Jesus famously summarized the law and prophets by citing the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love neighbor. To illustrate what it meant to love one’s neighbor he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the beautiful story of a traveler who, in contrast to a priest and a Levite, cared for an injured victim of robbery by carrying him to a hotel, nursing his wounds, and covering his expenses.
For years this parable has shaped my family’s ministry. We carried gifts to people dying of AIDS and served food to the homeless. Living overseas as missionaries, we strived to serve the poor in meaningful ways whenever and however we could. But something always bothered us. Our efforts, though compassionate, well intended, and modeled after Christ’s story, never seemed to produce the results we desired. We were not irrational idealists expecting that we could single-handedly reverse years and even centuries of defective and unjust social systems. But we gradually realized that when we gave donations to people there were two crucial problems: 1) we only temporarily met their needs — they would soon grow hungry, and 2) we inadvertently created dependency — we were their source for ending their hunger.
Living overseas as the Internet took hold around the world, we became acutely aware of the growing trend toward global interconnectedness, commonly referred to as globalization. The economy is the fuel, the engine, the steering wheel, the accelerator, and the driver of globalization. The economy of globalization has advanced technology, generated wealth, and created a more interdependent world. But in its haste, the global economy has also bypassed many impoverished, abused victims who lay helpless on the roadside.
My wife and I began thinking and praying about how the Church could be the Good Samaritan in the age of globalization. We came to realize that any truly effective approach would have to seriously address the long-term nature of need and the dependency problem as well as engage the processes of the global economy.
As an undergraduate student I studied International Business at Auburn University. When I sensed God calling me into international missions, neither I nor anyone else I knew acknowledged that business might have something to do with missions. After several years of working in ministry and living overseas, I have realized that the two must go together.
To engage these issues more systematically, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Intercultural Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Through this process I have grown increasingly fond of microfinance, an innovative development intervention with the potential to do everything I was looking to accomplish: 1) provide more permanent solutions to poverty, not temporary hand-outs, 2) empower individuals within their local contexts, not create dependency and 3) significantly engage the economy.
Microfinance has gained global notoriety since Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Few people are aware, however, of how the Church has used, is using, and could enhance its use of microfinance as a powerful tool to be the Good Samaritan in the age of globalization.
Guest post by Mark Russell, former Director of Spiritual Integration