Northern Thailand (MNN) — Oftentimes there is a negative
and unforgiving attitude toward those in poverty. The assumption can be that
those people will become dependent if they are given monetary aid.
The Bible refutes this attitude: "If among you,
one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land
that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut
your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and
lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be" (Deuteronomy 15:7-8,
FARMS International, a micro-finance
ministry, has plenty of reason to agree with this principle of giving to the
needy. They have proof that giving can help the poor break the cycle of poverty.
Michael Phillips, a FARMS missionary contact in Northern
Thailand, has become convinced of this since he led the start of a loan program
in 1998. He has been planting churches and providing leadership training in the
area since 1991.
Thailand is often overlooked as far as ministry goes. This
is especially true for the many tribes there. They are poor and generally not
open to Christianity. For this reason, those who have become Christians often
are targets of persecution.
Although Thailand is now considered a middle-income country,
10% of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of the groups in this
classification are tribes.
The UN describes poverty as starting at an income of $1.00 USD or less. Anyone making slightly more is not considered living in
poverty, though most would consider it is nothing else.
When ministries and charities do attempt to help poor
families, they usually end up feeding the cycle of poverty. "I've seen too many
people bring money in, and what that does [is cause] dependence. We really
do not want to build a large group of people dependent on us or foreign funds,"
Phillips states. That dependence inhibits the discovery that they can provide
for themselves. Receiving with no expectations also diminishes a sense of pride
Because of this trend, Phillips was a little skeptical before
starting the program. He soon changed his mind, however. "After bringing money
in, we saw that people, by nature, do desire to work and build and get ahead
The FARMS revolving loan program is unique, which could
explain why they are seeing results. It works like this: loans are distributed
through churches that are a part of the FARMS program. Members of these churches
who are in need will receive an interest-free loan with a small service fee.
The loan is used to kick-start a project by which the
recipient will have a steady income. 10% of the profit made is given back
to the church.
FARMS gives more than a free handout. It provides
opportunities for entire families to free themselves from the cycle of poverty
and become self-sustaining. "We've brought education along with the loan
The FARMS loan concept addresses a dependent mentality that is
sometimes nurtured when only the symptoms of poverty are taken care of. "People
tend to develop a habit of just asking, and then there's not a pride about using
it; there's not a feeling of strong identity when they're using these monies."
Phillips says. By providing money that they are to pay back, families realize
not only that they can provide for
themselves, but that they can return that favor to the church. This "can"
attitude is the factor that breaks the poverty mentality, while giving them
dignity, independence, and a new identity.
Tithing deepens the borrower's understanding of the Gospel and what
it means to be a Christian. God has provided them with the means to survive,
and they can thank God by giving to the church and making the best decisions
with what he has given them.
"In this project, it's not just paying it back to people,
it's the concept [that] God is loaning them money; they want to give back to
The tribes in Northern Thailand are heavily Animist. When
they are sick, they visit the local witch doctor. The solution to their
problems, so they are told, is to sacrifice livestock. This is a large expense
to ask of a people so poor. In contrast, God heals by grace, not according to
deeds or gifts of people. The people of God who work as a unit, the Body of
Christ, can effectively convey this and bring lost people the truth. The FARMS
project is an active picture of what it means to be united in Christ and what
being a Christian truly is.
When people convert to follow Christ, they are a witness to
their neighbors, especially in communities where they receive the good works of
other Christians, such as the case with the revolving loan projects. "There
[are] so many benefits. They just see their lives turned and changed." Phillips
The success of this program is due to God's work in
Thailand. Prayers are needed for this country, as not many ears are open to
hear the Gospel. Pray that ministries like FARMS International can be good
witnesses of a loving, generous, faithful God. Pray that they will deepen the faith of new Christians by teaching
them about giving back to God. Pray that these people will be determined to
escape poverty and become self-sustaining. Click here to contribute.