Ontario Church Helps Neighbors with Household Debt

If interest rates in Canada begin to rise, how many Canadians would lose their homes? Become homeless? According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, household debt has soared to a record high, with Canadians owing a ratio of $1.63 in debt for every $1.00 of disposable income.

One Hamilton, Ont., church has joined forces with Christians Against Poverty (CAP) to offer hope and financial help to their neighbors.

First Christian Reformed Church offers CAP’s Money Course and the Debt Centre. The Money Course teaches participants how to manage money, budget properly, and avoid financial pitfalls. The Debt Centre offers full-service debt counseling. Eighteen months into the program, 38 clients have benefited from this service. First CRC’s volunteer debt coach, Jan Disselkoen, meets with interested clients and introduces CAP to them.

“We meet in their homes and listen to their stories. And we will pray with them. That really speaks to people, being prayed for and having someone to talk with them,” said Disselkoen.

Disselkoen collects data and completes paperwork. The information is sent to CAP Canada headquarters, where a budget is designed. The budget is presented to the client and Disselkoen helps them get started. Clients pay off their own debt through CAP. The organization negotiates with creditors to reduce interest and other fees.

“The CAP program is sustainable and empowering. It doesn’t create dependency on the church and it gives [clients] financial literacy,” said Disselkoen.

Another aspect of the CAP program is the “befriender”—someone from the church who goes with Disselkoen to meetings and reaches out to support the client’s emotional needs. Around 20 church members volunteer as befrienders and keep in touch with clients. They also host client events with shared meals and keynote speakers.

“This fits with our ministry to seek justice and show compassion as Jesus did,” said Disselkoen. “And the stories we hear from our clients give us a more realistic view of who’s struggling in the community.”

CAP has recently introduced two additional programs to their services: The Job Clubs teaches practical employment tips and resources. The Release Groups addresses the controlling habits and dependencies that can cause financial hardship. Several other Christian Reformed congregations in the Hamilton area have started CAP programs as well.

About the Author

Krista Dam-Vandekuyt is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classis Hamilton.