What if God Was One of Us?

11 March 2010 at 06:50 21 comments

Kati Mayfield, KF10 Honduras

Before I go to meet Prisma’s Kiva clients, I like to look at the pictures in the their  “funded by” list, and to see which are the top lending teams to have contributed to their loan.  Because the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious team has made the most loans overall on Kiva, it’s not surprising that it is the top lender for many Prisma clients.

It appeared as such for one client I spoke with last week.  Hers was a particularly powerful interview because her father had recently been killed.  As I wrote the journal update, I didn’t know how to relate the potency of her story to her investors except to put it in her own words: “because my father was a man of faith, I know that he is in a better place, and that God will also help me through my grieving process”. I found myself wanting to editorialize at the end of the email, wanting to justify the borrower’s certainty in God.

This surprised me, because if you asked me whether I belonged in the Kiva Christians team [number two in amount lent through Kiva] or in the aforementioned “Atheists, Agnostics …”, I would say the latter.

It’s true that I have taken the process of cultural assimilation to the extreme here – saying “God be with you” before I hang up the phone with a coworker; shouting “God bless you, brother” to a client as we pull up for an interview; attending church once a week with my roommate (and singing heartily along to the hymns, I must admit!).  So in jumping to defend the convictions of this client, was I really just defending my own budding religious conversion?

Well, the last five weeks have initiated a sort of spiritual awakening within me, but despite doing my best to mimic Honduran religious tendencies, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been “born-again”. Rather, my free-thinking ways are finding “God” in everything I do here. In humanity.

I’m excited, because I have been on the edge of this breakthrough for a long time. I began studying microfinance in college because the model of community-based financial growth inspired me. I applied to the Kiva Fellows program to learn more about this development strategy, and when I got accepted, I got a huge show of financial and moral support from my network of friends and family. It seems fitting that as I work with developing communities in Honduras, I am doing so on the good graces of my community in the US. And that, in talking with Prisma borrowers about their lives and their businesses, I get to be part of the process that links them to the international Kiva family.

This process and the last five weeks of Hallelujah!s finally sparked my own divine revelation: it’s all about Community and Connectedness.  These are pillars of Kiva’s brand of faith, and they must be the reason Kiva attracted me in the first place.

Personal epiphanies are “común y corriente” among Kiva Fellows (read recent enlightened reflections by Mary, Monica, Brian, and Bryan), but I’ve decided to share my experience because I think that all members of the Kiva community can relate (even the most skeptical among us). I will not pretend that every Kiva lender sends a prayer to the borrower when they click the Lend button; nor that every borrower considers their loan to be a blessing.  But many Prisma clients do tie their understanding of Kiva directly to God. They tell me that they received their loan “Gracias a Diós” (thanks to God), that their businesses flourish for the same reason, and that they repay responsibly because they are answerable to God.  Though I wish they would credit their own hard work and ambition a bit more, I admire their faith in something larger than themselves. So as a Kiva Fellow I try to help clients conceptualize how Kiva fits into this “bigger picture”, and in the meantime I feel honored to be part of something they hold in such high spiritual esteem.

Trying to decide where you fit in the grand scheme of things?  Make a Kiva loan through the Prisma Honduras lending team, and see if it speaks to you!

Entry filed under: Americas, Honduras, KF10 (Kiva Fellows 10th Class). Tags: , , , , .

Who are you and why do you want me to take pictures with my livestock? A Kiva Fellowship in Liberia

21 Comments

  • 1. Second Chances (Part 1) | Project Chime  |  25 November 2011 at 03:52

    [...] Kiva Fellow’s time in the field, as previous Fellows have written about self-discoveries in spirituality, competitiveness, and self-acceptance. We’ve all gained a better worldview, certainly. [...]

  • 2. Second Chances (Part 1) « Kiva Stories from the Field  |  24 November 2011 at 05:15

    [...] Kiva Fellow’s time in the field, as previous Fellows have written about self-discoveries in spirituality, competitiveness, and self-acceptance. We’ve all gained a better worldview, certainly. [...]

  • 3. Church o or samone stand with a new church  |  5 July 2010 at 06:46

    God ble you thenk you

  • 4. joyworldyet  |  10 April 2010 at 22:33

    Since the question “what is an atheist?” frequently comes up, and since there seems to be some confusion, here are a few basic facts.

