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At the launch party for Exodus Lending in April 2015, members of Holy Trinity Lutheran, Minneapolis, showed up to support the congregation’s new organization by sharing what financial freedom means to them.

From hardship to freedom By Megan Brandsrud When a payday lender opened on the block of

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis in 2012, members had some questions. “We noticed that more of these businesses were

popping up, and we were concerned about their impact,” said Jay Carlson, pastor of Holy Trinity. “We did some research on payday lending and this business practice, and we found out the harmful effects and how it takes advantage of people in vulnerable situations. We knew we wanted to do something to respond to these needs.” At first the congregation partnered with others

in the community and dove into advocating for policy change in Minnesota. “In 2014 there was a valiant attempt to reform the payday lending industry in Minnesota that ultimately failed, but we are planning again for 2017 to revisit the issue,” said Meghan Olsen Biebighauser, parish outreach leader of Holy Trinity. In the meantime, Carlson said the congregation

‘ They sang about love and it made me feel worse.’

wanted to assist people who were caught in the high- interest loans and need help right now, so in 2015 they started Exodus Lending. Its name inspired from the book of Exodus, which tells of God’s people moving from bondage into freedom, Exodus Lending is a not-for-profit organization that helps Minnesotans who are trapped in payday loans. Exodus Lending pays off borrowers’ loans

from payday lenders and ends their relationship with the “predatory lenders,” Biebighauser said.

28 AUGUST 2016

It then sets up a new 12-month payment plan with clients, allowing them to pay back their loan with zero interest. “People want to pay back their loans, but when

the fees and interest add up, it makes it almost impossible to dig out from under it,” Carlson said. In addition to the loan process, Exodus Lending

has a match program for clients who contribute to a savings account throughout the year. It also partners with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota for clients to participate in financial counseling. Exodus Lending recently named Sara Nelson-

Pallmeyer as executive director, and so far the program seems to be successful. In its first year of operation, Exodus worked with 75 clients, refinanced 101 loans and saw a 96 percent repayment record. In April the organization celebrated with five clients who were among the first to graduate from the program.

A fresh start

Holy Trinity received initial funds to start Exodus Lending through a grant from Colonial, a United Church of Christ-affiliated congregation in nearby Edina, Minn. Since then Exodus has been sustained by many others, including parishioners, an ELCA Domestic Hunger grant and individual donors from the community. And as more clients complete the program, their money is also contributing to the sustainability of Exodus Lending.

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