CMS - Inspire Feb 08 - microfinance
How a combination of Bible teaching and financial training is ‘paying off’ in DR Congo
In a small room, CMS missionaries Eric and Sandra Read and seven others gather together to study the Word of God. But this is no ordinary weekly small group Bible study.
Each of the men and women in attendance is the recipient of a micro-finance loan, administered by the Reads, who are working with the local church in DR Congo to break the seemingly unending cycle of poverty and dependence in the region.
What is micro-finance?
At first glance, ‘micro-finance’ seems like a term that would be more at home in an economics textbook than in a missionary’s vocabulary. Yet mission has come a long way from short-term solutions such as food distribution, to long-term empowerment.
Micro-finance programmes involve lending money to people who would be unable to get credit otherwise, thereby helping them start up small businesses and earn a livelihood. The sums involved are usually very small, frequently less than $100.
The Reads got involved with this after a chance meeting with a little girl in the market place. Eric recalls: “We were chatting with two local women when we noticed a little girl, about three years old, sitting on a wall being very quiet and still, not playing with the other children. She was obviously malnourished.”
Sandra adds: “We recognised her from church. Her Mum is a single mother with two small children and no other family around. She is dependent on the kindness of church members and neighbours.”
The Reads discussed the issue. They figured they could put the little girl on a feeding programme. In six months she could be discharged, healthy.
But six months later, chances are she would once again be moon-faced, with puffy legs and arms, because her mother could not afford to feed her long-term.
“Malnutrition is not just a health problem but is a symptom of social problems, a part of the vicious cycle of poverty,” say the Reads. But how to break this cycle?
A calculated risk
In order to combat the cycle of poverty and dependence, the Reads decided to start small, selecting a small group of people to whom they could give micro-finance loans.
The Reads knew there was a chance they would never see that money again, but they decided to move forward. “We wanted to see people as God sees them,” they said. And that involves having the faith to trust others. Without that faith, no micro-finance programme can succeed.
Along with lending them money, the Reads began meeting the group weekly for Bible study and discussions on stewardship, as well as training on the basics of running a small enterprise.
“Meeting together gives them a support system,” Eric comments. Participants are also taught to put some of the money they earn into an account and these savings will be made available to them once they have repaid their loans.
The combination of Bible teaching and financial training seems to be ‘paying off’. The small group has now completed two repayments and all members are engaged in successful enterprises (mostly buying and selling) and are repaying and saving in full, with some of the group saving more than the agreed minimum amount. Once all the money has been repaid, the Reads plan to duplicate this small-group strategy.
For more information about CMS involvement in long-term empowerment through micro-finance projects, ring 0845 620 1799 or visit www.cms-uk.org