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Hardly a day passes that I don’t get mail asking for money. My alma mater stalks me. The animal shelter barks at my heels. The soup kitchens wail for more gruel. And then there’s Doctors Without Borders, Boarders Without Doctors, Save the Whales, Save the Snails, Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay, Amnesty International. It never ends. 

All of this stems from an unfortunate incident some years ago when I was enjoying a pre-prandial potable and a fresh-faced maiden from Maryland Public Interest Research Group came to the door whilst on her appointed rounds. (John Cheever called this “the sorrows of gin.”)

She was very cute— even with dreadlocks, even with the smell of patchouli oil wafting on the evening breeze. I was extremely vulnerable. I was a sitting duck. I think she specialized in lonely middle-aged men. I grandly gave this gal $25. And since that fateful night, I have been the constant target of charities.

Recently I received a letter from my wife’s born-again Christian kin asking for help to send their daughter to Bangkok. They included a testimonial from my wife’s niece: “Throughout this past year, I have been eager to serve the Lord and He has placed a wonderful opportunity in my life. I have been called to serve in Bangkok, Thailand, this summer on a mission with my church.”

The second paragraph was where it got interesting:

“Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand with a population of 7 million people. Bangkok is also considered one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. Despite its economic success, Bangkok is spiritually bankrupt. Less than 1percent of its population is of the Christian faith.”

Spiritually bankrupt? Just as I suspected. This was a spiritual bailout. Our niece and a group from her church were going to Bangkok to bring the good news. Since they don’t speak Thai, they were going to use other methods— Christian Lite Rock, mime and Amy Grant tapes. Weapons of mass destruction!

I can’t say for sure how I would react if a Christian mime came to my door. The Lord has not tested me that way, yet. I do know that no one from Bangkok has ever bothered me. We get Jehovah’s Witnesses up here but no Thais. (I do know that the Thais invented drunken noodles, which I regard as a significant contribution to modern life.) 

I am a simple person and I have no idea whether someone is spiritually bankrupt. I can barely do my own checkbook. I can’t figure out Quicken. How can I possibly deal with the economic metaphysics of spiritual bankruptcy?

Should I presume that because folks have not heard of Amy Grant that they are living in darkness? Maybe they’re just living in Bangkok eating drunken noodles and minding their own business. Millions live without Christian Lite Rock. But I was too polite to say that.

Bringing the gospel of Amy Grant to Bangkok costs $2,000 a head. I am not sure how many went on this mission, but I am sure my wife’s niece was not alone. A teenager from a little town in Missouri who is not 5 feet tall, does not speak a word of Thai and has never been farther from home than the mall in Kansas City was not going to Bangkok solo. So let’s say 20 other pilgrims went, too. That’s $42,000. Why not give that money to a legitimate charity? Thais Without Drunken Noodles. Just an idea.

I’m not sure how long it takes to turn around spiritual bankruptcy but two weeks seemed like a fast time. The group was also going to Cambodia! Two spiritually bankrupt countries for the price of one?

My wife’s niece asked us to pray for her— and send money. We sent money. We want to get along with my wife’s family. (We were glad to see that someone was going to Bangkok who was not a sex tourist, too.) Not to be blasphemous, I was not sure how helpful we’d be on the prayer front.

But I did get to thinking that this might not be a bad way to finance trips. What if someone got a letter from me announcing that I was going to say, St. Bart’s? St. Bart’s is an island in the West Indies with lots of rich people. Many may be sinners! Many are French! There are topless beaches there! Sounds like spiritual bankruptcy to me.

Each winter when it gets cold I could fly down. Counseling the spiritually bankrupt is nice work when the mercury hits 20 degrees in the Free State. “I have been called to serve in St. Bart’s! They need my help! I need your prayers but I also need about $10,000 so I won’t have to sleep on the beach. God would not want that.”

I have no idea whether folks in St. Bart’s are spiritually bankrupt. I’ll sort that out when I get down there. If they’re not, well, then I’ll hit one of the other islands. The important thing is to get down there. Check into a good hotel. Bear witness. Tennis, anyone?

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