When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself - eBook
Help the Poor...but don't hurt them
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
When I heard about this book from a review by a friend I thought it would be a great resource to have. I was right. This book is a great tool on how to properly use aid when dealing with the poor. The solution is not to throw money at the problem but rather find out what is causing the poverty.
Corbett and Fikkert do an excellent job of giving their foundation for helping the hurting: Jesus. Jesus came to earth and helped the hurting. By His example we should do the same. However, there is a way to do so without making this worse than before.
The first thing is find out what type of poverty it is. Is it poverty by tragedy (hurricane, tsunami, medical reasons), economic environment (low income job, high cost of living) or lack of initiative? What the authors have done is show that each situation is not the same. It is the proverbial feed a man to fish, but make sure that there is a river in which to fish.
What was addressed, that never dawned on me, was the mental and psychological battering that the poor are assaulted with that a middle income earner does not face. Thoughts of worthlessness, stupidity, hopelessness, and others plague the poor. These items must be addressed but the solution is not always to give financial aid. What then is the proper response? That depends on the cause.
Sometimes the proper response is to give money but that such situations needs to be examined carefully. It may only be a one time need (i.e. car trouble, damages because of natural disasters, etc) and such needs may be solved by money. However, what about the situations like poor education, loss of a job, etc.? Giving money will not fix these problems but it is often used because it is one of the easiest.
This gets to the heart of the book: overcoming poverty requires a long term approach. It demands time, energy, relationships, and perseverance. It requires getting to know the people who make up the poor, understanding their fears, dreams, thoughts, and worldviews. This is how to help without hurting: empowerment.
This is a great book and should be on the shelf of anyone involved in ministering to those in impoverished environments. I highly recommend that every pastor, homeless shelter director, and missions organization get a copy. In fact, get more than one so you can lend out a copy or two. It will be well worth it.
February 26, 2014
This book has reshaped how I think about implementing biblical directives about helping the poor. When I read it the first time I could not put it down. My husband and I use this book to lead Bible study for our local outreach ministry. My church has used this book to modify its benevolence and local outreach policies.
August 15, 2012
Great read excellent info
I recommend this to any one that expects to go into the field as a Christian worker
March 14, 2012
Good starting point for helping the poor
Goal and Contents of the Book
The authors state up front that this book is not comprehensive but merely an introduction to the topic. Their stated goal is to recommend Ã¢ÂÂappropriate ways for a North American congregationÃ¢ÂÂand its missionariesÃ¢ÂÂto participate in poverty alleviation at home and abroad, taking into account the God-ordained mission of the church and the typical church's organizational capacity.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 250-252)
The book breaks down into three parts, moving from the theoretical to the applied. In Ã¢ÂÂPart 1 : Foundational Concepts for Helping Without HurtingÃ¢ÂÂ, the authors talk about the reason Jesus came to earth, namely to bring about healing and reconciliation, both spiritual and physical. Of course, that will not happen completely this side of glory but the church is to represent Jesus in this world by doing what he did, which includes caring for physical needs. The mission of the church is a topic of dispute these days and I will give some thoughts on this later in the review.
In Ã¢ÂÂPart 2: General Principles for Helping Without Hurting,Ã¢ÂÂ the authors lay out the differences between relief, rehabilitation, and development, illustrated by many practical stories and case studies. A key thought that drives this section is this: Ã¢ÂÂOne of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make -by far- is applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 1610-1611) Too often, people try to help the poor with a handout whereas what they really need is someone to walk alongside them to think through how to use the assets they already have to better their own situation. Outside help should always enable them to become independent, and not cause greater dependence.
In Ã¢ÂÂPart 3: Practical Strategies for Helping Without Hurting,Ã¢ÂÂ the authors apply the previous principles and theory to short-term missions (ch. 7), to churches helping the poor in their own local area (ch. 8), and to churches finding ways to help the poor in other parts of the world through micro-finance and business as missions (ch. 9). As a long-term missionary who interacts with lots of short-term teams, I found chapter 7 to be particularly helpful in explaining why well-intentioned short-term teams are many times counter-productive to those they go to serve, and not even that beneficial for those who go. However, the authorsÃ¢ÂÂ goal is not to dump on short-term missions. After giving a critical assessment of short-term missions, they offer positive, practical recommendations for how short-term missions can be done well. In brief, you canÃ¢ÂÂt save the world or fix global poverty during a two week trip, but you can support long-term development that is happening on the ground.
A Good Starting Point
The reason I read this book is because I donÃ¢ÂÂt know much about working with the poor, much less helping them. IÃ¢ÂÂve given to beggars sometimes, and lent money to several people (I did not get it back). I have saved up recyclables for the bottle collectors in my Thai neighborhood, and sometimes hired them to do yard work. So, I have learned from experience that handouts are not always helpful, and that giving work is better than giving money. But beyond that, I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt sure what to do.
