Maybe it’s lending a “helping hand” to start a banana orchard, a fish pond, a small store, or even a mobile “restaurant” consisting of a barbeque pit strapped to the back of a motorcycle!
I see myself as not just handing out loans, but also serving as a mentor and walking alongside people.
I’ve lived in Thailand for nine years and in the small village of Palanchai for a year and a half. I serve alongside local house churches, have English/Bible clubs, disciple believers, and I work as a staff member of the Micro Enterprise Development (MED) program.
MED was set up by EMM workers in 2001; I started with the project in 2005 when local believer and Life Enrichment Church (LEC) member Chanthorn Malee became the director. In 2009 MED became 100% sustainable, which means that the interest on the loans was covering the operating costs of the program.
Currently MED has 122 active members, and out of that number only 10 people are in default of their loans. The program tithes a percentage of the income each year to LEC, which was founded by EMM church planters in 1995.
Those who take out a loan must attend classes on biblically-based financial principles. Borrowers must meet regularly with MED staff. When people come to us for a loan, we want it to be about transformation. We use the member’s desire for a loan as an opportunity to build relationships and foster openness to change. We want to see transformation in their livelihoods and ultimately for Jesus to transform their lives!
We teach principles like not overspending, living within our means, and delaying gratification. These are hard principles for almost anyone to live by! I’ve found, after a number of years being involved in the loan program, that obedience to God has a direct effect on how people manage money.
Grandfather Lua and Grandmother Chalong are a great couple who have really modeled how to be faithful with money. They used their first loan to open a small sundries shop which they paid off. For their second loan, they added a small noodle shop to the store. With the money they made, they were able to support a number of grandchildren and send them to school.
Grandfather Lua took part in the small business training we put on. Now they use buckets to create a great visual system to keep their profit and capital separate. They take capital out of the one bucket and move it to the other. I usually share the example of a cow and its milk. I tell people to just take the milk, don’t kill the cow!
It’s very hard to look out for the interests of MED while maintaining relationships with people. In Thai culture, relationship is always first, before any organization, before money. Sometimes I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning. I find myself having to be creative in navigating relationships. I am trusting God for the results.
Lucille Zimmerman has served in Thailand for nine years. Some of her favorite things about Thai culture are her friends’ smiles, spicy food, and lizards on the walls.