576: Interview with Peter Greer on his nuts-n-bolts guide to rebuilding charity

his is the kind of book we love to recommend—and the kind of writer we enjoy interviewing! Peter Greer is the kind of smart young evangelist the world needs today. He’s willing to borrow the best ideas wherever he finds them to help families and repair God’s world. So, who is this guy you’ve probably never met until today?
    He is an evangelical Christian, published by the evangelical publishing house Zondervan—borrowing a concept developed by Muhammad Yunus, a Muslim from Bangladesh. Yunus now has won both the Nobel Peace Prize and an American Medal of Freedom this year at the White House. (Click here to read an earlier story on Yunus’ White House honor.)
    Of course, radical redistribution of resources dates back to ancient Judaism and early Christianity as well. But, now, the refined “microfinance” concept is globally celebrated as a set of principles Yunus proved can transform entire communities. Yunus also demonstrated that microfinance isn’t merely charity—it also makes solid sense as a business-development strategy in impoverished areas.
    Now, Peter Greer, co-author Phil Smith and Zondervan are bringing a full-scale version of microfinance to thousands of Christian congregations in “The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty.”
    Here’s our recommendation: This is the best nuts-n-bolts guidebook I’ve seen to get your church involved in microfinance as a strategy for building the Kingdom of God along with the equal involvement of poor people—instead of only sending an endless flow of charitable relief. (Don’t misunderstand! Peter also insists that pure relief efforts always will be necessary in emergent and dire situations, but this is another powerful tool for churches.)
    If you’ve heard of microfinance—perhaps as recently as the White House honors in July—and you want to explore whether this idea might be ideal for your church to support: Buy this book!
    CLICK HERE if you’d like to order “The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty”
from Amazon now.

    Let me assure you that Peter Greer is the “real deal.” He earned a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School and currently is the president of HOPE International, a global faith-based microfinance organization serving hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs in 14 countries.



    DAVID: Peter, I want to start today by sharing with our readers from the introduction by Rob Bell that opens your new book. I’ve had the opportunity myself to visit Asian countries, including Bangladesh, where microfinance is changing lives. But, it’s hard to appreciate this idea unless readers understand the dramatic stories we’ve all seen.
    Rob writes: “In 2004 I was at a market in Rwanda, watching a woman run her stall. She was selling things and interacting with people, and the whole time she had this huge smile on her face. Someone explained to me that not long ago, this woman had nothing. No food for her family, no home, no money for school for her kids—nothing. She was given a loan as part of a microfinance program. With it she started her business, paid back the loan, built a home that she has no debt on, and now sends her well-fed kids to school. No wonder she was smiling.
    “I asked her how much the loan was for: ‘Forty American dollars.’

    Well, Rob certainly “got it,” and I “got it,” too, while traveling through Asia—and you run an entire global nonprofit with thousands of people whose lives have been changed by this idea.

Do you think this idea stands a chance of sweeping through Christian churches?
PETER: I hope so, but many people still haven’t heard about microfinance.
When I talk to new groups about my work at HOPE International, I can’t assume that they understand what we do. So, I usually start by describing the concept of microfinance to them. I explain that, around the world in developing countries, many families have been dependent on charity for a long time. For many of these families, microfinance is an opportunity to transition beyond charity to permanently help their families. Then, I explain that my own organization, HOPE International, is a Christ-centered microfinance organization.
I do believe we need to expand the ways we help people get out of poverty. Rather than just showing up as the heroes with handouts—for many people, microfinance can put their own solutions into their own hands.
DAVID: I know that you’re working in 14 countries right now. How many people are directly using these resources through HOPE around the world?
PETER: We’re currently working with 250,000 entrepreneurs around the world. We’re quite active in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Haiti, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and China.


