With the exception of the pair of shoes I left behind in the mudroom (and four blocks from the house, turned around to retrieve), my daughter, Audrey, and I made it to the airport without event. Although I don't exactly know what the days ahead will be like, I do hope to write here as often as I can, sharing with you our experiences in Rwanda with HOPE International. In my morning reading, I read Psalm 146:
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free; The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
This psalm reminds me of God's particular favor for the world's most vulnerable, the very kind of people with whom HOPE International works. It also points forward to the very first sermon Jesus preached in the Nazareth synagogue, when he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
"Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," Jesus announced (Luke 4:21).
This gospel of good news for the poor and the oppressed, for the hungry and the blind, was preached infrequently in my church growing up. A version of the good news was preached, to be sure. But it looked less like social activism and more like walking down an aisle, repenting of sin, and declaring the intention to follow Jesus and be baptized. (At a recent visit to my parent's home church, when the invitation stretched six anxious repetitions of, "People Need the Lord," I remembered the prayers I'd uttered as a young person for the sinners in our midst.)
Please don't misunderstand: I still believe that the gospel has everything to do with sin and salvation, and I'm grateful to have been raised in our church that preached both of these faithfully. Yet it wasn't until Wheaton College when I learned that the gospel was a full-bodied hope, that it had everything to do with putting to the world to rights, that it was good news for the poor in spirit and the poor. At Wheaton, I began to see passages like Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 differently - and see the kingdom of God differently.
I began to read the Bible differently.
And isn't that always the challenge before us: to read the Bible as it is meant to be read and to see and worship God as he has revealed himself? In his book, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson calls this kind of earnest Bible reading the "forbidding discipline of spiritual reading."
"Forbidding because it requires that we read with our entire life, not just employing the synapses in our brain. Forbidding because of the endless dodges we devise in avoiding the risk of faith in God. Forbidding because of our restless inventiveness in using whatever knowledge of 'spirituality' we acquire to set ourselves up as gods. Forbidding because when we have learned to read and comprehend the words on the page, we find that we have hardly begun." It is the kind of reading which receives "the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love," (Eat This Book, p. 10).
To read the Bible is to confront, at every turn, God's pledge of loyalty to the poor, the marginalized, and the mistreated. If we wished we could maintain a safe distance from suffering, if we had hoped that faith would ensure our comfort and convenience, the Bible warns that this is no option. We follow the Christ who braved the terrors of this world at great cost to himself. Our God became poor (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
And we are his hands and feet.
The work of HOPE International, working through local churches to provide small business loans, biblically based business training, and savings services, is an expression of God's heart for the poor, especially poor women, who suffer particular vulnerability.
These women, whom micro-credit helps, are described by Muhammed Yunus in his book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. Yunus founded the world's first bank to the poor, Grameen, in Bangladesh and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.
Yunus relays this as a story of the typical Grameen borrower, who asks for her first loan of twenty-five dollars.
"She struggles with the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown. The morning she is to receive her loan, she almost quits. Twenty-five dollars is simply too much responsibility for her. How will she ever be able to repay it? No woman in her extended family has ever had so much money . . .
When she finally receives the twenty-five dollars, she is trembling. The money burns her fingers. Tears roll down her face. She has never seen so much money in her life. She never imagined it in her hands. She carries the bills as she would a delicate bird or a rabbit, until someone adviser her to put the money away in a safe place lest it be stolen . . .
All her life she has been told that she is no good, that she brings only misery to her family, and that they cannot afford to pay her dowry. Many times she hears her mother or her father tell her she should have been killed at birth, aborted, or starved. To her family she has been nothing but another mouth to feed, another dowry to pay. But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with a great sum of money. She promises that she will never let down the institution or herself. She will struggle to make sure that every penny is paid back."
The beauty of most microfinance institutions, including HOPE International, is the high repayment rate. At HOPE International, 98% of loans are repaid.
I'm looking forward to learning more about HOPE's work in Rwanda (and around the world) in the week ahead. I'm also looking forward to meeting the many women and men who, with the help of a small business loan, are feeding their families, paying school fees, and saving for the future - all in the context of hope through Jesus Christ.