When Helping Hurts: Part 1

I have started my 21st book for the year.  It is called “When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor…and yourself.”  The title of the book gives a perfect summary of what you can expect to find when you read it.  I am in Chapter 2: What’s The Problem, and I find there to be a good bit of practical advice in this particular chapter.

Chapter 1 of the book goes into some pretty deep theological issues that build off of one another.  There is really no good way to summarize them but the chapter is worth a read.

In Chapter 2, we start to get to the root of the problem with poverty.  Most Westerners think of poverty as a lack of material resources.  While there is certainly a lack of resources among the poor, the root of problem is much deeper.  It goes beyond resources.  Most of the poverty-stricken people in the world describe their problem more as a psychological problem.  They don’t feel they are of any worth.  They don’t feel like anyone cares about them.  They would say their problem isn’t lack of resources, it is lack of worth.

Here are some things which really stood out to me as I read this chapter:

  • Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.
  • Similar to the World Majority (rampant poverty-stricken countries), while there is a material dimension to poverty in the African-American ghetto, there is also a loss of meaning, purpose, and hope that plays a major role in North America.
  • When a sick person goes to the doctor, the doctor could make two crucial mistakes: (1) Treating symptoms instead of the underlying illness; (2) Misdiagnosis  the underlying illness and prescribing the wrong medicine. Either one of these mistakes will result in the patient not getting better and possibly getting worse.
  • What if the person’s fundamental problem is not having the self-discipline to keep a stable job? Simply giving the person money is only treating the symptom.
  • God designed us to have 4 specific relationships: with Him, with self, with others, with the rest of creation.
  • According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the human beings’ primary purpose is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
  • People affect systems and systems affect people.
  • Our basic predisposition toward poor communities should include the notion they are part of the good world Christ created and is sustaining.
  • We are NOT bringing Christ to poor communities.  Part of working in poor communities involved discovering and appreciating what God has done there for a long time.
  • We should still tell the people about God because they may not recognize that God has been at work.
  • Every one of us is poor in some way spiritually.
  • 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.  Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.
  • Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.
  • Why are we motivated to help the poor?  Is it because we get a sense of accomplishment from it? That is a god-complex whether we want to admit it or not.
  • We all have a “poverty of being”.
  • Most poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god-complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.

I have a feeling I will be challenged in some very uncomfortable ways as I continue along in this book.

 

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