When Helping Hurts- Book Review

Can helping hurt?

At first it seems like a trick question, but the reality is that most of us have experienced situations in our lives where our intentions to help others ended up hurting. Have you ever tried helping a family member, only to see your attempts backfire and cause pain in your relationship, or even cause a rift in the family? Have you ever given someone money, only to see them use it to further unhealthy addictions? Have you ever wondered if your help could make someone else feel ashamed?

In their book, “When Helping Hurts”, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert address these and similar questions, using research surveys, biblical principles, and their experience working with Churches and non-profit organizations. They tell stories throughout the book which illustrates both failures and successes, and makes their message easy to understand.

As you read the stories, and apply the principles, you’ll start to discern how to adjust your help so that you do not cause people to experience shame and inferiority, but rather give them a sense of empowerment and hope. You’ll question if a short term mission is going to be an encouraging partnership with a local ministry, or whether it will leave people confused and disappointed in the way their life and community looks the remaining 51 weeks of the year. You will find it enlightening to learn about  the negative consequences of attempting to “fix” broken communities. And you will be encouraged by the way organizations can effectively partner with local communities through cooperative housing initiatives, educational opportunities, and small scale savings and loan associations.

One key take away from this book is that poverty is much more than a lack of material resources. Ultimately, poverty is about broken relationships with God (Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy), broken relationships with Self (Poverty of Being), broken relationships with Others (Poverty of Community), and broken relationships with Creation (Poverty of Stewardship). With this definition, the reality is that we are all living in poverty to varying degrees.

This book has taught our small group to look at the “big picture” of poverty, and help us think about how our efforts to help are going to make others feel. Ultimately, it drives home the point that poverty alleviation is about relationships, and it is a long, slow, process. Most times, people don’t need relief, they need rehabilitation and development. It has also taught us to look at impoverished communities as already having valuable God given gifts and talents to offer. Partnering with them, helping them discover their existing assets, and letting them take ownership of their development is a key component of effective help  – after all, true development has to build on the strengths of individuals and their local communities.

-by Matt Redmond