When Helping Hurts | read together ch. 3

Let’s (finally) talk about Chapter 3 of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.

In this chapter the authors give us a definition of poverty alleviation.

Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in relationship in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.

I love that definition. I love that it encompasses the whole person. As Christ’s ambassadors we are called into the ministry of reconciliation. That includes helping with material needs but it also includes dealing with the relational side of people’s lives. It’s messy and it’s hard. There’s no quick easy fix. In fact, there’s no sure fix at all. They remind us throughout the chapter that “the fall really did happen” and because of that, on this side of eternity, there will always be brokenness; that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do all that we can to participate in bringing hope and healing and HELP to those in need of it. God has made it clear that we are to persist in participating in those things until He puts an end to it all, and we must remember that we are ALL broken and in need God’s saving grace.

Our relationship to the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both of us need the blessing of reconciliation. 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.

But part of our striving is also to fall on our knees every day and pray, “Lord, be merciful to me and to my friend here, because we are both sinners.” And part of our striving means praying every day, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, for without you we cannot fix our communities, our nations, and our world.”

I love the emphasis they place on helping the whole person.

The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God.

When I read those lines… I think about the country I’ve been living in for the past year… I wrote a post a couple months ago about how so many here do not believe they have any ability to effect change in the world around them because of what they are taught within the system they were born into. So many do not know, understand, or believe that they were created in the image of God and that he has given them gifts and abilities that he desires to see them change the world with. I’ve had the privilege of teaching some this year and watching their eyes open to the possibilities of influencing. I think about India… where Hinduism teaches caste and people believe that the level they were born at is the level they must stay and that their value is determined by their position at birth. So many live hopelessly, believing they have no worth, not recognizing that they were made by a Father who loves them and wants them to know Him and to live for His purposes. I think about a friend in America… who thinks that the mistakes she has made in the past have determined her worth now and in the future. She thinks that God hates her and is punishing her financially and relationally for all that she’s done. She believes that she will never be able to “succeed” and that no one will ever be able to love her. She thinks that the very broken representations of love she has experienced in her life are the only forms of love she’ll ever know. She doesn’t see who God made her to be or how she could ever do anything to glorify Him. She thinks she lost her chance. I think about so many people in so many places… who need help learning how to relate to God, to people, and to the world… the way God desires us all to. I think about how their lack of knowing the truth influences material poverty. I think about the layers and layers of heart issues involved in helping people in these types of situations, before/during/after we address the material issues that we sometimes recognize first.

In discussing how to help Fikkert and Corbett tell us that we should begin with helping people to have a proper worldview (understanding of themselves, God, others, and the world around them). They then give us 5 things we should remember, recognizing that TRULY helping is rarely a simple thing and sometimes it is more complicated than just correcting their/our understanding.

[1] having the right concept about how a relationship is supposed to work does not automatically make the relationship work well. …  Healthy relationships require transformed hearts, not just transformed brains.

[2] Satan and his legions are at work in the world and have the capacity and desire to damage our relationships. Even if all humans had the correct worldview, Satan would still be on the prowl, attacking us and the rest of creation, thereby causing “poverty” in many manifestations (Eph. 6:12).

[3] one of the results of the fall is that the entire creation is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19), meaning that crops fail and tsunamis happen even when our worldviews are not faulty.

[4] other people sometimes actively work against or undermine the efforts of an individual poor person to change his situation.

[5] most of the systems in which the materially poor live—systems that contribute to their poverty—are outside of their control. Transforming the worldview of the materially poor will not transform these systems, a point that will be elaborated on in the next section.

Conclusion: This life of helping, offering hope, being ambassadors that carry the ministry of reconciliation is complex and requires faithfulness, diligence, patience, deliberate work, massive amounts of God’s grace, and … is gonna get messy. Because we are messy. They are messy. And let’s just be reminded again – the fall really did happen.

So there we are. Now we each have to find a way to deal with it and do our job. I’m excited, though intimidated… but thrilled that God has chosen to use me.


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