A Man of Conscience: Lee Dittman Shapiro (1949-1987)
by Victoria Clevenger
Not long after Lee Shapiro and his fellow filmmaker Jim Lindelof were killed in Afghanistan in an ambush of their party by helicopter gunships, and before anyone knew what had happened, this article was published in Today’s World magazine as a testimony to Lee’s work and character. Now, 30 years later, we are publishing it again (plus a link to the UTS Alumni memorial page, at the end) to remind ourselves that some things can only be accomplished with courage and self-sacrifice.
During his spring visit to the United States this year, film maker Lee Shapiro told his long-time friend, Peter Gogan, that the Soviets were keeping close tabs on news correspondents in Peshawar, the “capital” of the Afghan exile com munity in Pakistan. He said that “it is very likely that my team and I have been marked” for assassination. Lee and his sound man James Lindelof, a paramedic from California, were reported to have been killed October 11 or 12 during an ambush (or possibly a bombing) by Afghan and/or Soviet troops northwest of Kabul. The two had been working to “bring to viewers in the West an accurate, filmed portrait of the suffering of the Afghan people,” explained Ellen Hori, Lee’s assistant in America.
Lee Shapiro joined the Unification Church on June 24, 1974, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A deeply caring person, he had at first planned to be a psychiatrist. While in medical school, he had a deep experience watching an old Russian silent film. Shortly there after, he transferred to the London School of Film. After studying there for a year, he returned to America, where he became a member of the church. He attended the Unification Theological Seminary from 1976-78, and was then asked to pioneer Ocean Church. He made a documentary film called “Ocean Challenge” (1980) and was soon called to make films for various other church departments and organizations within the movement including CAUSA International, which took him to Latin America.
When he witnessed the plight of the Miskito Indians under the Nicaraguan Marxist regime, he felt moved to make a film about the suffering of this brave people. The result, “Nicaragua Was Our Home;’ was broadcast nationally by the Public Broadcasting Station and received critical acclaim from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and TV Guide. For its excellence, the film also received the CINE Golden Eagle Award and the Angel Award. After seeing the film in November 1985, President Reagan called Lee “a man of conscience” and said, “Your work…is motivated not only by an artist’s desire to tell the story and tell it well, but also by your hatred of injustice and your compassion for its victims.”
Linda Shapiro’s testimony
Lee’s wife, Linda Krout Shapiro, a frontline member of CARP to whom he was blessed in 1982, shares:
When we were matched, the word ‘joy’ came immediately into my mind. Lee always wants to make people laugh and feel happy, although internally he is very serious and dedicated. He is righteous, pure-hearted, and disciplined, and always puts his mission for God and True Parents first.
In pioneering the area of film for God and True Parents, he often had to be very strong to get his ideas across. He felt desperate to be able to use his ability to try to help those people oppressed by totalitarianism. He and I both felt that God had given him his film-making mission. He always did a seven-day fast before starting a major film and went way beyond himself for the sake of each of his films.
Because there was so little coverage of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Lee wanted to get into the heart of the country and bring this tragedy to the world. Before he went, he talked personally with Father for two or three hours, and Father gave him his blessing. I think Father could sense that Lee was gladly willing to give his entire self, even his life, for this mission.
Lee hoped that the film would move the public toward action that could help end the Afghan people ‘s suffering. Father said that Satan wanted to block the making of this film because he knew the impact the movie could have. Father has requested that the documentary project be completed by Lee’s staff.
Lee once told me that if he were to die, the best way would be on the front line with the people he was trying to serve. Neither he nor I want others to cry for us, but rather for the people in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, and all those who are miser ably suffering under the evils of communism.
Two days before I heard the news, I had prayed strongly to God, ‘I want to grow more. Please put me through the most difficult situation. I felt Heung Jin Nim helped prepare me for the news about Lee because right before I heard it, I had a beautiful dream of Lee, in which he hugged me gently with pure love. Of course I was profoundly shocked by the report, and I repented deeply for not supporting him enough. But I am also comforted by knowing that members are praying for him, and that I can help his work continue here.”
Michael Jenkins’ Testimony
Michael Jenkins attended UTS with Lee and offers the following testimony:
Our friendship is one of the most rewarding and endearing relationships of my life. Lee is a very jovial and stable person. He has that rare gift of being able to find a joyful outlook on every activity he is engaged in. His main focus is always on people and how to help brothers and sisters find fulfillment.
Lee loves God very deeply. I remember him telling me how grateful he was to have such a strong and faithful wife. He isn’t a person to think that his problems are due to other people or the system, but instead he takes responsibility for his own circumstances. He truly believes that together with God, he is master of his own destiny. Because, I believe, of his willingness to cooperate with his central figures, he is trusted by God and Father.
In Nicaragua, a new side of Lee Shapiro emerged that none of us had seen before: He was willing to live in the jungle and even starve in order to bring the Miskito Indians’ situation to the attention of the free world. When he returned, I could see that his drive and his commitment to filmmaking was now turned towards the saving of people and nations. There was a fearlessness about this. We knew he’d lived in great danger, but he never referred to it.
The purity of his heart as I spoke with him over our last few meetings was so outstanding that it’s not a surprise to me that his sacrifice has become a world event. His willingness to risk his life for the sake of humankind truly exemplifies the noble tradition of our True Parents.