When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself


When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself

author Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett

This book is in our top five recommended essential resources for church missions leaders and candidates.

We would make it required reading for:

  • missionary candidates
  • Missions Team (Committee) members
  • Missions Pastors
  • Elders/Church Leaders
  • Short Term Missions Team Leaders
  • Local community outreach leaders
  • Leaders & decision-makers for local church benevolence

It should be highly recommended for:

  • STM participants
  • those visiting missionaries on the field
  • anyone involved in relief & development, including disaster relief teams
  • those considering engagement in ministry to poor or disadvantaged

Chapter Seven on Short Term Missions is worth the price of the book.

Note: Propempo does NOT agree with everything in this book. The handling of Scripture in the first three chapters betrays a hermeneutically weak bias toward a covenant-theology view of Israel and how it applies today. See our more in-depth reveiw notes and highlights below for more on this. Nevertheless, the practical and biblical framework based on four dimensions of relationship and the determination to view ourselves (mostly affluent Westerners) in poverty of understanding and relationship – these things are extremely helpful insights guiding our interaction with and ministry to needy people.


Review and Commentary on When Helping Hurts By Corbett & Fickert

Complete PDF of Review and Commentary on When Helping Hurts (seen below)

FORWARD (by John Perkins)

“Well-intentioned welfare programs penalized work, undermined families, and created dependence. (p.12)” … and still do, I add.
This quote reminds us of key thoughts not directly cited much in the book but seem to be understood; that is:
entitlements and handouts without responsibility.

“By focusing on symptoms rather than on the underlying disease, we are often hurting the very people we are trying to help. Surprisingly, we are also hurting ourselves in the process. (p.12)”

PREFACE

The authors begin by citing the relative wealth compared to the rest-of-the-world’s poverty. Though there is a legitimate argument favoring indiscriminate philanthropic generosity toward mankind, in general, we’re going to hold on to the thought that the primary biblical mandate to care for the poor is aimed at fellow-believers “among us”. The authors, we think, are influenced by two huge factors which color their perspective:

  1. They’ve been so close to poverty & relief/rehabilitation ministries for so long that it is difficult for them to see a more balanced view; and,
  2. They are Presbyterian. Meaning: Their traditional eschatology is one leaning toward global kingdom building/restoration; and, their hermeneutic blurs Israel together with the Church as well as Old Testament Law together with New Testament doctrine.

e.g. of the above critique: On p. 13-14 they state, “… passages such as 1 John 3:17 should weigh particularly heavy on the minds and hearts of North American Christians: ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?'” This is an early example of trying to apply Scripture in a much broader way than the text demands. First to expand the scope beyond our responsibility to “a brother” and second to the world in general irrespective of Christian belief.

It is incumbent upon the local church/local believers to have a positive heart-impact on their own community, as in “walking across the street to help a neighbor in need. (p.14)” However, we don’t see that “all Christians have a responsibility to help the poor [in general anywhere around the world] (p. 14).” [Square brackets are our adds]. Again, we view this as an overstatement of biblical mandate. It is “the poor among you” in Ex. 22:25 and Dt 15:4. Don’t get us wrong! – we’re not against philanthropy! We’re just not FOR saying that the local church in our south Metro City has a biblical mandate to alleviate poverty in central Africa or Asia.

The term “mandate” seems to be used a lot!

They state that they are grieved to see churches violate “…’best practice’ methodologies developed by theorists and practitioners over the course of many decades. (p. 15)” While we’ll see that a lot of what they will teach in this book are great, sound, wise, proven ways of thinking and methodologies, this is an admission that such are not always biblically driven principles.

INTRODUCTION

The leading illustration of an extremely poor community outreach in the bowels of Kampala Uganda is graphic and a great lead-in to the rest of the book. You can sympathize and picture yourself in the author’s shoes in that situation and the gut-wrenching, heart-shredding decisions being made there.

The Chalmers Center for Economic Development is a leading promoter of a “system” called “Community Health Evangelism” (CHE). CHE is not all about health. It is about applying the principles of this book. As far as our research and connection with people who have used it goes, we think it is a solid “system” or tool to guide people trying to actually help communities with economic development and relief as well as provide an avenue for the Gospel. (p.27).

The statement we think is a great one to consider: ” … when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non-poor. Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating [and enabling] the very problems they are trying to solve. (p. 28)”

CHAPTER 1

Remember the “Presbyterian” hermeneutic mentioned previously. Well, it’s going to show up big time in this chapter.
Never fear, though. We can acknowledge that fact and still learn things from the heart of the authors.

