Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water: One Woman's Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water: One Woman's Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe

by Amanda Hudson


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Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water takes the reader on an armchair tour of Christianity in our world, across borders and over continents. Author Amanda Hudson provides a personal touch with cultural curiosities, profound questions about the nature and practice of faith, as she travels to five countries: Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China, and Honduras.

Part reflection, part entertaining travelogue, Coffee Tea, and Holy Water explores everything from each culture’s offer of hospitality to life in a Masaai boma. “There are lessons to be learned from other countries that are not visible in our own culture,” writes Hudson, “Questions that are not our questions. Struggles that are not our normal struggles. And yet, when we look around the throne one day at the nations assembled there, instead of marveling at the diversity, I think we will actually be fascinated by what we all had in common.” This is a book about the places we meet, what we share, how we can learn to cross borders (geographical, cultural, personal), and learning that the steps to do so make all the difference.

Honest, witty, and thought-provoking, these stories come from a young woman raised in the South, who found herself wondering what “normal” Christianity looked like in other countries.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426793134
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 03/01/2015
Pages: 210
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Amanda Hudson is a writer and world traveler living in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a journalism graduate of Auburn University and former Alabama native. Hudson has written for numerous publications, including Southern Living, mental floss magazine,, Motivation Strategies magazine, The Times Daily and The Auburn Plainsman. In her spare time, Hudson enjoys reading, photography, coffee, and travel. She is an avid fan of Downton Abbey, Survivor, American Idol, and SEC football. She currently attends Crosspoint Church in Nashville. For more information, visit her blog at

Read an Excerpt

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water

One Woman's Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe

By Amanda Hudson

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2015 Amanda Hudson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-9314-1


beyond the red sea

perhaps you're wondering how I came to be sitting in a white jeep with a Maasai woman in the Tanzanian bush in the first place.

It all began with a cup of coffee. I used to work as a barista in a coffee shop, which gave me lots of time to think about coffee and one of my other passions—the church. At some point, amid making cinnamon cappuccinos and dark-roast lattes and coffee frappes and chai smoothies, I realized: The different blends of coffee are about as diverse as my customers. And I began to think: If Christianity is like coffee, the American choices are as vast as the selection in a five-star coffee shop. Some people know exactly what they want; some make it harder than it needs to be. Some want decaf so they can have the taste without the caffeine. Some just want the traditional, small, black cup of Joe.

It's all coffee, with one express purpose—caffeine. One beloved beverage that has been waking people up every morning for centuries.

I am addicted to coffee, and I may as well admit it. If you're thinking, "So what—a lot of people like coffee," let me tell you: drinking two to three cups a day is not addicted. "Addicted" is carrying Folgers singles in your wallet just in case you end up where they don't have coffee and you need to heat water to make your own over an open flame. What can I say? I like having my own personal stash when I need it.

But as much as I love coffee, I love church more. I come from a state where you can't throw a rock without hitting a church. The church I grew up in in Alabama was one of five congregations within a 500-yard radius. The Christian culture pervades every nook and cranny—Christian bookstores in strip malls, Easter musicals in the spring, Vacation Bible School in the summer, harvest festivals (Halloween) in the fall, and Christmas programs in the winter. Million-dollar sanctuaries share neighborhoods with smaller ones sporting marquees with wisdom such as "Life is fragile, handle with prayer" and "God responds to knee-mail." Everything from pipe organs to praise bands awaits you inside. Church was as much a part of my upbringing as good food, football, or hot summers. It was just part of being Southern.

When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, after college, I found myself swimming in the Red Sea—red as in, "a state that voted for George W. Bush" and sea as in, "washed in the blood of the lamb." I realized, if the U.S. is the most "Christian" nation in the world, I was living in the most conservatively Christian part of it: the Buckle of the Bible Belt.

From my earliest memory, church was a staple of the Sunday routine. Every Lord's Day you were dragged out of your pajamas and wrestled into church clothes. For girls, this almost always included a gigantic bow and frilly socks. Sunday typically included a family meal, sometimes at a restaurant, or sometimes just tuna fish and egg salad at your grandparents' house. On Sunday afternoon, everyone took a nap. At 5:00, we were chased into the car for evening services. Church wasn't some foreign ritual; it was simply a part of life.

