When Helping Hurts – Post #4

Over the past few weeks I have been blogging through the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The authors point out that how you go about alleviating poverty is the result of how you define your end goal.  If you define poverty purely as a lack of material things, you will develop strategies that focus on material provision.  If however, you define poverty as the authors do

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.”

Then you will approach poverty alleviation differently.  The authors provide this definition

“Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile relationships with God, self, others and creation so that people can fulfill their calling of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of their work.”

The authors go on to say

“Poverty alleviation goes beyond insuring that people have sufficient material things; rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in so doing we move people closer to be what God created them to be. ”

I wanted to shout AMEN when I read the following statement which sums up the goal of the ministry of Embrace.  The author’s write

“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 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.  These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.”

To emphasize this concept of “the goal as process not a product”, the authors tell the story of a ministry that purchased an abandoned building and rehabbed it in partnership with residents of the community with the vision being to use the house as affordable housing.  The project took five years and it only yielded one house.  However in those five years, those working on the house develop deep lasting friendships with their neighbors.  These relationships were life giving and would last long beyond the end of the project.  If the goal were to create affordable housing, it could have been done much faster.  However, the goal was community relationship building and the house was simply a project or a means to achieve that goal.

I am often frustrated with funding requirements because funders seem to want you to crank out “products”; food, employment solutions, shelter beds, meals, etc.  However, relationships are not products and can only be formed through a sustainable process of connecting with people around things they are passionate about.  Yes, Embrace Richmond does provide meals, food, furniture, financial resources, employment assistance and transportation services etc.    However, these “products” are not the goal.  The goal is to empower our community members to be a blessing to their neighbors and to bond with one another and outside volunteers as they are serving together and meeting these material needs.

This is a very hard paradigm shift for some people to make.  For Embrace the goal is not more material stuff but more love, more support, more acceptance.  In the long run love, support and acceptance will break the bonds of poverty and people will achieve far more than you could ever provide for them.  The material items are simply a means to an end.  It is far easier to meet material needs than it is to empower people to meet their own needs but it is the only way to truly alleviate poverty over the long-haul.

I hope you have enjoyed the insights from this book.  As I mentioned in Post #2 the authors are far more theologically conservative than I am, but I agreed with the basic premise underlying the authors approach to the issue of poverty.

What roles can people of faith play in this vision of poverty alleviation?

What challenges do you see with this approach to alleviating poverty?

Do you know of any good ministries or other programs that are using this approach to poverty alleviation?

OK, my reading table is empty.  Any book suggestions for future blogging projects?

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2 Comments

Filed under Community Development, missional church, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

2 responses to “When Helping Hurts – Post #4

  1. What a wonderful definition of poverty! I admit that I didn’t always get it. Up until about 3 to 4 years ago, I was a reasonably paid and affluent adult who still felt empty. I felt poverty-stricken in every way except financially and materialistically–but I didn’t realize it. Then it struck me that I was allowing many of the people I associated with and wasted time with to ingratiate their negativity into my own pores, thereby making me psychologically and emotionally sick. When I got rid of these psychically poverty-stricken people, I began to feel better and more fulfilled myself. Don’t get me wrong: I did try to help them. But they didn’t want to help themselves.

    As far as books for future blogs, I suggest M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled.

    • wmccaig

      Hi Steven, thanks for sharing your personal experience with us. I know when I was in the corporate world, I was taught to compete with my co-workers and impress my superiors which really does not make for healthy relationships. I was much healthier when I left that very competitive environment. I read The Road Less Traveled many years ago and loved it. I think I still have it on a book shelf some place. I will try to find it and reread it when I have a little time.

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