Will Stuart

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‘Resilient’ Cuban churches surprise IMB leader

HAVANA, Cuba (BP) -- The recent storm took everyone by surprise. It turned streets in Havana, Cuba, into rivers, lifting manhole covers on water bubbling from drainage pipes unable to contain the surge racing to the sea. In Vueltas, 180 miles to the east, rural roads turned to mush, making it impossible to travel from surrounding villages into the city for the constitution of nine new churches.

WEEK OF PRAYER: Quichua farmer tithes his life to God

SOUTH ASIA (BP) -- There was little in life to predict that Cebrián Bolívar* would one day become a missionary in one of South Asia's most populated cities. He grew up on a farm high in South America's Andes Mountains where his parents and siblings still scratch out a living from the soil. But that was before he met Sam Cordell.* Cordell was a Southern Baptist missionary with a plan. In less than a decade he trained a cadre of 200 Quichua Indian believers to plant churches among the scattered mountain villages of their people. And Bolívar was one of the best; he planted 26.

He touches, gives dignity to India’s destitute & dying

BANGALORE, India (BP) -- A child died during the night. The next morning Auto T. Raja lays a clean white sheet on the floor of an empty room in the children's hostel and places the frail, lifeless body on it. He cleans dried spittle from her mouth, straightens her clothing and then cradles the body while winding the sheet about it. Little is known of this little one. Small for her age -- maybe 3 -- one of India's throwaway people, she was found wandering the streets of Bangalore. No one knows who left her there or why. No one claimed her then; there will be no one to claim her body now.

She lived among 40 other castoff children at Raja's Home of Hope for nearly a year until tuberculosis took her. They called her Sharon. Outside the hostel, Raja sweeps 8-month-old Aaron into his arms. Raja nuzzles him and plants kisses about his face. The child grins and grabs for Raja's ears. Nearby, Marica -- the child's mother -- watches. She mops the tiled courtyard at the entrance of the hostel and grins at the two of them as Raja swings Aaron back and forth in his arms. Marica is a pretty teenager. She came here late in her pregnancy, after life -- and abuse -- on the streets. She is HIV-positive; so far, Aaron is not. Marica has elected to stay at Home of Hope to help care for the other children and raise Aaron here. For now. Dignity & comfort Life and death are intimates here. So are other beginnings and endings. The hostel is part of Home of Hope, which Raja began by bringing one man into his home 16 years ago. Now three facilities house and care for 450 people: one for children, another for women and a third for men.

UUPG: First Contact A First Person Narrative

    Editor’s Note: Will Stuart is a photojournalist specializing in religion and culture. His colleague Rich* is doing research among twenty-four indigenous tribes along a river in South America. These tribes are among hundreds of unengaged, unreached people groups in South America. From the edge of the mountain, I can see the stark contrast […]

WEEK OF PRAYER: ‘I’ve wondered if there was something else out there’

SOUTH AMERICA (BP) -- Grace, a member of one of the indigenous tribes of South America, speaks with intensity about the future of her people.       There are outsiders who would keep them in something of a museum -- as living history, she says -- stuck in a time that has not been a reality for generations.

Worldwide, moms give comfort, assurance amid war, grief

SYRIAN BORDER, Northern Jordan (BP) -- Miriam* sits against a wall on a pad that will double as a pallet this evening in the small, attached room that serves primarily as a kitchen. She's one of 14 people who live here. Children slip in and out of the unfurnished room, their bare feet trekking quietly against the cement floors. They do not stay long, but the presence of strangers draws them back again and again. Miriam is the center of this world. Little ones race to her, flop in her lap, then are gone. Older ones settle next to her for a moment and press against her. As long as she is here -- as long as they can touch her -- all is well. They seek the assurance of her presence, fly off, then return at unexpected intervals when something deep jars them and they need the reassurance of her presence again. Sometimes it is only minutes. Conversation between the adults is strangely quiet. There should be rage, hollering, fists beating the air. It belies the suffering Miriam and her family have endured. There is nonchalance in the telling -- passion and agony have been numbed, perhaps by the need to tell again and again -- of memories that will not die, that can only be quieted. They tell of their city in Syria tumbling about them as the shelling came closer. The loss of friends, neighbors and family amid the chaos, the desire to survive, the seeking of something as simple as water. They tell of the cousin who died. The son. The uncle. The husband. They talk of their journey south to Jordan and safety, crossing the desert in the night on foot because the border was closed, avoiding army patrols. They tell of those left behind, those in hiding, wondering who will survive. And what will become of the son still fighting? They ponder the uncertainty, if they will ever return home. The stories are difficult. Still the children drift in, linger, listen, drift out. They, too, are caught in the cycle. They have heard the stories before. They have lived them. Miriam points to a little one, not yet 10, and tells how when his brother was shot down in the street the boy lingered over the body long enough to raise a fist against the gunman and scream before scampering to safety. He is brave, she says. Then weeps. Miriam is a good mother. There is something unnatural here. In a place filled with cycles, one cycle is broken: It is unnatural for mothers to bury their children. The world is filled with good mothers, mothers whose children died too soon and did not live to bury their mothers. It matters not the agent -- disease, violence, addiction, war, foolish decisions. The cycle is broken. The good mothers are left to speak in whispers of the obscenities they witnessed. To repair a breach they cannot mend. To be the center for those who remain. To be the touchstone when those they love are jarred by the unexpected and when assurance is needed once again. To join with that good mother who walked with her Son to the foot of the cross.

Encounters on the mountain with the unengaged, unreached

SOUTH AMERICA (BP) -- From the edge of the mountain, I can see another world. Behind us are the seven villages of an indigenous people in the forests of South America. Below, the sun is setting and lights are coming on across a modern city on the edge of the jungle. Here, it is dirt tracks and homes of mud and wattle or simple block. There, it is paved roads, streetlights, concrete and steel. It has been a good day. My colleague Rich* and I were warned our journey might be difficult, even dangerous, that many indigenous tribes are not open to outsiders. Rich is doing research among 24 indigenous tribes along one river. They are among hundreds of unengaged, unreached people groups in South America. There was even uncertainty whether the tribes would allow us on their land. But our reception thus far has only been welcoming. Theo*, a medicine man for one village, greeted us warmly. He introduced us to his chief who was comfortable with Rich conducting research into the family structure, worldview and religion of the tribe and gave me permission to photograph in their village. We were welcomed in Theo's hut of mud and wattle. He invited friends to show us crafts and indigenous art. He painted his face. And he showed what kind of wood is best to make a bow and how to begin shaping it. Then he invited us to walk in the forest with him as he pointed out plants and their uses and talked of the animals found there. We had made a friend. As dusk begins, we make our leave. Theo invites us back in the morning. He will gather some friends. They will dance and sing. We will eat jaca -- a sweet, watermelon-sized fruit that grows on trees.

Inroads against HIV/AIDS flow from Botswana-U.S. tie

GABORONE, Botswana (BP)--Open Baptist Church in Botswana's capital city is celebrating. A crowd streams into the sanctuary and fills tables placed three wide and many deep, each decorated in the white, black and blue of the nation's flag.