the school early in 2013 the younger girls Minara’s age had to suspend going to school except for one afternoon a week due to a lack of resources. The center also helped support Minara’s family while she attended — Minara received a healthy meal each day, and the center provided the family with food, blankets, school uniforms and shoes. Now, 10 months later, Minara and others her age are attending five days a week. Minara is doing well there. My heart is full to think of her at the center learning, singing and playing with the other girls rather than out on the streets begging for her life. To read more of Minara’s story and about the Light of Hope Center, click here. For an update on this story, click here. (Photo by Joanna B. Pinneo)

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Beneath the watchful eyes of his son, Abu Thama lights up a cigarette. Thama’s son was tortured and killed by Syrian police in 2011 when the Arab Spring erupted in Syria. The civil war not only tore that nation apart but renewed age-old ethnic and religious hatreds that spilled across Syria’s border into neighboring countries, including Lebanon. For many, this kind of tragedy can soften their hearts toward the Good News as they long for comfort and healing. To read more about the refugees, click here. (IMB photo by Jedediah Smith)


A young Syrian child takes a nap in a rented home in northern Lebanon, where there are no official, government-backed refugee camps. Roughly half of the some 2 million refugees resulting from the Syrian civil war are children. Baptist Global Response, a key IMB partner in human needs and disaster relief ministries, is a Southern Baptist relief and development organization that is administering ongoing projects in four countries where Syrian refugees have fled. To help in the efforts of distributing food packets, hygiene kits and temporary shelter among Syrian refugees, give here. To read more about the Syrian refugees, click here. (IMB photo by Joseph Rose)

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Fleeing from the violence, yet struggling to survive, Syrians experience the scars, sorrows and shadow of war. The resilience of children is evident as three Syrian brothers play at Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp. One of the boys lost his hand due to an explosion from an aircraft attack. Nearly half of the more than 2 million refugees of Syria’s civil war are children; most do not have a chance for education as they wait for the civil war to end. To read more about the refugees, click here. (IMB photo by Jedediah Smith)


Rahima (name changed) and her 9-year-old daughter, Minara (name changed), barely eke out a living begging on the busy streets of Bangladesh. A local restaurant gives Rahima a bag of cooked rice and vegetables for herself and her two young daughters; the little family sat down on the edge of the sidewalk to eat. The family is forced to make a living in the best and most respectable way they can. This life of mere survival is not Rahima’s choice. Her hope and dream is that her two daughters will have a better education and environment than she has had and become “good women.” Rahima told us, “I do not have any dream for myself. I only have dream and hope for my children.” The Light of Hope Learning Center seeks to give girls an opportunity to expand their horizons and to make a living for themselves. The school lifts them up spiritually and provides an education and handicraft skills. They approach each girl as a whole person, treating them with respect, love, and caring. Geri Hennerman (name changed), who started the center, told us recently “the stories, pictures and video have gotten many people more involved in all the Lord is doing here. We have heard from individuals, churches and groups via email and have also received numerous financial gifts.” Minara now attends the school five days a week. For more on Minara’s family and the Light of Hope Center, click here. For an update on this story, click here. (IMB photo by Joanna B. Pinneo)

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An interpreter for the Deaf translates an evangelical service in Antananarivo, Madagascar. IMB missionaries say that though evangelical Christianity has made some advances here, fewer than 1 percent of the country’s Deaf are disciples of Jesus Christ. Through IMB’s Embrace program, Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., has accepted the challenge of church planting among the Deaf Malagasy, one of Madagascar’s eight unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) with a population topping 100,000. Click here to view the full story package. (IMB photo by Joann Bradberry)


