Monday, August 29, 2011

When Helping Hurts

Have you ever tried to help someone and in the end the help that you tried to offer not only hurt them but you in the process? Well that’s the premise of this book I recently read, "When Helping Hurts". However the main subjects are the materially poor and Us, the haves.

The book forces one to ask the question: How can I serve the materially poor without further exacerbating their struggles?

It is a must read if you’re in the least bit interested in figuring out how to alleviate poverty and want, like the pageant contestants’ most infamous answer, “world peace”. The book starts off by asking a simple yet profound question: “why did Jesus come to earth?” The authors answer the question by saying “Jesus came to preach the good news of the kingdom and to show the good news of the Kingdom!” This question and answer was a great set up that would be weaved throughout the entire book as we are called to do as Christ and preach the message of healing and restoration but to not only stop with the words but also in deeds, just as Christ did! You can't have one without the other!

The second part of the book redefines poverty. The authors say: "Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings." In other words, poverty is rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others and creation. Here's the added kick, if poverty is rooted in brokenness then "who are the poor?" the book asks. The answer is simple: we all are!

Here's the main point of the book: we must all embrace our mutual brokenness or poverty and Repent of our own brokenness. "One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich-their god complexes and the poverty of being of the economically poor-their feelings of inferiority and shame". Our work amongst the materially poor often communicates we are superior and they are inferior. We must realize that we are not God ready to save a dying world but we are conduits that God has chosen to use to bless each other. The more involved I become in Mission's work, the more I come to realize outside of God there is no restoration for the materially poor.

The book then led us to what our focus ought to be when fighting poverty; it says Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation, where we are moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation. Moreover, material poverty Alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships (God, self, others and creation) so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work! Yes!!! When we are able to use our God given skills and talents, it brings glory to God.
The book does a great job looking at the issues with humanitarian efforts from the global and local point of views. It not only looked at the problems but also proposed some answers and examples. One of the challenges you will have when you read the book is that answers will not be sufficient and you will be frustrated trying to apply a one size fits all method for the magnitude of the issue of helping the materially poor.

The main take away for me is learning to breathe dignity into every soul that we come in contact with as we’re trying to help them. The most common thread in everyone who finds themselves materially poor is shame. They carry a tremendous amount of shame and worthlessness. As we are looking to help feed the poor and provide clean water to drink, let’s start by giving them the most precious gift of all DIGNITY and a sense of WORTHINESS. These souls are not helpless, filthy, inept or unaware; they are souls in need of someone seeing them beyond the shell and to pour life back into them.

Finally, a book about the materially poor that speaks the language of moving people from being dependent on foreign aid to dependence on God and their God given skills, talents and assets. It has put into words a number of uncomfortable issues that I’ve been grappling with for a number of years. It has confirmed many strategies I’ve believed were bad practices when working with the materially poor, some of which I have committed. Now this book has given me language to continue to fight for the dignity and empowerment of the materially poor.

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