University Hope is a ministry of University Heights Baptist Church (UHBC) in Springfield, Missouri, which seeks to provide small rescue loans to those trapped in the predatory loan cycle.
By working with a local credit union, UHBC is able to guarantee loans at low interest rates to pay off payday or title loans.
A mentor is assigned to help when problems arise and to give advice on budgeting, finding community resources or just being a friend in times of need.
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church.
1. How did your organization become involved in this work?
University Hope (UHope) was inspired by a sermon I preached from Luke 4 about two years ago with emphasis on how UHBC could bring “good news to the poor.”
During that same period of time, several members had been in conversation about how to help the working poor of our area and learned about the payday / title loan industry and its detrimental impact especially on those in poverty. After they heard the sermon, we talked about a way to do something tangible in our community.
2. Why is this issue / initiative / ministry important to you and your organization?
University Hope is important because we have seen how persons have had their joy and dignity taken away by an ongoing, never-ending cycle of debt. We’ve had people come into our church, be baptized and become active, contributing members to our church family through this ministry.
A few have even become involved in UHope as mentors as a way of “paying it forward.” Our church wants to bring justice and fairness to people who may have turned to payday loans out of desperation and hopelessness.
In Missouri, there are more payday and title loan companies in Missouri than McDonald’s, Walmart and Starbucks combined. For us, it’s more than an issue. It’s about helping people rebuild their credit rating and take their lives back.
3. What are a few lessons you’ve learned through your involvement?
We’ve learned that there is still a great need for advocacy. Churches need to speak out against the injustices of payday and title loan companies and their lending practices, which are based on an ability to collect rather than on the borrower’s ability to repay.
We’ve learned that the payday loan industry is powerful and has a lot of money invested in state legislators to keep them from enacting fair lending practices. While advocacy and charitable activity are important, what we really need is legislation to “cap the rate” at 36 percent.
4. How can people learn more about and support what you’re doing?
There’s a lot being written about the payday loan industry. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a good resource as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s advocacy and partnership effort led by Stephen Reeves. These would be good places to start.
You could also check out our website and in the ministry tab look for “University Hope.” There’s a brief video and explanation about what we do. You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you in contact with our UHope leaders.
5. Why is it important to support initiatives that promote social justice and care for the “least of these” in our local communities?
The economic and social justice issues are important to us as a church, and caring for “the least of these” is part of our directives as the body of Christ.
The Bible has many references to how the poor, oppressed and most vulnerable should be treated; it’s also a key part of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Churches often are stuck in thinking of what they can’t do; our church decided to focus on what we can do.
This ministry is simply a seed that we’ve planted and are trying to scatter to other churches and communities. The gospel is more than what we believe; it’s about what we do in the name of Jesus.