Bearing One Another's Burdens - Issue #220 (February 9, 2015)
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For many who are poor and living on the margins, the burden of debt is one that weighs people down like no other. Nina McCarthy’s story is a prime example. Nina worked hard to keep her head above water, pay rent, and make her car payment. She also supported her three-year-old granddaughter. An unexpected car repair forced her to turn to a “loan store” for money. When her overtime at work disappeared, she was short on funds to pay back her loan. A few months later she suffered a stroke. Unable to pay, interest accrued at 24.9% a month, a rate that would be nearly 300 percent annualized!
Fortunately for Nina, her church -- Wesley Memorial UMC in Richmond, Virginia -- learned of her predicament and saw the need to help carry another’s burden. The congregation had formed a partnership with the Virginia United Methodist Credit Union to help ease financial burdens created by exorbitantly high interest rates. The program, called the “Jubilee Assistance Fund,” uses church funds to “guarantee” a loan from the Virginia United Methodist Credit Union at a rate of about 6% per year. Nina was able to get her debt more under control, helping her begin to crawl out from under this oppressive loan.
One church leader suggested that this program challenges typical perceptions of the church’s role. While churches have traditionally given money to financially struggling parishioners, low interest loans provide the opportunity to preserve dignity and to teach principles of money management.
The pastor believes that this is what churches are called to do, fulfilling a biblical mandate to care for the least in society. While the method may move churches into new areas, the mandate is as old as the Christian church itself.
Questions for Reflection
- How does what United Methodists are doing in Virginia support the call of the UMC’s Four Focus Areas to be “in ministry with the poor”?
- How might you begin a discussion about how your church could be a better steward of the funds that are held in its accounts?
- Do you think there are people in your church who would be willing to give above and beyond their regular giving to establish a fund that might help ease the burden of debt on people who live on the margins of our society?