Sunday, May 27, 2012

When Helping Hurts

Recently I skimmed this book – When Helping Hurts (How to Alleviate Poverty Without  Hurting the Poor or Yourself) – written by Dr. Brian Fikkert.  The basic premise is that when we try to help the poor without having a proper understanding of poverty we often do more harm than good, both to those we are trying to help and ourselves.  Dr. Fikkert cites an example of a church who handed out turkeys and toys in a poor neighborhood every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  After several year they discovered that the neighbors felt more poor and more shame, and the church people felt more self-righteous and more superior; each worse off than they were at the beginning.

About two years ago I read this book – The Hole in our Gospel – written by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision.  This particular book totally changed the way I viewed poverty and the gospel.  The premise of the book is the same as the book mentioned above – that is, our helping often does more hurt than it does good.  The author cites example after example of missionary efforts to Africa which only deepened poverty rather than alleviate it.  Don’t read this book unless you want to be challenged.  It radically changed my view on a lot of things.

I think there is a lesson we can learn regarding being a local church in our own community.  Do we really understand the needs that exist around us?  What are the root causes?  How can we help in a way to turn things around?  Are we handing out book bags and grocery cards to feel good about ourselves (or boost attendance)?  Is being “missional” just a code word for marketing?

Giving people a hand up is better than a hand out.

Maybe this Chinese proverb will shed some light:  Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

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