International (MNN) — Mission organizations do their best to ensure that your donation dollars make the biggest impact possible in the lives of the lost and hurting.
The trend toward self-sustaining projects has shot up in recent years. One path many mission groups have pursued is establishing a micro-loan program.
Sometimes micro credit programs can be more harmful than they are helpful. By following Biblical principles of stewardship, FARMS International has avoided this negative affect of loaning money to families in need.
Joe Richter, president of FARMS says, “We’re working primarily with Christian families, and that’s very different than a normal micro credit that many times just targets women for the loan program. We feel our approach is done to help the whole family.”
Another issue with many micro-loan programs is that the money given is too small to establish a helpful business or income.
FARMS gives out what they call entrepreneurial loans. Rather than a loan of $50-200, these loans give $500-1000. Instead of the loan recipients coming back to ask for more money time and time again, having a larger chunk of cash helps families start a sustaining income that allows them to pay back their loan.
Richter shares the story of a widow in Haiti. Women in Haiti who lose their husbands don’t expect to be able to send their children to school. One widow who received a loan from FARMS was able to start a fruit preserve and jam business. She paid back the loan, built a nice house, and sent all of her children to college. She recognizes that this wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of FARMS.
A unique aspect of FARMS micro-loan program is that recipients agree to tithe 10% of their profit. This helps support the local church so they can continue to operate and share the love of Christ with the community. Many times, this income allows the churches to begin a mission work.
Many micro-loan programs out there have incredibly high interest rates, averaging about 36%.
Families who receive these loans to start a business have trouble paying back the loan, and they have to quit their business.
FARMS doesn’t charge interest, only a small service fee to cover the overhead costs of their volunteer teams.
Right now, FARMS has 20 of these projects in 11 different countries. Richter says while it varies from location to location, the amount of people paying back loans is high.
Where the loan ministry starts
The success of these programs don’t start at FARMS. They begin with believers taking their own tithe money and investing it into the efforts of the ministry. It begins with people blessed with extra who have a heart for families in need all around the world.
Richter says, “One of the biggest needs always is to fund all of those programs adequately as they keep expanding and finding new churches and new areas that need help.”
Once money is given, it is recycled again and again to help numerous families. It is a local revolving loans system: as soon as one family pays back their loan, it goes out to help another family.
Money a ministry?
The micro-loan program is a ministry for two reasons. First of all, it addresses the very real physical needs of people.
“One of the real impacts is all the children get to go to school and have the funds to go to school. And when you help the whole family, the whole blessing is there for that whole family as well as food and shelter. The future of their children…and the health of the whole family is increased,” Richter says.
Another way these loans minister to people is that they draw families to Christ. It begins with the faith of volunteers: “The needs are always more than we can supply. But God always knows what we need. We’re always excited to see how faithful the people are that run the programs and how faithful the people that receive the loans are in repaying the loans so other families can be helped like they were,” Richter says.
This is a different way to keep people accountable to paying back than many other systems have established. Some loan programs have groups agree to pay back loans and cover each other’s cost if one individual can’t pay. Richter says this often creates social problems in communities and lowers the income for the whole group when one member fails to have the money ready in time.
The accountability lies in knowing that the sooner you pay back, the sooner another family can be helped. Richter says this is important for “teaching the people biblical principles of good stewardship.”
Simply put, “When you teach those Scriptural principles, people really catch on. Especially when they tithe, they begin to see the blessings of God on their life and on their church. Their own dignity is increased, and self-worth, and it really makes them grow in their Christian faith. One of the key parts of FARMS is to see people really discipled through this program.”
Want to help?
Richter says if FARMS was able to have $50,000 more in gifts a year, their impact and ability to operate would increase substantially.
Think about it. That’s 50 people giving $1000 over the course of the year, or 100 people giving $500. What would it look like if your whole church got involved? Your Bible study group? Your Facebook friends?
Ask God to sustain FARMS and to prepare the harvest of souls they will come in contact with in the future.