Now in our third year of interest-free lending to small businesses in greater Austin, University United Methodist’s most valuable “dividend” is our relationships with our neighbors providing the “sweat equity” to start or grow those businesses.
Our loan partners include the ride-share driver from Sudan who used his loan to replace his car’s catalytic converter, which allowed him to continue driving as a source of income; a young couple who launched Austin’s first food bike to stabilize their income; and the formerly homeless glass artist who repaid his $1,000 loan and has started his own nonprofit to help people living on the street.
Too often, our borrowers have little to no cushion to absorb a setback in their business or personal lives, which makes loan repayment difficult.
Time and again, one of the dozen church members who work in this ministry wonders aloud: “Wouldn’t it just be easier to GIVE them the money?”
Yes, it would—and we could, but ours is a different relationship. We are in this economic justice experiment together.
When a bump in the road arises, we suspend loan payments, we stay in touch, we offer emotional support—and celebrate with them when the crisis passes. At that point, their business stabilizes, and loan payments can—and most often do—resume.
To date, UUMC has made 11 loans, retired five of them, and is currently interviewing another four prospective borrowers. Five loans are in repayment, and only one is in default.
To reinforce the congregation’s ownership of this program and to thank them for their support, we insert a large postcard-size annual report in our hymnals during Advent season at the close of each year. It includes financials along with photos and thumbnail sketches of some borrowers’ stories.
Without a funding appeal of any kind in 2018, we received nearly $6,000 in end-of-the-year anonymous donations. The postcard report and new brochure also sparked invitations to spread the word of the microloan ministry to other congregations and different denominations. University United Baptist Church of Austin donated $1,000 this year, and we will report on our progress in that church’s newsletter every quarter.
Our citywide neighborhood is growing. More eyes and ears are helping us identify prospective borrowers. Yes, it would be easier to “give money away,” but by investing in other people’s economic dreams, we are building relationships that last way beyond the end-date of the loan.
— Janis Monger, Chair
UUMC Community Microloan Program