When Helping Hurts

From my 2012 Journal. Here are my takeaway quotes and statements from a thought-provoking book entitled When Helping Hurts–How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself. According to the authors, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, every human being is suffering from some kind of poverty:

  • a poverty of spiritual intimacy
  • a poverty of being
  • a poverty of community
  • a poverty of stewardship.

We don’t fit right because we were shaped for something else.

“Compassion fatigue” occurs when we become less willing to help—because the recipients of your help fail to improve.

We must differentiate between:

  • Relief (crisis from natural disaster)
  • Rehab (restoration to positive elements before crisis)
  • Development (process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both “helpers” and “the helped”—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and creation.)

Don’t apply relief when development is needed!

Avoid paternalism—doing things for people that they can do for themselves.

We are not bringing Christ to poor communities. He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3). Hence, a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time!

Change begins when something triggers an individual or group to reflect upon their current situation and to think about a possible future situation that they would prefer.

Three common triggers:

  1. A recent crisis
  2. The burden of the status quo becoming so overwhelming that they want to pursue change
  3. The introduction of a new way of doing or seeing things that can improve their lives.

“Never waste a crisis!”

Has anyone else had experience with this topic? In what context?

My parents’ home in Zambuk, Nigeria, as it looks today

You Made Your Own Bed . . .

From my 2009 Journal. A few years ago, I had a friend (A) who adopted two girls from another country. One day my friend injured her leg and she struggled to take care of them. Another friend (B) dismissed it with the attitude “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting if she couldn’t afford them.) I was shocked and surprised at B’s attitude. Yes, Friend A had made that choice, and yes, she has to live with her choices, but it wasn’t A’s fault that she injured her leg and needed compassionate help.

Perhaps I should examine my own heart, however. A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema, and I don’t feel like giving him any sympathy. Of course I would never withhold getting an oxygen tank to him if he ran out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it! I guess I’m no better than Friend B and her judgment.

Or I think of someone who struggles with physical challenges because she is obese. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? In a way, you could say she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s compassion for her in her debilitating state. In the same way, I need God’s pity and mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change.

The thing is, I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem, but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own issues, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes.

You may have made your own bed and must lie in it, but I can choose to help you change your sheets.

monkeys in bed 2