FARMS loan program changes lives in Thailand

Thailand (MNN) — About five years ago, Jaime Garcia felt God calling him to Thailand. He didn’t know why or what he was supposed to do there. But eventually, God would cross his path with FARMS International so he could learn about the work going on in Thailand and share it with us.

Garcia was finishing his study abroad program in Israel at age 18. It was at this time he first started feeling drawn to Thailand. So when he finished up the program, he met with his pastor to see what opportunities there were for him to serve in Thailand.

His pastor had an opportunity in mind. There were opportunities to serve the urban poor in Bangkok.

Coffee Farmers in Thailand. (Photo courtesy of FARMS International)

Garcia said, “Sure, why don’t they send me?”

At this time, he was 19-years-old and went to live with a family for nine months. He learned the language and worked in the slums and housing projects.

“It was an awesome time of my life. I felt like I grew immensely, and I fell in love with Thai people and Thai culture, and I started to really mesh with some of the locals.”

So at this young age, he decided to commit long-term to ministry in Thailand.

For the last few years, Garcia has been working as a freelance content and copywriter for hotels and other establishments. But he wanted to pursue something different. Something that had to do with coffee. He started looking around and contacting people in northern Thailand. That’s when he heard about FARMS.

After contacting Joe Richter, President of FARMS, he agreed to visit Thailand on their behalf to learn about their projects in the area. He spent about two weeks meeting people involved in the projects and learning how they were impacted.

A quick reminder: FARMS provides believers with small loans through the local church. These interest-free loans go towards starting or improving a business or other income project. Loan holders agree to pay tithe to their church once they have paid back the loan. Many of the loan holders have invested in coffee farming.

At first, Garcia said he was a bit skeptical about the project. He wasn’t sure how the microloan project worked out beyond helping people with their businesses. But during those two weeks, that perception changed.

“Through their lives, I saw that the loans were helping in incredible ways. Churches were being planted. There were a lot of people’s families who were in anguish and poverty, and they were being kind of elevated out of it. There was a lot of suffering and need and illnesses, and the FARMS loans [were] helping, and it was helping send children and their families to university to get further education. But above all, it was helping the local Church.”

Because the loan programs buoy the local Church, they also contribute to the spread of the Gospel.

“I think it has an incredible potential to help the local people not only increase their faith, but increase the amount that’s given to their local church to fund evangelistic efforts in the surrounding area that’s never heard about Christ.”

During his time meeting with Thailand believers, Garcia also got to meet with a pastor from a restricted nation in Asia.

In the 80s and 90s, this man lost many members of his family — his father, some siblings, and some of his other relatives. At the time, his nation was experiencing a lot of instability. But that’s when he became a Christian and his life changed drastically. But as he began to share his faith, he experienced much persecution. Additionally, he was very poor. It was all he could do to provide for his family due to low wages. Even so, he continued to share the Gospel.

By mid-2000, he was an assistant pastor. This was around the time he heard of FARMS and obtained a loan.

Garcia says, “With that, he purchased some cattle and he was raising some animals with this loan. He shared about how the FARMS loan really helped him to not just survive and not just eke out a meager living out, but actually thrive and use a lot of his funds towards his church, use a lot of his funds he was receiving from this helping from this loan for the Kingdom purposes.”
Black Lahu village
Garcia gives another practical example of how these loans aid evangelical work. One family he met from the Black Lahu tribe shared their story. They had been living in a dirt, bamboo, and grass hut. They were struggling with illness and living as minimally as they could. The family was made up of believers, but they weren’t fully living out their faith.

“They were working constantly because of how low they were paid. So they had to work seven days a week. Sometimes they couldn’t go to any sort of service, they couldn’t hear the Gospel, they couldn’t hear teachings because they were so busy.”

But about ten years ago, they got introduced to FARMS. With the loan they received, they started a small business.

“It freed up several days during the week where they could work in the local area, share with their family members, go to church services. And really, it helped them to do much, much more than they were able to prior to that,” Garcia says.

This family’s story is pretty common among the poor in Thailand. They work six to seven 12-hour days a week and have little time to get involved, much less share their faith.

“I think FARMS is there to help them thrive financially and then through that thriving, to free them up to do more evangelism, discipleship, and work within the local church.”

Garcia is planning on getting his MBA at a Christian university in Northern Thailand. They’ve told him he will be the first westerner to get an MBA in the Thai language.

“It’s a unique endeavor, I’m excited about it. I’m trying not to be nervous,” he says.

Both Richter and Garcia are hoping that as Garcia pursues ministry and a future in Thailand that he can continue to work with FARMs.

Richter says he appreciates Garcia’s unique perspectives of the projects in Thailand and he is thrilled they’ve finally been able to meet in person.

As Garcia follows God’s lead, he says there are a few ways we can be praying. “Pray for discipleship opportunities; that open doors would be there to disciple young men, especially. Pray for opportunities in the coffee world and in the business world so that I could have an open door to live in Thailand for the long-term.”

Also, please pray for the FARMS program in Thailand and around the world.

If you would like to help projects like this in various parts of the world, consider coming alongside FARMS International. Click here to learn more.