After a day of begging in a downtown business district in Bangladesh, Rahima (name changed) and her 9-year-old daughter, Minara (name changed), giggle together; their close bond is evident. They are temporarily sheltered in their own cocoon and don’t notice the two men staring at them with condescending looks. Women are second-class citizens in Bangladesh and Minara is often treated harshly as she begs from strangers. Verbal and physical abuse is rampant; men routinely take second wives and desert their original families. Many mothers are left struggling to care for their families alone living in poverty and resorting to backbreaking low-income jobs, begging or prostitution. “I do feel like women here are the unreached people group,” says Geri Hennerman (name changed), a Christian worker who has served in Bangladesh nearly 10 years. While girls attend the Light of Hope Learning Center that Geri started six years ago their mothers often come to an afternoon sewing workshop held at the school. There the women have a quiet place to be safe, to relax, sew, visit and hear God’s Word. Minara, her mother and baby sister live in a one-room shack in one of the city’s major slums, but Minara dreams of being a teacher or a doctor when she grows up. “I would like to request all of you to pray for me that I can go back again to the school for better education,” Minara asks. “And also pray for our family financial crises, that God will provide for our every single need.” She is now able to attend the Light of Hope Learning Center five days a week. Perhaps now Minara will have that chance. For more on Minara’s family and the Light of Hope Center, click here. For an update on this story, click here. (IMB photo by Joanna B. Pinneo)

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Stilettos, bare skin and neon lights are common indicators of red-light districts in Thailand. While prostitution in that country is illegal, the sex industry is booming with foreigners who visit for that sole purpose. Many of the women — and men — involved in prostitution in Thailand choose this lifestyle, some are pressured by their families to help pay bills and, in some instances, they are trafficked. IMB missionaries have witnessed that no alternate job skill, no Christian friendship and no amount of education can change these workers’ lives apart from Jesus. These missionaries are determined to meet these men and women where they are in their dark workplaces, giving them the opportunity to hear about Jesus and the love and redemption He offers. To learn more about exploited women in Asia, click here. (IMB photo by Kate Weatherly)


It is estimated that 40,000 homeless people live along Bangalore’s footpaths, back alleys, streets and under bridges. The city has constructed some overnight shelters for the homeless but cannot keep up with the need in this city of 8.5 million. Among India’s population of 1.2 billion, as many as 11 million may be homeless. For more on the plight of India’s homeless, click here. (IMB photo by Will Stuart)



Auto Raja was nothing but trouble — until a prison encounter turned his life around and his attention on India’s destitute. He now runs Home of Hope, which he began by bringing one man into his home 16 years ago. Now three facilities house and care for 450 people: one for children, another for women and a third for men. One of the residents at Home of Hope’s women’s center found a ring and forced it onto her index finger. It is a small piece of vanity for a person who owns nothing but the clothes on her back. But the ring is too tight and cutting off circulation. The finger is swollen and black, and beginning to smell. In the home’s small dispensary Auto Raja cuts the ring from her finger and the finger begins to return to its normal color. For more on India’s “untouchables,” click here. (IMB photo by Will Stuart)

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The child died during the night. Little is known about her life before coming to Home of Hope in Bangalore, India. She was one of India’s throw-away children. The staff called her Sharon. She was about 3, suffering from tuberculosis, when found wandering the streets about a year ago. No one claimed her then; no one will claim her body now. But at Home of Hope, the broken and dying from India’s streets are cared for with dignity and respect. The home, founded 17 years ago by Auto Raja when he brought a man from the streets into his home to die, now cares for 450 men, women and children. A few will be there until they are healed. Most will live there only minutes, days or weeks. Raja gently wraps the frail, spent body for the trip to the crematorium. To read more about Auto Raja and Home of Hope, click here. (IMB photo by Will Stuart)

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In southern Egypt, men load camels from Sudan onto a truck headed for a camel market outside Cairo. With roughly 177 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs), the Desert Peoples of northern Africa have the highest number of UUPGs in northern Africa and the Middle East. You can help pierce this darkness by enabling the acquisition of a forward base location for Christian workers serving in northern Africa. This project will provide a secure location from which workers can advance into remote areas isolated from the Light of the Gospel. Donate to this project here. To read more about loving the Desert Peoples, click here. (IMB photo by Joseph Rose)

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A homemade, raccoon-skin hat provides Jessica Harper (name changed) with some extra warmth on a chilly afternoon as she helps her dad build a chicken coop at their home near Springfield, Mo. Far from the stereotypical “girly-girl,” Jessica shot the raccoon herself and helped her dad skin it. In 2012, Jessica’s mother, Mary (name changed), was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), forcing her family to leave the Central Asian city where they served as Southern Baptist missionaries. Mary lost her battle with ALS Jan. 20, 2014. To read more about the Harper family, click here. (IMB photo by Joann Bradberry)


