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When Helping Hurts | Week 1

May 15, 2011

So I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, but just haven’t gotten around to it. However, Shanda from this grace in which I stand, has cobbled together a group of people to read this book and discuss it. The plan is to read a chapter a week and then blog about it. I can do that, especially since this book is right in line with the subject of good intentions are not enough that I have been writing about recently. So welcome to week one of blogging about When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor or Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.

It wasn’t too long ago that Christians did very little to address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of the poor. Christians just went about their lives, most not even knowing or caring that there were problems in our world and that people were hurting. But that is no longer the case. In the last 40 years the Church has realized that it cannot just turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world. It has seen that the Bible calls believers to help the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the oppressed. Christians are rediscovering the fact that God calls them to more than just believing in Him so that they go to heaven. There is more to it. So much more.

So the good news is that Christians are trying to help people. The bad news is that most of the time, the way we choose to help often does more harm than good. We want so badly to help, to make a difference, that we do whatever seems like a good idea at the time, instead of stopping, stepping back, and asking hard questions before we try to help.

The authors of the book share their excitement as well for the upswing in concern, but temper it with two thoughts. The first was:

North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kids’ soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world’s inhabitants struggle just to eat every day. And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America. We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.

Too many Christians still hold to the view that nothing is wrong in this world or that they are not responsible for doing anything about it. I read this post the other day (HT this grace in which I stand) where the woman said (about being asked to go on a trip to the Philippines) “I knew I wasn’t going. It was too far, too soon, too Southeast Asia. I am not missionaryish. I am not a traveler, really. And I do not wish for the burden of knowing.” We can get so caught up in our own lives that we don’t even want to know that anything bad is happening in the world, because it might upset the delicate view of life (that everything is all happy and warm fuzzies) that we have constructed.

The author’s second thought was:

…when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non-poor. Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.

Fortunately, there is hope, because God is at work.

I know that in the past, in trying to help others, I have done things that in hindsight, probably caused more harm than good. I do not want that to be the case anymore. I went to Haiti twice last year on medical trips. It was those trips, the things I saw, the conversations I had, that prompted me to start looking deeper at the way we help people. That has led me to research and read lots of blogs and articles by those in the aid and development community that are seeking to find the best and most effective ways to help people.

I know there is hope. God is at work. I believe that Christians and the Church can lead in this. And we should. It is going to take a lot of work and it starts with our understanding that not all help is good help.

I am excited to read the rest of the book and hear what others have to say about it. I hope you are too.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn permalink
    May 15, 2011 10:22 pm

    Fikkert came and spoke here in Nashville back in September–at 6 feet 10 inches tall, he was an impressive figure, and he spoke with plenty of firsthand knowledge (he’s been in all sorts of dire places of poverty all over the world, and with compassion. I found his 3 hour talk to be very helpful…especially insightful into how we Westerners try to alleviate poverty from a very “material” mindset. We also often dive in without asking those we seek to help, What do you think would help? Are our actions reproducible by the locals? Are locals being IMPOVERISHED by what we are doing? Are there things we do that we shouldn’t etc… very good book which should be read by all believers.

    • May 16, 2011 5:23 pm

      He came here in September and I missed it? That is sad. Next time you have to let me know of these things. And thanks for sharing

  2. May 16, 2011 4:01 am

    I definitely agree that there are TOO MANY Christians who think nothing is wrong with the world and that they aren’t responsible for doing anything. Shoot – if there was just ONE that would be too many! But, I liked what Anissa pointed out on her post… There are a lot of believers who do recognize the problem but they just have NO idea what they are supposed to do. Many think that they are incapable of doing anything that really makes an impact. Many are afraid of doing things the wrong way. Many are distracted by the array of challenges in their own lives…

    Of course, none of that changes that we have a responsibility to act/help… and to do it well.

    So, yay for learning and sharing! 🙂

    • May 16, 2011 5:22 pm

      Yeah, I agree with that and I have seen that and felt that way at different points in my life. I think that is a huge challenge that the church and everyone really needs to wrestle with. For those people that want to do something but are just so overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, how do we provide them with the resources to step out?

    • Shanda permalink
      May 17, 2011 10:46 am

      That is a challenge indeed, with no simple answer that I’m aware of. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of hard work and passion involved. And a lot of dependence on God for the changing and moving of hearts. And a lot of teaching of responsibility – starting with our commanded responsibility in the Word… followed by practical teaching of how to be responsibly responsible – how to responsibly/wisely fill the roll that Jesus calls us and commands us to. But I think all of that is still not really an answer. 🙂

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  1. When Helping Hurts | Week 2 « Hands Wide Open

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