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Boca Grande church takes mission to next level with banks, microloans

Boca Grande church takes mission to next level with banks, microloans

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Boca Grande church takes mission to next level with banks, microloans

By Derek Maul | July 30, 2009 {1057}

Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook
Mission adventures have galvanized congregations ever since the church in Jerusalem commissioned Paul and Silas to share the good news beyond Israel. The strong correlation between church health and an active mission emphasis is well documented.

What’s new is the manner in which mission is being carried out. Flannel board lessons still have their place in storytelling, and countless congregations are being blessed through blanket-drives, but today there’s a cutting edge mission story being told by members of Boca Grande United Methodist Church, and it involves microloans in the Dominican Republic.

“We’ve had connections with the La Vega Christian School in the Dominican Republic for years,” said the Rev. Brian Brightly, pastor at the church since 2002. “But the big breakthrough came when we sent people to experience the area.”

Mitch and Debbie Martinez founded La Vega Christian School in 1998. It’s the first Christian school for the city of La Vega, according the school’s Web site. Debbie is originally from the Boca Grande church, which has supported the school “from day one,” Brightly said.

Nine years ago the church made a commitment to be more deliberately missional, Brightly said, and has since sent teams and dollars on a regular basis. The couple has also planted several churches over the years.

Bruce Stirling meets students from the La Vega Christian School. Photo courtesy of Boca Grande United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1268.

“One team involved a banker, a construction guy and the church treasurer,” Brightly said. “They met some children on the street, and it changed their lives.”

Church council member Pete Durno was the banker on that November 2008 trip. Bill Steinman was the church treasurer, and Bruce Stirling “the construction guy.”

Durno said he knew immediately that he wanted to make his efforts more permanent.

“We wanted to do more than just write checks,” he said. “We’re involved in this school, we’re sponsoring kids, why not tie it all together?”

A relationship between the school and Hope International helped smooth the way for the church’s additional mission plans. HOPE is a Christian faith-based, nonprofit organization focused on alleviating physical and spiritual poverty through microenterprise development.

“The first thing we needed was trust,” Durno said. “That’s where HOPE comes in, and their Dominican Republic affiliate, Esperanza.”

With $7,500 in seed money donated by the three team members in the name of the church, Esperanza started a small bank in the La Vega community.

Bill Steinman meets area children during his tour of La Vega. Photo courtesy of Boca Grande United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1269.

“I’ve always been called to work with children,” said Steinman, who works in the asphalt business and winters in Florida. “And at first I couldn’t see how setting up a bank would help, but then I saw how it could tie in to the school. This will help families get kids in school, and education is a life-changing event.”

Loans from the bank are between $25 and $200, and recipients are required to meet in groups of eight to 10. Each person must present a business plan to the group; the entire group guarantees the loan. It’s the kind of community accountability that stacks the dice in favor of success.

“One lady purchased a sewing machine,” Steinman said. “She has a school in her house, and she teaches others how to sew.”

“Another woman used loan money to pay for gas so she could stock a larger inventory at her fruit stand,” Durno said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Brightly says the bank is an ongoing initiative of the church to infuse donations and other support into the community over time.

The church plans to follow up with a bank in the nearby community of Los Rieles, devastated by floods in 2007. The Martinezes are also working to start a church there. Durno says he was overwhelmed by the poverty he witnessed in that community.

The La Vega Christian School gets a new addition. Photo courtesy of Boca Grande United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1270.

“The mission church there was destroyed by flooding in 2007,” he said. “I’m a rich, blue-blood, big-bank corporate vice-president. I’ve never seen poverty like this. Shacks, dirt floor, no electricity or plumbing — not even adequate clothing.”

He said the microloan program provides clear-cut solutions to the endemic poverty, providing unimagined resources, critical accountability and much needed counseling from the Esperanza staff.

Meanwhile, Brightly is working hard to put more feet on the ground overseas and expose the people of The United Methodist Church to hands-on ministry. He believes it will capture their hearts.

Those already involved know it does much more — radically change lives.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.