By Vicki Brown
Tom struggled to make ends meet, even though he had a full-time job. Willing to work more, he wanted to start a small landscaping business that would provide needed income and flexibility.
Then Tom’s pastor told him about the Step Up micro-lending program. A ministry of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska, Step Up provided him a short-term loan that allowed him to purchase equipment and other supplies to start his business.
Nebraska ABC launched the ministry after being awarded a Palmer Grant from the American Baptist Churches Home Mission Societies. Because the grant centered on poverty and justice, Nebraska leaders developed a ministry that “fit into our context,” Nebraska ABC Executive Minister Robin Stoops explained.
The Karen people group and other immigrants from Myanmar (Burma), many of whom are American Baptists, have settled in Nebraska the past several years. About eight Burmese congregations and some Latino groups exist in the Omaha/Lincoln area, Stoops said. “People are struggling.”
Although immigrants have skills when they arrive, they may or may not have opportunities to use them. Regional leaders devised the Step Up endeavor as a means to help immigrants get a new start and to provide for their families.
“But in terms of where we thought it would go,” Stoops said, “that hasn’t happened.”
The Burmese have not yet taken advantage of the opportunity.
“We’re looking to see if language barriers are keeping them from doing so,” he said. “We’re still working on it …. We think the biggest problem, at least with the Burmese, is the language.”
Though the program targeted immigrants, it is available to any member or regular attender of an ABC Nebraska church — single parents, people on fixed incomes or “just someone with an idea,” the executive minister explained.
Up to $1,500 may be available for those who qualify for the no-interest loan. “It’s the idea of helping them with some cash to help them get rolling,” he said.
The loan has made a difference for Mason, Stoops said. “It’s just fun to be able to say we could help.”
He added that the region would continue to offer the Step Up program, even though response has been slow. “We’re not afraid to try crazy stuff that doesn’t work and crazy stuff that does work,” he said.
But that willingness, Stoops believes, is the heart of ministry. “It is being willing to try new things … not whether we succeed or fail but to be true to the mission,” he said. “To join God in the neighborhood.”