I have always been convinced that the church’s role is to help people in need, especially the poor. But what does that look like? Is it as simple as throwing money at a need? That is why I was looking forward to reading When Helping Hurts.
This book is one of a handful of books that I would recommend to all Christians and especially all pastors. Yes, there are some challenging principles here and we may be tempted to push back but it is important to hear these ideas.
The truth is that often our attempts not only do not help, they actually cause more harm. We want to make a difference, but we want to do it the right way.
When Helping Hurts both highlights the mistakes and points toward hope. Examples are given that illustrate both when helping works and when it doesn’t. The book is not meant to condemn well meaning efforts but to help us to do better.
One of the principles that stood out was the importance of including the poor in the entire process. Listen to them about the immediate needs and include them in the solution. Discover their abilities and resources and use that to make the solution more sustainable.
Do not be paternalistic. It is not helpful to come as the one who has together and who will come to the rescue. Many people who are poor experience shame and our posture in helping is very important.
When Helping Hurts deals with both local poverty and international aid. While cultures vary, the principles are the same. There is also a very helpful chapter on short-term missions that should be read by every church considering STMs.
This book is one that I plan to go to over and over. I also intend to share it with others. There are no easy answers but we can be more effective in bringing long-term change.