They quote Luke 4:21 to emphasize the “now” aspect of the kingdom, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” — as if this applies to the present-day Christian “announcing” the coming of the kingdom to today’s world. This quote is an evidence of the coming of the Messiah, not necessarily the beginning of the fixing of everything broken in the world. (p.32)

While Christ did announce “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, the authors extend that broadest sense of the kingdom, effecting “healing of the entire cosmos …” even though we might argue that such was not the emphasis of the whole body of Christ’s teachings or a prophetic fulfillment of universal restoration at that time. (p.33)

On the good side, we love their high view of Christ’s Lordship and preeminence.

They use a straw man argument and summarize it with a logical non sequitur as “proof” of their position, thus:
Citing the story of the blind beggar in Luke 18:35-43, they state,
“How useless it would have been if Jesus had only used words and not deeds to declare the kingdom … Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom, and He showed the good news of the kingdom.” (p.35). This thinking confuses the role of Jesus as the unique Messiah, validated by His fulfillment of prophecy and the accompanying signs of His deity with His saving Cross-work and Resurrection. As with many who work in relief and development, they jump to the conclusion that a primary purpose of His coming was to offer healing, physical-mental-emotional-political (!) restoration, etc. There is indeed a hope of future grace; there are glimpses of the completeness and restoration of all things in the yet-to-come kingdom. However, the offer of all that to all audiences in all times and places (and, it will be argued, through our instrumentality) is an incorrect conclusion.

This unfortunate confusion continues in the anecdotal story of Reverend Marsh in Laurel MS during the unrest surrounding the fight for civil rights for African-Americans. They state that “The church needs a Christ-centered, fully orbed, kingdom perspective to correctly answer the question: ‘What would Jesus do? … Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same. (p.38)”

“God gave Moses numerous commands instructing Israel to care for the poor. (p.38)” These commands were to care for the poor among them, NOT to seek out the poor in every corner of the world. This little oversight of application in one issue. The other issue also remains: How much of the Old Testament Law applies today? and to the local church?

These hermeneutical and applicational missteps continue without pause throughout this chapter. So we will not continue to cite the examples. 🙂

The evidences of vast Western wealth compared pre-1820 and post Industrial Revolution are not difficult to grasp. Agrarian economies are poorer by nature; most of their wealth and economy is non-cash. So, the comparisons are not apples-to-apples!

The fact that Jesus preached the kingdom “among the blind, the lame, the sick and outcast, and the poor. (p.42)” does not directly imply that:

  1. such an audience was His driving focus; or,
  2. that the church relates to those outside the kingdom with the same kind of ministry.

Rodney Stark, in a book on historical sociology, is cited to make a case that Christianity completely changed the social structure of the Greco-Roman empire with new norms. Sounds like quite a stretch to us. So our view would be in Stark contrast. [pun intended] 🙂

They mention “As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation … the ‘Great Reversal’ … (p. 45)” This might make an interested discussion point. Does bookishness make us less involved with practical kingdom influence? “Theology matters [Amen!], and the church needs to rediscover a Christ-centered, fully orbed perspective of the kingdom. (p.45)” We wouldn’t argue with that statement; but, we would argue that the answers THEY submit so far are not as solid as we would prefer.

Finally, on page 46 is the best paragraph of the book thus far: “Hence, while the church must care for the poor [sic: see above comments about the “must”], the Bible gives Christians some freedom in deciding the extent and manner in which the local church should do this, … always seeking to partner with the local church, which has God-gien authority over people’s spiritual lives.” Yeah!

We think question #3 at the end of the chapter is a good question to consider, even apart from any discussion about involvement in relief, development, poverty alleviation, & the like. “What is the primary task of the church? (p.48)” … and what is the explicit and implicit evidence of how that task is discerned. i.e. — What would a long-term visitor to Our Bible Community Church say about the purpose of OBBC? and, Why would they make that conclusion?

CHAPTER 2

p.53 – While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than our North American audiences.  One of the key points of the authors is that material provision (money, possessions, etc.) do NOT solve the “poverty” issues. There are huge mind-set, worldview, cultural, stewardship, and emotional barriers to overcome before material provision makes a positive difference for the long term.

p. 55 – Simply giving this person money is treating the symptoms rather than the underlying disease and will enable him to continue with his lack of self-dicsipline. In this case, the gift of the money does more harm than good, and it would be better not to do anything at all than to give this handout. Really! Wow! There is a statement many of us think but never say out loud. Yet, it is really difficult to “turn my back” on those that seem to be in such need.

