By Troy Levy
The story is told of two men whose village chief was stepping down from his position. These men were the two most eligible candidates to replace him, but the chief was having a tough time deciding which of them would be the next leader. He decided to have them race around the huge lake, which wasn’t too far from their village. This would be a three-day journey, and whoever lit the village fire at the end of the race would be declared the next chief. The chief sent the two men off with nothing more than a pouch of hot coals that they would need to light the fire at the finish line.
At once these men were off setting a good pace. Naturally, one of them was faster than the other, and he began to pull away as they raced around the lake. On the second day, the faster footman looked out on the water and noticed a capsized canoe with someone stranded and waving for help. He thought about helping the person, but determined to finish the race first, he kept running even faster. Sometime later the second man came behind him and witnessed the same scene. He really wanted to finish the race first, but he chose to helpthe soul in need. So he took off the pouch of warmed coals, went into the water to retrieve the capsized canoe and its captain, pulled them ashore, used the coals to kindle a fire to warm the person in need, and then continued the race.
Meanwhile, on the third day, the faster footman who had ignored the capsized boat and its owner was the first to arrive at the village. He proudly approached the fire pit and reached into his pouch, but because his coals had completely cooled off, he was unable to light the village fire. Alas, the sec ond man arrived fully expecting to smell smoke and see the embers from afar. However, when he reached into his pouch his coals had been kept warm because he had used them to help someone else. This second man lit the village fire and became the next chief.
This story is being told within the context of the im portance of the church leading the charge toward financial literacy for the community at-large. I believe that the church is at its best when helping those that are at their worst instead of ignoring and passing them by because of “more important” bjectives. Ellen White puts it more bluntly: “If we keep our talents inactive, we lose all ability to make use of them” (Ministry to the Cities, p. 85; also Review and Herald, April 21, 1896).
A strong case could be made that those who need our help the most are urban dwellers. The terms “urban” and “inner-city” have historically been euphemisms to refer to the African American community. As gentrification sweeps across most urban locales, financial literacy as an urban ministry has nonetheless been an increasingly strong need for the Seventh day Adventist Church. Poverty, to whatever degree, afflicts most cities. Poverty doesn’t refer just to low (or no) wages. I consider the 78 percent of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck (http://press.careerbuilder.com/2017-08-24-Living- Paycheck-to-Paycheck-is-a-Way-of-Life-for-Majority-of-U-SWorkers- According-to-New-CareerBuilder-Survey accessed July 10, 2019) to be at a level of poverty also.
Seventh-day Adventist urban ministry has classically consisted of soup kitchens, clothing drives, and the like. While this form of ministry is valid and appreciated by those with low (or no) wages, it doesn’t do much, if anything at all, for the rest of urbanites trying to make ends meet. The reason being is that those activities are considered “relief” and not “development.” The vast majority of those 78 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck don’t need food or clothing. What they need is to learn how to handle what they earn. Instead of being given a fish, they need to learn how to fish. This is where financial literacy comes in.
Ellen White’s writings, in much looser terms, seem tosupport this notion of financial literacy as a ministry of development. She says, “While the worthy poor are not to be neglected, all should be taught, so far as possible, to help themselves” (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 166, [emphasis supplied]; Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventhday Adventists, p. 293). She says elsewhere, “The more able should ever act a noble, generous part in their deal with their poorer brethren, and should also give them good advice, and then leave them to fight life’s battles through” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 274 [emphasis supplied]).
Having grown up and pastored in urban contexts, I knowthat the challenges are plentiful. Generational poverty, budgetcuts in education leading to lower scholastic achievement,housing discrimination, etc., have all contributed to a nega tive legacy of financial stewardship. Because it’s unlikely forpeople born and raised in urban neighborhoods to traverse elsewhere unless they’re pushed out, low levels of financialliteracy are usually perpetuated. Because of their isolation, both geographically and culturally, business people, landlords,and others have been able to take advantage of urban communities.This has led to an enriching of some people groups at the expense of depletion of financial resources in these same communities. I hope that our church will see the need for faith-based financial literacy ministry to impact our urban communities toward wholistic growth.
Despite the challenges, the possibilities are boundless be cause the Bible contains wisdom for financial literacy through its proverbs, exhortations, parables, and narrative references. It addresses relevant subjects such as diligence, hard work, living below one’s means, contentment, debt, justice, investment diversification, etc. One such verse that receives universal commendation from believer and unbeliever alike is Proverbs 22:7 (NKJV), “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” The vast majority of people have experienced the stress and servitude that debt offers. Because this biblical truth is universally recognized, it serves as a great entryway to other biblical financial principles.
Generational poverty, budget cuts in education leading to lower scholastic achievement, housing discrimination, etc., have all contributed to a negative legacy of financial stewardship.
At the New Life Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, we are currently having people go through a financial coachtraining program as part of our Stewardship Department’sministry. I believe that a natural outgrowth of this kind of ministry is at least twofold: (1) It will produce an interest in Jesus, the Bible, and the church. If biblical financial principles are being presented in ways that contribute to people’s financial wellness, it will lead to an interest in how Christianity and Adventism can contribute to their abundant life in other areas. (2) It will lead to an increase in giving at the local church. This is a dis tant secondary goal to the first listed above. It would behoove the church to care about a person’s whole financial well-being and not just their contributions. I do believe, however, that when people, both church members and those in our com munities at-large, are discipled through financial literacy, are not beset with debt, and are not living paycheck to paycheck, they will be much more likely to contribute to God’s mission. Faith-based financial literacy as an urban ministry is one of the coals that will save people whose canoes have capsized. It will also help us as we look forward to kindling that fire when we finish the race.