A Story Of Stewardship
Some years ago when my family I were based in Kenya where we served with Open Hands, we traveled 7 hours from where we were living at the time in Nakuru to a small town to the northwest called Kapenguria. We were going to introduce the savings group program to a group of pastors and community leaders there.
On the day of the meeting, folks filed into the brick church building and took their seats, eager to hear how Open Hands would help them. As I took them through my presentation on how savings groups work, they became more and more disappointed that we would not be providing any handouts and material gifts—only teaching and coaching. When I asked for feedback, one after another expressed their skepticism and disappointment.
One young man however, Sam Wanjala, boldly stood and respectfully shared on the power of faithful stewardship. He went on to illustrate. He told us the heartbreaking, yet redemptive story of Lorna, his 66-year-old widowed mother from Mbai Village in Kenya. Sam’s father passed away in 1987 while Lorna was pregnant, leaving her with Sam and 6 other children. Due to the traditions of her Luhya tribe, she could not keep the family land since her firstborn was not a male. So, she was chased out of the family farm and was forced to go live in the city slums with her children. Life in the slums was not easy. Her daughters were forced into early marriages. Their marriages were unstable and both daughters died from AIDS, leaving behind 3 grandchildren. Lorna lived in those slums for 20 years, working hard to make ends meet by selling vegetables and having her children work odd jobs for a bit of cash.
After years of hard work and saving funds in a savings group similar to Open Hands as well as saving by other methods, Lorna was able to purchase a small plot of land in Mbai Village and finally escaped from the slums. She was still very poor. However, she was faithful with the little that God gave her, stewarding it wisely.
Lorna’s faithfulness in the small things paid off. Her meager wages as a day laborer gave her capital for micro-business. With her business income, she went on to purchase farm animals—first chickens, then goats, and eventually a cow. In Kenya, cows are a wonderful asset, providing milk and meat. God blessed Lorna and her cow multiplied to 8 cows. Now Lorna, the proactive and hardworking widow, is a blessing to her neighbors providing milk for sale and allowing them to use the cow manure to fertilize their crops. They also benefit from clean water from Lorna’s well that she had dug with her profits. Lorna was also able to build a four-room house without outside help. Lorna continues to use savings groups as a method to manage her money. Her progress came through stewardship, discipline and hard work rather than handouts from foreign aid organizations.
As Sam sat down that day in that meeting in Kapenguria, a quiet thoughtfulness had fallen upon all of us. Lorna’s story had left its impact. Her story is one that should inspire us to help each other learn and grow. Let’s be mindful of how our development efforts are affecting those across the globe. Let’s give relief when there is a disaster, but let’s use methods of empowerment and teaching over the long term to make sure that we do not create crippling dependency. With God’s help, we can provide a hand up to struggling brothers and sisters in distant lands. – Joe Kuepfer, Executive Director
Savings Groups Help the Poor and Win the Lost
In my younger days I was often informed that helping the poor and winning the lost should be high priorities in my life. Children’s meetings, Sunday school classes, discussions with my parents, books I read or had read to me, and reading scripture all reminded me often of God’s commands to help the poor and to win the lost.
God’s command to help the poor and His command to make disciples seemed to be two separate activities. Helping the poor in my church background involved serving at the Eugene Mission, sponsoring poor children in various places around the world, and sending food boxes to Haiti and Romania. Winning the lost seemed to focus on handing out tracts, revival meetings, mission work, and supporting native pastors in developing counties. If a particular mission focused on winning the lost, the poor and their needs seemed less important. If a movement focused on helping the poor through humanitarian aid, the evangelization of the lost seemed be neglected.
Around 2005 the Chalmer’s Institute developed a unique concept, called savings groups, for reaching out to the poor in developing nations. Focused on teaching the poor how to save money together, the savings groups worked to overcome poverty. As the members met regularly to save, community blossomed. They began to understand how their broken relationships with God, with themselves, with other people, and with God’s creation were the cause of much of their poverty.
In December of 2022 I visited Kenya and participated in a session for training Kenyans to facilitate savings groups with the Kenyan people. In conversations with facilitators, I routinely asked if they had people who came to faith in Christ. They told me stories of participants who became a part of God’s kingdom and had broken relationships restored.
One facilitator told me about a time he started a savings group for people who lived in an area that had no church. Six months later the group asked him to help them start their own church. They liked the community and the savings and the restoration of relationships, but they realized they needed a church. In this way savings groups led to the starting of a church that is flourishing today.
One morning in Kenya we visited a savings group in Nakuru. As the Kiswahili meeting started I noticed that one of the group members was dressed differently than the rest. Later I asked about her and was told she was Muslim. I learned that savings groups in Kenya appeal to Muslims, and in some areas savings groups have become an important tool for bringing salvation to Muslims.
Open Hands is committed to helping the poor through savings groups that help people get a grasp of making good use of resources God has given them. The members not only experience community and the joy of saving money, but they also are drawn into the kingdom of God. – Paul Smucker, Communications Coordinator