Here’s their thesis statement (p.57)
When these relationships are functioning properly, people are able to fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.
Problem with that: If the first relationship, that is the relationship with God, does not include the quickening transformation of the Gospel, then neither the other relationships nor the goal of earthly self-sufficiency can succeed.

The chart of p. 57 is a visual guide to how they’re going to talk about poverty. Parts of it make sense: relationship to God, self, others, & creation. No problems there. The outer ring, though deals with more manmade constructs: economic, social, religious, & political systems. It’s very true that those systems are tainted by the Fall. It’s also true that Christians have some responsibility for stewardship in those arenas. “The other shoe” is that it lis ike swimming against the current to affect positive, God-honoring change in those arenas — particularly away from our own home environment.

The section on “Relationship with the Rest of Creation” on p. 58 we labeled as “gobblety goop”.

Cultural application of Col. 1:17 (“… in Him all things hold together.”) is applied out of context. It seems to reflect their amillennial hermeneutic.

p. 60 – If we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.  Yeah! We can agree with that! Though it only requires common sense to understand this. i.e. – It doesn’t require text-twisting, doctrinal gymnastics to arrive at this point.

We might have to track how they use the terms depicted in the diagram on p. 61: poverty of spiritual intimacy, poverty of stewardship, poverty of community, poverty of being, because they’ll use these terms from now on in the book.

p. 64 – One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.  In context, we can understand and accept this statement. We would say, in Gospel terms, we’re all sinners; we’re all broken; we have the same kinds of flaws and shortcoming and pride and selfishness as anyone on the planet.”

p. 65 – J. Christian argues that the economically rich often have “god-complexes” That statement is annoyingly too true in our hearts!

p. 65 – One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the “poverty of being” [our quotes] of the economically rich — their god-complexes — and the “poverty of being” of the economically poor — their feeling of inferiority and shame.

The authors use an anecdote of Creekside Community Church trying to give some aid to their poor neighbors and end up with the conclusion of this “equation”:

material definition of poverty + God-complexes of materially non-poor + feeling of inferiority of materially poor  = harm to both materially poor and non-poor

p. 68 – North American Christians need to overcome the materialism of Western culture and see poverty in more relational terms. …. we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.

p. 69 – [arriving at a church inside the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya] I realized that these people had a far deeper intimacy with God than I probably will ever have in my entire life.

p. 69 – repent of the health and wealth gospel. AMEN!

p. 72 – [Here is a good soul-searching question:] In what ways do you suffer from a “god- complex”…?

CHAPTER 3

this is the last chapter of Part 1: Foundational Concepts for Helping Without Hurting

This chapter extends the author’s concepts of biblical framework chart introduced on p. 57. It challenges our definitions of “poverty alleviation” and how many Americans might define “success” in ministry to the materially poor.

Review Note: We’ve already critiqued (and documented) the authors’ hermeneutical and theological weaknesses well enough. Yes, it still shows up; but we’ll try to refrain from pointing out those problems every time. Fortunately as we move along through the book, we think we’ll find solidly helpful content.

The story of Alisa Collins, introduced at the beginning of the chapter, finds its “conclusion” toward the end of the chapter. It is descriptive and illustrative of the plight of individuals caught in systems which prolong and aggravate a cycle of poverty. Here, on p. 77, is a clear statement of the necessity of the Gospel:

“… the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again.”

There is a definition of “poverty alleviation” (p. 78) consistent with their framework of relationships with God, self, others, and creation.
“The goal is
not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper class North Americans … Nor is the goal to make sure that the materially poor have enough money.”

Their definition/description (which is not easily quantifiable, BTW) is:
“Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and
their families with the fruit of that work.
The explanation of “work as an act of worship” (p.79), while we would agree, is a huge leap of logic. They take a traditional Calvinistic work ethic position. Doing so does not automatically follow from their framework. It seems like a presuppositional position — though we would agree. So, all things considered, it seems that we could accept their definition.

“Poverty alleviation cannot be done without people accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” (p.80)
Hurray! — We finally got there! They go on to state, “… without the verbal proclamation of the gospel, one cannot be saved …” (p. 80). Further, “… it does mean that we cannot hope for the transformation of people without the involvement of the local church and the verbal proclamation of the gospel that has been entrusted to it.” (p. 81). How we wish that these statements had been made much earlier!

