By Laura McKillip Wood
Chris Alexander has made a career working in intercultural ministry. Over the years, he and his wife, Donna, have lived in Africa and Ukraine and have worked with American churches interested in reaching out to the world with the gospel. Through it all, he’s seen a recurring theme: dependency of missionaries, nationals, and national churches on Western support to the detriment of the advance of the gospel.
Chris was featured in this column before, but since then he has become involved in a cutting-edge new ministry that is worth revisiting. A few years ago, Chris began an organization called OneIN. OneIN’s mission is “to mobilize Christians, empower the poor, and open doors for the gospel.” OneIN uses small business development, microfinance, vocational training, and life skills development to empower the poor.
Using an innovative approach to raising funds for ministry, Chris mobilizes Christians to use their resources to reach out to those in developing countries. In traditional models, missionaries spend a significant amount of their time traveling to churches to raise support for their work. They then must keep in touch with those supporters, who often have some influence in how the money is used and how the ministry is run.
This situation can prevent missionaries from being genuine with their supporters about the challenges facing them in ministry. Those supporters may have a say in a ministry that they know little to nothing about. Christians in the host country sometimes develop dependency on Western support to provide programs that may fit more in a Western culture with abundant resources and not think creatively about ways to spread the gospel with the resources they already have.
Chris solves this by connecting business leaders with people in developing countries. Some of them donate goods, which Chris sells. He funnels the money into microfinance programs for people in India and Haiti. According to Chris, “The business community is a nearly untapped resource.” Many Christian business owners want to help people overseas and have the funds or the access to goods to do so. Chris simply connects these people with those in need, giving interest-free loans for micro-enterprise.
Empowering Those in Need
Rani owns a coconut stand in Chennai. She made a small income by selling coconuts to passersby until she was attacked by some drunk men and sent to the hospital. She recovered, but her business suffered. She could no longer support herself after the loss of income. OneIN gave Rani a small loan to purchase more inventory. Her business increased, and she began paying back her loan. That money went back into the fund to be given to another person for another loan.
Chris lives in Indiana, so he has chosen Christian families to represent him on the field. These families, called Trusted International Families (or TIF’s) choose people who have shown an ability to manage money and run small businesses with their existing funds. These people receive small grants or loans with no interest to be used to expand their businesses. They are able to work more to pay back their loans and grow their business. The money they repay is then loaned to other businesspersons.
Open Doors for the Gospel
Joseph was a slave in India and spent years of his life working for nearly nothing in order to pay back a prominent community business owner who had loaned him money at an extremely high interest rate. Although such practices are illegal, they are common in areas with high poverty. Joseph managed to escape this slavery and got a grant from OneIN. He used the loan to start his own charcoal-making business and now can support himself and his family.
Not only is he experiencing some success as a business owner, but Joseph, a Hindu, told Chris that he recently began reading the Gospel of Matthew. Since then, he has been interested in the life of Jesus and in Christianity. The grant from OneIN helped him meet his basic needs. His involvement with the Christians working with OneIN in India and the knowledge that these people reached out to him in Christ’s love gave him the curiosity to investigate their motivations. In such ways, OneIN helps open doors for the gospel.
If you’d like to learn more about Chris Alexander and the work of OneIN, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at onein.org.
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works as registrar of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).