Thursday, March 10, 2011

If God can't do something, how is he still omnipotent?


I’ve recently had debates or talks with people about how we can say that God “can’t” do something, and yet he still remains omnipotent. Examples that you might have heard are questions like “Can God die?” or “Can God make a rock so big he himself can’t lift it?”, etc. You've likely heard them.

In fact, I’d argue that there is quite a list of things which God cannot do. These include:

God cannot die
God can’t contradict himself
God cannot be deceived
God cannot improve himself
God cannot bend a paperclip into a square circle
God cannot lie
God cannot stop loving
God cannot be surprised
God cannot create a world with morally free creatures which cannot independently choose evil

There is much more to this list, but you get the idea. In short – there is quite a bit that we would be logical to state that God cannot do.

In fact, in some cases to say that God cannot do something is reflective of God’s perfection. For instance, because you and I can lie, and God cannot, that doesn't mean that this is a limitation of God or his power. We would say it is a good thing for God to never lie – the fact that we can do something which God cannot does not make that a limiting factor for God’s omnipotence!

So, that brings us to the original question – If God can’t do something is he still omnipotent? As you may have guessed, my answer is yes! He can be omnipotent. It all comes down to the definition of the word. (Doesn’t it seem that many issues do?)

If you just say that Omnipotent means "all-powerful," that definition isn't specific enough.

If you say that Omnipotent means "the ability to do anything you want," that's closer but still not correct. Even if God wanted to make a square circle out of a paper clip, he couldn't.

Here’s a definition we might be able to use: Omnipotence is having all the power one needs to do anything which power can do.

The example I just gave above about the square circle is an example of this. Making a square circle isn’t in the realm of “power” – it doesn’t matter how strong you are, this doesn’t lie within the realm of what power can do.

This clearly has implications on free will, and is part of the answer of “If God is all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?” If God wants to let us freely choose, then he has to allow for the possibility for us to choose evil – that’s just how a world with morally free creatures works.

Anyway, hope this makes some sense! I had talked about it enough recently that I felt it warranted a post of its own. Any thoughts? Let me know!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Shack, Mark Driscoll and the Trinity


It’s been a while since I wrote here, but I want to get back on the train of blogging here and there. Lots going on in my life, which I’ll save for another day. Today, the topic is a book that many of you have probably read at some point – The Shack by William Paul Young.

Specifically, I came across a YouTube video of local Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll very pointedly telling his flock to not read the book if they hadn’t already. Let’s just say he’s very strong in his opinion of the book – and I want to give this blog post in response to his thoughts. If you haven’t seen the video yet, here’s a link to his book review given at Mars Hill Church.

His main thesis is that “the book is about the Trinity”. All of Driscoll’s points then follow from this theme – that this book is specifically about the Trinity and is attempting to help us understand its inner workings. If you’ve read The Shack, that really isn’t true. Sure, there are parts of it which are about the Trinity and represent the author’s own take on the Trinity. But at its very core this book isn’t bout the Trinity and isn’t a 250 page essay building a theology about the Trinity. That isn’t the purpose at all. The Shack is a book about relationship, God’s love for us, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. It’s about a God that loves us enough to die for us – and wants Him to be our everything and depend wholly on him in a beautiful, reconciled relationship. This book is much, much more than “about the Trinity”.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Driscoll’s position that this book is about the Trinity, or at least that the portion which is about the Trinity is enough to warrant a strict warning against reading. Driscoll gives four arguments, and I’ll cover each one as presented.

Argument #1 – This book violated the Second Commandment to not make a graven image of God

In other words, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Does The Shack violate this? I really don’t buy this argument from Driscoll. To defend his point, he states that the book takes God and makes him part of creation; that it takes the invisible God and makes him visible, and quotes a verse in Romans which states that we shouldn’t serve created things.

In all honesty, this argument just doesn’t hold much weight. The book is not making God into a created being – it constantly upholds that God is strictly not part of creation! Never does it suggest that God was created. The verse in Romans that Driscoll quotes is irrelevant. As for taking an invisible God and making him visible (in order to create something to worship), that simply isn’t what the book is doing. The Shack isn’t giving us a new god to worship, and isn’t making a graven image or idol in any way shape or form.

