earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Explaining Our Microfinancing Project

So far I have only briefly referred to our microfinancing project. Microfinancing, however, is such a broad term and what we are doing is fairly specialized. Let me explain.

Church-Based Savings Groups

The particular kind of microfinancing we have in mind is a kind of savings group. While people in developed countries consider commercial banks a practical if not necessary part of life, that isn’t the case for most of the people we serve. There are a few traditional ways of saving wealth in poor villages, but the most flexible involves a small group of people who manage their savings with a lockbox and hand-written records.

savings group meeting in Tanzania

You can find savings groups in a variety of flavors throughout developing countries. They all share in common some schedule of regular in-person meetings and some means of receiving and securing member contributions. Group members agree to a scheduled distribution of their savings. That payout may include interest earned by loaning out of the group’s savings.

The groups we are launching are distinct in two important ways:

  1. Churches are launching these groups.
  2. Part of each group’s normal procedures will include Bible teaching about financial stewardship and inter-personal reconciliation.

Why Are We Doing This?

In our November prayer update, I described the project as “training wheels for laying up treasures in heaven.” While we do expect that people will be helped financially, our primary interest in launching these groups is biblical discipleship. The training these groups provide is essential to solving a problem which has existed in our churches since the beginning.

All churches in Tanzania are confronted with poverty. We believe that God intends churches to be supported normally by the sacrificial giving of its members. Apart from disasters (like famine, Acts 11:27—30), even a poor church is responsible to operate within its means. If churches fail because of financial problems, it suggests that stewardship and giving are not what they should be. When we see that, for example, a pastor of a congregation with 10 families in normal circumstances has to choose between carrying the workload of ministry and feeding his own family, we are seeing a failure of Christian discipleship.

While we believe that helping the poor is a good part of life here, we also believe that all the wealth of the West cannot provide a long-term solution for churches in poor places. In brief, we are starting savings groups out of churches in order to train church members to use what they have to honor God. Part of that usage, of course, supports their own churches.

Why Savings Groups?

Savings groups as a means to disciple offer a few principle advantages over what we have tried up to this point.

  1. Bible Institute students will be teaching within their own groups. This is much less hazardous than some rich white guy exhorting poor people to give more and trust God.
  2. The savings group format is flexible, allowing group members to use their own resources according to what they are learning in the group. This is better than imposing a foreign scheme to build wealth.
  3. The small group setting should create safe environments for learning and mutual encouragement; hence, “training wheels.”
  4. Before, when we taught about giving and stewardship, common fears were expressed in responses like “but we’re poor!” and “we don’t have anything.” I’m sure that our best answers sounded much like platitudes. But savings groups are a simple way to begin changing behavior; group procedures include built-in means of acknowledging God’s provision.

I trust that this post may be a helpful explanation to you, albeit insufficient for answering all your questions. Feel free to write me back if you are itching for more.


image credit: Aga Khan Foundation

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