International (MNN) — 50 years ago, FARMS International began an unconventional form of ministry.
FARMS founder Gareth Miller was not content with the dependency-forming aid cycle being implemented with needy Christians in the 50's. "He felt the traditional approach of sending money and help, building churches, and supporting pastors was creating weak churches which were a poor witness to their community," says current FARMS president Joseph Richter. "He felt there had to be a better way of helping Christians come out of poverty without creating a dependency."
Miller soon found that there was a better, unprecedented way to help others. His idea? Giving. But not giving from the rich to the poor, giving from the poor to the church.
"[Miller] came upon the idea of using a revolving loan program that was coupled with Biblical stewardship," explains Richter. "That basically means teaching people the joy of tithing and generosity. He felt the only way for Christians to really come out of poverty is to become givers and give their way out of poverty."
Giving their way out of poverty? It might sound like an oxymoron, but Richter says the program has proven successful. How can that be? Perhaps it's due to the spiritual nature of the idea.
"It's a spiritual principle," Richter confirms. "Jesus said, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you.' The real way of biblical blessing is to become generous with the resources and the gifts that God has given you. Of course, part of that in our Christianity is giving to the church, and Gareth Miller felt that churches could really be supported locally if all the members tithed. This was his approach to helping churches, enabling them to do evangelism and church planting, support their pastors, and do their own building program."
Even as the poorest of the poor give money away, the principle has worked. In fact, FARMS has been able to expand its ministry into 12 countries all across the globe.
Tweaks have been made here and there, but for the most part, the ministry has held to the same principles implemented 50 years ago by Gareth Miller. "We have held firm to our original convictions that Christians in poverty can be helped by us without creating dependency," says Richter.
Now, not only are Christians making their way out of poverty, but they're fulfilling the Great Commission as a result. The homegrown tithing allows churches to be mission-minded, do their own projects, and support their own church planting efforts. They can multiply the Kingdom in their culture with the knowledge of what appeals to that particular culture and how to best engage them with the Gospel.
Furthermore, Richter says hearts are just changed to become more effective for Christ as a result of giving. "When a person learns to give, his whole life is changed because that's usually a starting point of really recognizing the lordship of Christ in your life. That willingness to give, to tithe, to be generous, sets people free mentally as well as spiritually."
FARMS is celebrating 50 years of God-honoring ministry this year and is excited for the ways God will use the next 50. Pray for the Lord's continued guidance for this ministry. Get involved personally at their Web site, www.farmsinternational.com.