“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man… He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever (Psalm 112:4,9a).”
“The best way I can describe myself is that I ended up doing something I never intended to do”. Those are the word of social entrepreneur Mohammed Yunus.
In the 1970s Yunus was teaching at Middle Tennessee State University when he decided to his native Bangladesh, which had just become independent. He wanted to see how he could be of service to his country.
When he returned, famine hit Bangladesh. Yunus says that it is a terrible thing to watch people starve.
One day he was walking through the village next to the school where he taught and spotted a woman in torn clothes. She was making attractive bamboo stools. He was amazed at the contrast of poverty and beauty displayed in the work of this woman.
Yunus learned from her that she made 2 pennies a day. The reason was that the woman could not afford the bamboo needed to make her stools, so she had to resort to getting money from a money lender.
The moneylender agreed to lend her the money, but she had to sell the stools at the price he set, not what the market would bear. Thus, the woman made very little profit.
Yunus thought,”Well, I could just give her the money”. However, he wanted to think over what his observations of this situation all meant.
The next day he toured the same village. He found others in the same fix. They were all at the mercy of the moneylenders.
When he learned that he could free all these people from what amounted to slavery for 27 dollars, he gave the people the money to pay off the moneylenders. The people were overjoyed.
Yunus thought that if he could make so many people so happy with so little, why not do more and more. This led to the concept of microfinance.
Microfinance is the provision of small loans and other financial services to low-income people. The effort is meant to spur people out of poverty by promoting their entrepreneurial efforts.
Yunus founded Grammen Bank to help people through the use of microcredit. For his efforts, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Jesus once told a story in which a king left his own country for a while and left his servants with some money. “Put this money to work”, the king told them.
When he returned, he asked the servants for an accounting. He praised the ones who had done what he had told them, and rebuked one who didn’t (Luke 19:12-26).
Jesus also told of a man who was getting fired for poor management of his boss’s money. In order to save his job, he went to those who had large accounts payable with his boss. He reduced their debt. As a result, his boss was pleased (Luke 16:1-8a).
Jesus noted that even wicked people knew how to make friends with money. They were better at it than the people of God, who should know better (Luke 16:8b).
Jesus wants us to use our money to make other people happy. He has trusted us with His moolah to do just that. In fact, He said you didn’t have to have very much to do it (Luke 16:10).
Mohammed Yunus didn”t think so either. He saw a problem and he took what he had to make other people’s lives better.
Yunus told an interviewer,”I wanted to make myself useful”. I have always disliked the phrase “make yourself useful” because my father used it toward me as a little boy in kind of an offhand way to push me to work. I vowed never to use it with my own kids.
Reflecting on it, my father was right. I do need to make myself useful. Mohammed Yunus also thought about it and realized he needed to do that, too.
I admire Yunus. He used his head (a phrase we DO use around our house) and thought how he could help others with what he had.
Yunus didn’t just jump to a helter skelter solution. He mused thougtfully on the issue at hand to understand it, investigated it further, and came up with an answer.
It’s curious that Jesus told his story of the the king’s servants and their handling of money right after having dined with a tax collector. This man, fellow called Zacheus, had repented of his poor handling of money and determined to use it rightly (Luke 19:1-9).
With God’s help, I too want to change my ways in terms of handling what He has given me. I want to ask God to show me, with my limited resources, how I can be part of solving my country’s problems. Yup, Father in Heaven, I want to make myself useful.