By Bobby Ross Jr.
My dream job would be pretty close to what I do right now: traveling all over the U.S. and even around the world to report the news.
I consider myself blessed to have enjoyed another (mostly) exciting year in journalism, including my full-time work with The Christian Chronicle and freelance gigs with media such as Religion News Service, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. (That’s not to mention my regular blogging for GetReligion.)
Since I love to look back and reflect, I compiled my Top 10 most memorable stories of 2018.
Here they are, in random order:
1. 25th anniversary of Waco inferno: I visited the Branch Davidian compound where David Koresh — leader of an apocalyptic religious sect known as the Branch Davidians — and 75 followers perished in a firestorm on April 19, 1993. My in-depth takeout for Religion News Service was picked up by USA Today. As part of that package, I did a Q&A with Bob Ricks, who was the face of the FBI during the Central Texas standoff — and whom I first interviewed a quarter-century earlier in the immediate wake of the siege.
2. ‘On the road again’: I took my first ride in an 18-wheeler, joining volunteer driver John Kincaid on an 466-mile journey from Nashville, Tenn., to Panama City, Fla., as he delivered food and emergency supplies after Hurricane Michael. We arrived in the hard-hit Florida Panhandle community just before 2:45 a.m.
3. Speaking of all-nighters…: I made a quick trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to cover a meeting on the fate of prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson for The Washington Post. Except the closed-door deliberations by the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees kept going and going for 13 hours … stretching into the next day. (Another piece I did for the Post was much more time-efficient and generated one of my most clickbaity headlines of the year: “Jesus loves me and my guns.”)
4. 1,000 wells around the world: I spent several days in the Caribbean island nation of Haiti, as Healing Hands International — a humanitarian aid ministry that drills for clean drinking water around the globe — hit a major milestone.
5. Justice for Botham Jean: I covered the fatal shooting of a beloved song leader and Bible class teacher by a Dallas police officer, reporting on his grieving church’s response as well as the “praise as protest” rallies held on what would have been his 27th birthday. (Earlier in 2018, I traveled to Arkansas to cover a different police shooting.)
6. O Canada: I’ve reported from all 50 U.S. states. I still have a few Canadian provinces to go. In previous years, I’ve hit Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. In 2018, I made it to Quebec and wrote a story from Montreal on “Running away from religion.”
7. Racial reconciliation series: I teamed with Hamil Harris, a former longtime Washington Post reporter, to delve into the enduring but differing legacies of Marshall Keeble and Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after their 1968 deaths. I also did a front-page feature on Keeble’s “boy preachers.” Harris and I reported on the 50th anniversary of an important meeting on race relations in Atlanta, and I wrote about the opening of a new center on race studies at a once-segregated Christian university.
8. Take me out the ballgame: My love of baseball is no secret to those who know me. My work as a journalist has taken me inside clubhouses at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Calif., Comerica Park in Detroit, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, Minute Maid Park in Houston, National Park in Washington, D.C., and Progressive Field in Cleveland. This year, I enjoyed interviewing Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer, a high school friend of my son Brady whose offseason work as a plumber helps keep him humble.
9. The world of politics: Even though I specialize in religion news, I enjoy writing about politics from time to time — especially when the Godbeat overlaps with the voting booth. In 2018, I reported on a marijuana ballot question splitting people of faith in Bible Belt Oklahoma. I also covered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Kansas church praying for him during his heated confirmation process, an Episcopal church hosting an interfaith blessing ceremony for a newly elected Democratic congresswoman and a fight over a Muslim surgeon’s appointment to a GOP leadership position in Tarrant County, Texas.
10. A new day for Puerto Rico: My favorite reporting experience of the year? It was probably this: I followed a Kentucky church group to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where Christians ranging in age from 10 to 70 worked hard to help their Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters recover from Hurricane Maria.
Even after sharing all of the above, I ran out of room to mention memorable experiences such as an unexpected sighting of Tim Tebow, a Sunday morning with a homeless church and an encounter with a buffalo at an outdoor Passion play.
Yes, I love what I do — and am blessed to do it.
Thank you for reading and for all your encouragement and ideas.