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Rural Peru and rural West Texas
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Rural Peru and rural West Texas | Photos by Erik Tryggestad

From the mountains of Peru to the plains of Texas: My top five of 2018

Christian Chronicle editor shares stories he has reported from around the world.

In 17 years with The Christian Chronicle, my favorite part of the job hasn’t changed. I love seeing what God’s doing — at home, across the country and in the remotest parts of the globe.

Here are my personal top five stories of 2018:


1. ‘To work ourselves out of a job’

CUZCO, Peru — ‘It’s terrifying, to be completely honest. It’s terrifying to think of leaving, coming back in a year and it’s all gone.’

That’s Barton Kizer’s biggest fear for the Church of Christ he and his teammates have planted in this South American city of half a million souls, the gateway to the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu.

Outside the meeting place of the Ayllu Church of Christ, Sarah Davis checks in on her babysitter before a meeting with Ron and Georgia Freitas. Davis and her husband, Ryan, will remain in Cusco as five of their team members return to the U.S. in December.

Outside the meeting place of the Ayllu Church of Christ, Sarah Davis checks in on her babysitter before a meeting with Ron and Georgia Freitas. Davis and her husband, Ryan, will remain in Cuzco as five of their team members return to the U.S. in December.

In December, after completing the eight years of service they committed to and trained for, Kizer and his wife, Allison, will pack up their lives and their four children (three of them were born here) and return to the U.S. So will three of their teammates — Gary and Jennifer Reaves and their two children and Corinne Faneus. Their destination: Charlotte, N.C., where they hope to plant a new, multi-ethnic Church of Christ.

Read the full story, and see our related feature, “God ‘conquered the pueblo.'”


2. At the border, a prayer for ‘forgotten people’

REYNOSA, Mexico — Virginia Chaves knows what people think of her.

“We have a bad reputation,” says the 51-year-old Mexico City native, who worked for years as a housekeeper and a nanny in the U.S. — illegally. She mowed yards and raised four children.

Dale Fielder stands in front of a section of a partially built border wall near the south Texas town of Penitas.

Dale Fielder stands in front of a section of a partially built border wall near the south Texas town of Penitas.

Her employers threatened to hand her over to immigration if she complained about the conditions or the pay. By 2010, she’d had enough, she says. She turned herself in and was deported.

Now, in this border town just south of McAllen, Texas, she stands outside a respite center run by the Catholic church. She says she’s trying to get a passport so she can return to the U.S. legally and see her kids. Three are in their mid-20s. The youngest is 18. They’re educated, she says. They’ve made lives for themselves.

“I’m a hardworking lady,” Chaves says. “I didn’t depend on the government when I was in the U.S.

“Even dogs labor to eat.”

Read the full story and a related report, “Responding to that other crisis on the border


3. Can Churches of Christ be saved?

KRESS, Texas — “Oh land of rest, for thee I sigh. When will the moment come, when I shall lay my armor by, and dwell in peace at home?”

On a hot, dry Sunday morning in this West Texas farming town, a small Church of Christ sings that question, posed by hymn 482 in a well-worn, golden-hued copy of “Songs of the Church.”

Hymnals line the pews of the Kress Church of Christ. The church, which has seven regular worshipers, swelled to 73 during a recent Homecoming Sunday.

Hymnals line the pews of the Kress Church of Christ. The church, which has seven regular worshipers, swelled to 73 during a recent Homecoming Sunday.

It’s a question God hasn’t yet answered for Elmo Snelling, who just turned 104. So he waits patiently to “dwell in peace at home.” Patiently, but not idly. As the church sings the chorus, the words mirror his life:

We’ll work ’til Jesus comes.

After the hymn, Snelling bolts from his pew and takes his place behind a table emblazoned with the words “This do in remembrance of me.” He passes trays bearing the unleavened bread that represents Christ’s body, then leads a prayer for the fruit of the vine.

“Thank you for this cup,” he prays, “which is emblematic of Christ’s shed blood on the cross.”

Snelling is one of seven remaining members who worship regularly with the Kress Church of Christ in an A-frame auditorium built to hold 400 souls.

Read the full story and find related features in our Big Questions series.


4. ‘God sent them to us’

VIENNA, Austria — “It was not our choice to come here. We were getting together one day at the house church, and the information leaked out.

“The police came to the house and arrested all the people. We didn’t even get to go back home. We ran away.”

Newly immersed, Mahboubeh embraces her husband, Masoud, after their baptisms in the European city of Vienna, Austria. The couple, refugees from the Middle Eastern nation of Iran, worships with the Danube Church of Christ.

Newly immersed, Mahboubeh embraces her husband, Masoud, after their baptisms in the European city of Vienna, Austria. The couple, refugees from the Middle Eastern nation of Iran, worships with the Danube Church of Christ.

Speaking through a translator, Masoud and his wife, Mahboubeh, share the harrowing events that brought them 3,000 miles from their native Iran to this European capital a year and a half ago. A lifetime ago.

Baptized in April, the couple worships with the Danube Church of Christ, a small congregation that meets on the east side of Vienna.

This city of 1.7 million souls is home to thousands of refugees from the Middle East. Many are here because of the bloody conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read the full story and see our related reports from Vienna and Athens, Greece.


5. To heal Africa

MATSAPHA, Swaziland — “If we can get Matsapha under control, we can control the nation.”

Annette Whittaker points to a map on her smartphone as she repeats those words — told to her by a public health official in this tiny kingdom in southern Africa.

Bob Whittaker takes a quick break during a busy day at the Mathangeni clinic in 2017.

Bob Whittaker takes a quick break during a busy day at the Mathangeni clinic.

She speaks at lighting speed — the southern California in her voice tinged with West African English — as she describes Matsapha, where she and her husband, Dr. Robert Whittaker, have served as missionaries for five years with the Mathangeni Church of Christ Clinic.

Matsapha is a densely populated neighborhood of young job seekers, factory workers, single mothers and their families. The community has the highest incidence of HIV in Swaziland — which itself has highest HIV prevalence per capita in the world. In 2016, 8,800 of the nation’s 1.3 million souls were newly infected with HIV and 3,900 died of AIDS-related illnesses, according to United Nations data.

Annette Whittaker has heard heartbreaking stories, including that of a young woman who routinely tested negative during her pregnancy, but tested positive three weeks after delivery. Weeping, she shared her her feelings of abandonment, her fears for her child. Her husband refused to take the HIV test.

Stop the virus here, in Matsapha, and cut the head from the serpent.

Read the full story

Filed under: 2018 Africa AIDS International National Peru Swaziland Top Stories top stories year in review

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