We really appreciate the anecdotal case of New Song Urban Ministries in Sandtown, Baltimore, MD. It’s a great “glory story” of people doing things with the right relational process in mind.

We appreciate their poverty-alleviation-view of depravity in the four areas of relationships.

They give an interesting and difficult case of agricultural assistance to animistic Bolivians and why it didn’t work. They reflect on the broken American system. And, the criticize the typical wealthy evangelical reaction: “Evangelicals tend to believe that systemic arguments for poverty amount to shifting the blame for personal sin and excusing moral failure.” (p. 93).

Here the Presbyterian-ish litmus test question: “have we worked in such a way that both we and the materially poor are closer to fulfilling our highest calling of ‘glorying [sic: glorifying] God and enjoying Him forever.’?”

We like the argument, following the case of Alisa Collins, that local churches are uniquely positioned to provide the relational ministries (and Gospel proclamation) that people like Alisa need (p.97).

CHAPTER 4

this is the first chapter of Part 2: General Principles for Helping Without Hurting

The definitions and connections between RELIEF, REHABILITATION, and DEVELOPMENT are helpful. The distinctions help us think in useful ways about the needs and how we relate to them.

  • “Relief” can be defined as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering …
  • “Rehabilitation” … seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions … working with
  • “Development” is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved … closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. … in particular …. better able to work [my edit for flow] and support themselves that their families with the fruit of that work. (p. 104-105)

It is absolutely critical that we determine whether relief, rehabilitation, or development is the appropriate intervention. (p. 105)

To consider:

  1. Is there really a crisis at hand?
  2. To what degree was the individual personally responsible for the crisis?
  3. Can the person help himself?
  4. To what extent has this person already been receiving relief from you or others in the past?

The community bank, facilitating savings, loans, and financial relief, through Jehovah Jireh church in Manila, Philippines was cited as an excellent model. They were tougher on themselves than any outsider would have likely been.

Many good thought and quotes highlighting that “relief” should be rare, temporary, appropriate, and with good data behind it.

Relief: (pp. 109-110)

  1. immediate
  2. temporary
  3. seldom

Rehabilitation: (pp. 110-114)

  1. ensure participation of the affected population in all stages
  2. conduct an assessment
  3. respond when needs are otherwise unmet
  4. target assistance based on vulnerability and need
  5. workers must have appropriate qualifications, attitudes, and experience (no vulnerable greenhorns allowed!)

The poison of paternalism: pp. 115 – AVOID IT! Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves. (p. 115) Types of parternalism: resource, spiritual, knowledge, labor, managerial

Remember, the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs. (p. 119)
This distinction between some material result and a long-term process is very helpful in strategy and spiritual development. We don’t manufacture Christian maturity; why should we expect that material stewardship coming from material poverty would be different?

CHAPTER 5

this is the second chapter of Part 2: General Principles for Helping Without Hurting

Having determined whether relief, rehabilitation, or development is the correct intervention, “needs assessment” is the next step to determine the best way to help.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is the byword for this chapter.

The authors touch lightly on the self-image of low-income people. But the point is to teach the needy that they themselves are (and must be) a part of the solution to their poverty (or whatever). (p. 127)

ABCD has four key elements (p. 128):

  • identify and mobilize the resources of the community
  • look for resources to come from within the community
  • build relationships to be interconnected and complementary
  • bring in outside resources when local resources are insufficient to solve pressing needs (not too early!) — done in a way that does not undermine local capacity or initiative

The author revisits the mistakes (or potential mistakes) made as a mzungu visitor in the Ugandan slum area. Very thoughtful HINDSIGHT! “… the North American need for speed undermines the slow process needed for lasting and effective long-run development.” (p. 131).

Common Approaches to ABCD

  • Asset Mapping
  • Participatory Learning and Action
  • Appreciative Inquiry

The question asked of needy people: “What skills do you have?” seemed to be revolutionary to the recipients (see story on p. 135).

We’re thankful that they openly reject the underlying assumption of “AI”: “Truth is NOT [our emphasis] socially constructed; it is divinely constructed.” (p. 136).

We’re also thankful that they cite and example of this working in a North American context. This was a shorter chapter, but very useful in describing nuts-and-bolts skills.

