The Curse Of Debt
Are You A Revolver Or A Deadbeat?
The world of banking and credit believes that you are either a revolver or a deadbeat. Let’s discover which of those you are.
Over the years I have grieved to see good and ‘called’ people who, because of lack of financial provision, never make it into overseas missions; then there are those who are already out in missions who have to return home because their support dries up; and others who feel they must take an outside part time job (or in some cases a wife or a husband takes a full time job just to make ends meet). I’m not talking about tent-making.
Too often the cause of all this is debt. And far too often the debt involves running up convenient and easy-to-be-had, pain-free credit card debt; little thought is given to paying it off promptly. But there is pain and its attack comes at the end of each month in the form of a credit card statement. But no worries, the pain is now as easily dealt with as popping an aspirin for a headache. This ‘pill’ is simply swallowed (with a glass of hope) by making the minimum payment (2% of what is owed); and ‘Hey Presto!’ the pain goes away – for another month.
It would be easy to point the finger at the reasons why missionary support so seldom seems to be ‘enough.’ We YWAMers know it all, we’ve experienced every kind of shortage that there is. And maybe that’s been good for us, good for our character and good for us to learn to lean into God a bit harder. The danger comes when the angle of our lean into God lessens, when we try to stand on our own; when we feel like we can take things into our own hands.
I’m going to be blunt. We YWAMers have a problem.
Early in 2007 I emailed 50 YWAM leaders with some questions about debt on their base. It was not a scientific survey, but 50% responded and their answers were revealing. I asked questions like: What percentage of your staff is in debt? (Anywhere from 5% to 80%); Credit Card or Bank debt? (Both, plus owing Staff Fees); Have you lost staff because of debt? (Mostly yes); Have some had to take outside jobs? (Yes); Is this just a Western problem or does it affect all cultures? (Most, though is some cultures debt is to the family).
Without really knowing why, just before Donna and I and our four young kids joined YWAM in 1976, we got out of debt. We had owed $5000 to Donna’s parents who had helped us buy our first house. Strangely, they didn’t even want us to pay them back, but we did. Even though we rented our home to others when we left (the rent barely covering the mortgage), we still only had enough ready cash for one month in our school.*** [FOOTNOTE 1]
As brand new YWAMers, with not one single promise of support from family, friends or church, the miracle pipeline of provision started flowing and has continued all these years (though the flow slowed a few times!). With God as our new source, we made it through those early lean years without going into debt. There were times when we wondered though . . . once we didn’t even have 35 cents for our laundry (but that too is another story—God loaned us the use of a washer for a morning). It was a learning time; it was a time to be trained in the ways of God, trusting him with our lives and the lives of our children; it was a time to discover that he truly is a faithful God.
Then we blew it.
After 12 years we moved away from the large YWAM Kona community; we started the ministry of YWAM Associates International for the purpose of maintaining relationships with those who had served and then gone on to other spheres of society. Living by ourselves as a family in the beautiful but pricey city of Vancouver, we suddenly discovered that we could now even buy groceries with a credit card. And lots of other things that we thought we needed, but wouldn’t have purchased previously. Before we realized it, we were in debt to the tune of thousands of dollars, and with no way to pay it off. So we could only make the monthly minimum payment, having to choke down the excessive and exorbitant interest rates being charged by our kindly credit card bank.
After a couple of months of this, the realization began to sink in that we were mired in debt and our prospects of digging out looked slim. Even the most generous donors don’t like to give to missionaries in order for them to pay down their debt. So we did the only thing we knew to do, and that was to repent and ask the Lord to forgive us for our presumption and for our greed in buying things we didn’t really need. We promised God that by his grace we would never fall into the debt trap again. Slowly, over a period of months, denying ourselves some things, we climbed out of the slippery slavery-pit that had bogged us down. And by his grace we have stayed out.
Debt turns you into a slave. The borrower becomes the lender’s slave. (Proverbs 22:7) Rob Bell in his book, Velvet Elvis, writes about a visit he made to Turkey where he noticed a large number of half-built homes with no signs of ongoing construction. The Muslim culture, he discovered, does not allow for financial debt, so the work only proceeds when there is more money saved up. It’s pay-as-you-go rather than pay-as-you-want.
Debt is one of the greatest holdups to missions—perhaps more so than sickness, visa denials, restraining parents or almost any other reason. Debt keeps people out of missions and drives them home from the mission field. And plastic debt is the easiest hole to slide into and flounder around in. Debt is subtle and siren-like, seducing and beguiling those who are unaware of the hidden reefs beneath the smooth and welcoming surface; hidden reefs, that like false lighthouses, lure the unsuspecting to financial shipwreck. The whole credit system is geared to high interest rates that lie in wait to suck you dry. The word for this is usury – the charging of excessive interest. (Nehemiah Chapter 5)
Usurious debt is both wrong for lender and borrower. [FOOTNOTE 2]
Now let’s take a look at the Revolvers and the Deadbeats.
