Given the nature of poverty in Arequipa, we have long been considering whether a micro-loan project modeled on kiva.org would be a wise ministry. There is a large number of people living in true poverty here, but the great majority of the poor--and thus of the whole population--are the working poor. This means subsistence living, a precarious balance of minimal resources. Sickness, unordinary expenses, or even short-term loss of work are the kinds of situations that can quickly spiral a family into destitution. Many of you have yourselves experienced the uncertainty that accompanies job loss or a medical bill too big for savings to cover. We all live in economic systems that allow us to imagine the worst. I believe, therefore, that magnifying those situations tenfold gives us a glimpse of the reality in places like Arequipa. Rather than the loss of savings or the downsizing of a home, it is daily bread that is at risk for so many thousands here when something goes wrong.
This situation also means that, although there are many people who are capable, imaginative, and motivated, they do not have what so many of us take for granted in the US: access to startup capital. The draconian interest rates here make bank loans practically inviable for the working poor who hope only to create a small increase in margin with their investment. That is what makes an interest-free micro-loan such a powerful tool. It has two essential components that are truly empowering. One, it is a loan, with the burden of responsible repayment placed squarely upon the recipient. That responsibility is a powerful gift. It is the expectation that they can pay it back and achieve the pride of ownership that a mere handout never affords. Two, it is an act of grace. The Torah speaks repeatedly about the ethic of interest-free lending (Ex 22.25; Lev 25.36; Deut 23.19-20). Combined with Jesus' loving reorientation toward all who are "other," we see this teaching as the basis for gracious acts of strategic empowerment in Arequipa.
Although our vision for micro-lending initially looked further down the road, our first opportunity has arisen, and it is a special one. Manuela, whom both families hired as a house-cleaner but who has become a beloved friend and an abuela to our daughters, approached us about helping her son, Willy. Willy has worked his way from field laborer to bus fair collector to taxi driver. Manuela came to us because Willy was renting a car in order to taxi, but the owner suddenly sold it, leaving him without his livelihood. Manuela explained that she had been dreaming of helping Willy buy his own car and allowing him to pay her back, but she hadn't saved enough yet. Our jaws dropped when we learned that she had saved 10,000 Soles (over $3000). We know how and where Manuela lives and what she makes, and her savings is a testimony to her character and strength as a single working mom who raised her kids in a Peruvian shanty town. It seemed that God had given us an opportunity to kick off our micro-loan ministry by blessing people we know and trust.
We were initially thinking in terms of a Tico, the little matchbox cars used here for taxis. There is legislation on the horizon that would prohibit the use of Ticos as taxis, however, so we turned in a different direction. Willy zoomed in on late 90’s models and projected a total price of $7500 after converting it to run on Liquefied Petroleum Gas.
Micro-lenders lent sums ranging from $25 to $2500 through the ICDU website (www.icduperu.org), and within little more than a week we had accumulated the needed amount. In fact, we were able to allow Manuela to hold on to some of her life savings rather than put everything on the line, which was far more than she expected. Willy bought a 1998 Toyota Tercel, which he is already working every day. He has adopted an ambitious repayment schedule that, once complete, will give him sole ownership of the car and effectively double his take-home income. We'll keep the ICDU website updated with stories and info from Willy so you can see how interest-free lending in the name of Jesus is changing his family's life.
Whether you lent or not, thank you for your prayers, without which this is all just dollars and cents. God will use us to lift up the poor if we let him. He will make us wise in our faithfulness if we are humble. These are our prayers.