Posted by: calloftheandes | May 31, 2010

33 Attendees Meet in Quito to Learn How Microfinance Can Boost Mission Efforts

An illiterate man, a food vendor and a businesswoman sit down to talk.

No, this isn’t the opening line of a popular joke. Instead, role playing served a valuable lesson at a microfinance workshop held May 3-7 at HCJB Global in Quito, Ecuador.

Led by facilitators Smita Donthamsetty, Mike McMahan and Robin McMahan, role-playing by 33 attendees helped them anticipate the realities that go with establishing small savings and loan groups.

The 30-hour class, “Microfinance as a Missionary Strategy,” was sponsored jointly by the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, Misión al Ecuador de la Iglesia Presbiteriana en America (MEIPA) and Corrientes, a newly launched coalition of mission agencies based at HCJB Global in Quito.

The person playing the role of the food vendor would save almost no money, possibly just meeting expenses for a family. Facing harsh deficits regularly, this person would have no financial safety net when emergencies strike. Unforeseen medical expenses could push the person and his or her family to financial ruin. On the other hand, the businessman’s character would be insulated by this.

“Latin American missionaries generally understand living with limitations and in a context of poverty, but they haven’t had the techniques or abilities to provoke or facilitate a transformational change so that the community may achieve its self-support,” said Carlos Pinto, a charter team member of Corrientes.

Many in the development world perceive microfinance as a silver bullet to diminish poverty. Controversies have swirled around it, however, as banks and financial institutions have entered the field.

As these traditional lenders began to dominate the arena, a microcredit pioneer, Mohammad Yunus, recently denounced high interest rates when he spoke to financial officials at the U.N. Analysts say that worldwide, borrowers pay 37 percent in interest and fees with loan costs in Mexico nearly double that.

“The microfinance initiatives that we were dealing with in the course (where all the money for savings or loans is generated within the community) differ from larger scale loaning systems where there is an outside injection of money by a well-meaning institution,” said Martin Harrison, who heads Vozandes Community Development at HCJB Global in Quito. “The former fits very well with our existing experience in community development since these groups are so strongly community based.”

For Harrison and others, the Corrientes workshops served as first exposure to microfinance concepts. Lacking the real-life experience with such small loans groups, attendees adopted their roles enthusiastically.

Discussions began with foundational principles, explaining that sin leads to societal discord and broken relationships. Churches and individual Christians sometimes have faulty assumptions about the causes of poverty and, because of this, often do not realize that their efforts to help the poor can actually do more harm to the poor than good, according to the Chalmers Center, whose materials the McMahans used in the sessions.

Venezuelans, Bolivians and Colombians participated while Sara Manani, promoting savings and loan groups in her native Bolivia, came to Quito to learn more about more complex modalities.

Pinto called the Quito workshops “a tool offered to the Latin American missionary movement in its desire to do holistic mission work where they go to serve.”

A Colombian who anticipates Christian work in a similarly war-torn area of southern Europe, Klara Zapata, said she better understands poverty from a biblical perspective. She views microfinance as potentially helping spread the news of God’s kingdom.

“It’s a great opportunity to begin with the community, moving toward Christ instead of doing the opposite,” said Zapata. She and her husband are gaining firsthand community development experience and learning its fundamental principals as Corrientes candidates.

“I hope to begin a microfinance group within a week with my immediate family, mostly females,” added Tannia Lascano, who works with HCJB Global Hands. Two-thirds of the attendees indicated that they want to begin such groups within six months.

MEIPA is one of the partner organizations of the Corrientes coalition. In addition to timely and relevant workshops throughout the year, the coalition calls on various volunteers from different disciplines. They mentor Latin Americans during the final stages of mobilizing these Christian workers for cross-cultural ministry.



  1. A lovely lady and a godly woman who will be sorely missed. My love to the family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: