When helping hurts

I’m leading a study of the book When Helping Hurts. It’s a powerful read. It challenges us to reconsider the effectiveness of just giving money and things to the poor, or just telling them to “get a job.”

Authors Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett say the problem started with the fall. At the fall, our relationship with God was damaged, but so was our relationship with the rest of creation, with others, and with ourselves—our self-image. They say that helping the poor is ultimately about restoring relationships between God, creation, others, and ourselves. Everyone has gifts they were meant to use to bless others and help themselves.

Fikkert and Corbett tell of a church which operated a monthly food pantry. Guests were required to listen to a devotional, led by someone they didn’t know, before they could get their food. But then the church changed its approach. Instead of talking at their guests, they broke into small groups which were a mix of church members and guests. The small groups used an approach called “Appreciative Inquiry,” to discover the gifts and abilities of their guests. Instead of trying the “fix” their guests, they built relationships. Church members soon discovered their own poverty of spirit, and how much they needed the guests to help overcome it. Community started to grow. Members started picking up guests and bringing them to church, and began working with them on things like budgeting and finding jobs.

Best of all, they began enjoying one another as friends.

One lady said, “I no longer feel like I’m just a number in the crowd. Now I have a face.” Another asked, “Even if I don’t need groceries, can I still come?”

Guests starting regularly serving as volunteers and were delighted to do so. They said what set this food pantry apart was that they were treated with respect. They said it was as if the church actually enjoyed them.

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