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Foolish or fearless: Love and joy in the slums

Many people think what I’m doing with my college degree is crazy.

And I suppose they’re right.

I share a tiny, one room apartment in Bangkok, Thailand. My apartment does not have windows or air-conditioning. I sleep on a 3-inch thick mat under a mosquito net every night. I live on about $8 U.S. dollars a day. I speak a language I only first heard 1 year ago. I look different than everyone around me with strawberry-blonde hair, white skin and blue eyes.

When I graduated from Concordia College, I moved into a slum community.

I guess that does sound crazy. I didn’t exactly move up the career ladder everyone hoped I would upon graduation. It doesn’t really seem like I became responsibly engaged in the world.

And I suppose my only reasoning for such craziness is that I followed Jesus here. I took him seriously when he said things like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) And, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

And when I did, when I followed Jesus to this dirty, poor, ragged slum community, my heart changed. You see, when I did give up that nice, shiny, new job just out of college, that promise of a nice apartment, a steady salary, holidays and weekends, when I gave up what the world was giving me upon receiving my Concordia College diploma, I found treasure.

And that treasure is nothing like I thought it would be.

Because for me, I found that the treasure is in a Thai woman’s toothless laugh despite the lack of food on the table for the night. The treasure is a child’s dirty smile as he plays in the dumpsters – his own makeshift playground. The treasure is in an old man’s leathery grin, weathered from years of time in the sun, digging through garbage for his next meal. I treasure these people. They are my neighbors. And the treasure is in knowing their names.

So that’s why I moved in. Because, I believe if Jesus were walking this earth right here and now, He’d be living in the dirty, forgotten, disease-laden, dangerous, dark neighborhoods we all try to avoid. Jesus would move right in.

Jesus loves my neighbors here in this slum community when the rest of the world looks down on them. Jesus loves the poor when the world blames them or exploits them or hates them or ignores them. Jesus loves them.

Sitting here in my one-room apartment with the fan blowing on my face, hearing the neighborhood kids get into all sorts of trouble outside, swatting at mosquitoes, I can honestly tell you this: God has a whole treasure in store for those who are willing to follow him to the dirty, downtrodden, forgotten places. It is vital that those places know they actually are not forgotten at all by their Creator. They are actually blessed.

So will you move in, too?

This letter was submitted by Kristen Matheson ’12.


  1. Michelle Hiebert Michelle Hiebert January 27, 2014

    Amen!!! Thanks for taking Jesus at His word and seriously pouring out yourself for people He loves! Love looks like something, and I am so glad people like yourself have decided to show the world what that something is!!!!

  2. Nathan Stanelle Nathan Stanelle January 27, 2014

    I got absolutely rocked by this article, thanks for sharing!

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