For the first time in history, one of every two people lives in a city. Some 860 million of these city-dwellers reside in slums—uncertain, cramped, and frequently cruel. Most are there by necessity.
A small number of Christian missionaries live in slums too. They are there by choice.
About 100 of them, mostly from the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, met near Bangkok this past April. They gathered under the banner of “New Friars.”
The New Friars don’t seem to merit high-profile attention. Their efforts to alleviate poverty are small next to the work of many missionary and nonprofit groups and the problems they address.
Yet we do well to listen to the New Friars, because of the way they themselves are listening to God and neighbor, to suffering and hope on the crowded margins of society. They address vital questions about missions today, and about how all Christians might practice our vocations with sacrifice, devotion, and hope.
I knew some of these missionaries. I had read books by others. I had experimented with similar ideals in my own life. So I was eager to see their ideas in action. What better time to do so than over the weekend marking the culmination of Jesus’ life?
Standing in line in Bangkok’s gleaming airport, I pass a smarmy man in his 60s who looks like a star in a sex tourism documentary. He’s not the only one. Bangkok rings luridly in the American imagination. I pray to God that some Thai woman won’t have to open herself to him.