As one aspect of their ministry in Rwanda, HOPE International partners with Urwego Opportunity Bank to make available financial services to the poor. Urwego provides small group loans to people who lack collateral and would never be able to secure a traditional loan from a commercial bank.
Group loans are given after a group has formed (a group averages 20-30 people) and members have completed one module of the 52-week biblically-based training in holistic self-improvement. The loans are guaranteed by group members: if a client defaults on her portion, the group members are responsible to pay on her behalf. This means that groups form very intentionally, and members earn the trust of other members by their proven character in the community.
In the training that HOPE provides, clients not only learn how to manage personal and business finances, but they also learn basic health and hygiene principles as well as principles for social cooperation. Because HOPE understands that material poverty is only one part of the poverty equation, they address other aspects of poverty with their clients: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, psychological.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet one of the groups to which Urwego (and by extension, HOPE) began lending several years ago. Following the traditional 5-W format of group meetings (Welcome, Worship, Word, Work, Wrap-up), the group warmly welcomed us as their visitors, asking for introductions. The women in our group were greeted more enthusiastically than the men, and the clients clucked with extra delight to learn that there were families represented in our group: me and Audrey (mother and daughter), Isaac and Carolyn (husband and wife), and Carolyn's parents (John and Jeannie). After these opening introductions, the women sang as a part of the worship segment of the morning's meeting, and this might have been my favorite part!
(I had hoped to upload a video, but I'm having trouble. I need my oldest son, Nathan, who is my IT support!)
A man then stood, reading and commenting from Psalm 126:
Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
Lean and proud in a yellowed button down shirt, a sport coat slung over his bony shoulders, this man proclaimed to a group of women, many of whom survived the horrors of the genocide, that we have stability in Christ.
To trust in God is to never be moved.
Then the women began rising to their feet, one by one, each giving testimony to God's work through the loans they had received through Urwego.
I have been in this group for six years. I have two children. My first loan was $68. I improved my retail business and also bought 2 sheep. With further help from Urwego, I now employ two people on my farm and have built a house for my family.
I have been in this group for four years. I have a business selling drinks. I was able to construct a house for my family and buy a small plot of land with my first loan from Urwego. Now I have a phone and sleep on a mattress. I have three children. They are named "gift from God," "I will be helped by God," and "God helps." We love God, and we love to pray.
I have been in this group for two years. With my first loan of $275, I bought harvested crops and sold them for a profit in the market. I was then able to buy a cow, and the cow fertilizes the field we now own. Our family has electricity. I am grateful to God. I have learned how to pray.
I have eight children. The loans I have received from Urwego have helped me pay the school fees for my children. My oldest child is now in university. My house has cement, and we all go to church.
Isaac Ezell, the HOPE representative with whom we are traveling this week, asked through our translator what hopes and dreams these women had for their future.
I want my children to complete their education. I want medical insurance for my family. I hope we can buy a small truck to help transport our goods to the market. I would like to buy a motorbike. We have so many dreams.
As we ended the group meeting with prayer, asking how we might pray for the group, one woman stood up, admitting honestly that she has lost her will to pray. Pray that I will want to pray again.
I thought of her this morning when I opened to this Scripture:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?
Yes, somehow Lord, teach us each to believe:
That when your child asks for bread, you do not give a stone.