Driscoll argues at the end of this point that we can display God only as displayed in the Bible - as Jesus, or as a dove, per the New Testament. This argument also doesn’t hold much weight. That God can’t choose to represent himself however he wants (a burning bush, a thunder/lightning cloud, a pillar of fire, etc), including as a woman or a man, isn’t an argument I buy. Even if it was inadvisable to represent God (physically) as something other than what we see in Scripture, God portrayed in The Shack isn’t a graven image.

Argument #2 – The Shack promotes goddess worship

This argument is the weakest of the four that Driscoll brings up. He essentially says that, since God is shown as a woman, the book becomes one about goddess worship. He doesn’t go very far in trying to defend this position, and it’s not worth going very deeply into this. I think the best case I can make against this argument is to let The Shack speak for itself. Here are two quotes which directly address this issue, and show why this doesn’t approach goddess worship:

“Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me ‘Papa’ is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into our religious conditioning.” (p. 95)

“The man standing next to [Mack] looked a bit like Papa; dignified, older, wiry and taller than Mack… ‘This morning you’re going to need a father.’” (p. 220-221)

This really sums up the argument – The Shack isn’t about goddess worship. In it, God decides to take on a form to break religious stereotypes about how He looks. I don’t see an issue in that, and I rather liked how this book decided to portray God.

Argument #3 – The Shack espouses the theology of modalism

In short, modalism is “the belief that the Heavenly Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself.” (Wikipedia is wonderful!)

In short, that God took on the form of Jesus and died for our sins, that God takes on the form of the Holy Spirit, and takes on the aspect of being God as well. The Trinity isn’t three distinct parts in modalism, and that is where the heresy lies.

So, does The Shack promote modalism? This argument was perplexing to me. In honesty, I wonder how Driscoll got this idea out of this book. I’m not going to judge if he read it or not – there are some unclear parts - but this seems to be tough to read into the book if you look at it as a whole.

Here is a quote which specifically addresses – and refutes – modalism within The Shack:

“‘There are three of you, and you are all one God? Did I say that right?’

–‘We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, a father and a worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is full and entirely the one”
(p. 103)

Put simply, this book doesn’t espouse modalism. Yes, I agree that this book does have issues where sometimes it is ambiguous and there may even be some places where it approaches modalism. This is unfortunate, but is not a sign that this book is modalistic – page 103 specifically addresses that. I can write an entire blog post on how this book represents the Trinity and its values and shortcomings, but that isn’t for this space. The Shack isn’t modalistic, and that’s enough for argument #3.

Argument #4 – The Shack denies hierarchy within the Trinity

This is, I think, the strongest argument that Driscoll brings up in contest of The Shack. Much of Young’s book does emphasize that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. He lays this out specifically here:

“Mackenzie, we [the Trinity] have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command…What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power…Hierarchy would make no sense among us” (p. 124).

Well, that’s a pretty clear point that Young is making. So, does this mean that The Shack is something we should disregard and not read, as Driscoll suggests?

Driscoll argues that Jesus stated a chain of command when he says the Father sent him here (John 5:37, 6:57) and that he could only do what the Father does (John 5:19-20).

This argument made me pause for a second to think. It does seem that there are several instances where Jesus prays to God, asks God for his blessing, and even asks to not die on the night He is betrayed. At first glance, this does seem to be a strong Scriptural theme which negates Young’s view of the Trinity in The Shack. How can this be reconciled?

The one weakness I see in this argument is that, after some research, it seems that there is quite the debate among various Christian theologians and thinkers regarding a hierarchy or structure within the Trinity. There are arguments on both sides and this is far from settled.

For the side which would side with Young’s interpretation, all the verses which refer to a hierarchy are from Jesus while he was living as a human in our world. This hierarchy can be explained as a temporary situation which existed while Jesus was limited here on Earth. Jesus was limited in other ways – he had a physical body, he needed to eat, drink, etc – and this could be a different manifestation of the limitations which Jesus took on coming to be with us.

