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Heaven's Family Magazine
June 2018 Issue

Micro-Discipleship

Giving hope to poor believers in Laos

Dan and Terry Steward, Microloan Ministry

Keo, a micro-banker as well as a borrower himself, showing us the mushroom farm he started to help provide for his own family

It’s worth it. Keo grips this deep conviction tightly each time his motorcycle’s tires slip on the rutted, monsoon-soaked roads that snake through the wild hills and mountains of Northern Laos. During the long hours—sometimes days—of his hazardous journeys, his thoughts often drift into prayer. Prayer for his mission ahead, and prayers for his wife and two young children he’s left at home. He knows the pursuit of his passion might have dire consequences for those he loves. Laos is one of the few remaining communist nations in the world today. Decades of colonial rule, culminating in the Vietnam War, burned a distrust of Western powers deep into the consciousness of her leadership. Christianity, seen as a tool of subversion used by the U.S., is viewed with suspicion. Evangelism is illegal. But sandwiched between China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos’ economic boat has been lifted in recent years as a measure of prosperity has washed across the Southeast Asian peninsula.

Keo (not his real name) lives in a simple home with his family in Luang Prabang, a small city nestled along the mighty Mekong River. The city has prospered in recent years due to an influx of tourists wishing to see its quaint French colonial buildings and enjoy the region’s pristine natural beauty.

But for Keo—a man driven by his love for Jesus and for his brothers and sisters in Christ scattered across the vast stretches of thinly- inhabited, rugged landscape of the north—it’s a strategic hub for his ministry work. He speaks with certainty about God’s call on his life to preach the gospel and disciple followers of Jesus, and he knows it’s more important to obey God rather than man. That makes Keo a potential enemy of the state.

In 2016 we at the Microloan Ministry were introduced to Keo, a Heaven’s Family partner since 2011. We recognized something special in him, and later that same year we decided to make him a micro-banker. Keo’s extensive connections with poor believers in remote areas of Laos—and his heart for making disciples—seemed like the perfect fit for our discipleship-focused ministry that uses microloans and small business training as tools to further Jesus’ kingdom.

His passion to help the poor through both business development and genuine dependence on the Lord nearly outweighs his slight but sturdy Lao frame. A demonstration of that heart happens each month when Keo hops on his small motorcycle and rides some of the world’s roughest roads and paths to be with his God’s Love Group located in a remote village.

For those unfamiliar, God’s Love Groups (GLGs) are the heart and soul of the Microloan Ministry. Each is comprised of five microloan recipients who meet together at least once a month to study God’s Word (especially scriptures about business, farming, managing money, and helping the poor), and share their successes and struggles. The groups also provide community and a social fabric that helps each member pay their loan and cover for each other when one’s sick or injured.

Keo, at left, with another borrower, who used his loan to open a small store that sells grocery items in his village

During the last 12 months, that village’s GLG has been diligently studying a Lao translation of our Discipleship Series study guide. Keo enthusiastically reports the study is helping members understand the Word of God for themselves, and has given them a hunger to know more—they’re even beginning to prepare biblical messages of their own to reach out to neighboring villages.

“Bian,” a pig farming borrower and GLG member, can hardly contain his excitement: I am blessed not only physically [his pig business] but also spiritually as I now have the confidence to go deeper [into Scripture]! I’m leading my family in study and we all are gaining the peace and joy that comes through reading the Word of God together.

Keo could not be happier than seeing how villagers have found business success and have immersed themselves into Christian discipleship. During our visit earlier this year, Keo told us, There is only one way for meaningful, sustained growth for the people of Laos—the discipleship way. We couldn’t agree more.

The Bigger Picture...

Dan and Terry Steward

Dan and Terry Steward

Many methods and approaches to micro-finance have been developed over the years. Some have helped, while many others have done harm by heaping debt on the poor without training or necessary follow-through. Even “successful” helpers of the poor may simply be making more prosperous sinners if a moral and spiritual foundation for managing money is not laid. Respected experts Brian Fikkert and Russel Mask agree that discipleship is required for meaningful sustainability: “When combined with evangelism and discipleship activities, micro-finance ministries have dramatic impacts on people’s deepest spiritual needs” (Dependence to Dignity, p72). That’s the burning heart of the Microloan Ministry team.

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Stories of Hope