Shampa sat next to her husband, Mukul, in their apartment in Calcutta, India. Their neighbor sat across from them, nervously describing how the company he had worked for as a day laborer had closed due to the COVID-19 quarantine. Money was scarce before the lockdowns, but now survival would be nearly impossible. This man was a member of the house church Shampa and Mukul had started, and here he was, struggling right in front of them.
Shampa glanced at Mukul. She looked back at their neighbor. “As long as the lockdown continues, you and your family can come and have food with us,” she said. In the back of her mind, she knew they did not have the money to support this entire family, but how could they allow their neighbors to go hungry?
When the man left their home, Mukul and Shampa reassured each other. “Just trust in God,” they said, feeling hopeful but uncertain. “We forgot for just a moment that the one who holds the future has a greater plan for us,” Shampa said. And God did not forget them. He supplied food not only for their neighbor and his family, but for 200 families in their community through Mukul and Shampa during the quarantine.
Shampa and Mukul work as Trusted International Families (or TIFs) for a ministry called OneIN. Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, OneIN’s founder and president, Chris Alexander, has been a missionary for 37 years and has worked in countries such as Zambia and Ukraine, and in churches in the Indianapolis area. He started OneIN because he saw the need to empower the poor in other cultures and plant seeds for the gospel by making the most of all of their resources, including relationships with national believers. Traditionally, Western churches have done cross-cultural ministry by sending an American family or team to live and work in the country. This requires a large amount of money and a long period of cultural adjustment and language learning, and it often results in rapid turnover and less ministry happening.
OneIN is reimagining how missions can be done. “We are rethinking how to work cross-culturally with people by developing and leveraging relationships of trust that have been built over significant periods of time when we aren’t already in the country ourselves,” Alexander explained. “We have people in our churches who have had significant experiences overseas and still have close, trusting relationships maintained over decades with people in countries where we are called to serve.” Additionally, “Americans have the financial resources to help; what is lacking is the ability to trust others with those resources.” OneIN works to connect people, share resources, and open the door to the gospel.
OneIN builds on trust by connecting with individuals who already have an existing long-term relationship with Christians in other cultures. These individuals serve as links between OneIN and national families who can potentially serve as OneIN representatives—TIFs—in underserved areas. After some training, TIFs become grant recipients who issue small, no-interest loans to entrepreneurs who want to start or grow small businesses and have a solid plan for doing so. Clients repay their loans as their businesses grow, and the money goes back into the fund to be redistributed. When handled properly, the revolving loan fund eliminates the necessity of additional resources coming from the West.
OneIN’s unique plan enables small business owners to support themselves and their families.
“I like to empower people,” Alexander said. “To me, having the opportunity to be used in a small way to help people meet their physical needs, create stability for themselves and their families, and provide an avenue to share the gospel is the most natural way of outreach.”
OneIN does not require loan recipients to be Christians. In fact, they encourage TIFs to reach out to people who do not have an existing relationship with the church because they want this to be a way to present the gospel naturally.
“People in their home cultures understand how to reach people better than I do. We’re trying to make small trust leaps so that the distance culturally and relationally is manageable, and people are most receptive for presentation of the gospel,” Alexander explained. When people’s physical needs are met and they feel capable of taking care of their dependents, they begin searching for meaning in life. They often turn to God and grow spiritually as a result of their contact with their TIF.
During the pandemic, Alexander saw ministries faltering because of travel restrictions and quarantines. American Christians working internationally sometimes were unable to live in their host countries and could not minister effectively there. Alexander realized how effective OneIN’s model can be in a time when travel is restricted but technology is not. Through relationships cultivated long-distance with people already living in the culture, OneIN-maintained ministries began planning for the future and ways to maintain their work, despite the pandemic.
OneIN has big goals for 2021. They plan to start working in 12 new countries, one each month. By linking with people they trust in each country, empowering each of those people to issue small loans, and allowing them to choose from their own contacts within their own home countries, OneIN hopes that by 2022 it will have a greater network around the world that is not dependent on large financial contributions from American Christians or the actual presence of Americans in the country. Thus, it can continue regardless of pandemics or political shifts.
Mukul and Shampa still live and work in Calcutta. Not only were they able to help their neighbors during the quarantine, but by working as TIFs for OneIN, they are empowered to loan funds to small businesses to grow and develop their businesses. As TIFs, they find their roles rewarding, helping people improve their financial resources. More importantly, they serve as ministers of the gospel in a community that needs their presence.