More BWA Photos Published

Three different publications recently ran some of my materials covering the Baptist World Congress this summer in South Africa. I previously reported on the gathering for Ethics Daily and Churchnet, and had photos published by Ethics Daily, Churchnet, and Baptist News Global.

1. An October 2 column for the Baptist Times (news outlet in the United Kingdom) ran a photo I took of Churchnet Executive Director Jim Hill at the Congress. The piece is a good reflection on the Congress and how to respond to the refugee crisis.

2. The October/November issue of fellowship! (the magazine of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), focuses on the Congress. It includes a photo I took of the International Convention Center in Durban.

3. The October-December issue of Baptist World (the magazine of the Baptist World Alliance) also focuses on the Congress. It includes an article I wrote about breakout sessions on South Africa's Peace & Reconciliation Commission and a photo I took of Peter Chin of the Republic of Korea.

I am thankful for the opportunities to help share about the Congress.

Disunity Among Baptists in Nation of Georgia ran a two-part series I wrote on disunity among Baptists in the former Soviet-bloc nation of Georgia. I received comments from three key Georgian Baptist leaders as I attempted to sort through the controversy.

Map that ran with first article. It shows Georgian territories occupied by Russia.

As seems to often be the case among Christians these days, the dividing issue is homosexuality. What makes the case in Georgia even more tragic is that Baptists are a small and sometimes persecuted minority group. I hope all involved can find a way to work together and strengthen their unique and important witness.

The two articles:
Baptists in Nation of Georgia Divide over Homosexuality - Part 1
Baptists in Nation of Georgia Grapple with Unity, Minority Status - Part 2

Spiced Arabic Coffee

Today is "National Coffee Day."

Or, as I call it, just another day.

In honor of this day when I drink lots of coffee (like usual), I'd like to share about my experience cooking spiced Arabic coffee I bought in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. During a visit to the Spice Souk (market) in July, shop owner Ali treated me to numerous delightful smells and a few yummy samples of various items.

The smell of one item quickly caught my attention - the spiced Arabic coffee. In addition to ground coffee beans, it includes cardamom and saffron. The spices added to the price a bit since saffron is the world's most expensive spice and cardamom is third (guess I should add some vanilla to it for the trifecta).

I enjoy trying new coffees when I travel, so I had to grab some of this! (For other posts on coffee, check out my review of multiple Guatemalan coffees and my reflection on Cuban coffee.)

Once home, I followed Ali's advice on how to brew the coffee. I added one liter of water and two tablespoons of the spiced coffee, and then boiled it for 40 minutes. Soon the house smelled wonderful!

I've made the coffee a couple of times now, and have improved my cooking of it. As is often customary in the Middle East, I grab a date or two to go with my coffee (although the dates aren't nearly as good as those I had in Dubai).

You don't have to travel to Dubai to get your own spiced Arabic coffee, although I highly recommend such a trip! Just ground some strong coffee beans and add some cardamom and saffron. It takes a little work and time, but it sure does create a welcoming aroma for guests.

Urban Church Planting

For the September issue of Word&Way (a Baptist magazine in the Midwest), I wrote the cover package on urban church planting. I hope the articles spark awareness and support for urban church planting efforts.

The first article, Urban Church Planting Poses Unique Challenges, Opportunities [not online yet], features comments from Andy Hale (church planter in North Carolina who leads the church starts initiative for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), Owen Taylor (church planter in St. Louis who has led church planting efforts for Churchnet), and Jeffrey Johnson (national director of evangelism and new church planting for the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

The second article, Urban Church Planting Engages Unreached Subcultures, includes comments from Hale, Kempton Turner (church planter in East St. Louis), and Michael Haynes (director of missions for Greene County Baptist Association).

Religious-Political Space in Cuba

I've enjoyed watching the news coverage this weekend of Pope Francis's visit to Cuba. The topics covered and the images published bring back memories of my visit to Baptists on the island nation last year (which, oddly, didn't get nearly as much attention as the Pope's trip). While in Cuba last October, I reported for Ethics Daily (articles here, here, and here), Churchnet (digital magazine here), and Word&Way (article here). The trip was also covered by Baptist News Global (articles here and here) and Jefferson City News-Tribune (article here).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the island learning from Baptists there about how they view faith and public engagement. And I enjoyed their food and music! Previous papal visits came up in conversations since such trips spark lots of attention. Little did we know that just two months later the U.S. and Cuba would start to normalize diplomatic relations after secret negotiations sparked by Francis. Nor did we know that less than a year later Francis would visit.

Upon arriving in Cuba, Francis invoked national hero José Martí to offer some criticism of the Castro political dynasty. As I learned during my trip, Martí remains the most beloved Cuban independence thinker and his statue can be seen at every school and city park in Cuba. In fact, Martí remains a much more significant sight on the Cuban landscape than the Castro brothers, even though he died more than half a century before the Cuban Revolution.

Bust of Martí in Ciego de Ávila.
Statue of Martí in Havana.
Bust of Martí in Havana.
Francis also led Mass in the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square). The latter, which features a large memorial to Martí and massive icons of Cuban revolutionary fighters Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, is the most significant political space in Havana. I visited the Plaza de la Revolución, although it looked quite a bit different from the recent news as it lacked the large crowd and the Christian symbols.

During the service in the Plaza de la Revolución, Francis offered an important reminder. Standing in the shadow of ideological symbols, he declared: "Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people."

Memorial to Martí. 
Che Guevara.
Camilo Cienfuegos
Seeing images from Sunday morning Mass in the Plaza de la Revolución, it is fascinating to see how Francis transformed that space. Religious icons filled the area, and Francis served the Eucharist. This normally political place became a sacred space for worship. 

This transformation serves as a perfect example of what I describe in my newest book, Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action. In the book, I particularly focus on communion as a holy, transforming act. That's exactly what Francis did on Sunday. Transforming the Plaza de la Revolución into a sanctuary changed - at least temporarily - the nature of the space. It became holy ground.

Moments like that help us see the relationship between political and religious space, and perhaps see the political potency of religious worship. Worship is not just about the afterlife; it is also about the here and now.