Investing in Friends not Funds

Zondervan

Early in 2009, my husband Jamie and I received a significant sum of money from an inheritance. We promptly did what you would expect a middle-aged, middle-class couple to do; we paid off our debt, helped our kids purchase homes and invested the rest in mutual funds. Within six months our mutual fund investment was worth half as much as when we started.

Later that same year, author and speaker Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove came to Winnipeg. He was here to speak at a couple of saint benedict’s table (sbt) events and to preach at Sunday night worship. He had just published his book God’s Economy (Zondervan), in which he challenges Christians to rethink our relationship to money.

At one sbt gathering in particular Jonathan wondered aloud about the logic of one member of Christ’s body investing her financial resources in mutual funds and the stock market while another member of Christ’s body suffers under oppressive credit card debt and student loans. The line that has stuck with me from that event is “Why don’t we use our money to make friends?”

Sitting in the church hall that day listening to Jonathan analyze the relative return on investment when we invest in people by offering low interest loans instead of investing the stock market, I felt all at once convicted and set free. There I was, sitting on $20,000 less than I had had six months earlier and what did I have to show for it? What would have happened if we had invested that money in a student or young family struggling under its own debt load I wondered?

On the way home Jamie and I made a life-changing decision; we would begin to invest what we could in making friends.

In 2011, we were once again blessed to receive a significant inheritance. This time we looked around our community and selected a family that we thought would understand what it means to participate in God’s economy and we invited them to dinner.

We knew Rachel and Mike (both in their thirties) were still working to pay off student loans. We told them we had received this money and we would like to use it to help them, in the form of a no-interest loan, to pay off their debt. They could then pay us back in a timeframe that was comfortable and allowed them to sleep more easily over the coming years.

We were already beginning to become friends with Rachel and Mike, but we didn’t really know each other well. That night, I wrote a cheque for $16,000 and we verbally agreed to the terms of the loan. In January 2012, Mike and Rachel had paid off their remaining student loans and were in a position to begin to repay their debt to us.

In 2013, we will have half of the “fund” restocked and will be ready to invest in another new friend. He’s a young student who will be graduating with a healthy student loan that year. God willing we’ll be able help him sleep better too. In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for our mutual funds to catch up.

Catherine Pate is co-founder of saint benedict’s table. She and her husband Jamie Howison and their daughter Callaway Stephanson-Pate live in St. Boniface with their dog Lucy and their cat Sammy.

8 Responses to Investing in Friends not Funds

  1. Rachel says:

    As the recipient of this money I have to say it was generous, not foolish, and the relationship remains one of friendship not master/servant. Stay tuned for my reflections on this experience in upcoming weeks.

    • Pete says:

      Regardless of interest rate, Lending is NOT giving. you do realize the debt is still there. It just moved from the student loan company (with X% interest) to now you owe a friend or church colleague at 0% interest. The point is, the debt still exists. payments are still being required.

      I’m not saying that the intent was evil or bad. I’m certain it was done with good intentions. In fact, I’ve seen the same thing with people we’ve coached & counseled. Good intentions granting a loan which (over time) strained the relationship, changed the dynamics, & a degree of guilt. But lots of things have been done with good intentions where the results were not good.

      If I were to have spoken to the lenders before the decision was made, I would have said the same thing: give the money or some money… but don’t lend it. If the lenders were open to the thought, I’d encourage them to fully forgive the loan with 2 conditions: the recipients should attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University: (http://www.fpu.com) and that they pay this generosity forward when they are more financially stable.

      That would mean the mutual funds would not be fully refunded in the previous time frame… BUT, the cooler thing would happen. A true investment into humanity. But this is not a guilt trip. The terms are now set. If the deal remains… the debt will be repaid. If it’s forgiven, awesome. It’ll be a really cool thing that happens in the body of Christ.

      This was a blog post in an open forum… so, I assume it was to spark a conversation. I believe in giving… not lending. I believe in helping. But I believe the scripture is correct: the borrower becomes a slave to the lender. I hope you don’t hear this as judgmental or condemning. I don’t think it’s a “salvation issue.” I don’t think the people involved are evil. Just that the choice made was not the best choice.

      Debt is not a blessing. Nowhere in scripture has debt ever been portrayed as “wise” or good. Rather, there are plenty of scriptures where debt is considered folly, foolish or bad.

      You are where you are. Pay the debt as I’m sure you will. But call it what it is: a DEBT. Let no debt remain outstanding and owe no one anything except that you should love one another. When you love another, you have fulfilled the law.

  2. Pete says:

    “in the form of a no-interest loan, to pay off their debt. They could then pay us back in a timeframe that was comfortable and allowed them to sleep more easily over the coming years.”

    foolish.

    I’d say “give them the money.” rather, they damaged the relationship by turning a friendship into a master/servant relationship.

    “Train up a child [a]in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. The rich rules over the poor, AND THE BORROWER BECOMES THE LENDER’S SLAVE. ” Proverbs 22: 6-7.

    Note: the scripture does NOT say anything about interest rate. It says borrower/lender.

    The premise that it was a bad idea to invest in stocks in 09 is foolish. In fact in Proverbs, we’re told to invest (Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. Ecc 11:2)

    In the house of the wise are stores of choice foods & oils. But a fool devours all that he has. (Prov 21: 20)

    I’m all for someone giving sacrificially… or out of abundance. Consider the young boy who won an all expense paid vacation to disney, but gave it sacrificially to a family of a fallen soldier. It may not be sacrificially to the point the young man goes hungry. But it was sacrificing a personal want to help a hurting family.

    Consider that sacrificial giving can be compared to donating blood. You can donate a pint and live to donate another day… or the nurse could bleed you out (like the gov’t) and you could die to never help anyone again.

    The only one whose death can eternally help is the one whose death cannot hold him in the grave. That sacrifice has been made.

    I get it. Investing in others is far better. But remember, when you invest in for the future, you’re investing for your heirs… they’re people, too. And there’s nothing wrong with spending a little of that money on yourself and those you love.

    my 2 cents.

  3. “Why don’t we use our money to make friends?”

    Screams Luke 16 eh? :)

    • Anonymous says:

      You know, Jordan, this is really all due to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who loves to provoke conversation by saying “make friends with money,” and then basically challenge Christians to rethink our relationship to finances. If you’ve not yet read Jonathan’s book “God’s Economy” you really should.
      Jamie Howison

  4. Stardav says:

    I like this even though it convicts me that I (with conf. with my wife) need to work harder on sharing.

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