After reading Ã¢ÂÂWhen Helping Hurts,Ã¢ÂÂ I am still not entirely sure what helping the poor should look like in my life. But I have learned some basic principles to guide my thinking. I have a better idea of what not to do, and why not to do it, and also a better idea of the kind of thing that should be done. I feel like I now know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to actually do anything effective in a long-term-meaningful-development sort of way.
And what exactly is the extent of my biblical responsibility to care for the poor? That may sound like a minimalist type of question, like the Pharisee who asked, Ã¢ÂÂWho is my neighbor?Ã¢ÂÂ but I donÃ¢ÂÂt think I am called to full-time community development. I am called to do vocational ministry as a missionary, namely teaching, preaching, pastoral care, etc. I want to take up my biblical responsibility to care for the poor but that looks different for different people. I appreciate the fact that the authors did not say things like Ã¢ÂÂEvery church must have an organized church-run mercy ministryÃ¢ÂÂ or Ã¢ÂÂAll Christians must do such-and-such specific thing otherwise you donÃ¢ÂÂt care about the poor.Ã¢ÂÂ On the other hand, I am left to work out the implications of the book on my own, and with those in my church. So, as a starting point, this is a great book for thinking about the pertinent issues but I would need to do more reading, and depend on other people to work out the practical work out what to do with what IÃ¢ÂÂve read. To facilitate this, the authors include questions at the beginning and end of each chapter to help groups think through the application of what theyÃ¢ÂÂve been reading.
What is the Mission of the Church?
Among American evangelicals, and especially in Reformed circles, there is currently a debate about the mission of the church. At the risk of giving an overly simplified summary of the debate, the question is framed like this: Is the mission of the church, as a formal organized institution, limited to preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and caring for the congregation of local believers, thus leaving decisions about schooling, politics, and caring for the poor to the consciouses of individual Christians? Or is the church, as an institution, obligated to be involved in all areas of life, including arts, culture, social and political issues, and thus redeem the culture by pick up the cultural mandate that Adam dropped in the Garden of Eden? Authors Corbett and Fikkert answer the question like this:
Ã¢ÂÂWhat is the task of the church? We are to embody Jesus Christ by doing what He did and what He continues to do through us: declareÃ¢ÂÂusing both words and deedsÃ¢ÂÂthat Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who is bringing in a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. And the church needs to do this where Jesus did it, among the blind, the lame, the sick and outcast, and the poor.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 661-663)
I hear and appreciate the authorsÃ¢ÂÂ assertion that the church needs to be involved in caring for the poor. But is there a difference between the responsibility of the church as an institution and the responsibility of individual Christians? Biblically, there can be no doubt that a church should care for the poor in its own midst (Acts 6, 1 Tim. 5). But does that responsibility extend to the surrounding neighborhood? To the next town over? the whole city? the other side of the world? How much can one person, or one church, really do? That question is never clearly addressed in the book. At the same time, I was glad to read that the authorsÃ¢ÂÂ donÃ¢ÂÂt seek to impose any one particular model of helping the poor on all churches. They write:
Ã¢ÂÂHence, while the church must care for the poor, the Bible gives Christians some freedom in deciding the extent and manner in which the local church should do this, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes, the local church might feel it is wise to own and operate a ministry to the poor under the direct oversight of its leadership. In other situations, the local church might feel that it would be wiser to minister indirectly by starting or supporting a parachurch ministry or simply by encouraging individuals to reach out to the poor. Wisdom must be used to determine the best course of action in each situation. However, whenever God's people choose to minister outside of the direct oversight of the local church, they should always be seeking to partner with the local church, which has God-given authority over people's spiritual lives.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 729-734)
Although it was probably beyond the scope of the book, I wish the authors would have spent more time discussing the mission of the church in relation the church as an institution and as individuals. I appreciate the distinction that David Van Drunen makes between the church and individual Christians in Ã¢ÂÂLiving in GodÃ¢ÂÂs Two Kingdoms,Ã¢ÂÂ and it would have been good to see that distinction made by authors of Ã¢ÂÂWhen Helping Hurts.Ã¢ÂÂ
As a book about helping the poor, Corbett and Fikkett have done a fantastic job. But to help myself think more clearly about the task of the church, I will need to do some additional reading.
Ever since I learned about Ã¢ÂÂWhen Helping HurtsÃ¢ÂÂ more than a year ago, it has been on my Ã¢ÂÂto-readÃ¢ÂÂ list. I am so glad that I finally got around to it, because it is such a great introduction to the subject of helping the poor from a holistic perspective. The authors spend most of their time discussing the alleviation of material poverty but very frequently emphasize the fact that the goal is not just to make people wealthier and more self-sufficient, but to see them reconciled to God and to those around them. Poverty alleviation and economic development should not be done without the proclamation of the biblical Gospel, otherwise the end result will be self-sufficient secular people who have learned to depend on themselves instead of God.
March 6, 2012