  • 5. Kati Mayfield, kati.mayfield@fellows.kiva.org  |  14 March 2010 at 19:29

    Thank you for your insights!

    I have always bristled against religion and those who proselytize it for the very reason Albert mentions: what if blind faith drives people to the point of absurdity? For the people I have met here, though, religion is a roadmap directing them towards solid morality and ethics. As Daniel reminds us, goodness is alive in individuals who, like these micro-entrepreneurs, do their work well. But although I can encourage them to take ownership of their successes, I cannot alter their beliefs. So I am left to challenge the beliefs I do have power over – my own. Where do my own morality and ethics come from? Don’t worry, Martin: I am by no means a religious convert; rather, I’m a dedicated agnostic who’s realized that I can’t just label myself as such and leave it at that. It makes sense to me to keep asking questions; because what I’m seeing in humanity is something collective and binding, and I want to know whether it’s more than just our common anatomical composition. In my mind, there’s room for spirituality within reason, and because I agree with Sidetrips that no answer is the complete answer (not even the “nothing” answer, Hilton), I want to talk to people from all walks of life about the deep convictions that drive them. Whether it’s a deep conviction I share, like Richard’s determination to work to reduce poverty; or one I’m less familiar with, like an extremist faith, I want to learn about them all so that I can develop my own definition of what our “collective collaboration” (as S calls it) means. I may never embrace a specific culture of faith, but I would like to speak the language – to be faithfully fluent.

    • 6. albert  |  14 March 2010 at 20:02

      Kati, I enjoy reading your post and your honesty. Thank you.

      The fact that the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious team is the largest lender team on Kiva is telling. We are social animals. There are ‘mirror neurons‘ in our brains. As long as these neurons continue to exist (and there is no reason why they will not), human kindness will be in constant supply.

      Keep up the good work.

  • 7. Hilton Travis  |  14 March 2010 at 13:45

    @Sidetrips:

    “God is god.” (Even the atheist could agree with this in some manner, eh?)

    God does not exist. The above sentence only makes any sense when you look at it in the light that “0 = 0″. Nothing definitely is nothing!

    Seeing good in people in no way can equate to seeing “god” in people. Good exists, god does not.

  • 8. Martin Foreman  |  14 March 2010 at 10:25

    I agree that this is a heartfelt and honest post. But I am also disturbed that someone like Kati could move from a position of reason to one of superstition based simply on emotion. As an atheist I recognise the beauty of much of the music and art and literature that is inspired by religion, but I am not so naive as to believe that my feelings of joy, wonder or mystery are evidence of the existence of God.

    What Kati – and many believers are saying is – because I feel good in a religious environment, therefore there is a God that is making me feel good.

    That wouldn’t matter too much if everyone’s vision of God were the sugar-coated love attributed to Jesus, but for every Kati there is someone who has an equally deep faith in their God – except their God is telling them to kill (terrorism), commit bigotry (discrimination against women, homosexuals, non-believers whatever), to ignore science (creationism / intelligent design), and to impose an ethical morality on us all.

    The Jesus-lovers say that their vision of God is right and the bigots and terrorists are wrong – but both sides are using exactly the same argument: every believer says that the idea of God makes me feel good, whatever I do is justified by his name.

    Please, Kati, and other believers, recognise the strength of your emotion, but also recognise that emotion is all that it is. You are a good person, not because you believe in a fictional God, but because of who you are – and you will be an ever better person when you put that fiction behind you and embrace yourself as a generous, wonderful, loving – and wise – human being.

    May reason always bless you…

  • 9. KivaLory  |  14 March 2010 at 08:11

    Kati, thank you for the honest and beautiful post and your courage to share something so personal. God be with you, indeed =)

    • 10. Agata  |  9 June 2012 at 09:25

      I am glad to have found your blog and this post. What you and your family does it great. I think all of us who are guatefrl for a blessed live must pay it forward. I have started a cause for poor children in India. If you get a chance, stop by my blog to read about it.Have a great weekend!

  • 11. albert  |  13 March 2010 at 04:47

    This is an honest post and beautifully written. However, the truth of the matter is that god has nothing to do with the help these people got. It is help by human kindness and goodness. Please read Thank Goodness by Daniel

    I can understand people without the good luck of a decent education can be superstitious and attribute whatever that happens to them as an act of god. I am puzzled how an educated person cannot see the glaring contradiction, myths and cruelty propagated by religious doctrines, how educated people would help to further the superstitions, unsupported claims, instead of helping these people to understand how the world actually operates.

