Sep 4, 2012

When Helping Hurts

A book review by John Vlainic
Even though I remember thinking of myself as from a “poor” family when I was a child, I know that I, even then, was part of the “rich” of the earth.
  I am realizing that my formation to this point in life has rather poorly equipped me for serious obedience to the concern throughout scripture that God’s people share themselves and their resources with the poor. Sometimes, I have tried to be gracious about it, and said, “That’s something another part of Christ’s body does well.”  
As well, I have seen attempts at helping, which seemed, even to me, to likely be counterproductive in the long haul.
How good, then, to learn of a wonderful introduction to the matter which strikes me as:
  • biblical (with a special focus on Christ as King and Christ’s Kingdom, and on the over-arching grand Story of the Bible)
  • humble (the authors admits many of their own errors, and are gracious throughout); there is tremendous humility here!
  • in touch with “systems” thinking  
  • aware of how “culture” works in human life
  • clearly “both/and” in tone
  • nuanced (i.e. they do not pretend that issues are simpler than they are)
It is: Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor (Moody Publishers, 2009).
They blew many of my assumptions about ministry to the poor, the nature of poverty, and so much more right out of the water. The more I listened, the more I realized how little I know about this. I learned much about a host of kinds of paternalism well-meaning Christians like me engage in.
One of the ways in which the authors are most helpful is in unpacking the real dangers (and potentials) of the short term missions trip that is so popular these days. If you want to do short term missions without doing long-term harm, pick up this book. It will raise a host of new (and good) questions. This book is revolutionary in my thinking. I hope that time will tell that changes will have taken place in my living and serving.

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