“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7
When my husband was in business school, one of his professors told him a story that has marinated in my mind ever since it was relayed to me. The story takes place in an African village near a river. One day, a village woman noticed a baby floating down the river towards her. Horrified, she ran into the swirling waters, and rescued the baby. The very next day, a man passing by noticed yet another baby floating downstream. Horrified, he dashed into the river, and rescued the baby. The same thing happened the next day, and the next day and the next until multiple babies were being rescued out of the rushing waters every day by stricken villagers.
This horrific pattern continued for years, until at long last, one of the villagers decided to walk up stream to find where the babies were coming from.
As the American church, I fear that in our approach to poverty we have so consumed ourselves with the babies in the river, that we have forgotten to walk up stream to the source of the problem.
We’re well intentioned, aren’t we? We see pictures of hungry children rifling through mountains of trash for scraps, of mothers with hopeless eyes and outstretched hands begging for help and fathers cradling tired heads in withered hands, unable to provide—and we are broken. We are broken, and rightly so; brokenness is a correct first response to a world crumbling from the decay of sin. Our God-given thirst for justice leaps to the surface, and we cry ME! I will provide what you do not have. You matter to God and you matter to me, I will give you what you need.
And so we box up our old clothes and ship them to developing countries where families can’t afford to buy their own. We throw a pair of TOMS into our shopping carts and happily picture a matching pair on a little African child. We send backpacks and cans of food and bars of soap—and we are so well intentioned.
But what if?
What if in our well intentioned displays of compassion, we actually did more harm than good? What if the message that we unintentionally and unmistakably communicated to those parents is that they are not enough? That they are incapable of fulfilling the God-given role as provider that they have been entrusted with? What if our boxes of hand-me-downs and shoes put the local shoemakers and dress makers out of business? And what if the temporary Band-Aid of charity eased the sting of lack for a time, but weeks or months later when the shoes had worn out and the dull ache of hunger had returned, that family found themselves right back where they started?
What if there were a better way?
Please understand that I am not denouncing charity. There is a time and a place for it. But if there were a way to provide for that family in a sustainable manner that offered them dignity and respect, and changed the course of their family for generations to come, wouldn’t we all be for that?
Enter microfinance. The beauty of microfinance is that it allows that family the dignity of providing for themselves. Through loans as small as $100.00, men and women that desperately want to work hard are offered the opportunity to do just that! HOPE has seen families that have been trapped under the crushing weight of poverty for generations break free, and become small business owners that go on to employ others in their community. What a thrilling picture of redemption!
Church, God Himself has tasked us with the thrilling work of displaying the gospel throughout the world. Our good works put shape to an invisible God that desperately cares about every single one of His children. Let’s examine our methodology, and partner with our brothers and sisters trapped in poverty to fight poverty well.
For more information, visit www.uncharity.org.