The Economist: Missionary man

WHEN David Neeleman returned to Brazil as a 19-year old Mormon missionary, he spent two years among shoeless children and their toothless parents in the country’s poor north-east. The experience turned him into “kind of an anarchist”, he says. His band of missionaries rented a house in Recife that was next to a slum and started trying to convert the people who lived there. Mr Neeleman reckons that he made about 100 converts—a number he does not consider particularly impressive.

This was a different country from the Brazil that Mr Neeleman knew from his childhood. He was born in São Paulo to parents who were also Mormon missionaries. He spent several years living the life of a well-to-do Brazilian child in the country’s south-east, which typically revolves around beaches, barbecues and private sports clubs.

Many Brazilians lament the contrast between these two worlds. But it is less marked now than it was in Mr Neeleman’s childhood thanks to a recent spell of growth that has favoured the poor in particular. In that he sees an opportunity.

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