Sunday, August 25, 2013

An Assignment in Bangkok

Tim Hupe works with a Cambodian street child next to a 7/11 in the Nana neighborhood in Bangkok

A couple of months ago I had an assignment from Christianity Today to work with Kent Annan on a story about New Friars working in the slums of Bangkok. It was an good assignment and I met some very interesting people doing important work under difficult circumstances. I didn’t want to post the photos on my blog until after the magazine was published, which happened this month. 

Tim and Amy Hupe, for example, go out most nights and minister to the street children in the Nana and Patpong red light districts of Bangkok. The kids sell flowers and candies for a few Baht to supplement the family income and survive. 

Tim told me the children are Cambodian immigrants, and that most are in Thailand without papers. Their story is not that dissimilar from undocumented children in the US. First their fathers come to Thailand from Cambodia looking for work. (The Phnom Penh Post had a story about the shortage of construction workers in Cambodia because so many had come to Thailand looking for work.)

Eventually mom packs up the family and makes the trip to Bangkok to reunite the family only to discover dad may not want the family there or life in Bangkok is harder than expected and the family is forced into more desperate situation than the one they had in Cambodia.

Thailand, like the US, does not look kindly upon undocumented immigrants. The children are not allowed to enroll in Thai schools and don’t get access to Thai social services. Families are separated if a parent is arrested. It’s a very difficult life. Life on the street, or in a sweat shop, is frequently the only option left to them. 

I also met Michelle Kao, with the Thai Peace Foundation. She lives in the Bangkapi area east of downtown Bangkok. Michelle has a school and library for the children in her neighborhood. 
Michelle Kao (center) in the Thai Peace Foundation after school center. 

I went to Easter services in the chapel above their offices. A small gathering of Thais held a traditional Easter service not unlike Easter services I’ve attended in the US or Mexico except it was in Thai. And the meal after the service was rice and curries rather than lamb. 
Easter services at the Thai Peace Foundation

I’ve met a lot of missionaries in my time outside of the US. A lot of them, especially evangelicals, are of the “Fire and Brimstone” mold - sort of their way or the highway (to hell). Embrace their version of the Savior or else. The New Friars I met weren’t like that at all. They were more focused on providing services and saving souls than converting souls. 

I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Kent and Christianity Today. There are more photos of the New Friars in Bangkok in my archive. Here’s a link to the Christianity Today story (pdf). It’s best viewed in Safari or Chrome