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Soccer and Salvation in Thailand's Largest Slum

Soccer and Salvation in Thailand's Largest Slum

How Australia native Ash Barker is seeking stability in one incredibly instable Bangkok slum.

In 2008, the world's population silently made the momentous shift from a primarily rural world to a primarily urban world. More people now live in urban areas than in rural ones, and roughly one out of every six people not only lives in an urban area, but in an urban slum area.

What does it mean to bear witness to the gospel in an urban world such as ours, with such a large proportion of the people living in slum areas? This question is the focus of Ash Barker's life mission as well as his new book, Slum Life Rising: How to Enflesh Hope Within an Urban World. Barker, an Australia native and founder of Urban Neighbors of Hope, wrestles with these challenges not as an academic but as a practitioner who has been living for a decade in Klong Toey of Bangkok, the largest slum in Thailand.

Klong Toey is home to over 100,000 people crammed into a space of about two square kilometers. Open sewers, drugs, gangs, rampant disease, and unstable housing situations and jobs are but some of the maladies that hinder comprehensive flourishing in Klong Toey and other slums the world over.

Barker and his wife, Anji, lived and worked in urban Melbourne for almost 10 years before relocating to Klong Toey. Their experiences among the urban poor in Melbourne did not prepare them for the challenges they would face in their first six months in Klong Toey, which included floods, dysentery, and multiple bouts with Dengue fever, one of which almost took Barker's life.

Once his health stabilized, Barker first began helping to bless Klong Toey by partnering with a longstanding Church of Christ community center to start a football (soccer) program for youth in the slum. Having grown up playing football in Australia, Barker was an ideal coach for the youth, and the program has grown in size and profile over the past decade. Today the football club works with about 100 youth, and alumni have gone on to play for successful teams throughout the country, including the Thai national team.

Another early venture was launching a preschool through which 60 children from the slum were given the foundation of a basic education. "We want to be preventive," says Anji. "That's why we work with children [in hopes of initiating] structural change."


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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Pastor sebunya Godfrey godrosely@yahoo.com

June 12, 2012  9:26am

We wish to be part of this cultivation since we are also leaving in one the slums of Jinja - Uganda. if you can allow us to share how we are going through this, to turn the self - despise to a profitable son of the Almighty God by the power of the mighty Holy Spirit through Christ Jesus.

John H Quinley Jr

June 11, 2012  3:25am

Started with the old scripture song just now, as I feel really it is all our greatest need in this issue. Agape love is the reason any of us are doing any of these current activities. Yes, John 13:34-35 pretty well wraps it for us all. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Look forward to praying together more on all this, in Klong Toey, around Bangkok, across Thailand, and spanning the globe. , Mercy Center-Father Joe, UNOH-Ash, Baan Chewit Mai, Jai Samarn Church, Vineyard Church- Pastor Sukit, Ta Rua Church- Pastor Suwat we are by God's grace: brothers and sisters and one.


June 11, 2012  3:07am



June 09, 2012  9:48pm

God bless you, "concerned". And God bless Anji and Ash. A small paraphrase of Philippians 1:18 seems apposite here. "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether [through this approach or that approach], Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice." Seems like Christ is being incarnated in different ways through those from outside Thailand who choose to lose their lives in Klong Toey and incarnated in the Thai people who find their lives in Klong Toey.

Filled with Hope

June 09, 2012  9:45pm

Dear concerned, perhaps you are unaware that UNOH and the Barkers actually have significant partnership with the local Thai church in Klong Toey, as well as having Thai people in positions of leadership in their various ministries and projects. Having had the opportunity to walk the narrow alleys of Klong Toey slum alongside the Barkers, it is evident that they have intentionally developed deep relationships with Thais in their slum community. The "Thai" perspective and voice is first sought after and held with the highest regard, while always examined in light of Biblical scripture. Personally, the UNOH community, and their Thai fellow believers, feels very much like the "first century" Acts church community. Additionally, a Thai house church has organically evolved in the slum, with Thai Christians in postions of leadership, as a result of Barkers enfleshing of the Gospel in their neighborhood.


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