There are books written about this topic – I only want to argue that this point is in contention, and it’s OK to disagree on this point. Each side does have good arguments and it’s something I want to look into further after reading this book. This isn’t as settled as Driscoll presents in his talk, and this weakens the argument.

Perhaps you have some thoughts? Are there an other scriptures which seem to suggest a hierarchy within the Trinity? Let me know - as I said I want to find out more about this and perhaps you can point me in the right direction!


So, there are the four arguments which Driscoll presents if this book is specifically about the Trinity. Numbers 1-3 do not seem to be valid complaints against the book, and number four is, at best, under contention.

On top of all of this, as I stated at the beginning, this book is not “about the Trinity” as Driscoll states. It’s about much, much more than that. In light of that, there is no really good reason to recommend against reading this book – even the arguments specifically about the Trinity don’t hold up too strongly.

This book is one which I highly recommend reading. It’s doing a wonderful work between God and I, helping me see him as less monolithic. I have felt for a long time that praying to God was like praying to my bedpost – I struggle with the relationship feeling personal. This book is one more way that I feel a few of the mental bricks in the wall between God and I are getting chipped away. And if that’s what the book accomplishes for you, it’s worth the read – even if there are a few theological holes or ambiguities on the pages.

More thoughts to follow on whatever else is on my mind – this was a long post but it deserved that!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Would Jesus wash Osama Bin Laden's feet?

You see the above painting? It is an image which portrays Jesus washing the feet of several world leaders in the year it was made. These include Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, Bush, a former prime minister of India, and perhaps most strikingly, Osama Bin Laden. This man certainly stands out in this painting – not only due to his white robe, but also to his image as one of the most hated men in the world (at least by most Americans).

This was a news story a few years ago in the Seattle area. A Christian conference organization named Heavenly Sanctuary was going to have a get-together discussing the character of God, and they hired the Justinen Creative Group to create a poster- and this is what the artist came up with. The captions for it included “Follow the Leader”, “God IS Great”, and “Jesus- Still Too Radical?” The last one is my favorite. To make a long story short, the Christian community in the Seattle area went up in arms about this poster, and pressured the malls where it was put up to take it down. The offended Christians succeeded, and soon this thought-provoking piece of art was removed.

Why am I bringing up something from a few years ago to write about? In short, I feel the need to address this issue quite directly. Would Jesus wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet? My answer is this: unequivocally yes. In my view, the answer to this question needs to get discussed, since clearly there is difference of opinion of the appropriateness of the image.

To clarify the topic being discussed here, this isn’t a discussion of questions such as “Does Jesus forgive Osama?” or “Will Osama go to heaven?”, nor is it a discussion of anything regarding the relationship between the United States and Osama.

I want us to focus in on this: Does Jesus love Osama? Did Jesus die for Osama bin Laden just as much as he died for you and I? Wouldn’t Jesus wash Osama’s feet?

Scripture is clear.

Jesus would.

This is one of the steps of loving our neighbor, of loving our enemies. Jesus directly tells us to do both. We need to see the worth in others, the worth in those that we might think don’t even deserve to live. We need to love those people, just as Christ loved us. Jesus died for everyone, even if not everyone chooses Jesus.

So, why the backlash against this painting? Where is the offense? How is this painting not representing Jesus? I see it as one of the most succinct and powerful images of Christ I have ever seen. It makes me sad that some found it offensive, rather than inspiring. It should serve as a reminder to love and serve everyone, including your enemy. Instead, it became a news story for Christians offended by a beautifully symbolic work of art.

Take another look at the painting. It’s beautiful.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Bringing ideas to the developing world

Hola todos –

I hope you’re all doing fine. I am finally back in Seattle and it’s so nice to be home! I’ve only been home for a little bit, but I had a few more thoughts to put up as I begin decompressing from my summer abroad. The photos you see above are some beautiful shots from the last weekend trip I took in Samana. That waterfall was absolutely gorgeous - it's called the Salto de Limon.

This post is about a subject which nearly all of my development classes at UW have touched. To what extent should “the West” – white people – approach development as bringing solutions to the poor, and to what extent should it be us listening to the poor about what they need and letting them determine what we bring them? I’ve had some UW classes emphasize that we need to err (or even depend solely) on the poor to determine what they need and what solutions to bring. After my summer in the Dominican, I’m starting to think that sometimes, there truly are ideas and thoughts (and technology) which haven’t reached the backcountry of the developing world which will provide solutions the poor haven’t come across – and may be a better solution than what the poor themselves would come up with.

Let me clarify first of all, that this will be different in each country, and even each region of a country. These critical specifics will affect what solutions may be introduced, and what options are already known by those living there. It is vitally important that this be done or aided by people who are extremely experienced/grew up in the country or region. I cannot say how important experience is. How do you expect to know what to do if you haven’t been somewhere very long?

Given this, I’m going to apply what I have learned in the Dominican (over only a short period of two months) to this principle and show why we shouldn’t necessarily be scared to bring in and share some of these ideas, thoughts and technology. I know this directly contradicts what I put above – but we were starting to see trends emerging which would (or maybe will) lead to changes in how Esperanza works in the Dominican. At the least it provides evidence that if you live somewhere long enough, you can start to think of solutions which are applicable to the people there.

So, what exactly do I mean by “solutions”? That’s quite a general word, but let me try to give some examples so you know what I might be thinking about.

Remember that post I had a few weeks ago about microfinance? That’s the first type of help that can come. It can be:

Helping someone to think of new business opportunities

Technical training to get new skills

Advertising training

Customer relations training

Help with goal setting

On a slightly different line of thinking, one of the other interns in the Dominican had a fantastic thought she brought up with us. What if we were able to do a trade show for various successful small business owners in an area who could come together, share various ideas on how to achieve such a success? The solution wouldn’t stop here – these leaders would then be charged with going into their communities and teaching others of how to make their businesses more successful.

A similar twist on this would be for workers who have contact with many associates to pool together “stories of success” and make them into a format shareable to other borrowers in the field. For instance, the branch office I worked at in SamanĂ¡ could put together a couple sheets of paper which could be read aloud to the illiterate borrowers about different business strategies which have created success where usually there is stagnancy. This would be much easier to put together than a trade show – but it highlights what I think is one of the most critical elements necessary for those in the Dominican to create better businesses: information and ideas sharing/communication. I feel like if people were given more ideas of how they could run their business in a way which would help them feed their family and improve their living situation, they wouldn’t take the advice lightly for the most part (though of course, some would).

Another type of help which could come to those in the Dominican would be help with is money management. This is most obviously present when at the meeting directly previous to a new loan dispersal. The loan officers will typically ask an associate “how much money do you earn monthly as a household?” This question is usually met by blank stares, and then a guess which is usually taken out of thin air. They then are asked to guess their expenditures, which is again guessed. The thing is - many times they guess expenditures which are several times over their income. This doesn’t suggest anything other than the fact that many have very little idea what their money flow is.

This has several obvious and major implications, such as unknowingly running out of money or food, having no savings, not being able to support the business, not paying back their loans and more. The simple fact is that there could be many benefits to giving some money management training to associates. These include stability, future planning, better business growth, and more money available for the family.

These examples are just a few thoughts that support that there are some thoughts and ideas which would benefit those in the developing world. They need to be introduced in a humble, sensitive manner and by people who have lived in the country or have worked there for a long time. It must be done intelligently, compassionately and lovingly. It cannot be done with pride or a sense of superiority, but rather with a servant’s heart. I think this passage in Philippians 2:5-8 sums up what I’m trying to say the best:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

That’s the description of what mindset a development worker should have.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A little peek into my possible future

Hey everyone –

I want to first give a notice that this post is mostly me processing through and putting on paper some of the thoughts that have been developing in my head the past few months. You may or may not find it interesting, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to post this.

Everything here in the Dominican is wrapping up for me. I’m just starting my final full work week right now, and that’s a little weird to think about. These past two and a half months have certainly flown by – and I’ve had a blast. To say I’ve grown or changed while being here would be an understatement. I’m quite certain that I’ll find out what I learned as time goes on – I tend to leave a long trip with this sense that things are different, except I never have the ability to say how.

