When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

When it comes to helping the poor, most of us have good intentions, but do we ever wonder if what we’re doing is really beneficial? When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert explores biblical principles and real-life situations that help us re-think our strategies for engaging with poverty.

The North American church has a responsibility and biblical mandate to care for the poor, and to better understand the nature of poverty and the implications of our response. When Helping Hurts is a guide to these complex issues, suitable for both individual and group study. The authors invite the reader to engage with the material through pre- and post-chapter questions and exercises, and web-based resources for further study.

Corbett and Fikkert of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development cover foundational concepts about poverty (who are the poor?), principles of poverty alleviation (should we do relief, rehabilitation, or development?), and strategies (how can we help the poor locally and internationally?). They use real-life stories and share what they’ve learned in years of working at poverty alleviation locally and internationally – including through mistakes.

The authors’ explanation of Scripture’s teaching on poverty and humanity’s broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation leads to understanding that poverty cannot be defined simply as a lack of material resources. When we have a correct view of these broken relationships we can better meet the needs of those we serve, responding in a way that brings lasting change. I personally found the study of each of these foundational concepts to be very well done, challenging and have referred to the teaching in many areas of ministry in our church.

Organizations and ministries that seek to help people who are poor and marginalized ask us – as churches and individuals – to join their good efforts. Corbett and Fikkert’s insights can help you discern effective approaches.

Every church, individual, and agency that engages in mission should study and discuss the chapter on short-term mission. The authors suggest short-term mission trips need to be part of long-term, asset-based development implemented by local ministries. My own church sends short-term mission teams to “help others” who may have less than us materially. As our church sends out short-term mission and partners with ministries in our city, the material in When Helping Hurts will become part of our pre-trip planning and discussion for team members and leaders. We’ll benefit from these instructions to carefully evaluate and educate our team and our actions, so we don’t do more harm than good while we seek to help.

At times the material is uncomfortable to read: we see our mistakes, our good intentions that potentially harm those we serve and ourselves.

I would highly recommend every pastor and leader in the church read this book and consider how we as evangelical Christians can make a difference in a broken world by transforming our good intentions into lasting holistic strategies that will bring about real change in lives. This is also a good resource for short term mission participants or those working in any kind of relief and development ministry in their community.

—Maryanne Berge lives in Saskatoon with her husband Scott and three teenage children. She is pastor of missions at Forest Grove (MB) Community Church, Saskatoon. She loves serving missionaries, sending out intergenerational teams, and watching people discover the global church at work around the world.

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