This story is not really about us, or what we did, but about God and what He did. In 1996, I began working with Food for the Hungry, whose vision is to “end physical and spiritual hungers worldwide.” An audacious vision, yes, but one that I was excited about. Where I worked, we celebrated many successes, but we were not seeing lives transformed or communities moving out of poverty. The Bible seemed to promise so much, yet my experiences were less than dramatic.
In 1999, I attended a Vision Conference. This conference, now directed by Disciple Nations Alliance, introduced me to a new set of ideas about how we address poverty. Key topics at the conference included the relationship between wrong beliefs and poverty, and that God wants every part of our lives to be lived in obedience to Him.
After attending the conference, I spent four years searching Scripture and seeking answers. Can people overcome poverty simply by understanding God’s truth and by living in obedience to Him? Scripture seemed to indicate it was true, yet when I asked around nobody could name any examples.
In 2003, I decided to test these ideas. My hope was to find ten churches that would partner with me. After a number of setbacks and much prayer and fasting, I eventually found a volunteer to teach the churches what is now referred to as Module 1 (our first training). After I trained her to be our trainer we were unable to meet for several months to discuss the results of her trainings. To my surprise, when we finally connected she had already taught over 100 churches! Chaos, in the positive sense of the word, had broken out and many were pleading for further training.
After more prayer, we decided to employ six trainers from the various regions where our first trainer taught. Because I could not go to these areas, my original trainer was responsible for traveling and selecting the new staff. I was somewhere between shocked and horrified when I arrived to train the new staff members only to discover there were sixteen—not six! We did not have the necessary budget. What had started as an experiment with ten churches—something easily contained—was now, within a few short months, more like an out of control fire.
The week following our first staff training, my spouse and I retreated to the beach. As I swam laps, I begged God to show me what to do. I did not have the budget for sixteen staff (or six for that matter), I did not know what I was doing, and I had no idea if it would work. It was at this point I realized the project really was going to be all about God. If He did not turn up and if His Word was not true, then we were on our way to a disaster.
Thankfully, God is real, much more faithful than I can imagine, and very true to His Word. With God’s help, we continued to write trainings, and the program continued to expand rapidly. Some trainers, not understanding (or choosing to ignore) that we only wanted each of them to work with a maximum of ten churches, trained more than fifty. Others complained their areas had more than 120 churches, making it problematic to work with just a few. To help meet the demand, we added 16 more staff within eight months of launching the program. We now had over 300 churches receiving our training. It was terrifying.
Every time we met together as a staff, we would hear stories of churches acting on the training they had received. Many churches were reaching out to show God’s love to their communities through what we call Acts of Love. We heard some incredible stories of how God had multiplied those simple acts of obedience to bring results none of us could have ever imagined. When I first started the program, I envisioned the church would do what they could with the resources they had. When the churches ran out of resources, we would come alongside them and help. I compared it to Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish found in Mark 6—start with what you have and see it increased. But as we were now working with more than 300 churches, it became obvious we did not have the resources to be the multiplying factor. In my lack of faith, I had missed an important part of the story; it was God who multiplied the loaves and the fish. He was capable then and is still capable today. It was He who made great promises to the poor, and He is still faithful to those promises.
For the next few years, we developed and wrote more trainings, prayed fervently, listened to amazing stories, and wondered how these communities would ever move out of poverty. In many of the areas where we started our trainings, the community typically only had enough to eat for 6-9 months of the year. Now we were asking them to give and share with others. We had not brought anything to the communities but training.
Then came a leadership meeting where one of the leaders started their update by saying: “In my area, the communities have been transformed and have moved out of poverty.” My initial desire (in case you were wondering just how little faith I had) was to assure her that it was impossible. After all, transformation takes a long, long time and probably will not really take place until Jesus returns. Fortunately, I managed to swallow my doubts long enough to ask her for further details.
She shared how there were no more poor people in her area. Everyone now had enough to eat all year long. They all had stable houses, latrines, wells and vegetable gardens. All children went to school and most people attended church. The people were passionate about God. They had strong, loving marriages, were no longer frequently sick and they knew how to treat most common illnesses. Since there were no longer any needs in their community, they served surrounding communities and helped them with projects. I knew many of the stories from this area. There were times when they had prayed and seen miraculous provision, but also times when storms had wiped everything out, forcing them to rebuild houses and clear roads.
With time, we heard more and more similar stories of communities declaring they were no longer poor. We would even overhear people on buses talking about the areas where we worked and how they were no longer poor.
Today, we have worked with over 1,000 churches. Many of the first churches we worked with have now graduated the program. They no longer receive training from us, and most would tell you they are no longer poor. Now we have the blessing of sharing this story of what God has done with people from all over the world. We encourage them to walk in obedience to God in all areas of their lives and to see what happens.