Three decades ago in a cordoned off corner of the developing world a curmudgeonly Roman Catholic priest armed himself with paper and pencil and declared a revolution. From a one-room school shared with Buddhists and Muslims, he began an advance on extreme poverty. Today, the Rev. Joe Maier is responsible for thirty-three preschools educating 4,200 children in the worst slums of Bangkok. From the crippling conditions and abuses of poverty, his Mercy Centre charity is growing international scholars and injecting hope into impoverished neighborhoods that used to have neither.
While extremists and jihadists rant, rave and wrestle over the first rights to God, others, like Father Joe, quietly embody His selfless spirit. The Johnny Appleseed of Bangkok bucked the authority of the Vatican and his adopted foreign home, and continued to build and expand his Mercy Centre despite orders from Rome and the Royal Thai Government to stop. Each preschool was constructed on squatter land without legal permits. Whenever police threatened to shut him down, Father Joe would shrug and say go ahead. "But you'll have to explain it to them," he'd growl, pointing to the children, "and to them," pointing to the mothers.
The people and the priest slowly grew a village this way and the aptly named Mercy Centre expanded to include preschools/AIDS hospices/orphanages/safe house/medical clinic/sports leagues/etc. Eventually, the authorities climbed on board. The birthday of Thailand's Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was celebrated in 2004 by recognizing her country's national heroes. To Father Joe went the award for the foreigner who has contributed the most over the long term to the protection of women andchildren. During the ceremony, Her Majesty broke from tradition and descended from the stage. She walked smiling to Father Joe, grasped his hand and whispered, "I thank you for the women and children." In Thailand there is no higher honor.
Greg Barrett tells the story of this remarkable man and the work he has done in the slums of Bangkok in a way that will inspire and encourage readers to believe that they too can make a difference in seemingly hopeless situations.