My memories of church are scattered. I wish I could remember something holy to share with you from my wee years, but I only remember wanting to go to church in just my slip so I could be Smurfette. There was the time I was picked for having the "best smile" during Children's Bible Hour, where we watched puppet shows with angel and devil sock puppets. I remember getting prizes for bringing a visitor and being given ribbons for learning the books of the Bible and the twelve judges of Israel. Most fascinating to me, however, was the baptismal font at our church, which had a backdrop with trees like the Garden of Eden. I wondered how you could get a neat backdrop like that for your swimming pool.

As I grew older, I began to wonder about the "church" in other countries. Stereotypes, it seems, are formed at a very early age. When I was in the sixth grade, for example, our class had an "International Banquet." We had a week of geographically educational activities, including a detailed Parade of Nations with costume judges and a dinner featuring international cuisine. There were sombreros, chopsticks, kimonos, and corsets—yours truly representing Germany with an olive-colored beret with an orange pom-pom and similar-colored vest trimmed in orange bric-a-brac. I even had fake bread in a brown basket. We all looked like something out of a children's coloring book, to be honest. I remember watching our "parade" and wondering if people in Holland really wore wooden shoes and whether men in Australia really wrestled inflatable alligators.

How did this compare with what I saw in missionary newsletters—children with bare ribs and bloated bellies, veiled women covered head-to-toe in cloth, villagers who lived off of donated peanut butter and had to walk miles just to find clean water? I began to wonder: If being a Christian was such an integral part of my culture, what does normal Christianity look like in other countries? Not in the most extreme places on earth, but among everyday lives in other regions? I couldn't help but contemplate what people might see on the frontlines of faith if they were dropped into a normal, medium-sized city in, say, Bolivia, Spain, or Egypt.

I was in my apartment at 5:00 a.m. a few years ago, attempting to get ready for work when the calling came. Coffee is a necessity at that hour, and my mind was blank as I wearily drained my half-empty coffee mug—the television droning in the background. Let me pause here to say that I am not an impulsive person. Those who know me will tell you that it takes me twenty minutes to pick out hair conditioner. But at that particular moment, the certainty that I was to travel around the world to write about Christianity strolled into my mind, fully formed and without a doubt. It was like immediately knowing the answer to a math problem you hadn't sat down to solve.

We can all debate how you hear the voice of the Lord, but I knew I had. I expected revelations like this to come with a little more pizzazz, but this one came with nothing but a cup of coffee.

After the idea sunk in, the question of what countries to visit arose. I didn't want anything extreme or too touristy—I wanted places that were different from the American South, but places where normal Christians lived. After a great deal of prayer, I settled on five random countries: Brazil, Wales (U.K.), Tanzania, China, and Honduras. With that decided, I set out to find host families and make all the arrangements.

Planning a trip to five countries wasn't easy, but thankfully, the Lord made it easier than it should have been. When I told family and friends of my mission, they offered to put me in touch with host families in those counties. I contacted those families, began raising support, and gradually plans fell into place. Plane tickets were bought at a discount, vaccinations received, and visas applied for. Nine months later, I was ready to go. Notwithstanding the major hurricane that slammed the American embassy where one of my visas was being processed, and the fact that the Brazilian embassy in Atlanta opened without the rubber stamps needed to process visas, everything went off without a hitch. In the end, I was very proud of my sore arms and my first plane ticket to Natal, Brazil.


going to see the christ

if you are one of the millions of Americans addicted to coffee, you can thank a goat herder from Ethiopia named Kaldi. According to legend, Kaldi discovered coffee when he noticed that his goats became hyperactive after eating the berries from the coffee plant. He told the head of a nearby monastery, who found that a drink made with these magic beans kept him awake for long nights of prayer ... which proves that coffee and church go back a lot farther than anyone guessed.

What does coffee have to do with the church around the world? More than you think, as I would soon find out.