CHAPTER 6

this is the third and last chapter of Part 2: General Principles for Helping Without Hurting

This chapter highlights the sad fact that so much rehabilitation and development fails because of inattention to relationships with and participation by the target community/population. The authors are emphasizing “inadequate participation of poor people in the process.” (p. 142).

They contrast a “blueprint approach”, which does projects TO the poor, with a participatory approach, which does projects WITH the poor.

“The role of the outsider in this approach is not to do something to or for the economically poor individual or community but to seek solutions together with them. (p. 144).”

Participation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right. (p.145, their emphasis)”

They refer to the good example of the Baltimore inner city ministry that took four years of relationship building to produce a single house. The central goal was: “getting community members to participate more fully in all that it means to be human.” (p. 146).

We were thankful for the clear distinctions made between the humanistic presuppositions and biblical truth. There IS absolute truth. People ARE inherently sinful. Yet, apart from modern political correct altruism, a participatory approach is consistent with a biblical perspective. (p. 147).

Their discussion of the chart (found on p. 148) is helpful. Their inclusion of explicit biblical truth in applying it is good also.

They encourage the use of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) as a mindset or philosophical approach. “If donors do not want the equipment to rust in the fields, they are going to have to accept a slower process … (p. 152).”

They create a long checklist of questions, guided by the principles propounded in the book, to illustrate proper application in the case of follow-up in Indonesia after the big tsunami. You have to read through to p. 158 to get the whole picture. (Don’t think that the list of questions are the thought/study questions at the end of the chapter.) “The End of the Story” section is, indeed, a good conclusion of following these principles in a thoughtful way.

CHAPTER 7 – Doing Short-Term MISSIONS Without Doing Harm

this is the first chapter of Part 3: Practical Strategies for Helping Without Hurting

One of the things we highlighted before even getting into the chapter, from the “Initial Thoughts” section prefacing the chapter was this thought:
“Consider all the stakeholders involved, including the team members, the sending church or organization, the hosts, and the communities or individuals served.” (p. 160)

This is so significant! And it forms one of the key principles of our Propempo Short- Term Missions policy guidelines. As much as possible, the Short-Term Mission/s (hereafter STM) experience needs to be thoughtfully designed to be a win-win-win-win-win situation for all the stakeholders. Short Term Missions policy models are available elsewhere on Propempo.com, FYI.

The illustration of the elephant dancing with the mouse is an apt one.

The culture charts showing relative spectrums of “Concept of Time” (from Monochronic to Polychronic) and Concept of Self (from Individualism to Collectivism) are helpful ways of describing the American mindset vs. others to whom we go to serve.

The authors describe the negative effects a STM can have on a poor community, especially when the North Americans are trying to accomplish all their goals in a one to two week trip.

In the section on “STMs and the Relief-Rehabilitation-Development Continuum” they state: “STMs rarely diagose the situation and often pursue a relief approach, even thought this is seldom the appropriate intervention.” (p. 166)

“Development is a lifelong process, not a two-week product.” (p. 169, their emphasis)

They observe that, even when Americans like to think that they are forming significant relationships with nationals, the national is likely to perceive it as very superficial compared to the much deeper allegiances experienced within his own culture. (p. 169)

We got a kick out of the hypothetical Swiss church team coming to his modest, poor church in middle Georgia. The church would choose to take the money instead of the team.

In pages 172 and following they express the standard for evaluating potential STMS to poor communities:

“It is not about us. It is about them! … It is not about us. it is about Him [God]!”

“The presence of these indigenous ministries raises some significant stewardship issues for North American STMs.” (p. 172)
“The money spent on a single STM team for a one- to two-week expxerience would be sufficient to support more than a dozen far more effective indigenous workers
for an entire year [their emphasis].” (p. 173)

Now, in the bigger picture, we must weight the STM in more ways that financial costs. There are many missions activists, primary foreign national evangelists and missionaries, who tell Americans to never even send their own missionaries at all, much less STM workers. However, to follow their exhortation would be to disobey the Great Commission ourselves. So, simply piping funds to foreign nationals is not the solution. Also, we won’t even go into the serious problems missions has had with support of nationals: financial and ministry accountability, moral temptation, intracultural jealousy and rejection, etc.

The authors are faithful to point out the STMs don’t actually produce increased missions giving, more long-term missionaries, and profound, cross-cultural relationships, as claimed by STM promoters (p. 173).
“There is growing evidence that these reports seriously overestimate the long-run impacts of the trips on tnose who go. … In summary, the returns do not seem to justify the investment. (p. 174).”

