Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christ-centered discipleship brings people out of poverty

Why are you wasting your time with us? We’re poor. We’re stuck here, and there is no way out for us.”

Believing that “there is no way out” is one of the most damaging aspects of financial poverty. If life will never get better, why try? If there’s no hope, why dare to dream?

Staff members of HOPE International, a Christ-centered microfinance organization, respond by telling these people belonging to India's two lowest castes, “But you’re created in God’s image, and He has a plan and a future for all of you.” As clients come to believe this message, they are in turn empowered to enact change in their communities. Progress is slow, but unmistakable - businesses are created, families have the financial resources to put their children in school, dignity is restored, and the voiceless speak. In one district of the slums, a savings group successfully petitioned the local government council to have electricity installed where there had previously been none. Instead of remaining resigned to their fate, these individuals now have hope and are working to build a brighter future.

HOPE is a global network of microfinance institutions focused on alleviating physical and spirtitual poverty through microenterprise development.

In HOPE’s programs, not only are clients encouraged to save, but they also learn biblically based business principles that teach them how to open and sustain a business. In India, clients receive training that equips them to make items like handbags and baked goods, as well as opportunities to sell the items they create at churches and local retailers. For example, in the slums of several cities in Western India, HOPE gathers financially poor together to save. In groups of 10 to 12, they come together to receive business training, contribute $2 a month to a joint savings account for productive investment or to meet family needs, and learn about the love of Christ.

When HOPE first entered the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, there were only 65,000 bank accounts for a population of 65 million – 1 in a thousand. For these individuals, microfinance fills a large gap, providing access to capital, savings accounts and training to those who wouldn’t otherwise have any access.

In Rwanda, HOPE has seen similar results in its partnership with the Anglican Church to provide those in poverty with training and a safe place to save their money. Of HOPE’s nearly 70,000 clients in Rwanda, school attendance increased from 28 percent of members’ children to 71 percent, even as church attendance increased from 65 percent of clients to 96 percent!!

(for more, see Peter Greer, Microfinance, A Look at the Technique as an Effective Strategy for Poverty Alleviation, Mission Frontiers, July-August 2011)

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