Antoinette_Aisha_Uwimana_resized

Aisha Antoinette is a HOPE client in Rwanda.

In the 1990s, the World Bank surveyed over sixty thousand of the financially poor throughout the developing world and asked how they described poverty.

What surprised me was that those in poverty didn’t focus on their material need. Rather, they alluded to social and psychological aspects of poverty.

Analyzing the study, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development said,

Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.

We’ve asked similar questions through informal surveys to our clients at HOPE International and repeatedly heard similar responses. Here are common responses to the question “How do you define poverty?” I hope they’re as eye-opening for you as they were for me:

  • Poverty is an empty heart.
  • Not knowing your abilities and strengths.
  • Not being able to make progress.
  • Isolation.
  • No hope or belief in yourself. Knowing you can’t take care of your family.
  • Broken relationships.
  • Not knowing God.
  • Not having basic things to eat. Not having money.
  • Poverty is a consequence of not sharing.
  • Lack of good thoughts.

Money is infrequently mentioned.

Continue reading at the blog for Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics (IFWE).

IFWE recently released For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, where I had the privilege of contributing a chapter, part of which is excerpted in this blog. 

Haiti Uno 107

HOPE provides Christ-centered business training, savings, and loans to individuals like this client in Haiti.

Today my friend Jonathan Merritt releases his new book, Jesus Is Better than You Imagined. He graciously allowed me to share an excerpt with you about a trip we took to Haiti to visit HOPE’s work. This section follows a description of how we were held at gunpoint by bandits on our way back to Port-au-Prince. One of the most unsettling experiences in my life, I was impressed by Jonathan’s calm response and the way he processes our trip in his new book.

• • • Being held at gunpoint by bandits wasn’t the most memorable part of my trip to Haiti. Not by a long shot. A few hours outside of Port-au-Prince, HOPE had several “savings circles,” or community cooperatives where groups of individuals pool their money to make low-interest loans and save for essential purchases or start businesses. Each group elects a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer to help oversee the process.

In Haiti, when they bury the dead, the last step is to crack the coffin door so grave robbers won’t dig it up and resell it. In such a context, any extra money left after one pays the bills has a way of vanishing. The needs of others in the community tug at every spare penny. Savings circles provide intercommunity accountability for how money is stewarded.

A fifteen-year-old boy told me through a toothy grin that he was saving to go to college and become a doctor one day. A middle-aged woman told me that she’d saved up over the last year to buy a pig and a new door for her house. In the coming year, she plans to use the money to add on to their family’s home. And perhaps most memorable, one portly man said, “Before I joined this group, my extra money passed through my stomach. Now I’m saving it and making a better life for my children.”

In addition to the economic value, there are social and spiritual benefits. Social circles provide a network of encouragement. If members are discouraged, the others work to lift their spirits. When a member is sick, the others visit. In one group, I heard a story about a member’s mother who passed away, and the group used some of their interest earnings to support the family. One woman said she’s learned about transparency and honesty. Another that he has learned to support his friends and put God first.

After darkness settled one evening, Peter and I visited a savings circle meeting in a rectangular church that lacked electricity. The group sat in the first pews, and facing them, the treasurer tallied the week’s deposits. A young boy held a flashlight over the treasurer’s shoulder. This seemed a metaphor for what community cooperation was becoming in this country— a beam of light in a sea of darkness.

When the meeting concluded, I chatted with a few of the members.

One man handed me a business card for Salem Tires with bold letters: vital alexander, manager.

“That’s me,” he said, grinning wide.

Another man named Derek told me that he used to be a beggar, and felt that everyone looked down on him. Today, he rides a bike to a business he owns. When people look at him now, he says, their eyes are different. Like Vital’s, Derek’s posture is no longer head down and palms up, but rather shoulders back and chin up.

Peter believes community and economic development programs like HOPE’s can help eliminate extreme poverty from the face of the earth. Unlike charity programs, these solutions offer people dignity, responsibility, and ownership. In Haiti, many people have passions and gifts that go unused, but HOPE empowers them to put their God- given talents to work.

“Christians often patronize people we hope to minister to by telling them that we can do for them because they are incapable of doing themselves,” Peter says. “Instead, HOPE works to remind them that they can do the things they believed they were incapable of.”

Turn on your television or visit a news site and you may hear stories of Haiti— most of them negative and many full of stereotypes. But this island nation is brimming with other kinds of stories. Tales of hope and redemption, reconciliation and progress. People who didn’t have jobs are now gainfully employed. Those who had forgotten how to dream are relearning. Broken relationships are being mended. And the Body of Christ is being built up.

The chasm between a hopeless Haiti and one where dreams are birthed seems wide. As do the gulches between a troubled marriage and a happy one, a fractured relationship and a harmonious one, a calling sensed and one realized.