Aside from an obsessive fondness for coffee, there are a few random things you should know about me:

1. I don't like tea, hot or cold. This may be anti-Southern, I know. But it's true.

2. I am deathly afraid of needles. Getting four shots in one day to bring my vaccinations up-to-date was quite an ordeal. And my second travel-related concern is being separated from air-conditioning. I realize other travelers might be concerned with access to clean water, safe food, malaria, terrorism, or navigating the language barrier, but I turn into a female version of the Incredible Hulk in a humid, unventilated climate.

3. My favorite food is scrambled eggs.

4. If I could read one book of the Bible for the rest of my life, it would be Isaiah or Romans.

5. I think I might have been British in another life.

6. I love to travel.

When the day of my departure for Brazil finally arrives, I wake up feeling like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, when she links arms with her new friends and happily prances down the yellow brick road singing "We're Off to See the Wizard!" I'm really quite a serious person, but for some reason, the awesomeness of being able to zip across the world in a few hours has never worn off.

I arrive at the Miami airport, where literally every third person speaks Spanish. As the night wears on, the passengers crowding near the TAM airline gate all begin to look alike ... Latin American. Finally, after everyone is boarded, I put on my eye mask and settle back for some sleep. The first thing I notice when the sun comes up is that the coffee is fantastic, meaning we must have officially entered the Brazilian atmosphere! I'm also excited because I have been looking forward to seeing Rio de Janeiro's famous statue of the Christ, the Corcovado's Cristo Redentor, my entire life, and today is my chance.

Outside the airport, a capable-looking driver pounces on my suitcase and deftly throws my luggage in the back of his black cab. Known as "The Marvelous City," Rio was the capital of Brazil until 1960, when the capital was moved to Brasilia. Rio is famous for its Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, its high crime rate, and its widely celebrated carnival season.

We drive in silence, though the presence of the rosary on the dashboard soon begins to make sense as the driver swerves wildly to avoid motorcycles and stopped vehicles. I compose a mental postcard: Dear Mom and Dad, Sorry to disappoint everyone. I died in a taxi before I could see anything interesting. Just then we pass something that temporarily distracts me from the fear of death. Out of nowhere are hundreds upon hundreds of dilapidated shacks on the hillside, leaning together, roofs tilted, like a rusty house of cards. Such an eyesore on the skyline, I muse, noting their graffiti. I wonder why the city doesn't tear them down.

Then I see washlines hung from the windows and realize with shock that people live in these shacks.

I soon learn that Rio is known for its favelas, or slums. They are named after the faveleira, a resilient plant that springs up wherever it finds root. Over a million people live in favelas, without sewage, running water, or electricity.

* * *

To my driver's credit, I arrive at the hotel in one piece. That afternoon, when the bus to the Corcovado arrives at the hotel, the tour guide looks at my ticket and says simply, "We are going to see the Christ."

Because the Catholic Church is based in Rome, Italy, not many people know that Brazil is actually the largest Catholic nation in the world. A Catholic priest first suggested a religious monument over the city of Rio in the 1850s. The idea was nearly forgotten when Brazil liberated from Portugal. A local Catholic association suggested it once more in 1921, and soon after, approval was given to construct the 700-ton statue on Corcovado Mountain, which officially opened to the public in 1931.

Our bus slowly makes its way to the Tijuca forest, stopping halfway up the mountain at a scenic overlook. There, perched calmly on the peak, is the 120-foot statue with his arms outstretched in the surrounding mist. The fog swirls around the mountain's tip, making him visible one moment and invisible the next. It is such a beautiful view, I feel I need to sit down and meditate, but the tour guide will have none of it, urging us to look down at the view of Rio: "Friend from America! (Translation: "Tourist with money.") Look this way! Friend from America! Do you see the stadium? Do you see our coffee trees?"

Back on the bus, we make the final climb to the top of the mountain, where freezing winds rudely greet us. I clutch the now-inadequate coat to my shivering body as the moist, icy wind solicits gasps from tourists caught in shorts and flip-flops.

Climbing up the long flight of steps, I can now see the statue's back. It feels kind of weird, like I'm sneaking up on Jesus. At a distance, he looks like he's ready to swan-dive off the mountain—but up close he is regal and slightly stern, with a tiny heart in the middle of his chest and his face solemn, as if to say, It is a grim job, this business of looking out over humanity.

