His voice was passionate – moving – though we couldn’t understand the words. His gestures reached out to us and it seemed an embracing gesture. Sure enough when the translation came, it was the story of how we — the Disciples and UCC through Global Ministries – as part of our partnership with the CREATE program — had helped the people in these Indian villages free themselves from the clutches of the money lenders.
Through CREATE (a village food security project of Tamilnadu Theological College – another Global Ministries partner) wells had been put down, allowing the villagers to no longer be at the mercy of the climate. In those years when the rains did not come, the people would not only be in trouble – but living so close to subsistence – they would not have resources to buy seed for the next year. Their only option: borrowing money at exorbitant rates – risking all they had – even the land itself – as collateral.
The wells from CREATE now mean less vulnerability to weather, but that was not all – the interest free loans helped “get them out of the clutches” of the money lenders.
So we saw fields of lilies (a great cash crop in this land of flowers and fragrance) and of rice. We met women who had received micro loans and started a pickling enterprise. (The woman who told us that story started her narrative suffused in giggles, but her voice became strong and confident as she proceeded.) We saw cows that provided milk.
Under the crescent moon that night, and under the glare of one bright light bulb) many gifts were exchanged. One, from the Farmers of Thenkari (the coop that has emerged from all this) was a plaque printed with a couplet from an ancient Indian collection of writings:
“Drive from the poor their gnawing pains,
If room you seek to store your grains.” (Thirakkural 226)
I think they felt we had done that with them – and they would be continuing to sustain the pattern as a community together. The Bible talks about Jubilee, when debts are forgiven and the people have a chance to start again. In the villages near Madurai, we experienced a taste of the joy of jubilee.