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Longtime SBC photographer Paul Obregon dies at 61

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Paul G. Obregon, a veteran photographer for the North American Mission Board, died of cardiac arrest June 5 in Atlanta. He was 61.

Obregon, who retired from NAMB in July 2004 after 30 years of service, was known for his substantial and creative body of photography featuring the missionaries of NAMB and its predecessor, the Home Mission Board (HMB).

Obregon was “one of our greatest mission educators,” said Jim Burton, NAMB’s director of volunteer mobilization who, earlier, as a writer and photographer, worked with Obregon for 20 years.

“Because of his work for Mission USA [the HMB’s missions magazine], his photos made missions very real,” Burton said. “He taught Southern Baptists about missions through his photography and showed them the emotion and realities of missions. More than his photographs themselves, that was his greatest contribution. He strongly wanted to see people come to Christ.”

Mark Sandlin, a former HMB director of photography who worked with Obregon for 18 years, said Obregon had “a true heart for missions and missionaries. He was loved by all the missionaries he came in contact with. He was supremely dedicated to telling the story of home missions through visuals.”

Burton noted, “Not only was he greatly talented as an artist using a camera, he had such a gentle, sweet spirit about him that made his subjects very comfortable with him. He was soft-spoken, so kind and gentle, people loved to be photographed by him.”

Burton said his favorite memory of Obregon involved a scary incident in 1991 when the two of them joined other Southern Baptists on a disaster relief trip to western Iran. Under house arrest by the Iranians, the Baptist men held a prayer meeting.

“Men were worried and crying,” Burton recounted, “but the moment that stands out to me was a prayer that Paul prayed that night. He prayed, ‘God, help us to love these people.’ That was Paul.”

A native of Laredo, Texas, he attended high school in Woodville, Ohio. He earned a B.A. degree in fine arts at Ohio State University in 1967 and a B.S. degree in industrial design there in 1972. He was a veteran who served two years in the U.S. Army and four years in the Army Reserves.

Obregon preferred the stark reality of black-and-white photography to color, Burton said, because he was color-blind yet “he was good with shapes, positioning and emotions.”

Bill Bangham, director of photography at the International Mission Board and a writer-photographer who knew Obregon for nearly 30 years, recounted, “I knew Paul before I met him. He was something of a hero to me, a larger-than-life figure who had a great deal to do with my becoming a photographer. Long before I met him, I would pour over the beautiful images he produced for MissionsUSA and the old Home Missions magazines and think: I would love to do something like that. And I would wonder what he looked like. I still remember the first photograph I saw of Paul. He had on an old cowboy hat pulled low over his rugged Latin features. I thought: Is this guy something. Not only can he shoot, he’s a character to boot.

“Paul was one of the first to accept me into the fraternity of SBC communicators. He was always willing to share those little secrets of the trade that beginning photographers have yet to discover,” Bangham said.

“When we did stories on Native Americans together, someone would invariably ask what tribe he was from,” Bangham recounted. “And when we did a coverage on some Middle East congregations, someone asked him if he was from Syria. One day I said: ‘What is this? Everywhere we go you blend in and I’m like a slice of white bread in a vat of granola.’ He pondered that a moment, then said: ‘I don’t do Asian very well.’”

Obregon is survived by his wife Linda and three grown children, Michelle, John Paul and Ashley. He was a member of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at the church. Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. June 7 at the Ford-Stewart Funeral Home in Jonesboro.
A sample of Obregon’s black-and-white photographic artistry can be seen at http://www.cipatlanta.org/Images/Obregon.mov.

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