March 1, 2010| 0

Book Review: The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty


by Peter Greer, Phil Smith, and Jeremy Cowart (photography) (Zondervan, 2009. 288 pp)

On Friday, January 15, 2010, Peter Greer, president of HOPE International presented a talk on SPU’s campus about themes from the book, including the power of microfinance. HOPE International is a faith-based global microfinance organization serving hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs in 14 countries. Learn more about SPU’s Microfinance Initiative.

Book review by Cindy Strong

Reflections

Anyone who regularly reads the world news section of a newspaper is painfully aware of the desperate lives people live in many parts of the world. Repressive regimes in countries like Zimbabwe, devastating earthquakes in China and Haiti, tsunamis, and other disasters, cause untold millions of people to live on the edge of despair. As a Christian, I am moved to remedy the situation. I want to go on short-term mission trips or send money to those in need. With the advent of the recent horrific and destructive earthquake in Haiti, my instinctive reaction was, “How can I help?” Getting on a plane and flying to Haiti was my gut response to the incredible need. As Christians, we are called to help. Christians are familiar with the biblical injunction that calls us to take care of the poor. But jumping on a plane to fly to Haiti one day after earthquake would not be useful. Rather, it would be counterproductive.

Peter Greer and Phil Smith, in their book published by Zondervan, entitled The poor will be glad: joining the revolution to lift the world out of poverty, provide practical biblically-based suggestions on how the church can effectively assist people living in extreme poverty. Greer, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Policy and Messiah College, is president of HOPE International, a faith-based institution committed to alleviating poverty through microfinance ministries. Smith, who holds an M.B.A. from the University of Tulsa, is a philanthropist and co-author of A billion bootstraps: Microcredit, barefoot banking, and the business solution for ending poverty. Jeremy Cowart, a graphic designer, provides gripping visual images of the daily rounds of the poor. Given their educational background and experience, Smith, Greer, and Cowart are uniquely qualified to deliver this excellent Christian primer on how to alleviate poverty with integrity.

This accessibly written text redirects our frequently well-intentioned efforts to “do something” for the poor to more sustainable ways to counter extreme poverty in the developing world. Greer and Smith posit that establishing long-term relationships and financial partnerships with international churches in poverty-stricken areas provides one of the best ways to distribute much needed financial resources to those in need. Greer and Smith suggest numerous microfinance ministry options for churches, such as Savings Credit Associations (S.C.A), Microfinance Institutions (M.F.I.), or Business as Mission (B.A.M) focused enterprises. They also include information on micro-schools, animal loans (examples of animal loans are Oxfam and Heifer International), micro-insurance, micro-pharmacies, job training, and business training. Microfinance ministries, they argue, are important because they move beyond charity handouts, which have often produced unhealthy dependency and have denied dignity to those being helped.

Commencing with staggering statistics of the billions of people who live on $2 or less a day, Greer and Smith bring into focus the work that needs to be done. Their exploration of the common mistakes made by many Christian-based anti poverty programs provides a critical lens that offers a necessary corrective on how anti-poverty programs should be structured. Mistakes, such as not working in close partnership with the local church or not taking the time to sit and listen to what the people of a particular local culture think they need, can have negative consequences. Confusing whether relief or development is needed in a particular situation is another common mistake. Not being cognizant of the unintended consequences of our giving is also often an issue. Greer and Smith’s argument for the necessity of new models to deal with stubborn issues of poverty is refreshing. Models focusing on meeting physical and spiritual needs and which focus on employment versus handouts are key. Greer and Smith make clear that without safe and affordable ways to save money, the poor are left with little access to credit, which increases their vulnerability when a crisis arises. For churches interested in microfinance, the authors offer thoughtful step-by-step instructions on how to get started. For anyone interested in reading about a hopeful new model on how to reduce poverty, this book is a must read.

Cindy is the Liaison Librarian at Seattle Pacific University for the School of Business and the School of Education. She received her MLS degree from the University of Maryland, College of Library and Information Science. Besides being passionate about reading and hiking, she loves skiing with her husband and two sons.

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