The green islands below remind me of Neverland—palm trees with lush green foliage and deserted, misty beaches with cream-colored sand curve out of sight as they wind up rugged peninsulas. There are inlets and lagoons reflecting the mountains, as well as hotels and condos all sitting close to the water's edge. Opposite them, hillside favelas blur into orange and white, with the modern skyline looming behind them. It would be almost picturesque if not for the dreadful poverty they represent.

Rio is a mix of rich and poor, and I soak in the view, one of my favorite verses echoing in my head: "Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I'm gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves."

With the statue behind me, I close my eyes and set my heart free—free to blow around in the wind, tickle the face of the Christ, and dive toward the water in a rollicking swoop. Now that I am finally here, I wonder, What should I do? Say a prayer? Make a wish?

I look at the statue again, eyeing it carefully, as if it really were Jesus and I could ask him questions.

"Lord, there are so many things I don't understand. Why are you so hard to find?"

"Why do you seem to speak to some people and not others?"

"How much of my life is your will?"

I wait for something profound to happen, but I don't suppose God works that way.

My heart returns to me just as it left: in silence. It's as if the statue is trying to tell me, "Spiritual experiences are not up here. They're down there."

And the statue, of course, is right.


haven of grace

my stay in Rio is brief, as the next morning, the plane descends upon Natal (pop. 800,000), a city in the state of Rio de Norte in eastern Brazil. Bryan Carruth, the American pastor of a nondenominational church in Natal, will be my host for the first portion of my stay. Bryan meets me at the terminal, tall with blond hair, blue eyes, and a slight beard, looking more like a well-shaven Scandinavian Viking than a Brazilian minister. Originally from Texas, he has lived in Brazil for fourteen years with his wife and three sons.

Bryan asks if I am hungry. He explains that lunch is the largest meal of the day in Brazil, so we stop at a nearby restaurant serving local food, including the national specialty, feljoada (black-eyed peas). Brazil is also known for its amazing selection of juices. It is not uncommon to have guava, watermelon, pineapple, papaya, coconut, acerola, or cashew juice with the midday meal rather than soft drinks, Bryan says.

I eye him suspiciously. "Cashew juice?" I wasn't born yesterday, you know.

"The cashew is not just a nut—it's a fruit," Bryan explains. "Brazilians eat the fruit and send the nut overseas."

That would be just like Americans, I think. Eat the nut; toss the fruit.

While we eat, I ask Brian if there are any cultural taboos I should be aware of.

"Brazilians consider shorts kind of like we would consider pajama pants. They are considered casual wear, to be worn in your home," he says. "I should warn you that the OK sign is also offensive."

I try to get him to tell me precisely what it means, but he won't.

"Just use the thumbs up," he says.

As we drive to the Carruths' apartment, we pass statues of the three wise men from the Bible and the Christmas star, jutting in an arc over the roadway. Natal means Christmas in Portuguese, named because the town was founded on the Day of Epiphany in 1599. As we drive, I start to notice how many Brazilian houses are walled and gated with barbed wire at the top, kind of like mini-prisons. "Apartments are the way to live safely in Brazil," Bryan explains, "since the entry is controlled."

The Carruths' fifth-floor apartment is clean and well-ventilated, allowing the ocean breeze to flow through. It is pleasant, not like the heavy breezes of Florida. The window in the main living area boasts a splendid view of the Natal skyline, complete with a hammock.


Excerpted from Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Amanda Hudson. Copyright © 2015 Amanda Hudson. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


beyond the red sea,
going to see the christ,
haven of grace,
city of the magi,
becoming a gospel,
"i see so many things in the dark. why can't i see them in the light?",
the north zone and lenningrad,
the interior,
the sound of the bride,
land of the cymru,
the prosperity gospel and the problem with pain,
british tea and pumpkin pie,
feed the birds,
wazunga in africa,
paternalism vs. indigenous,
"never play chicken with a daladala" and other african proverbs,
ngorongoro crater and noah's ark,
the middle country,
three self,
house church,
saluting your shorts,
silly string and spiced frog,
the banana republic,
catrachos and gringos,
spreading the blessing,
make a run for the border,
about the author,

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