By 1919 Provident had 12 branches; in 1962, it had 17. But Provident's theological base weakened during the second half of the 20th century. Now, only five branches remain, doing good by offering an interest rate slightly over 2 percent per month rather than the New York legal limit of 4 percent, but not offering what some who are poor need more than money: the sympathetic ear of a person ready to propose spiritual help and not just a quick financial fix.
With monthly interest rates at 20--30 percent in some Southern states that also have strong evangelical churches, it would be great to see some "benevolent pawnshops," to use the 19th-century expression, offering 3--4 percent and still making a living for some Christian entrepreneurs. They could make a huge difference economically and spiritually for individuals experiencing hard times.
Is this trip worth taking? Why not just teach people to stick with banks and credit cards? Maybe: If men were angels government would be unnecessary, as James Madison wrote, and if all people were financially wiser, pawnshops would be largely unnecessary. Yet, in this fallen world many do not save well, and some face unanticipated bills.
At that point they now have several choices. Some carry balances on their credit cards, with interest compounding and finance charges lurking. Others borrow money in other ways, don't pay what they owe, and end up in the hands of collection agencies, with ruined credit ratings. In comparison, those who pawn goods may never get them back, but the damage stops there.
Variants on pawnshops such as "payday loan" and "title loan" shops can be predatory, with desperate or mentally deficient folks losing their cars and getting little in return. A Christian-run pawnshop, operating on biblical principles, would be a great improvement. Missionary strategists speak of the 10/40 window, referring to regions 10-40 degrees north of the equator that need evangelism. Let's not forget the 20-30 percent window: States where pawnshops charge that much in monthly interest offer opportunities for benevolence.
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