SIDEBAR: Development, AG, and West Africa

by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

The foundational principles of poverty alleviation described in the accompanying article apply internationally as well. Indeed, it is possible to use asset-based, participatory development even in settings that are very poor materially.

The Chalmers Center is working with Assemblies of God church leaders in Togo, West Africa, to form savings and credit associations as a development ministry of local churches. Participants in these groups study Scripture, pray together, learn money management principles, and save and lend their own resources to one another. These groups arise from local churches and require no outside money. As a result, they are asset-based, participatory, and sustainable, providing an incredible opportunity for local churches to share the gospel with low-income people and address their physical needs.

When members describe the impact of these groups, their responses reflect the multifaceted restoration central to development. Dimbiani, a mother of three, is now financially stable.

“Before I joined the savings group at our church, I could not even afford to buy salt for my soup,” she says. “But after receiving my savings from our group, I bought a goat that gave birth to two others.”

Yentougli, an AG deacon, says: “The training helped me a lot in my own life to better understand my relationship with God and how to relate to other people.”

Samuel, an AG pastor, says these groups foster spiritual, economic, and social transformation.

“Members who were not happy to come to church in the past because they did not have money for the offering now come,” he says. “They pay their tithe freely, and their relationships with each other have improved.”

When we view poverty as a material condition, savings and credit associations seem like a strange approach to alleviating poverty. After all, Dimbiani, Yentougli, and Samuel never received handouts of food, clothing, or money. But when we approach poverty as a situation rooted in broken relationships, development approaches like church-centered, gospel-driven savings and credit associations make all the sense in the world.

— Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia