“Poverty” is not a word we like to use to describe living conditions in supposedly affluent New Zealand. But poverty caused by unmanageable debt affects thousands of New Zealand families.
Thirty percent of New Zealand households have taken out loans just to meet basic needs, such as food or power; 25% of Polynesian and Maori householders are in arrears with their mortgage; many middle-income families have no more than $40 disposable income per week; and thousands of children suffer ill-health and regularly go hungry because their parents struggle to put food on the table. With personal debt increasing year upon year, this is a serious problem getting worse.
I recently visited the South Auckland head office of Christians Against Poverty (CAP), an international debt-counselling charity with an 80% success rate in sustainable debt relief...
At first introduction CAP may appear to be just another budgeting service. But it soon becomes obvious that it is much more than that. CAP’s office is in decidedly unfashionable downtown Otahuhu – one of Auckland’s poorer suburbs – right next to the busy courthouse. The CAP team likes to be where the action is, even though face to face counselling happens in individual homes and is facilitated through church-based centres.
Instead, the CAP team are sitting in an open plan office working on computers. They are busy working on behalf of clients to provide them with a way out of debt. These specialists handle correspondence, draw up budgets, negotiate with creditors, obtain fair and manageable repayment terms, and support and advise the clients. They do this until the client is debt-free, usually taking between three to five years. If a client cannot be debt free within a reasonable time frame, CAP’s Insolvency Department is on hand to inform, guide, and support each client through the most appropriate route.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves: First, the history...
Christians Against Poverty was founded in Bradford – a sort of English Otahuhu...but with much bigger problems – in 1996 by John and Lizzie Kirkby who felt God was calling them to help the poor and needy in their home town. John gave up a successful career in the finance industry to start CAP in the Kirkbys’ spare room.
Their faith adventure led them to many who were crippled by financial problems, and from there CAP has grown into an international charity partnering with individual churches in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The key to the CAP method is its partnership with local churches. In New Zealand it partners with four – Alive Church in Kamo (Whangarei), Victory Church (Wellington), Abundant Life (Kaitaia) and Hillside Church Glen Innes (east Auckland).
Says Tara Kirby, Head of Partnership for CAP in New Zealand: “Each church has a Centre Manager, who we train. They then go out into their community and connect with different referral sources. The client calls a central phone number. We arrange an appointment with the church’s Centre Manager who then visits the client in their own home.
“Being in the client’s own surroundings enables the Centre Manager to see the whole picture of what their life is really like. Usually the client is non-Christian, so they tend to be nervous, not quite knowing what to expect. The manager simply goes in with love, is non judgemental, and tells the client we just want to help.”
Tara says many CAP clients are in a difficult financial situation through no fault of their own – perhaps a change of circumstances, or a relationship break up.
Over three visits, the Centre Manager will gain a client’s trust, and collect all the available financial information such as bills, credit card and other debt information. This is then sent to the Otahuhu office and the specialist team goes into action.
The team will formulate a budget. The client will hand over an agreed sum of money each month and the team will then use that to take over all aspects of debt repayment, negotiating with the client’s creditors as required.
“It’s all about trust and developing relationships. It’s working with them one-on-one, not just with debt counselling but being holistic, realising it is affecting them in every area of their life,” says Tara. “A lot of clients we work with are very poor and marginalised.”
It it also an opportunity for the church to get alongside the client with its own support workers, to visit them regularly and continue to provide support long after the immediate financial problem has been resolved. The church will arrange support groups, functions and events where clients can meet and support each other.
And, of course, it provides opportunities to share the Gospel with un-churched clients. Tara and the team never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate aim of CAP is to save souls, not just bank balances.
Tara keeps a running tally of people saved. In the centre of the Otahuhu office is a red bell. The bell is rung every time news of a saved soul comes through. The team stops and prays for the person concerned.
“What we want to do in New Zealand is have a centre available to everybody, so that anyone anywhere in the country can access a centre. But we need churches to do that. We can’t work without a church.”
“This is also what churches need. It’s a great practical way to connect with their community, a way they can get alongside people. Sometimes that’s half the battle for churches. They know there are people out there who need help but don’t know how to help,” says Tara.
That’s where we Baptists come in. Baptist churches can partner with CAP by either opening a CAP centre to help people struggling in unmanageable debt, or running the CAP Money course that helps everyday people manage their finances through a simple, effective cash based budgeting system. Tara says “Our CAP Money course is a really simple way for churches to connect with their community and help people in a practical way.”
For this three week DVD based course that connects churches with their community CAP provides Money Coach training, this year’s training days are being held in Auckland on Saturday July 18 and Saturday October 17. Book places now by calling 09 2700334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in Baptist Magazine of 6 July 2009. Reproduced with permission.
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a partner of Love Your Neighbour. Read their partners page by clicking here
- Equip Your Church - Partner with CAP to relieve poverty and bring hope to your community.
- Run CAP Money – a revolutionary money management course, successfully being used by thousands worldwide.
- Make Your Mark on NZ Poverty – Support our work by becoming a Life Changer and help us to alleviate poverty caused by debt in NZ.
- Want to know more about the life transforming work of CAP? Order your free copy of the book Nevertheless – this is John Kirkby's story of the adventure of starting CAP.