A child runs along the rocky shore at Gibitngil Island, seemingly oblivious to the destruction caused to her community by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Behind her are the ruined structures of a small beach resort that provided a valuable income from tourism for the tiny community. Gibitngil Island, like many communities that suffered almost total destruction, remained unreached by relief efforts for days because of its inaccessibility. Baptist Global Response (BGR) partnered with local IMB personnel to make assessment trips to many of these more isolated parts of northern Cebu Island to make plans for immediate and longer term assistance. To read more about Typhoon Haiyan and Southern Baptists’ response, click here and here. (IMB photo by Hugh Johnson)

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A Karamajong girl carries her baby brother on her back. The Karamajong people are cattle herders and warriors in northern Uganda. The Echelon team, made up of IMB missionaries and national believers, has recently begun work in Uganda and South Sudan with the hopes of spreading the Gospel by planting churches in remote and difficult areas. Echelon team member Robert Lane says the Karamajong people live in fear — fear of starvation, fear of the next cattle raid, fear of death and fear of God. To read more about the Echelon team and the people to whom they minister, click here. (IMB photo by Joann Bradberry)


Syrian mothers carry their belongings along with their children as they flee from war-torn Syria across the border into Jordan. Many wait for days for a window of opportunity to cross the border in hopes of finding some form of solitude in neighboring lands. By the end of 2013, the civil war had claimed more than 126,000 lives and forced approximately 2.5 million Syrians to leave their homes to take refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Such displacement provides a unique opportunity for Christians to serve refugees both physically and spiritually. Pray for the internationally displaced peoples of Syria — that they may encounter the love and peace of Jesus Christ within the camps and the countries they have made their temporary homes. Pray for peace. For more on Syria, click here. (IMB photo by Jedediah Smith)


Vesak (Buddha’s birthday) festivities in the city of Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s major religious festivals and is celebrated on the first full moon of the month of May. The historic Temple of the Tooth in Kandy plays a significant role in the country’s religious and cultural life. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must make at least one pilgrimage to the temple during their lifetime. The popular view of Buddhism among many Americans is one of peaceful contemplation and harmonious co-existence with other religions. However, Sri Lanka has recently emerged from almost three decades of bloody civil war between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority in the south and the Hindu Tamil minority in the north. Now, despite the freedom of religion enshrined in Sri Lanka’s constitution, there is growing persecution in this predominantly Buddhist nation against its Christian and Muslim minorities. Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest continually Buddhist nation and extremists want it to stay this way. As a result, persecution is on the rise. Attacks on Muslims have hit the headlines but the increasing incidence of Christian persecution has received little attention. Targeted attacks against churches are becoming more commonplace and extremists have vowed in local newspaper reports to shut down every church in the south. As a result, the number of house churches is growing with smaller groups meeting in the homes of individual members. As well as being less conspicuous, house churches are a more natural and accessible way to introduce Christianity to nonbelievers within a community. Pastors are reporting that because of these stronger interpersonal relationships, every week people are coming to Christ. Click here to read more on persecuted churches in Sri Lanka. (IMB photo by Hugh Johnson)


Dwain Carter of Freshwater Church, Jefferson City, Mo., uses a cardboard box as a makeshift shelter against a sudden downpour during a food distribution at Gibitngil Island, located off the coast of northern Cebu. Volunteer members of the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Task Force traveled to the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan as part of a Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART). This team worked alongside IMB missionaries and local Baptist Global Response partners to make immediate damage assessments in many of the small, unreached communities of northern Cebu. Within 48 hours initial shipments of relief supplies were purchased and distributed in badly damaged communities such as Gibitngil Island. In addition to immediate disaster relief needs, the DART teams have helped local partners make initial plans for longer term rehabilitation of these communities through various community development initiatives. To read more about Typhoon Haiyan and relief efforts, click here and here. (IMB photo by Hugh Johnson)

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