Helping 03

SONY DSCTruly helping the poor is so much different from I first imagined. Certainly, it is more demanding, more long-term, and more relational that I ever thought.

Part 2 (of 3) of Corbett and Fikkert’s book, When Helping Hurts entitled, “General Principles for Helping Without Hurting,” begins with differentiating between relief, rehabilitation, and development.

Relief: the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a crisis

Rehabilitation: seeks to restore people and communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions

Development: the process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and all of creation.

The problem is that many churches, organizations and individuals apply relief to situations where rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.

When I was a pastor, I often was confronted with individuals that I did not know coming to the church door looking for help. The authors present a grid of questions to assess such situations that I wish I had then. Since I have been in these situations many times, I know these questions make sense, but at first blush they may seem a little harsh.

  1. Is there really a crisis at hand?  What will happen if you do not provide the relief?
  2. To what degree is the individual personally responsible for the crisis?
  3. Can this person help himself?
  4. To what extend has the person already been receiving relief aid in the past from you or others?

The next chapter in this section, examines, how to begin helping low–income people. Places not to begin are: “What’s wrong with you?” or “How can I fix you?” Instead, the authors suggestion asking the question, “What is right with you?” “What gifts has God-given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors?” This approach is called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). They caution against being too quick to bring in outside resources (in situations where an approach other than relief is needed) because is not sustainable, contributes to feelings of inferiority and dependence, and thwarts initiative.

Participation is not just a means to an end, but a legitimate end in its own right.

For me, the principles in this book are touching several long-held suppressed thoughts and feelings about things that seem quite right to me.

Did you ever find yourself silently asking some of those types of questions when you were involved with helping the poor or even confronted by a panhandler?

This post was originally published February 16,2010.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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