 

Hobby-Lobby

What we learned in Mission Drift is that Mission True organizations have leaders who courageously stand for what they believe.

Even if it costs them.

I can’t think of a better example than Hobby Lobby.

Instead of following the path of least resistance, they may close their doors. Because they so strongly believe in their purpose.

I’m thankful for organizations like Hobby Lobby—those willing to sacrifice profits and reputation to remain Mission True.

(Learn about Mission Drift here.)

Here is a letter Hobby Lobby sent to friends and supporters last year. Their case goes to the Supreme Court next week:

Hobby Lobby Founder-May Close ALL Stores

The wisdom that comes from above is first, pure, then peaceable, gentle, open

to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, without uncertainty or insincerity.

James 3:17

By David Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

When my family and I started our company 40 years ago, we were working out of a garage on a $600 bank loan, assembling miniature picture frames. Our first retail store wasn’t much bigger than most people’s living rooms, but we had faith that we would succeed if we lived and worked according to God’s word.

From there, Hobby Lobby has become one of the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailers, with more than 500 locations in 41 states. Our children grew up into fine business leaders, and today we run Hobby Lobby together, as a family.

We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are (1) to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and (2) to focus on people more than money. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. We close early so our employees can see their families at night. We keep our stores closed on Sundays, one of the week’s biggest shopping days, so that our workers and their families can enjoy a day of rest.

We believe that it is by God’s grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and He has blessed us and our employees. We’ve not only added jobs in a weak economy, we’ve raised wages for the past four years in a row. Our full-time employees start at 80% above minimum wage.

But now, our government threatens to change all of that.

A new government healthcare mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance.

Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.

It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.

If we refuse to comply, we could face $1.3 million PER DAY in government fines.

Our government threatens to fine job creators in a bad economy.

Our government threatens to fine a company that’s raised wages four years running.

Our government threatens to fine a family for running its business according to its beliefs. It’s not right.

I know people will say we ought to follow the rules; that it’s the same for everybody. But that’s not true.

The government has exempted thousands of companies from this mandate, for reasons of convenience or cost. But it won’t exempt them for reasons of religious belief.

So, Hobby Lobby and my family are forced to make a choice. With great reluctance, we filed a lawsuit today, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asking a federal court to stop this mandate before it hurts our business. We don’t like to go running into court, but we no longer have a choice. We believe people are more important than the bottom line and that honoring God is more important than turning a profit.

My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult.

The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that’s a choice no American and no American business should have to make.

The government cannot force you to follow laws that go against your fundamental religious belief. They have exempted thousands of companies but will not except Christian organizations including the Catholic church.

Sincerely,

David Green

CEO and Founder of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

 

Laurel and I moved five times in our first six years of marriage. We could pile all our possessions onto a pickup truck. Three kids later, we’ve accumulated a lot more stuff.

Boxes

And it’s not just our family. Consider the following data points on what is happening at a national level:

  • Closet space. David Weekley, one of the nation’s most successful home builders, says you can track our nation’s economic prosperity by examining closet space. Today’s standard master walk-in closets (approximately 6 ft. by 8 ft.) are comparable to the size of a bedroom 40 years ago.
  • Self-storage. Having increased by 2 billion sq. ft. between 1984-2005,  the self-storage industry exceeded Hollywood in profits in 2005! In the ’80s only 6,601 existed nationwide, but by 2008, 51,250 self-storage facilities existed: “There is 7.4 sq.ft. of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self storage roofing.” ~ Self Storage Association

But here’s the surprising aspect of our prosperity. While we’ve accumulated many more possessions, our happiness levels are static. The average American has 150 percent more purchasing power today than they did in the ’70s, according to AEI President Arthur Brooks. In the ’70s, 31 percent said they were very happy. Today, the percentage is the same.

What if we finally believed that happiness is simply not found in accumulating more?

As our resources have increased, so has a growing body of research demonstrating that happiness is correlated to giving, not getting. Essentially reinforcing what Jesus taught, science is showing it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Recently Michael Norton and Elizabeth Done, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, completed a study on happiness in Uganda and India. They gave participants as little as $5. Half were invited to buy gifts for themselves. The other half were instructed to spend it on someone else. Those who spent money on themselves remained the same. But those who gave were significantly happier.

A 2009 study from Harvard Business School found the part of the brain that activates when receiving “rewarding stimuli” – like when we view art or listen to music – also fires when we give. We are hardwired to receive joy in giving.

This year, with my family, I hope to give and love more, in response to the One who gave us everything.

Want to learn more? Check out More or Less by my friend Jeff Shinabarger.

 

________________________

Tom Vanderbilt, “Self-Storage Nation,” Slate, July 2005 (http://www.slate.com/id/2122832/).

Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior (Harvard Business School Working Paper, 2009) 10.