At the very least, this summer has been very eye-opening and valuable to me because I believe it will go a long way in determining where I am next year after graduating. I have obviously been thinking about more than this, but future planning has been the most concrete idea to come thus far. The rest will follow with time as I said above.

I am quite certain after this summer that I want to live abroad after graduating, working in a similar capacity to how I am now. While I am not going to limit myself to only searching for an international job, that will be my first choice. I absolutely love speaking Spanish and I’ve found in my travels that I am independent and flexible enough to enjoy an extended stay in a foreign country. I feel confident that an extended stay (one or two years) working for a non-profit and bringing in a fairly low income would be a job I could handle – and would probably love. I have a growing passion for applying these personal interests and skills, my studies and my faith into a career in international development.

The next step for me is to figure out what I want to do in international development. This may take another year or two (or perhaps much longer). My journey to even getting to this conclusion has taken a long time – starting with my first international trip to Spain in 2004. Each international trip I have taken, no matter the length, has given me some very valuable lesson guiding my next step. I can sum up the way my future plans have changed after each trip as follows:

Chapter 1: Spain 2004 - Missions trip with high school youth group. This is where my passion for Spanish began. I became enrapt with the language. This is also where I decided that I wanted to do something internationally. I didn’t know what – just that my future would involve international work.

Chapter 2: Dominican Republic 2007 - This 10 day missions trip was with my college youth group came to the very poor southwest of the Dominican. Here was my first run in with extreme poverty – and here is where my desire for doing international development began.

Chapter 3: Argentina Summer 2008 - In the 6 weeks I spent here, I had my first semi-extended international stay. I realized that living abroad was a blast, especially in a situation where I used Spanish more than English. I also learned that I love Latin America. Especially the Argentine people.

Chapter 4: Spain Fall 2008 - For four months I lived in southern Spain, and I learned a couple things: First, four months is a very short amount of time. It was over before I knew it. Secondly, I learned I really don’t care much for Europe, at least in terms of wanting to live or work there. I didn’t feel the same passion and excitement I had visiting the Dominican and Argentina. I see Europe, especially Western Europe, as a place I can visit later in life. It is much more accessible and easy to travel for those older than their 20s than is Latin America. Europe will have its place and time for me. Right now, it isn’t where my heart is.

Chapter 5: Dominican Summer 2009 - As I said, this trip has given me a direction for how I want to work – internationally and with development. It has also helped me develop a short term plan for my next step.

I am going to graduate from UW this June with a double degree, and then hopefully have a place in the world to go work for the next year or two to gain experience. I am then planning on using that international experience to write the next chapter of my life, which will be grad school. It has become increasingly obvious to me this summer that I need to get an advanced degree. What degree am I going to get? Well, I am hoping that if I get a year or two of work experience, that will help direct the direction my studies will take.

Basically, the degree is going to need to be something specific. Undergrad studies are designed to be general so you can figure out what you’re interested in – which is exactly what they did for me. Grad school, for what I’m trying to do, is where you find a specialty niche and focus, focus, focus. The more specific my degree, it seems the better that will help me find valuable work in something I love to do. Call it my Chapter 6.

So, there you have it. My three-four(ish) year idea of what my life might look like. I am completely open to this changing if circumstances come out differently. If I end up living in Seattle for the next 3 years and never go abroad and somehow grad school doesn’t come so rapidly, I’m not going to throw a fit because my life didn’t turn out how I envisioned it. I want to “go with the flow” and see where the flow takes me – though it seems to me the flow is taking me in the direction I have visualized.

I’ll be back in Seattle in about a week – I'm looking forward to seeing you then!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Are expensive short-term mission trips worth the cost?

Hey everyone –

I want to give a post about something a bit off topic from what I’ve been posting lately, but I feel it warrants some thoughts – especially for those of you who have gone on short term mission trips. I had some talks with other fellows early on in the summer regarding the value of spending a fairly large amount of money to go somewhere for just ten days. This may be a little repetitive for any of them reading this, but I felt this needed a blog post.

