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Category Archives: Recommended Reading Lists

When Helping Hurts; Insights to Consider

A Review of the book When Helping Hurts

By Kent Hotaling

This book, written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, gives insight into our efforts to help meet physical needs in Africa.  Reading it I kept thinking, “Oh, so that’s why that did (or did not) prove helpful to our African Friends.  Probably the best way to encourage you to read this work for yourself is to tantalize you with several insights from the authors. Kent Hotaling

                “Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.  North Americans tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.  This mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty-alleviation efforts.” 53

                “We are not bringing Christ to poor communities.  He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them by his powerful word.  Hence a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time?  This should give us a sense of humility and awe as we enter poor communities.” 60

                “Shame – a poverty of being – is a major part of the brokenness that low income people experience in their relationship with themselves.  At the same time the economically rich also suffer from a poverty of being.  They often have ‘god-complexes’, a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves.  Until we embrace our mutual brokenness our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” 64, 65

           “Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God

by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.  The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse and mental illness.  The goal is to restore people to a

full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be.” 78

“Defining poverty alleviation as the reconciliation of relationships shapes the methods our churches

 or ministries should use to achieve that goal.  Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.” 79

 “A first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.  In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.” 104

 “Relief needs to be immediate and in order to provide timely relief, it is important to engage in disaster preparedness. Relief is also temporary, provided only during the time that people are unable to help themselves.  Unfortunately, determining when to stop relief is never easy.” 110

“Once relief efforts have stopped the bleeding, it is time to move quickly into rehabilitation, working with, not for, people to help them return to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. 110

 “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.  Memorize this; recite it under your breath all day long.  Every time you are engaged in poverty alleviation keep this at the forefront of your mind for it can keep you from doing all sorts of harm.” 115

Development experts have discovered the benefits of using ‘asset based community development’ because it is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc.  The very nature of the question, “What gifts do you have?” affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being.  And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does.” 126

“Very few Short Term Mission trips are done in situations in which relief is the appropriate intervention.  Most of the time they go to communities experiencing chronic problems that need long-term development.  Unfortunately, they rarely diagnose the situation and pursue a relief approach which does more harm than good.”  166

Suggestions on ways to improve the missions

                “Make sure the host organization receiving the team understands the nature of poverty and practices the basic principles of appropriate poverty alleviation.  Design the trip to be about ‘being’ and ‘learning’ as much as about ‘doing’.  Stay in community members’ homes and create time to talk and to interact with them.  Ask local believers to share their insights with team members about who God is and how He works in their lives; have team members share the weaknesses in their own lives and churches, and have the local believers pray for them.  Ensure that the ‘doing’ portion of the trip avoids paternalism.  Do not do for people what they can do for themselves.  The goal is for the work to be done primarily by the community members with the team in a helping role.  Keep the number of team members small.  This will promote more learning and interaction with the host environment and will lessen the damage from Elephant’s foot!” 175