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When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself Paperback – April 20, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


I can honestly report that When Helping Hurts is the single best book I've seen on this topic. Although this book will make many readers uncomfortable, it quickly offers hope in the form of understandable, feasible new strategies that better grasp the dignity and promise of the materially poor. It deserves a #1 spot on the reading list of every Christian who wants to follow Jesus in a genuine, mutually transforming love of neighbor.
-Amy L. Sherman, PhD, senior fellow and director, Sagamore Institute Center on Faith in Communities, author, Restorers of Hope

What an opportunity evangelicals have to make a difference in our world through the church. Corbett and Fikkert build on the growing momentum of holistic witness that's sweeping our country and globe and are eminently qualified and positioned to take motivated kingdom citizens on a Christ-centered and comprehensive journey that will pay huge dividends for impoverished people and for Christians in our broken world.
-Dr. Ronald J. Sider, president, Evangelicals for Social Action, author, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

How can a local church make a difference, and how do individual Christians meaningfully reflect Christ's grace, when the disparities of wealth and power in our world are so great? When Helping Hurts explores biblical principles in terms of real-life situations to offer real help and grace-filled answers for such questions.
-Bryan Chappell, president, Covenant Theological Seminary

When Helping Hurts wonderfully combines heavy-duty thinking with practical tools. I appreciate their zeal to root all strategies in the institution God has ordained to bring about His goals. No donor should invest another dollar in any kind of relief effort before digesting the last page of this important book.
-Joel Belz, founder and writer, World Magazine

Churches in North America will find this a helpful way to educate congregations and then motivate them to action, both globally and in their neighborhoods.
-Bryant Myers, PhD, professor of International Development, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

A clarion call to rethink how we apply the gospel to a broken world. This book will transform our good intentions into genuine, lasting change.
-Stephen J. Baumann, senior vice president, World Relief

From the Back Cover

Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Unleashing and equipping people to effectively help the poor requires repentance and the realization of our own brokenness. When Helping Hurts articulates a biblically based framework concerning the root causes of poverty and its alleviation.

A path forward is found, not through providing resources to the poor, but by walking with them in humble relationships.

Whether you're involved in short-term missions or the long-term empowerment of the poor, this book helps teach you three key areas:

·        Foundational Concepts Who are the poor?

·        Principles Should we do relief, rehabilitation, or development?

·        Strategies How can we help people effectively here and abroad?


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition (April 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802457061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802457066
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (258 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Brian Fikkert is a Professor of Economics and the founder and President of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. Dr. Fikkert earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, specializing in international economics and economic development. He has been a consultant to the World Bank and is the author of numerous articles in both academic and popular journals. Prior to coming to Covenant College, he was a professor at the University of Maryland--College Park and a research fellow at the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Donner C. S. Tan on February 22, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a concise, theologically informed, ground-tested and provocative book on helping the poor - not for the faint of heart! Those who are gungho about mission and going out there to 'save the world' might have to plod patiently through this short but discomforting book without throwing our hands up halfway in despair about what exactly one can do for the poor without hurting them and ourselves. In the last decade or so, Brian Fikkert points out that there has been an explosion of 'short-term mission trips' (STMs) from churches in North America, investing tons of dollars into sending members for a two-week assignment in the developing nations. His hard-nosed critique provides a cautionary note beyond the surface hypes and reports of 'life-changing experiences' that commonly surround STM advertisements. As one who has participated in a few of such trips, I have learned much from his critique and am challenged to reflect on ways we might have unknowingly caused more harm than good in our eagerness to step in and help - that ends up encouraging dependency, deepening the sense of inferior-superior complex between the poor and the non-poor, crippling local initiatives, etc. Through all these, the advice that 'we do not do for people what they can do for themselves' serves as a poignant reminder.

I am glad that his thinking while practical and economically informed ultimately derives its roots from the biblical concept of what constitutes poverty. His working definition of poverty goes beyond the common reductionistic one that is measured primarily in terms of material resources. He proposes a relational, rather than material, understanding of poverty as one that has to do with the dislocation of one's foundational relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Luke Duncan on May 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you've ever thought, "I want to help but I don't know how," then buy this book and read it right now. It is practical, encouraging, and full of ideas you've never heard before. Just last night a fire in my town displaced 200 residents from low-income housing. Because of this book, I now have a life-giving framework for thinking through how to help them.

My only caution is that you may get bogged down in some of the early "theory" chapters and decide that this book is not for you. This would be a huge mistake because in later chapters you get to see the theory in action. And in the long run, the theory is what you will remember and apply to your life. Keep reading, keep underlining, and keep praying. This book will bless your life.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Deckman on May 25, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The authors come from a unique angle to the issue of poverty. Brian Fikkert is an economist but has heart. Steve Corbett is a professor of community development. Both are Christians and approach this issue deeply rooted in that worldview. (And they are nice guys).

They start the book with an illustration of a doctor diagnosing the disease. If this process is done incorrectly the sickness will not better. The issue of poverty's solution depends on our definition of poverty. If you can't define the disease, then how do you know it's cure. The bottom line, according to the authors, is traditionally western society sees poverty as a thinly sliced issue--people lack material resources. There is so much more to the problem and simply giving money isn't the solution. We need to see poverty as in terms of relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation. Sin has broken our relationships with those four areas. The materially poor need a relational solution, not merely money.

Turkeys and toys are not the solution. Providing these "gifts" can exploit the biggest sense of need of the material poor. Our helping in providing material gifts can push them deeper into poverty of character and self-worth. So our help can and often does hurt. It makes the materially rich feel good can hurt the materially poor in the long run.

We need to work WITH the materially poor and not TO them. It's not a blueprint or recipe approach to finding "what works" in one setting and reproducing it in the next. There are no easy solutions.

According to the authors the poor see there issue in terms of shame and pain rather than a lack of money. When you tell your kids there is no food tonight, the poor don't merely see that as a food issue.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By GreatBooksforyou on February 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself
By Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. 2009, Moody Publishers, 230 pages, $14.99 Paperback

--Reviewed by Scott and Kadija Hedley

We wish that we had read this book before going to the mission field. Although this book is primarily a book about appropriate ways of alleviating poverty, the principles in this book could be applied to a broad range of community development and cross-cultural work. I came away with a renewed enthusiasm for ministering to the poor because, as Rodney Stark documented, "The early church's engagement with suffering people was crucial to its explosive growth..." (Stark 1966: 155).

When most of us think of poverty, we think only of `material poverty, but in chapter 2, the authors illustrate that there are many different types of poverty. In chapter 4, we learn that there are three different stages in poverty alleviation: relief, rehabilitation, and development. "Relief" is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis (i.e. the Good Samaritan's bandaging of the helpless man who lay bleeding along the roadside). "Rehabilitation" begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. "Development" is the process of ongoing change that moves all people involved closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

In chapter 6, the authors gave some great examples of how different poverty alleviation programs (including U.S. Government programs) failed. Hopefully we can learn from those examples and not make the same mistakes.
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