“A Revolver is a credit card user that constantly carries a balance and is charged regular, monthly interest on their charges. Credit card companies love Revolvers because they, in essence, increase the bottom line for the credit card company and make them a nice profit. Further, from an insider perspective, the best customers not only carry a balance, but also make their payments late, triggering extra fees and a higher interest rate.” Stephanie Andrews http://ezinearticles.com/?Im-a-Credit-Card-Deadbeat:-You-Can-Be-One-Too!&id=81004
A Deadbeat, on the other hand, is the ‘tag’ that credit card companies hang on anyone who pays off their total bill each month and on time. Think of that! You’re being faithful to your obligations and you’re called a deadbeat! Just the name ‘Deadbeat’ gives a little glimpse into the whole credit philosophy. Deadbeats pay no interest—their only cost is the annual charge for the credit card.
Credit cards used wisely can be a great blessing, providing for free flights and other goodies. For some tips on how to take advantage of the system go to Gary North’s webpage http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/north284.html But beware! It is estimated that people spend 30% more when using a credit card than by buying things with cash.
What about those of us who are being crushed and weighed down and choked by the horrible weight of an impossible debt-load? Must we, like the Israelites in Egypt continue to make bricks without straw? For those of us in debt, are we condemned like a hamster, to plod away forever on a revolving treadmill? Is there an out? Is there hope?
There’s always hope. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s goodness to each one of us. There’s always a way out though it may not be easy. Shame and pain and sacrifice and humbling may line the walls of the tunnel that leads you to the beckoning light of debt-freedom. And there are those who can help practically (see Sidebar) if you are currently mired in the mud and are willing to endure whatever it takes to pull free from the clinging muck that so easily entangled you in the first place. It’s not my place to question why you may be in debt—you already know the answer to that.
Shakespeare, whose principles were of the world, wrote, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” But the bible does not forbid lending. Nehemiah didn’t. And Jesus said, “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt 5:42) If you ever do lend to another, it might be good—without saying anything—to think of your loan as a gift. Then if it’s paid back, you’re doubly blessed. There are some in our mission who have the ability to help release others from the bondage of high-interest debt with interest-free loans.
And finally, if you’re in ‘bad’ debt—credit card debt especially—deal with it; treat it the way you’d treat a case of bubonic plague—go to the doctor (in this case a wise financial physician who knows how to treat your disease). Then stay out of debt. Just stop it!
[FOOTNOTE 1] After two years in YWAM we sold that home thinking that we had a ‘nest egg’ for our retirement. Wrong. The Lord asked us to give every penny of it away. But that’s another story.
[FOOTNOTE 2] Debt is usually OK if what you buy will appreciate in value – such as a house which almost always grows in worth. In many places a car is a necessity and that kind of loan should only be entered into wisely. Here’s a tip: establish your credit at your own bank by negotiating a small and relatively low-interest loan and then paying it back on time.
In 2002 the average US family owed about $9000 in credit card debt (CardWeb.com). Let’s assume that’s your debt and you’re paying an interest rate of 18.9% (it may not be that high right now); if you never used your card again, and faithfully make the minimum monthly payments ($180 which is 2% of your balance), it will take 65 years and almost $41,000 to pay off your debt—and you never did charge another thing to your card!
If you can arrange to make twice-monthly payments of $90, instead of 65 years, it will only take seven years to pay your debt off (total payout reduced to $24,694).
Credit card companies take $90 billion a year in penalty fees and interest payments just from Americans. A credit card is a tool. Like any tool it can make your life easier if you know how to use it. But it can mess things up terribly if you don’t. It can be a good way to lose friends. Use it properly. If you have any doubts, get a debit card instead. Without sound financial help most people will not pay more than the minimum payment each month on their card. That’s scary.
For some people, debt may be an addiction and there may be a need for detox; that which started out like just a little drink of this or a smoke of that, before you knew it, had you hooked. We have lots of resources in and out of YWAM if you need help—but you must know that you need help.
YWAMer Earl Pitts, author (with Craig Hill) of ‘Wealth, Riches & Money,’ is one that can help www.wealthrichesmoney.org
Larry Burkett, a great Christian financial counselor was associated with the Christian Debt Forum http://www.christiandebtforum.org/
Ted Bartlett, an Australian friend of YWAM has written a book, Discover God’s Upside Down Economy. His websites are www.omegasecurityonline.com (Christian) and http://www.moneyscribe.com/ and you can find help there in ‘digging out.’
Malcolm MacGregor, former YWAMer now in heaven, wrote the book ‘Your Money Matters,’ and you could probably find a copy—cheap—on Amazon.com.
Here are some level-playing-field questions to ponder . . . (equal for all cultures):
*Is there any relationship between a YWAM center’s corporate indebtedness and the personal indebtedness of its staff?
*Between a leader’s debt and that of those who follow?
*Does your center have a plan to help those who are in debt?
*Does it have plan to stand with—and offer counsel—to those less well-endowed in the ways of financial matters?
*Is 10% your starting point for giving?
*Is generosity—not only of money—a characteristic of your center?
Loren Cunningham used to say—and I would think he still does—that in any group of people (e.g. a YWAM center, or your department), there is enough for all. That means sharing and isn’t that what community is all about? Let’s all work toward debt-freedom—personally and in our centers. God wants us to turn back to a simple life of faith in Him and in His provision for all of our needs.