By Stan Friedman
SEATTLE, WA (January 7, 2014) — Andrew Larsen and the growing group of photographers with the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers hope their work will enable people to see others around the world differently, especially those who might otherwise be called enemies.
A Covenant minister who also serves as a consultant in Christian-Muslim Relations with the group Peace Catalyst International (PCI), Larsen has a special interest in the Mideast, where he tries to capture the conditions of Palestinians living in the West Bank. Moreover, he wants to help others see the “beauty and dignity” of the people, one of the chief goals of the new guild, which is a separate entity from PCI.
“Fear creates distance among people,” Larsen says. “I want to humanize them and show their dignity and beauty. I believe photography has the ability to do that and can build bridges.”
Larsen explains, “Most people love to have their picture taken, and if I come as a friend and as I come as just another human being without my label or without my Christian hat or whatever it is I bring, we get to the basic level real quickly.”
Larsen is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in National Geographic. His desire to build bridges with and photograph Muslims developed after 9-11, when the backlash against people of that faith was severe and “toxic.”
A pastor at the time, he was appalled at that reaction. Larsen began to experience what he says was a call to help build bridges between Christians and Muslims by promoting understanding between them.
In 2011, he spent three months in the Holy Land with 32 other people from around the world with a faith-based program who had come to take pictures and engage in other activities to promote understanding and peacemaking.
One of his photos from that trip shows children doing their homework in a Hebron street. “They had to go through two checkpoints just to go to school,” he says. “But there was a protest going on that day, and the guards wouldn’t let them through the gate, so they sat down on the curb and pulled out their workbooks and did their homework.”
Larsen often brings Christians to events promoting Christian-Muslim relations. He says Christians often want to address theological differences before building relationships. Despite the importance of those conversations, asking questions right away can be counterproductive, he says. “When I introduce myself as a Christian, as a leader, even as an evangelical, and come with open arms and genuine desire to know Muslims, I feel the reciprocal attitude and actions from Muslims—open arms.”
The young but growing nonprofit Peace Catalyst International serves as “an umbrella group” for people such as Larsen, who serves on staff and raises his own support. They have put on more than 200 peacemaking events that range from having small dinners to gatherings of several hundred people.
A Presbyterian church in Seattle has hosted a gallery of Larsen’s photos. He hopes others around the country will do the same to support his effort to share stories of common people, bridging the gaps that often exist between us, and following Christ as a peacemaker.