As I sit this morning in stillness of the African Sub-Sahara, listening to the birds sweetly chirping, the wind blowing softly through the bushes, gazing upon the beautiful African Landscape with its scrub brush dotted with green trees that have just started coming to life because of the rain that has just started watering the parched earth. I think of the drive I just came on yesterday as I traveled the dirt roads, and saw all the simple villages, with all the friendly people, waving and smiling as we go past. They have little more to offer than that.. They live in small mud huts, with dirt floors. They have a few cooking pots with which to cook, the daily food they get each day.. The furnishings consist of maybe one mattress for the parents, and the rest of the children sleep on mats on the floor. Most will all sleep together in one room, because they have not been able to find the finances to rent or build the second room. They have no table to eat at and most times gather together around a common bowl to eat from. The cooking is all done outside in a shared compound over a little charcoal cooker or open fire. Neighbors, Chickens and dogs all mingle together around the common area. Life is a daily existence for many of these people. Though father will work hard on the farm, and mother will most times trade in the local market place, the little profit they make goes to pay the daily food allotment and daily expenses. Prices go up almost every day due the steady rate of inflation. In the last three years it has increased by 50%. So while many dream of better days where they would own their own plot of land and build their own house on it, it remains a distant dream that is unattainable.
As I sit here this morning, I pray for my family and friends back home. They are still in their beds sleeping, under the blankets. Outside there is snow on the ground, and the temperature is around 20 degrees. The houses are well built and beautiful with multiple bedrooms. They are warm with heat and carpeted floors, running water, electricity, Nice furnishings and wall hangings. There is food on the table, and Father usually has a good job, and mother can give her attention to the family that God has given them. The children are in school. The roads are nice, and everywhere we look we see America the beautiful.. As we contemplate we have to acknowledge that well economic times may be more difficult and challenging than in the past, North America is still one of the most blessed nations on the earth
As I contemplate all of the above, I realize how much I have come to enjoy the people and culture that I have come to assist. At the same time think of the stark difference between the two lands and cultures that I have to go between. The one land is a land of plenty, the other is a land of need, but of great potential. Both lands have people with feelings. Needs, wants, visions. They both have the common needs of mankind for a savior who bled and died for all. Red brown yellow black and white they are precious in His sight.. They both have people who are driven by a need to feel loved, accepted, and to provide for their families. The question is many times how?
So the questions that are often asked are these. Do we as a blessed people have any responsibility to these dear people who are caught in the cycle of poverty and dependency? What would God have us to do? How best can we help these people?
Many aid organizations have been set-up and millions are spent each year by governments and private organizations to send aid to the people of these developing countries. They arrive in villages with truckloads of food, clothes, and other relief goods. Yet we find ourselves still fighting the cycle of poverty, and the next year we come back and the people are still there begging for more, and not only begging but now they are demanding it.. They have come to see the aid organizations as there only hope and salvation and to depend upon these handouts for their sustenance.. These organizations though meaning well have robbed these dear people of their self-esteem, and the God Given ability to creatively overcome our problems. Thus the cycle of poverty and dependency continues on, and all are happy. The people in the developed countries are happy because they have a place to give of their plenty and ease the conscience, and those in the developing countries are contented to sit down and depend on others to provide for the basic needs that God meant for them to provide for.. This system can work as long as the funds to give are there, but when they dry up the people that have been recipients of the gifts will be worse than before, because now they have lost all initiative to provide for themselves.. It is similar to taking a pet from the wild and feeding him every day.. After a while he will lose his ability to provide for himself. If some day his master would die and would be unable to come and give him his food, he would end up dying also though he has all the features and God given gifts that all of his kind has in the wild to survive..
So what is the solution? How do we help? How do we fulfill our God given responsibility to the poor.. As we look in the Bible, we find many references that refer to helping and giving to the poor. We are forced to conclude that we as Christians do have a God given responsibility to help those in need. In fact it should be us as Christian churches not governments that are helping to alleviate poverty. The big question is how do we help? How do we give without doing harm?