Thankfully, we finally get to a section for: Suggestions for Improving the Impact of STMs Here are the stakeholders (remember mentioning them in the preface to the chapter?):

  • the host organization
  • community members [ministry recipients]
  • the participants themselves
  • the donors
  • the hosts on the field

“Design the trip to be about ‘being’ and ‘learning’ as much as about ‘doing’. Do not do for people what they can do for themselves. (p. 175)”

STMs outrageously insult indigenous and expatriate workers on the field, if their sole purpose is actually a spiritualized vacation. (p. 176).

The authors recommend changed the name of a STM to something like “Vision Trip” or “Go, Learn, Return, and Respond” (p. 176).

“Require potential trip members to demonstrate a serious interest in missions by being active in their church and its local outreach efforts. (p. 177)”

NOTE: we really think this must be addressed by providing opportunities and means for people to be involved in local outreach projects and programs in order to train, prepare, and demonstrate such interest for an upward spiral of commitment and stretching the cultural gap.

“Research has shown that a central factor in increasing the potential for STMs to have positive, long-run impacs on the team members is for there to be a training process that includes pre- trip, on-the-field, and post-trip components.. (p. 177)”

“Make pre-trip learning a requirement, not a suggestion. (p. 178)”

Have a well-planned, mandated, learning journey for at least one year following the trip. (p. 178)”

It sounds crazy; but, any church can do something like this!
We’re glad that they end the chapter with a section entitled: STMs Can Bless

CHAPTER 8 – Yes, in Your Backyard

this is the second chapter of Part 3: Practical Strategies for Helping Without Hurting

This chapter is intended to spark ideas and practical strategies for involvement in poverty alleviation on a local level, in or near the community of the local church. We must admit to some bias with respect to “institutional or structural” causes for poverty. Perhaps because of our upbringing, coming from very poor families of several generations, and having parents and grandparents with exception work ethic, we feel pretty strongly that Romans 1 holds a stronger explanation for culturally ingrained poverty than does racially-skewed structures. The answer is that first key relationship: man’s relationship with God. Relational leverage and platform to proclaim, articulate, and model the Gospel is the priority which launches lasted change.

That said, let’s get into the chapter.

This chapter uses several anecdotal case studies to make points about the location and effect of poverty in modern American society. It also refers in positive ways to the role of local churches as agents of change in their respective communities.

“Suburban poverty is less visible than traditional, inner-city poverty.(p. 184)”

Again the definition of material poverty alleviation is cited:
“Working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work. (p. 185)”

Part of the problem of employment and meaningful wage-earning in the modern world is that: “North American production is shifting away from basic manufacturing into services and knowledge-intensive sectors. (p. 186)”
Thus, the task of helping find and/or create employment for poorly educated and poorly motivated people is that much more difficult.
“As a result of these [welfare] reforms, being able to work is once again crucial for economic survival, making it imperative that workers overcome any behavioral traits that undermine their employability. (p. 187)”

Under “Skills Workers Need”, they plea, “… not just with vocational training but also with sufficient general skills and the basic capacity to learn so that they can adapt to a rapidly changing, global economy. (p. 187)” The problem with this and the ensuing argument against a general “perpetuation of historical injustice [especially] in the funding of the public educational system” is that the authors make huge sweeping assertions about government assignment of resources [read that staffing/dollars] per pupil. We beg to differ. There are plenty of studies which show disproportionate achievement by less-funded schools, classes, programs, etc. in materially poor geographies. The achievement is NOT dependent on resources per se. The difference is in excellence and tenacity in high-standards of teaching and expectations along with attentiveness, cooperation, and participation of parents. Consistently, when parents refuse to adopt a victim mentality and become proactive in their children’s education, holding them to high standards of performance, the children excel above their peers, sometimes surprisingly above their better-funded, rich-neighborhood peers. e.g. – The Washington DC public school system spends over $29,000 per pupil per year, but has an appalling record of academic performance.