    I have a hallucination today and god told me to take my daughter to a nearby park and kill her as a sacrifice to god. What would you do to me? I deserve to be locked up, right?

    That’s Abraham, my friend! How could an educated person continue to glorify such acts and continue propagating the superstition. To help these people financially is only a small part in giving these people a chance. If you can get them to understand that it is hard work which is the key to success. It is persistence and investment in their children’s education which will eventually help them to get out from the current situation. Thank god is useless. Prayers have never been shown to work.

    Thank goodness, human kindness are still abundant!

  • 12. Zack Turner, KFP Coordinator  |  12 March 2010 at 17:50

    Well said Kati

  • 13. bgoldfinger  |  12 March 2010 at 13:50

    Amazing post Kati, I think this is a topic many Fellows (myself included have wanted to write about, but not had the guts to tackle. You did so quite neutrally and eloquently! kiva love…

  • 14. Sarah Caldwell  |  12 March 2010 at 07:50

    Very interesting and beautifully put.

    As a lifelong Christian, I find the involvement of all kinds of people, from all over the world, for all kinds of reasons, to be one of the most wonderful aspects of Kiva. AAMOF, I’ve been accused, by an atheist friend, of preaching the Kiva gospel.

    Jeff, the Bible tells of many instances where those of other faiths or none advance God’s purpose through their actions, both generous and seemingly self-serving. Generations before theone who wouldn’t “let my people go,” a Pharaoh appointed Joseph (Not Mary’s husband, Joseph of the many-colored coat) as his right-hand man, which allowed the descendants of Abraham–and the Egyptians– to survive years of famine. The Wise Men are never mentioned as having any religion.

  • 15. sidetrips  |  12 March 2010 at 07:12

    “God is god.” (Even the atheist could agree with this in some manner, eh?) Attempting to explain or add to this seems to take us farther and farther from solid ground.

    How can any explanation be the entire explanation?

    Doesn’t the real trouble start when people or religions insist that they have the best explanation?

  • 16. evacwu  |  11 March 2010 at 18:20

    Thanks for sharing Kati! I’ve been wanting to write up something about the topic of faith, because it also came up for me in the Philippines. As someone who didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household, I couldn’t find the words to describe what I wanted to say. Thanks for writing your experience so beautifully.

  • 17. S  |  11 March 2010 at 13:24

    Hi Kati:

    Thanks for your thoughts. God is collective collaboration of all our good thoughts and good deeds.

    The Persian poet of 12th century, Saadi’s most famous aphorisms adorns the entrance to the Hall of Nations of the UN building in New York with this call for breaking all barriers:

    Of One Essence is the Human Race,
    Thusly has Creation put the Base.
    One Limb impacted is sufficient,
    For all Others to feel the Mace.
    The Unconcern’d with Others’ Plight,
    Are but Brutes with Human Face.

    Keep up the great reporting.

    S.

  • 18. monicahamlett  |  11 March 2010 at 12:24

    Beautiful insight Kati.

  • 19. Jeff  |  11 March 2010 at 09:08

    They believe that they received their loan “thanks to God” but the money came mostly from atheists, agnostics, et al? That’s interesting and food for thought.

  • 20. Jan & John, KivaFriends  |  11 March 2010 at 08:48

    Thanks for a very special post, Kati. I am one of the lenders who try to choose borrowers by making eye contact with the photo. It’s not always possible but it’s important to me to acknowledge the connection between us that lending through Kiva offers. The spark of God in my heart recognizes the spark of God in their eyes. We humans try desperately to put words to something far too big for words. We accept the limitations of those words and settle for “God be with you”. jan

  • 21. Richard Middleton  |  11 March 2010 at 08:17

    Thank you for sharing this part of your spiritual journey. I spent almost all of my career in the aid business, and it was a great comfort to find that my colleagues, from many countries and of many faiths or none, shared key values. In terms of the Christian dichotomy, justification by faith vs. justification by works, we valued works more – or perhaps it would be as correct to say that we responded to “that of God in every man”, to use the Quaker phrase, rather that getting hung up on doctrinal differences. I remain an agnostic – but working with people in communities around the world was a profoundly spiritual experience, if that’s not a total contradiction! God be with you!


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