Dispatches

Walk Far: The Best Kind of Insurance

"If you want to walk fast, walk alone.
If you want to walk far, 
walk with others."
- African Proverb

We put a lot of trust in insurance—health insurance, car insurance, homeowners’ insurance, flood insurance, life insurance... In Kenya, after a particularly difficult period, we were even offered riot insurance!

Insurance helps us sleep better at night. We know, in theory at least, that if something bad happens our insurance can help make it better. In communities where more formal insurance policies are not common, people organize their own. After living for some time in a rural Kenyan community, the village chairman invited me to join the village funeral insurance group.

A number of things went through my mind in that moment. I wondered whether I looked ill and my neighbors thought I wasn’t going to be around much longer. I also felt deeply grateful. I was being included in the day–to–day life of people who had become family. So, I said that I certainly wanted to join. The chairman produced a card with my name on it. He explained that my weekly contribution would be noted down. Should any of my neighbors pass away or one of their family members die, I would be asked to go to the home with other community members to give assistance. If I were to pass away, my neighbors would do the same for me.

After the chairman welcomed me to the group, he said he was sorry about one thing. If I were to die outside of Kenya, he explained, the funds would not allow the community to travel to the United States. He hoped I would understand. I had just bought my first insurance—for $10 for the year!

Membership in one of these groups is not just about saving money for yourself, but also about contributing to the savings of others. It’s about pooling resources, so that everyone is better off. At its best, insurance is a great safety net. At its worst, it takes more than it gives, which makes sense since if it is a business, not a charity.

I’ve had the privilege of living in a place where people invest in other people as their insurance: parents supporting children, brother supporting brother, friend supporting friend. Because in the crisis moments of our lives, it is people not policies that we need around us and helping us. No insurance policy will listen to your story of grief or offer a shoulder to lean on. No insurance company will attend a funeral or visit you in the hospital. We need financial assistance in difficult times, but even more we need to invest in the people who will be with us at the best and worst of times.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21, KJV).

APRIL FOSTER is director of Others - Trade for Hope. In this series she shares lessons learned from her 29 years in overseas ministry.

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