New evangelism: mini loans
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CMED groups often cite several biblical citations as providing the impetus for what they do. "If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need ... you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need," reads the book of Deuteronomy in the New American Bible. CMED organizations are encouraged to use the "parable of the sower," in which Jesus praises wise planting practices to show the importance of utilizing God's resources well.Skip to next paragraph
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For those involved in CMED, some of those resources are spiritual. For example, World Relief's loan officers start their meetings with prayers. Ken Graber, who consults worldwide for World Relief's microfinance affiliates, says that "in the absence of biblical values, the previously exploited will turn and exploit others as they move ahead economically."
World Relief's services are, however, open to non-Christians. And Christian organizations are not the only religiously oriented institutions to offer microfinance services. Jewish Vocational Service provides financial advice and some loans to low-income residents of several US cities. And in East Africa and Central Asia, the Aga Khan Foundation, a Muslim group, provides microlending services.
The spiritual component, however, may be the most controversial element of CMED. At AMIZERO, the Rwandan microfinance affiliate of another international Christian relief organization called World Vision, tension once built up between staff members who identify as "born again" and staff from other Christian churches, according to acting director Rita Ngarambe. Ms. Ngarambe, who identifies herself as "born again," says that "some [staff members] don't believe in 'born again' so we don't talk much about 'born again.' "
Still, AMIZERO's relationships with its clients are far from secular. Sitting behind neat stacks of paper on her desk, Ngarambe says: "A client will sometimes come to me and say, 'Rita, I'm very sick. Can you pray for me?' They think we are their pastors."
AMIZERO's religious mission has led it to provide microfinance to underserved groups such as people infected with HIV/AIDS, orphans, and genocide widows. AMIZERO, World Relief, Care International, and the Rwandan Microfinance Forum recently won a $1 million contract from the US Agency for International Development to reach out to poor women in the underserved Rwandan provinces of Kigali Ngali and Byumba.
Catholic Relief Services, a nonprofit based in the US, also supports microfinance projects in Rwanda. Other CMED players around the world include Freedom From Hunger, Hope International, and Opportunity International, an organization that alone made $280 million in loans to more than 1 million poor clients in 2004.
Today around 1,200 CMED organizations operate among two-thirds of the world's population, according to the Oxford Center for Mission Studies in Britain. That's up from 505 in 2001, according to the Christian Transformation Resource Center in the Philippines. By 2025, the number of Christian development organizations, most of which offer microloans, is expected to grow by 75 percent, according to the Filipino group.
"Even though there has been tremendous growth in the [Christian microfinance] sector in the past 20 years, we are so far away from meeting the demand that exists, so there is need for more and more organizations," says Peter Greer, executive director of Hope International.