We may be stubborn, but we refuse to agree with the statement: “… the plague of historic discrimination is perpetuated via the American educational system. (p. 188)”

They summarize a litany of shortcomings in the American system with this:

  1. the ability to work at jobs with living wages,
  2. the capacity to manage their money,
  3. the opportunity to accumulate wealth, and
  4. a greater supply of quality education, housing, and health care at affordable rates (p. 189-190)

This sounds a lot like politics. However, they also conclude that the “need is met through highly relational ministries – delivered through the body of Jesus Christ – that help them to overcome the effects of the fall on their individual hearts, minds, and behaviors. (p. 190)” Whenever we hear folks speak of the above list as “rights”, we shudder. We do believe that the church can, on a microcosmic community level, be involved in created new structures and means for God-fearing people to solve these needs for the glory of God. However, we don’t think that it is the church’s place to propagandize or politicize the “system” as the cause. We know the cause; it is the fallenness of depraved men and women, living out their rebellion against God.

Several models are offered for effective community help. The hands-on, one-on-one training, guidance, mentoring, and follow-through are key to implementation of the principles offered in the book. Micro-financial structures and educational programs in personal finance are effective. Even education in utilizing government programs (e.g. Earned Income Tax Credit), can help. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), similar to the self-help banking and loan we read of earlier in the slums of Manila, can be useful.

At the end of the chapter, we thought the suggested exercise of driving through a poor local neighborhood to observe features (like how many predatory financial businesses exist) would be useful.

Certainly, it behooves us, either as church leaders or via a delegated study, to have a better understanding of the demographic composition and needs of our community, county, are metro region.

CHAPTER 9 – And to the Ends of the EARTH

this is the last chapter of Part 3: Practical Strategies for Helping Without Hurting

This chapter really only considers models and examples of Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) in third world contexts. It explains some of the challenges and issues of this approach. Remember, the authors’ primary experience and concern is “poverty alleviation”. So, they are NOT proposing that MFI displace traditional missionary goals and methodologies. However, many missionaries work in economically poor cultures; thus, they/we can learn something from this chapter.

They start with the story of Grameen Bank (p. 201). It is a good one. we wish they had put even more information and the details of how Grameen Bank works in the chapter. We suppose they know that Grameen Bank is such a well-known (Nobel Laureate) story, that there is no need to repeat it here. Still, there is a bit more insight given in retrospect on p. 206.

They suggest three strategic ways that churches can get involved: (p. 203)

  1. use appropriate forms of Micro Finance (MF) [models to follow]
  2. support training in small-business management, household financial stewardship, and related topics
  3. pursue “business as missions”

“Many researchers and practitioners believe that the primary constraint facing poor farmers and microentrepreneurs is a lack of access to capital to purchase equipment and other inputs. (p. 204)”

Again, the authors cite broken systems in the “Majority World”. In this case, we don’t think that the systems are so much “broken” as they are “never existed”. Banks and financing institutions just were never created to loan people $10 at a time. Sinful ethical practices, embedded in “culture”, make it impossible to sustain such MFIs apart from external initiation, motivation, and training. Broken relationships within the culture make it almost impossible to trust each other and to launch an MFI program.

They highlight some Pros and Cons of MFIs (p. 207). But, recall the positive example of Jehovah-Jireh Church Saving & Loan in Manila (see pp. 107-108). That group did an amazing job using their own rules and resources. It is true that poor people need access to funds for more than business; weddings and funerals are big ticket items to them. If the culture doesn’t automatically have means to help, MFIs could be a blessing. One key problem is the lack of evangelism and discipleship activities when so much effort (and “ungracious adherence to rules”) is required to make a MFI viable.

We like the chart outlining how MFIs and Saving and Credit Associations (SCAs) best help different levels of poverty:

  • non-poor vulnerable
  • non-poor moderate
  • poor
  • extreme poor
  • destitute

The Provider Model

“Unfortunately, missionaries and churches are particularly ill-suited to provide loans … (p. 209)”

“Do not try the Provider Model! (p.210)” [our exclamation mark]

The Promotion Model

A SCA is a very simple credit union in which poor people save and lend their own money to one another. (p. 211)”

p. 211-212 have a list of reasons why SCAs are highly effective

The Partnership Model

This is an expansion of traditional missionary ministry working alongside and with microfinance development programs, each in their area of strength.

MFIs are understandably leery of churches, whose cultures of charity and grace have often resulted in horrible loan repayment rates on the part of church members. (p. 214)”

Business As Missions [BAM]

“Many churches and missionaries are not gifted at running businesses. (p. 216)”

“BAM enterprises must be real businesses, covering all of their costs, both explicit and implicit. (p.217)”

(3.5/5)
ISBN: 0802457053