The question is: why spend $1600-2000 on a international trip where you are working for a week and then just coming back to the US? Are you really making any sort of long-lasting difference? Are you doing enough to justify spending that $1600 – 2000 on a trip and plane tickets, rather than just sending it in full to a development organization that could immediately put the money to work?

All are difficult questions – and ones I’ve had to wrestle with after going on two such trips. In fact, the last night I had in Santo Domingo in 2007 with my spring break missions trip team was partly spent exploring that question. Quite frankly – I didn’t have an answer back then to these questions. Not having sufficient answers made me begin to question if the cons didn’t actually outweigh the pros of an international mission trip.

Two years later, I finally feel that I have a couple answers which to me make the pros of short term mission trips (or other service projects) outweigh the cons.

First: Any time people want to bring the ultimate message of Love and Hope to others, I think this is great. While this alone isn’t enough to answer the questions I posed above, especially since there are PLENTY of people in the US who need this message, it certainly is a plus which occurs with a mission trip.

Second:I feel like there is some amount of long lasting impact with some projects. The most obvious ones are buildings or other physical projects which some trips undertake. In the case of my trip to the Dominican, most of us didn’t have such a project. We were with children the entire day, playing sports, doing Bible lessons (sort of), and mostly just being with them when no one else was around. As you might guess, it was very hard to point to something and say “look, we made a difference”. Instead, it felt like we were just another group of white gringos to come through, give a few hugs and piggyback rides, only to get back on our bus and fly back to our comfortable beds in the States.

I argue that we are not “just another group”. These kids remember the people who come through. This was proven to me when a couple people who had visited the villages a couple years before came back. The kids remembered their names and even still had the nametags and drawings given to them two or three years before. This was absolutely surprising to me. The kids specifically remember the guys and girls who played with them for just a few days a couple years ago. This proved to me that there is at least some sort of long lasting effect on lives which may not be apparent upon leaving back home.

As you can guess, these two reasons alone are not enough to convince me of the value of short term mission and service trips. Which brings me to the strongest point:

Third: Mission and service trips change the lives of the people who go – and sometimes direct them to dedicating their life to service. I now consider these sorts of trips as an investment. The $2000 spent is well worth it when you consider how life changing this experience is for some. True, some people go home after a trip, say “well, that was a nice experience. I have some good memories and friends now” and don’t really give international service another thought.

On the other hand, many people find their first experience with international poverty to be striking, and can have a spectrum of reactions. This may be from being more aware of spending and finding ways to give to charities or serving the poor in their own community more, all the way to people who decide that serving internationally may be the career for them.

As you may have guessed, I fit into this latter category. My 10 day trips to Spain and the Dominican Republic were fundamental in my career development. I’m gong to explore this more in a future blog post, but suffice it to say that the roughly $3200 I spent (or rather, my parents spent…) was an investment in who I am today, thinking about living internationally.

I have seen plenty of friends impacted on various levels along this spectrum by a short term service or mission trip. This alone is what answered those questions I posed at the beginning. If this was all just about a 10 day spree costing $1600 with relatively minimal impact in the community and no impact on the people involved, well then I’d say that money could be spent in a better manner. For the reasons above, I see this as money well spent.

Think about it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Microfinance thoughts

Hello everyone –

I wanted to share some thoughts about microfinance in the Dominican which haven’t been apparent to me until recently through observation and conversations with other interns. I see two major issues which are preventing microfinance measures from being as effective as they otherwise would be. First of all, I see a distinct lack of specific, well-thought out goal setting by associates. Quite simply: many cannot tell me why they got a loan, beyond saying “I want to grow my business”. The answer to the follow-up question “And why do you want to grow your business?” draws empty stares more often than not. Secondly, I see an oversaturation of certain businesses. Many borrowers settle for selling new and used clothing, making a colmado (small corner store which has various small food items, drinks and other goods). Let me develop these thoughts a little bit more.

