Jeff Gardner was frustrated. As a photo-journalist working primarily in the Middle East, he is witness to the violence towards Christians on a daily basis, but the rest of the world seems unconcerned. Gardner realized it wasn’t that people didn’t care, but that they just didn’t know. It truly was an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Gardner set out to fix this.
In the fall of 2013, Gardner launched the Picture Christians Project. He hopes to a put a face on a particular group of persecuted Catholic Christians — the Assyrians, most of whom are members of the Syriac Catholic Church.
For more than a decade, these Christians have been driven out of their homeland in Iraq by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group by the hundreds of thousands.
Gardner told the National Catholic Register that he visited Jordan last year, and was struck by the situation for Christians in exile.
Since 2003, 1.25 million Assyrians have been driven from their ancient biblical homeland of the Nineveh Plains (in northwestern Iraq). When ISIS forced them out of their home, Jordan opened their borders. However, they did not roll out the red carpet for these exiles.
Unlike a refugee camp, where there are a bunch of tents in the middle of the field, you don’t see these Christian refugees. They are jammed into urban settings in cities such as Aman and Zarqa. They are hidden to the world and are in a strange type of limbo. They are not allowed to work; their kids are not allowed to go to local schools. They sit and sit and try to figure out the (Jordanian) immigration system.
The goal of the Picture Christians Project is simple: “Using powerful images we aim to connect people in the West to Christians in all parts of the world.” Gardner says his work is not politically-motivated; rather, he wants to bear witness to what is a nearly-silent disappearance of a religious group from a vast geographical area. In a November, 2014 blog post, however, Gardner decried what he sees as American indifference to ISIS.
You can view more of Gardner’s work at the Picture Christians Project website.