There are not many books that I would say is “mandatory reading” for people. But for Christians truly seeking to help the poor, I would say this is “mandatory.” I’m not alone–David Platt called this book “required reading” for those intentionally seeking to help the poor internationally and around the world. Why? Because as the title suggests, some of our best efforts to help the poor actually wind up hurting them – and us.
In When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, the authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert share powerful principles and real-life examples of how and why some poverty alleviation strategies do more harm than good and also examine why some strategies fail. The book’s last few chapters deal with specific proven strategies we can implement to help people out of poverty.
If you have ever questioned how well the welfare system work, or the effectiveness of a short missions trip to relieve poverty, you will likely find this book extremely helpful.
One foundational principle is that not all poverty is material poverty. Some poverty is due to broken relationships, intellectual poverty, or spiritual poverty. Trying to remedy all problems with money assumes that money is the solution to relational or spiritual poverty, which is not true. “As westerners we tend to think of material solutions to poverty because we are materialists.”
If money isn’t always the answer, what is? How do we truly help the poor?
The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness. Nor is the goal to make sure that the materially poor have enough money…
Rather, the the goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. [page 74]
Truly helping the poor involves seeing complex issues for what they are and trying to see the root causes of it. Corbett and Fikkert share several good and practical ways of analyzing the situation and also ways to think about remedying potential situations of poverty. Their approach is theological, educational, immensely practical, and will likely transform the way you think about poverty alleviation and probably yourself.
If you can’t tell already, my experience with this book was a very positive one. It formed my mind and shaped my heart to be more realistic and excited about helping the poor in a way that really helps, and is a book I would highly recommend. I will likely revisit this book in the future.
I received this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
For a more in depth summary of the book, visit the link below:
Summary of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself
Here are a few helpful excerpts from the book:
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.
Elephant and Mouse were best friends. One day Elephant said, “Mouse, let’s have a party!” Animals gathered from far and near. They ate. They drank. They sang. And they danced. And nobody celebrated more and danced harder than Elephant. After the party was over, Elephant exclaimed, “Mouse, did you ever go to a better party? What a blast!” But Mouse did not answer. “Mouse, where are you?” Elephant called. He looked around for his friend, and then shrank back in horror. There at Elephant’s feet lay Mouse. His little body was ground into the dirt. He had been smashed by the big feet of his exuberant friend, Elephant. “Sometimes, that is what it is like to do mission with you Americans,” the African storyteller commented. “It is like dancing with an Elephant.”
[Christian] Converts need to be trained in a biblical worldview that understands the implications of Christ’s lordship for all of life and that seeks to answer the question: If Christ is Lord of all, how do we do farming, business, government, family, art, etc., to the glory of God? [page 45]
…one of the biggest problems in many 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. The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates–albeit unintentionally–that we are superior and they are inferior. [page 62]
What happens when society crams historically oppressed, uneducated, unemployed, and relatively young human beings into high-rise buildings, takes away their leaders, provides them with inferior education, health care, and employment systems, and then pays them not to work? Is it really that surprising that we see out-of-wedlock pregnancies, broken families, violent crimes, and drug trafficking?
As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor.14 However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreted the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the “Great Reversal” in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems.