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george hancock stefanA number of months ago, I preached from the Book of Deuteronomy. In the passage I read, God tells the people that if they obey Him, they will be able to loan and not borrow and they will be the economic head instead of the tail. After that sermon, I found myself thinking about money and how much debt the United States has as a country, so I looked it up. The debt of the United States is astronomical. The American government has a debt which, if divided among its citizens, equals $65,000 per person as of this past December. It is easier to understand on an individual level, as opposed to the total number which is in the trillions (most Americans have no idea how many zeroes they would need to put after one million to write that number). I was shocked by that number because it means the US has borrowed $390,000 in the name of our family (two parents and four children).

The recent government shutdown did not help with our individual and national debt. Government workers were waiting close to a month for a paycheck. One of the reasons that the government opened again was that most government workers (like the majority of the population) live from paycheck to paycheck. Not only do we live from paycheck to paycheck, but we owe a lot of that money to monthly bills. It seems that the younger one is, the more they owe. Young people owe money for their college education, for their vehicles, for their houses, and many are paying off their weddings. When we were a young married couple, we owed money for my college and post-college education. When I took out the loans, I didn’t realize how the interest would affect my ability to pay them back. But in talking with my colleagues, they were also surprised at how much money we paid over those years because of the immense interest.

A recent statistic shows that there are more people leaving New Jersey than moving here. Among the reasons for leaving are the high taxes. Our state taxes are so high in part because we have a high debt, which has been borrowed from different agencies and now we have to pay them back.

One day, someone came to the church to ask for money for shoes. It just so happened that I had recently purchased a new pair of sneakers and was willing to give him the same amount so he could get a pair. He replied that he wanted shoes for his son, but he did not want regular tennis shoes—his son needed the Michael Jordan brand of sneakers which were three times more expensive than what I was willing to give him. On another occasion, I met with a young couple. Both had well-paying jobs, but they realized their debt was increasing with each month. I asked them to make a list of where they were spending their money. I was shocked to find extravagant gifts at the beginning of the list, as they would give presents to each other and to their relatives for weddings, birthdays, and christenings.

Borrowing money and incurring debt is a reality that we have to deal with. It affects both the poor and the wealthy and has become such an important issue that individuals and organizations like churches are working to combat it. One of my colleagues retired several years ago and has decided to spend his time talking to anyone who wants to listen about the danger of debt on all levels: personal, national, and global. One church in North Jersey requires that people take a course in finances and get rid of their past debt when they become members. They use the book dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery by DeForest Soaries. 

The book of Proverbs says that the borrower is the slave of the lender. It takes a long time to break a habit, but we must start working at it so we can live a truly free life.