DR. SOARIESâ€”A 21ST CENTURY FREEDOM FIGHTER
AT 59, DR. DEFOREST BLAKE â€œBUSTERâ€ SOARIES, JR. has made his mark as a pastor, politician and public advocate. He is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, where he has served since November 1990. From January 1999 through January 2002, he served as Secretary of State of New Jersey under then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman. There, he created a statewide youth violence prevention program, called V-FREE. Soaries has also been instrumental in carrying the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. forward.
Five years ago, Pastor Soaries took up a new cause; he wanted his church members to be free from debt. So, he created a campaign that he coined â€œdfree.â€ Today, he\’s ready to launch “dfree” nationwide. “DFREE” â€”Saying â€œYES!â€ to â€œNO DEBT!â€
â€˜Anything that controls us has us in slavery.\’ If we are controlled by shopping and spending and ducking from bill collectors and paying last month\’s bills with next week\’s check, we\’re in slavery.
â€œI knew that dfreeTM was something we needed when people told me that they would have given more money to help during our Katrina Relief Drive if they\’d had it. Many of these people had great jobs and drove nice cars. It was somewhat confusing as to why they didn\’t have more to give. That was the first sign.
â€œThe second sign was when I drove through the parking lot of our church and saw so many late model cars and realized that many of the people driving those cars were living from paycheck to paycheck.
â€œIn one instance, a family of four grown people with jobs whose mother had died came to the church, and between the four of them, couldn\’t afford to pay for her funeral. The mother had no insurance, and they wanted the church to pay for the funeral.
â€œI realized that we have a structural problem in our church and our community.â€
GT: What is “dfree”?
Soaries: â€œdfreeTM is a campaign that addresses the emotional barriers to living debt free. People need support groups. We encouraged our members to get out of debt together. There were people in the privacy of their own poverty trying to get out of debt. We popularized the notion that it is good and preferred to get out of debt. We promoted and celebrated being out of debt and in so doing, we created a culture of positive money management versus a culture of negative money management. It took us a while to do that because people were embarrassed and insecure.
GT: What\’s different about “dfree”?
Soaries: Most financial literacy programs assume that all people need is information; when, in fact, living in debt is an emotional, spiritual and psychological problem as much as it is an educational and informational problem. The first thing we address is the emotional status of peopleâ€”feeling good about getting out of debt. Our society makes people feel good about going deeper in debt! The assump- tion that dfreeTM makes is that people need to feel good about paying bills.
GT: How did you achieve success with “dfree” at your ministry?
Soaries: We did it by having events like â€œdfreeTM Sundayâ€ where people had a chance to testify that they\’d paid off a bill and the whole church celebrated with them. The same way people celebrated breaking in a new credit card and going into debt; we had church members celebrate with each other about getting out of debt. We created a positive peer pressure where people heard each other\’s testimonyâ€”not just about coming to Jesus, but about getting out of debt.
GT: Why are so many people in debt?
Soaries: Here\’s the core problem: The culture in our communities and the country at large promotes living in debt. We have to break the back of the culture. We\’ve got to preach against it and teach against it. We don\’t even want to say â€œdebt.â€ We believe in the power of words, so we say â€œDFree.â€ In our minds, spirits and lives, we are wiping out debt.
GT: What specific things can be done?
Soaries: Some of the things we have done is to have â€œdfreeTM Revivals.â€ Not only do we bring people to Christ, we bring them to living with a budget. To us, the idea of living within your means and paying your bills on time and being out debt is more like a campaign than a program.
GT: In your new outreach to take “dfree” national, what is your main target and why?
Soaries: I\’m focused on African American pastors, because 54% of African Americans have no bank accounts or if they do have bank accounts, they don\’t use them regularly.
Black people are more vulnerable to payday loans, check cashing joints, non-bank money orders and rent-to-own schemes. The Black American is the most likely person to be the victim of economic rip-off. Our program is not exclusive to Black people but our priority is the Black pastor and churches that are predominantly African American.
GT: How can a pastor/church get involved with “dfree”?
Soaries: We\’re giving away the program for free. There\’s no charge; we\’re not asking anybody to pay us anything; our website (mydfree.org) is a turnkey websiteâ€”meaning that when you go to the website, you\’ll get all the answers you need. The only thing we ask is that people sign a license agreement that commits the sponsoring church to use dfree in a manner that\’s consistent with our intentions. We want them to use the dfree strategy without charging people any money for it. I also have a new book coming out (October 2010) regarding the dfree concept.
Can you imagine life DEBT FREE? Or, is that’s too difficult. Just remember, there are many who have come from bondage into debt freedom. You can too! If you have questions about issues or challenges that are hindering you financially, leave us a comment and let us know. Likewise, if you have a bit of wisdom, advice or a testimony, let us know in the comment box below. Your thoughts could make a major difference in someone’s life today!