I love the story of Ruth, and use it many times when I go to the field to explain the SALT program. Ruth was needy. She and her mother –in-law Namomi were both widows. They were strangers in the land that they had come to live in. They had no money. I love the attitude that Ruth had, she had not yet been ruined by gifts. When she woke up that first morning back in Isreal and evaluated the dilemma they found themselves; She said to Naomi, “Let me go and glean”. This also refers to the system that God had set-up in Israel for the rich to help the poor. They were to let the corners of the fields for the poor to come and glean. Ruth left the house that day with a need. She was hungry and she needed food. She knew she needed food for the following days as well. She could have taken her little bowl and gone knocking on the neighbors doors, and told them her plight and said please I need money to buy food. Not Ruth, She still had her God given instinct to provide for herself, and she grapped her bowl and started down the road to the field. God led her to the field of rich Boaz that day. She worked with a fervor, that grabbed Boaz attention when he came to the field at lunch.. He inquired of her and learned of her plight. He took pity on her and wanted to help her but how? He could have said “Ruth you are too beautiful to be out in the field working like this. Listen I will find you a house, I will send you wheat every day, along with an allowance to help with the day to day expenses” However we see that Boaz took a different route. He gave her lunch, and the ability to drink the same water his threshing crew was drinking. This took care of her immediate need. Then he told her she should come and glean in his field every day. This was helping with the need of tomorrow.. Then after she had left he added the extra blessings. He turned to his workers and said “Workers keep an eye on her and don’t let any harm come to her, also make sure you leave plenty for her when she is following. Just leave some sheaves mysteriously drop on the ground” . By doing thus Boaz was helping with making Ruth sustainable. Now she would be able to easily gather enough to be feed her and Naomi, and have some extra to sell for some profit.. Ruth went home happy that night. She had the satisfaction of knowing that God had used her and her hard work to provide for her needs that day. She saw hope for the tomorrows because there was an excellent opportunity for bountiful gleaning in the coming weeks. She was not dependent on anyone.
This story brings me joy each time I hear it. The solution that this story offers to poverty is why I love my job implementing the SALT program in Ghana. I have worked for Aid organizations in the past and have distributed 100 of thousands of dollars of aid. However whenever you went back the people were always there happy to see you, but they had a bigger wish list than the first time.
Here we have around 1200 clients on the program. They receive a loan of usually around $250 to go and trade with. The loan is set-up for them to pay back over the next 6 months. If they do well they can receive another loan and continue to do so for the next two years. Our low interest rate of 2% per month helps them to keep most of their profits. While this may seem high to us in developed countries here it is an extremely good deal. Because of the high inflation and poor paybacks most other microfinance companies range from 5-10% per month. Again these kind of rates do little to help the clients but only keep the cycle of poverty and dependency going. We realized that because our interest rates were so much lower than others we could easily have our clients ruined and depended on us that if they should ever leave the program it would make it impossible to get another loan from someone else.. To help them to work as hard as those others around we decided to help them to know the power of savings by forcing them to save 6% of the loan they take each month. This builds up quite quickly and really motivates the clients as they see that not only does the trading capital grow weekly it also builds a nice savings account for them also. It also keeps them from getting lazy and if they happen to leave the program they can easily qualify for those higher interest ones because they are still use to making the same payments.. Is it helping people? Here people consider the amount the have left at the end of month as their profit. We see many time people coming to the program with a monthly profit of 10USD per month. This monthly profit will double with each passing loan cycle, so it I not uncommon to see clients in two years having a monthly profi of 80 USD per month. This greatly reduces the cycle of poverty and sets them free from the dependency syndrome that results from just the giving of aid.
What makes the program such a success.
The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Many times poverty is a result of ungodly living. As we learn to follow the principles in God’s word, and come to Christ and allow him to deliver us from Satan’s bondage, it also will bring financial freedom.
Business teaching: If we don’t operate our business well, then it will make the profit low. In SALT we teach business principles, such as business plans, record keeping, integrity, customer service, marketing.. Our clients love this teaching and often will tell us how much it makes a difference in how the customers will come to them.
The life we live will many times tell people the kind of character that we have.
In SALT we are about changing people’s lives in many different ways. There are two character traits that are very important on the program, Punctuality and Faithfulness. We realize that discipline is a good thing and will help in all areas of our lives. Thus even though culture tends to be very laid back and time is nothing we insist on starting meetings on time. If Clients are not there at the start of meeting they are marked absent. If they have more than four out of twelve absents most times they will not be approved again. This makes for a high turnover of clients, but makes those that remain to be very disciplined, and they find their character to be changing little by little.
Our 6% savings per month is a powerful tool to making our clients to be self-sustainable. It is not uncommon for person that has been on the program for two years to be exiting with 500USD in the savings accounts. This will be enough to be able to purchase a plot of land ..
The money can be loaned again and help many more people. It creates not only self-sustainable people but also self-sustainable organizations that can provide hope to suffering people around the globe.
As I work in the SALT program, I realize that I finally have a solution that will bring a long standing solution and help to these people, and finally alleviate and break that cycle of poverty and dependency. It is a program that helps people to find solutions to their problems, and builds them up without them coming to depend on me the giver. It gives them the joy of Ruth in knowing that God used them and their God given abilities to solve problems.. It helps them to prepare and dream for the future. It gives them the ability to be self-sustainable and independent of any aid organization. And more exciting than anything is to see people embracing the principles of God’s Word, and seeing their lives changed both spiritually and physically. I feel strongly that SALT is the best way to help people that there is.
So as we give may we seek to give in ways that will build people for the future and help to build in them iniative and the ability to provide for themselves. May all of us seek to be SALT and LIGHT to the communities that God has called us to serve in..
Submited by Conrad Swartzentruber
March 10, 2014