by Bright Hope World Team
Bright Hope World is a Christian-based humanitarian organisation, with a vision to see the poorest of the poor become spiritually and physically self-sustaining.
Angela lived in Uganda and had a good life. Her husband was a lawyer, they had three children, they owned two properties and she employed someone to help her with the housework.
Carol lived on the neighbouring property, in a small shed with her husband who was a drunkard. They had six young children and Carol was HIV positive. She barely eked out a living selling charcoal. Her husband died, leaving Carol to care for the children.
From time to time, Angela would help Carol with food and clothes, and would buy charcoal from her. One day Angela noticed Carol coming home with a large cardboard box. Her children were carrying smaller boxes; they were happy and smiling. They went into the shed and, after some time, strange noises began to emerge.
Curious about this new development, Angela visited a few days later; she found Carol sitting at a knitting machine making pullovers, with a large pile of completed products in the corner. As her hands flew back and forth skilfully, Carol told Angela that she had been trained to use this type of machine some years ago. She had joined a women’s loan programme and had bought the machine. Carol managed to find a job making pullovers for school uniforms, knitting three or four each day and receiving a reasonable payment for them.
Angela was fascinated by this arrangement and visited the group’s leader, wondering how she could help. She was invited to the next meeting and came away stunned by the positivity, encouragement and love she experienced among these Christian women. However, she did not qualify: she was too rich and not a widow.
Sadly, a week later, Angela’s husband dropped dead at work. Within a couple of days, the husband’s family came to her house and took everything. Her assets were frozen and she was told she had to pay rent or move out of her own home. Overnight, Angela was destitute. All the accounts were in her husband’s name, which she could no longer access.
A month later, Angela was living in a shed about the same size as Carol’s. She now qualified to join the loan group and quickly did so. This group saved Angela’s life. It gave her hope and a way out of her situation. Three years later, she still does not know if she will get to keep the houses or get any of the money from the banks. The case remains bogged down in the local courts while the assets are locked up in red tape and corruption.
Due to the love and influence of the loan group, Angela has found God. She now has more genuine friends and family than she ever had before. Life is very tough, but she will survive.
Microloan groups like this are flourishing all over Africa, and bringing hope and community to many. Unfortunately, few local churches in these locations have discovered the transforming, discipling power of such groups and, in some cases, are contributing to poverty.
A Biblical Precedent
There are firm biblical reasons to encourage this type of activity. Consider Galatians 2:9‑10, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the Apostles, ‘to go to the Gentiles and to remember the poor’, which Paul was eager to do anyway. He spent considerable amounts of time on his journeys and placed a significant focus of his letter-writing on the poor of Jerusalem. In Acts 24, accused of being a troublemaker, Paul uses his charitable offerings for the poor as part of his defence before Felix.
The gospel and the economics of God’s people are intimately connected. It is a topic of such biblical scope that a short article can hardly do it justice. However, we have distilled some principles that can guide us. These have been drawn from Scripture, books and articles by experts in this field, and from our many years of working amid extreme poverty.
Principles to Follow
Giving to the poor in ways that do not breed dependency is fraught with issues: from rice Christians in China where people declare their faith to benefit materially, to the cargo cults of Papua New Guinea where building a runway was perceived as an act of faith that brought God’s blessing through Western goods. Many mistakes have been made from which we can learn.
We must never do for the poor what they can or should do for themselves. This type of charity is not the answer to poverty; it produces dependency and destroys initiative – an issue for people of grace who just want to give.
She…came away stunned by the positivity, encouragement and love she experienced among these Christian women
Handouts do not bring people out of poverty, leadership does. We receive frequent requests from people in places where many children are not attending school. They want to start a school in the church or pay the children’s fees for them. This is a genuine issue, but is their vision sustainable? Usually not.
Instead, we look for people who have the desire to empower the children’s families to send their children to school and lead them out of poverty. Thus, it is not just the sponsored orphan that gets to go to school, but all the children in the empowered family.
In places where missionaries have been for over 100 years, there are usually many churches. Why is it then, that most of the congregations are still as poor and as sick as they ever were, that there are still few jobs and that they struggle to survive? Mission workers are facing the same issues.
The church has a vital role to play. The mindset that produces poverty and that keeps people there must be invaded by the gospel. If a person’s attitude to finance does not get addressed in the discipleship process, then a poor job has been done.
The Church’s Role
The only time most people hear about finance in church is when it comes to tithing and offerings. What about the issues of corruption and inequality, not being a burden, addressing bad agricultural practice and introducing new methods, income generation, harvesting plenty, flourishing and generosity? These all need to be taught and modelled by the church.
Personal and family economics is the single most difficult issue people face. It is the cause of more concern, family violence, worry and suicide than any other issue. Addressing these concerns, especially in the context of table banking or small-scale loans, is a most effective context for discipling people.
Small groups of 10-30 people, with some connection to each other, come together for training in basic economics. They learn how to run a small business, to identify what sort of business to operate and how to make a simple business proposal.
The group determines the operating rules, the frequency of meetings, the interest amount, the term of loans and who will do what in the group. There are two types of loans, short-term (one month) and long-term (12-24 months).
They meet regularly, say every month, and bring the designated amount to ‘put on the table’, for example $2. All the money is recorded and then given out to one or two people. Next month they return, undertake more training and contribute the agreed amount. Those who borrowed last month repay their loan plus interest, and the money is then lent out again. After a few months, the amount begins to grow exponentially. Some groups have added a compulsory saving component and the entire amount is lent out every month.
After a person has been in a group for six months, they can withdraw long-term loans and access three times the funds they have contributed.
Saving a School
A church mission school in Kenya was in financial difficulty. The number of children attending had decreased from over 200 to 70. They had huge debts in the community and staff morale was low. Few students were paying fees and the facilities were in a poor state of repair. They were about to close the school when a new committee took over. Part of their solution was to start table banking with the children’s families. Within nine months, all the fee arrears had been recovered. The amount on the ‘table’ was so large they could not lend it all out. The school had grown to 250 students and all their debts had been paid. Within three years the school will be completely self-sustaining.
There are many other noticeable outcomes to such programmes. Household violence plummets, as family stresses lift. Family living conditions improve and children are healthier, as cleanliness, sanitation and water access are addressed. Children attend school more regularly and, because the parents are paying, they are more involved in their children’s education. Overall, the perceived value of learning increases. Fathers spend more time at home, as it is a more harmonious place. People who had drifted away from church start coming back. The offering goes up, non-Christians come to see what’s happening and some come to faith.
Such is the power, when family economics are considered strategically alongside the gospel. That is why the two are intrinsically linked in Bright Hope World’s vision: to see the poorest of the poor become physically and spiritually self-sustaining.