First of all, I am extremely troubled by the lack of goal setting that many associates demonstrate. All of us working and who read about microfinance hear about its ability to assault poverty by allowing people to work their way into a healthier income, better housing situation, more food and education for their children. I have my qualms with some of these claims, especially with how great the affect is, but we’ll leave that to the side for now for the sake of argument. It just worries me that these borrowers don’t have a clear idea of why they are taking out a loan. I have to give very leading questions, referring to their children or capital improvements to their homes, in order to get any sort of long-term picture. Even then, the answer is somewhat forced and it seems the women and men are asking in their heads “why is this question being asked to me? I don’t understand why this is so important.”

Given, some of this may be due to a language barrier, and I may perhaps be asking the questions incorrectly, but I don’t feel that’s the case. I think its more likely that people either a) haven’t thought about the question or (more likely) b) have future goals, they just haven’t fully articulated them. I see this as a problem. There is a need for people to have a well-articulated idea of how exactly they want to apply this loan to their life and family.

Why is this important? I am still attempting to articulate this fully, but I feel there is an inherent value in having a specific goal in mind when undertaking a project as serious as starting a business. A goal will allow the women and men here to seek encouragement when looking at their business. It gives them a concrete example of how a growing business is helping their family. They can point to the extra food on the table, their child taking university classes, or their brand new concrete floor and use this as motivation to continue seeking to grow their business. This is my only concrete idea to answer this question – in reality, I’m struggling to articulate why I find this so important. I may have more ideas about this in the future. For now, I wanted to at least put this thought out there, and let you know that more will be settling with time.

Feel free to comment something about this! I’d love to hear any of your thoughts. I’d love to know, also, if you think this isn’t something important. Thanks!

Secondly, I want to address the oversaturation of business choices of the associates here in the Dominican. I have a much more concrete idea of this issue, and this one is quite concerning. Microfinance allows the borrowers to choose their own business – and much of the theory is built upon the idea that borrowers inherently know their community, and know what sorts of businesses would be most successful. After all, nearly all have lived in one area their entire life, they know their neighbors, and therefore know what items are in demand, what sells well, etc.

Unfortunately, in the Dominican we aren’t seeing this put unto practice with any real regularity. Many women settle for just two types of businesses: colmados and new and used clothing. This has caused what seems to be an oversaturation of these businesses. In a single bank of 20 women living in a small neighborhood already full of such stores, quite easily 10 or more of them will start such a business. This simply cannot be good for sales.

Again, I may be totally off-base and ignorant in this observation. I allow for the thought that these women truly do know what they are doing, and that another 10 colmados in a neighborhood is one of the most profitable businesses they can get into. However, I am certainly not convinced of this. I would be surprised if someone were to show me that the colmados formed are equally or more profitable than rarer businesses.

The thought myself and some other interns have is that the women, instead of choosing the most profitable business for their family, are going the route of least resistance. It is far more comfortable to start up a business such as a colmado or clothes sales when those are stores they see everywhere, and they see their friends in that market. They might know less about other businesses, and therefore instead of looking into that other type, follow their friends.

Regardless of the reasons for starting colmados or clothing businesses, it seems fairly clear that there is an oversaturation of these businesses. I would love to someday see someone go and collect data regarding these businesses and their profitability. If it turns out these businesses are not receiving the type of profit that other businesses are, I’d argue that Esperanza should considering helping associates think of alternative businesses. I have met some women who recognized this oversaturation and chose less-common businesses, such as working as town veterinarians and selling cleaning supplies, and are currently very successful.

I am not arguing that Esperanza somehow force people to choose other businesses; I don’t agree with that at all. Instead, I think it would be valuable for the associates to see that their family may perhaps benefit more from a different type of business, and then choose between all the options. In some cases, surely a colmado is the best choice; and in some it may not be. I see no harm and potentially a lot of good (and profits!) if the associates begin to choose from a greater selection of businesses.

That’s really all I have to write for now. Sorry if it seems somewhat scattered – I have a lot of thoughts bouncing in my head and I just wanted to get them on paper to help me process them.

Please do let me know if you have any thoughts about any of this – I’d love to hear from any of you.

Mil gracias!