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When Helping Hurts: Alleviating the Poverty Without Hurting The Poor...And Ourselves Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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About the Author
Brian Fikkert is the Founder and President of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College, as well as a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.
Top Customer Reviews
There are several benefits from this book. Since most people read book reviews to try and determine whether they want to buy and read the book, let me mention those benefits.
It doesn't just pick on the Church or her leaders. This book is personal; it will pick on you. It was deeply convicting to me as I read it. I realized that as many times as I have been moved by stories about the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the sick, I am not purposefully living for my life, and leading that of my family, to intersect with these members of society. I have forsaken the needy by my enslavement to convenience and stuff. My house is conveniently situated away from poverty. I hardly see the needy. And then there is my busyness. All my important tasks that keep me far away spending myself on "behalf of the hungry" (Is. 58:10) are often where I find my own significance and worth. I am convicted that although I hold to the position that all humans are created in the image of God, I don't live as such. And I realize that I do have a god-complex (although every time I read that phrase in the book, my first reaction was, "No I don.....okay, I do. I do.").
The authors are not writing from lofty chairs in academia. They pen their own confessions. One of my favorites is, "I confess to you that part of what motivates me to help the poor is my felt need to accomplish something worthwhile with my life, to be a person of significance, to feel like II have pursued a noble cause...to be a bit like God...I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. it is a very ugly truth, and it pains me to admit it, but `when I want to do good, evil is right there with me' (Rom. 7:21)." [p. 65] They also give a number of examples that show where they blew it. This communicates not only humility, but also a sense that there's a bit of a journey involved. Helping the needy will never become neat, clean and orderly.
This book is highly biblical, both in its use of Scripture for application as well as in developing a theory of poverty that serves as the framework. You won't be able to get past a few pages at any point in the book without being confronted by biblical truth (and a helpful reference). And it does not do what many books on this subject do, namely, present steps and practices for alleviating poverty dissected from the Bible as the source of these truths or from the Holy Spirit as the source of divine power. Rather, the authors continually remind you of the authority of Scripture and our dependency on the Holy Spirit for power and guidance in the journey. One good example is early in the book, as the authors lay the groundwork for the importance of relationships in assisting the poor and sick. They take the reader back to the relationship in the Godhead, the Trinity. And from there they expand and explain how ministry flows through relationships. The poor are not going to be helped, without hurting them, if we just conduct drive-by ministry.
This book is also highly practical. The authors not only explain best practices and steps to take, but they give examples of what they might look like. And they also offer gracious critiques of benevolent practices that many of us have followed. The strange thing is that while reading many of the critiques, the thought ran through my head, "That always seemed a little unwise to me." You'll finish with not just new techniques, but will actually have an understanding of why some things work and some don't.
Many in the church will want to read this because of their local outreach. But this book is just as important for global outreach. In my job, I am continually laboring to help churches understand the importance of their short-term trips not becoming drive-by (or fly-by) ministries. Feeding the poor is wonderful. Caring for the orphan is beautiful. Both are biblical. But to be the best these ministries can be, both need to be in the context (connected to) a sustainable ministry. Biblically, you can't escape the fact that this is the church. Ministries that are conducted apart from the church die when their leadership dies (or moves, or changes strategies, or gets new vision, etc...). They are simply not sustainable. But when ministry is conducted in and through the church, there is lasting fruit. New believers are folded into that work. And when the US worker (or partnering church) leaves, the church will continue the ministry.
I don't get to read a ton of books, but this is one that has so impacted my thinking and stirred my heart, that I am encouraging everyone to read it. It's one of those books. I've got a stack of copies with me for my next journey to share with folks. I think it will disturb you too, in the best way possible.
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. Helping the poor thus means addressing these four foundational relationships and helping one to see oneself as God's image-bearer, a person of worth, a member of the human family and steward of creation. This strikes hard at the core aetiology of poverty, namely broken relationships. Hence, he writes:
'Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to put all things into right relationships again.' (page 77)
'Our relationship with the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both of us need the blessing of reconciliation. Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.' (page 76)
He devotes the second half of the book exploring what a more theologically balanced and holistic approach to helping the poorer community looks like. The categorization of the various levels of intervention into relief, rehabilitation and development is helpful in clarifying our thinking about the problem we intend to address as well as the desired outcome. The suggestions for a more collaborative rather than paternalistic, asset-based than need-based, locally-initiated and sustained (ie. by the local church and community) than foreigner-run efforts, long-range mission work than short-term trips (though these have their place when properly contextualized) are spot-on. The practical strategies of 'business as missions' and 'micro-financing' schemes are also discussed as helpful alternatives, though these schemes are not without their pitfalls too.
However, if I could imagine one possible unintended ill-effect reading this book might have on the readers, it would be that of being paralyzed by over-analysis. As the whole exercise of going out of one's comfort zone to reach out to others is fraught with much inhibitions, resistance and rationalizations to begin with, this book certainly does not make it easier. That being said, this book is full of hard truths and practical wisdom one ignores at perils to himself and others.
On the whole, it provides much food for thought and some seed ideas on how to explore a more holistic way of reaching out to the poor overseas and in our own backyard. It also puts a reality check on our possibly misguided motives that often accompany our noble desires to help. Hard-nosed, intelligent and eye-opening, Fikkert's book is a huge pay-off for anyone who will persevere in the challenging task of poverty alleviation with greater discernment and much humility.