DAVID: I can’t emphasize strongly enough how smart it is to partner with a broad range of groups in this kind of work. You’re very clear in your book that this can be a “Christ-centered” mission for Christian churches. You’re a devout Christian yourself. As a Christian, you’re showing the compassion and commitment of your faith every day in the field.
But, if I read your book correctly, you’re saying that we also should reach out cooperatively in these efforts. If it makes sense for Christians to work with Muslims somewhere, then that’s the wise choice, for example. When I began reading your book, I did wonder whether you would properly credit Muhammad Yunus in your book. I was pleasantly surprised that you do, indeed, credit him both in this book and in your HOPE International Web site.
Have I got that right? You’re hoping for broad partnerships in the field?
PETER: I sure hope so. We’ve got a lot in common in this work.
Certainly, I don’t think we have to water down our religious faith to find creative partnerships in development. And, we do have to recognize that there are real religious divides. There are divides between Christians and secularists, between Christians and other faiths—and between Christians and Christians as well.
But, hopefully, we can see that we’re trying to build a movement here—a new approach to working with people through microfinance. I’ve already seen a different attitude of partnership in this work and less organizational flag waving. I hope we can work together with others.
DAVID: Explain more about this, because I know many of our readers will be familiar with the old-school idea in some ministries that people have to become Christian to get any aid—or they’ll get more assistance if they first convert. That’s not how you work, though.
PETER: We’re clear that our own staff members are followers of Christ. We use the Bible as the basis for our training materials. We give people an opportunity to see and to hear about the love of Christ.
But we’re also clear that we’re not using our faith as a dividing line in the communities where we work with entrepreneurs. We’re not providing better loan terms or larger loan sizes based on your faith.


DAVID: We also should stress here that you’re not calling for an end to traditional relief efforts—rushing food and supplies to meet emergencies. That needs to continue, of course. Also, you make it clear that not every poor person wants to open a business—or is in a position to become an entrepreneur.
PETER: Absolutely. We talk about the difference between relief and development and both are needed. After natural disasters or war, starting to talk about loans—when people don’t have food to make it through another day—that’s not going to help anyone! And there are other long-term needs, like health care, education and also theological education for the next generation of church leaders.
But microfinance is one very important piece of development in the world today and too few churches are involved in this.
    DAVID: Right. “The Poor Will Be Glad” really is a nuts-n-bolts guidebook explaining this concept that’s new to lots of people. This is not just one more book about world poverty. This is different.
PETER: Yes, this book is not trying to describe the problem of global poverty. There are many other books that do that very well. This book describes in detail one particular solution. This is not the only solution we need in the world, but it is a very, very important piece.


DAVID: You have gotten some “push back” on this idea, though. You talk about the skepticism. It seems to be almost a natural part of this transformation in seeing poor people as equal partners, not merely as recipients of aid.
Muhammad Yunus himself withstood a tidal wave of skepticism—and even some downright hostility to his ideas.
What kind of objections are you hearing in churches?
PETER: It is amazing that a lot of the people in the church still don’t get it. There’s been a lot of progress, but just the other day I had a conversation with an individual who expressed this prevalent attitude about charity that still says: If you’re truly a follower of Christ, then you’re going to give everything away.
The objection is: How can we give a loan to the poor? Doesn’t the Bible talk about giving freely? There’s an unhealthy distrust of business in general in the church. We hear lots of reasons that churches don’t want to get on board.
DAVID: Well, you and Rob Bell and I obviously agree here that the answer is—showing people what a difference it makes, right?
PETER: Oh, yes. The most powerful way to get the idea across to people is to go and sit down with entrepreneurs who have benefited from microfinance. Then we just ask them to talk about their experience. That wipes away a lot of this skepticism and criticism we hear—when we hear from real people who are living the benefits.
That’s why HOPE International organizes short trips to go meet people who’ve benefited from this. More people need to seeing for themselves the importance of this idea.
DAVID: That’s why I started this interview with a short passage from Rob’s introduction, where he describes one of his own eye-opening moments.
PETER: When you get a chance to visit someone who has had nothing in life—and they welcome you into a house they now own—and they bring out a soft drink and a plate of plantains that they’ve bought to make you feel welcome—that experiences changes your perspective radically.

    (NOTE ON TODAY’S PHOTOS: Most of the photos today were taken of small-scale entrepreneurs in Asia by David Crumm on a 2006 trip through several countries.)


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