“Have you ever done anything to help poor people?… Have you ever done anything to hurt poor people?” These words appear in the forward to When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself, a book that deeply challenges our notions of what it means to help the materially disadvantaged.
Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett of The Chalmers Center at Covenant College.
The book, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, begins by affirming the Bible’s mandate to care for poor people. (Its opening lines quote the Book of First John, which says, “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?”) It provides a framework for understanding poverty. (Hint: It’s not just about a lack of material things.) And it focuses in on the methods with which Christians have tried to alleviate poverty.
As it turns out, when we give a man a fish instead of teaching him how to fish, we can actually be exalting ourselves and hurting the recipient of the handout. The authors recount the true story of a church whose members decided to wrap presents and take them into a low-income neighborhood in their city, delivering them door to door and singing Christmas carols. After doing so year after year, the church members realized they were only worsening the feelings of shame and inadequacy of fathers who could not buy Christmas presents for their children.
In contrast to this superficial approach to poverty alleviation that can actually make matters worse, Fikkert and Corbett offer a different path: “By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.”
But how do we do this? What help can we offer that’s actually, well, helpful? That’s the topic of an upcoming seminar called Helping Without Hurting, to be held at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Chattanooga on Saturday, April 13. (Click here for more information.)
As Fikkert and Corbett put it in When Helping Hurts: “We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.” The Helping Without Hurting seminar on April 13 will help you to yearn and strive, and it will also give you some concrete steps to take towards action in our community and around the world.