Banking basics and missions

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Tulsa Teachers Credit Union, one of the area's largest thrift institutions, has been running radio ads lately about their humble origins -- a cigar box in the desk drawer of a Central High School teacher, as teachers pooled funds to help one another meet their financial goals.

In the US, the cigar box approach to finance is long gone, and it's hard to tell credit unions apart from banks these days, but the idea of mutual finance on a small scale is alive and well in the developing world, and it's being used to lift people out of poverty in a way that's sustainable over the long run. The idea is called microcredit, and it's just one of the economic development tools being researched and taught by an organization called the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, which is affiliated with Covenant College and the Presbyterian Church in America. (The PCA is one of the Presbyterian denominations that still believes that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead and that the Bible is the Word of God.)

The Chalmers Center's director, Brian Fikkert, spoke this morning at Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC) about the work of the center. The organization is not a charity or a missions agency; rather, it researches best practices in the realm of sustainable economic development and then trains missionaries and church leaders in their application, by means of seminars, distance learning, and literature. The aim is to help the church to help the poor to help themselves, without creating dependency.

(For the OK-SAFE folks who are freaking out because I used the word "sustainable," this has nothing to do with the environment. We're talking about an approach to economic development that becomes self-perpetuating, unlike anti-poverty programs that require continued massive infusions of money from the outside.)

For example, about a year ago, CPC funded a Chalmers Center training course for Pentecostal pastors in Uganda, so they could start microcredit and micro-business development courses through their congregations. A Chalmers-trained woman is working for the Anglican Church in Rwanda; the archbishop wants every parish to begin one to three rotating savings and credit associations (RoSCAs) in the next year. So far they're on track to have 80,000 families involved in a RoSCA by the end of 2009. A group of 50 HIV-positive Kenyans, rejected by their families and living in a slum in Nairobi, have been meeting weekly as a RoSCA. After a year or so, not only have they been able to build capital for their own needs, nearly every member has started one or more RoSCAs on their own.

Here in the US, the Chalmers Center is training churches to teach jobs preparedness and financial literacy and to set up Individual Development Accounts, to help the poor build wealth toward lump-sum expenses -- a home, a car, education, equipment for a small business, resources to handle emergencies.

I hope to tell you more about what I learned this morning. It strikes me that these techniques may become more and more useful in the US and the west as our massive banking infrastructure falters. Going back to small groups, with mutual trust and accountability, pooling money to lend to one another, may be the way to escape the credit crunch.

This evening (Sunday, March 8, 2009) from 5 to 8:30 at Christ Presbyterian Church (51st St, between Lewis and Harvard), Fikkert will lead a Christian Economic Institute seminar on these topics. There's no charge to attend or for dinner, which will be served during a break. If you're interested in how to help the poor both here and abroad, please come.

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5 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Man! I read this too late. This sounds like such a good program. It would be great to hear more information.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

And in other news ...
The Porkulus stimulus bill, the House omnibus bill, and the Senate's nameless big spending plan all have big increases in welfare spending and housing vouchers (makes it so section 8 dwellers can move into that rent house next to you) effectively undoing the 1996 welfare reform done by Gingrich and Clinton.

Encouring self-sufficiency is nice and all that, but when you can buy votes with taxpayer money and encourage dependency on your political party, that's even better.

BobInTulsa Author Profile Page said:

As always, an interesting post. I found the following of particular interest:
"(The PCA is one of the Presbyterian denominations that still believes that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead and that the Bible is the Word of God.)"
I infer from it there are Presbyterian denominations that do not believe that. Is that true?
My mother was Presbyterian. I've always thought her church and all other Protestant denominations believed in the Son, the Resurrection, and the Bible.

Well, the mainline Presbyterian denomination, the PCUSA, still officially holds to traditional doctrinal standards, and many laypeople and ministers in the PCUSA still hold to the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the authority of Scripture, but the denomination has become rather tolerant of clergyfolk who dissent from Scripture's authority, prompting congregations like Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa to leave the denomination.

The PCA, on the other hand, holds firmly to the Westminster Confession of Faith as its standard of doctrine, subsidiary of course to the Bible itself.

Jeff, check out the chalmers.org website. Lots of good information, and I believe they offer self-study courses, too.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 8, 2009 1:24 PM.

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