Charity, Micro-Finance, and the Bible

The workers were hot, dusty, and tired. It had been an exhausting and productive morning gathering the barley harvest. The workers were only now taking a break in the shade to enjoy some refreshment. The landowner came by to visit with his employees, and after greeting them, he inquired about a foreign young woman he noticed working in his field.

The servant in charge explained that she was the young daughter-in-law of Naomi, who had returned to Israel with her.  Ruth had spent the entire morning gathering grain in the sweltering sun, so her and Naomi would not starve.

This entire situation is contextualized by the law of the land in Ruth’s lifetime: In Leviticus 23:22, the Lord instructs the Israelites not to harvest right into the corners of their fields, nor to gather the grain leftover after a harvest. Instead, the extra was to be a provision for the poor. Ruth knew that the landowner, Boaz, would honor the law and welcome her and let her glean after him.

Boaz rewarded Ruth's diligence by instructing her to remain with his work crew, partake of their water, and even told his workers to leave extra grain for her to gather as they harvested. This might not have been micro-financing, but it was Boaz giving the impoverished a helping hand to rise above their circumstances.

My Experience Helping Those Who Multiply the Effort

While I was serving in Papua New Guinea, I was alarmed by one of my guard’s approach to money. He was in so much debt that he found it awfully difficult to pay back the money he owed—so difficult that he could hardly survive on his remaining funds until the next payday. Meanwhile, other guards were making a profit by “selling” a large portion of their paycheck to vulnerable guards—requiring the money in full plus 30% interest returned next payday (two weeks). The loans were small and the terms ridiculous, but our guard was just getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble. In fact, on one occasion he showed up late to work unrecognizable because of a severe beating he had been given. He claimed that strangers had assaulted him in the street, but his story didn't add up, and the other guards all acted strangely.

I decided to do two things to help our guard get out of strife. First, we offered him short-term loans with no interest, hoping it would help keep his debts from spiraling out of control. Second, I bought him a manual sewing machine, some fabric, and notions land, and then proceeded to teach him to sew. After all, he spent his days or nights sitting under my house with nothing better to do, and I figured his wife could sell the garments made at the market. They could use the profits to replenish the consumables and save or spend the remainder. He turned out to be a quick and careful learner and quickly turned out a couple garments. Unfortunately, that was where the business venture died. He continued to get himself into awful debts, and eventually got himself fired for theft.

By contrast, my Haus meri (maid) was much more savvy when it came to money and survival. (It was expected by the society that I have a maid.) Each time we went on furlough, I would give her the money she would ordinarily have earned weekly as one lump sum. If my guard had been given such money, it would have been spent quick as a flash, but my Haus meri would invest it. Each time she would go to the main market in town and buy peanuts in bulk. She would then take them home and sell them little by little at the small market close to her home. This way her money was not only rationed during the time we were away, but also earned her a profit.

Opening Our Hands to the Impoverished

Providing micro-finance to the impoverished will never be easy, but it certainly gives those who use money wisely the opportunity to rise above their circumstances. When we are blessed with the things that sustain our lives, we should open our hands to the world—letting the impoverished come behind us and gather what they need.

The same Law that Boaz held to also says:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ESV).

The story of Ruth as related above comes from Ruth 1–2.


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Kriselle Dawson
Kriselle Dawson