When Helping Hurts

Written by Glyn Norman

The question of how to help the poor has always been a tricky one. Jesus said we will always have the poor with us, so clearly this is not a social issue that can be easily resolved. Over the years various attempts have been made by churches, social organizations, government agencies and non-profits to alleviate the plight of the poor. In many cases, good intentions have resulted in poor outcomes.

One of the primary dangers is that we respond just with relief, which addresses the immediate need (hunger, for example) but does nothing to help the person avoid getting in that situation again. A second danger is paternalism, where we unwittingly become like a parent to the person in need, and create an ongoing situation of dependency, where they never learn to help themselves, but instead depend only on the organization or person to get them out of trouble.

In most of our thinking, we define poverty as a lack of material possessions. In the book, When Helping Hurts, Corbett says "poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness." Clearly this goes much deeper than simply a lack of material goods.

As I've been thinking this through, the question of how Central should be involved in ministering to the poor has been on my mind. At present, we have a food closet, which is a relief response, dealing with immediate need. We have connections with organizations such as CityTeam that do a fantastic job of rehabilitation, rescuing people from the streets, bringing them to know Christ, and then training them to enter the workforce and take care of themselves, gathering a good portion of God's love, and their own self-esteem along the way.

Last Sunday we heard from Rich Henderson of Love, INC. about how they act as a "clearing house" between the poor of San Jose, matching the needs of those who call them, with the resources of the churches Love INC. is connected to. Love INC. has taken the lessons of When Helping Hurts to heart, and reorganized the ministry over the last number of years so that they don't fall into the traps mentioned above. They require each person to provide whatever part they are able to, towards a solution, and then the Christian helper can come in and supply whatever else is needed, whether that's budgeting education, painting expertise, or simply company for a lonely person.

If you are at all interested in being involved check out Love, Inc.'s website.