When Helping Hurts

Last year, on my way home from Zambia, I was given the book When Helping Hurts:  How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.  It’s almost (to the date) one year later, and I have finally finished the book!  I tend to read several books at once and got distracted with other things in the midst of reading this one.

Each chapter begins with some questions to get you thinking about the topic that will be explained and ends with questions that make you return to your initial thoughts.  This format allows for further understanding of what you have learned within the chapter.

The entire book is full of powerful statements and examples that show how the American church has tried to do good in the world by alleviating poverty but, in actuality, has tended to do more harm.  The chapter that struck me the most is entitled “Doing Short-Term Missions without Doing Long-Term Harm.”  Wow.  It was so incredibly convicting.

In our short-term trips, “projects become more important than people” as “less attention has been devoted to considering STMs’ impact on the recipient, materially poor communities.”  One example in this chapter pointed out that oftentimes STM teams bring in all kinds of crafts and resources that indigenous churches and individuals (who are the ones normally running the activity) cannot provide.  Therefore, children don’t return to existing activities after the team returns home because it just isn’t as entertaining to them anymore.

A few other ideas from this chapter that hit me hard:

  • “People who have power seldom think about that power, while people who do not have it are very aware that they do not.”
  • Think about how much we spend on a STM trip compared to how much it costs to support a missionary for a year.  A local missionary can be supported for anywhere between $1,500-$5,000 a year.  How much does a STM cost?  It easily costs between $20,000-$40,00 to send a team of 10-20 for less than two weeks.  “And we complain about wasteful government spending!”
  • “It is important not to trample the poor just so your church can get more engaged in ministry.”
  • “Don’t label vacations as “missions” nor dare ask people to fund them with their tithes and offering.”

We, as the American church, are so results oriented.  We want to see a physical representation of the work that we’ve done.  We want to take pictures of what we’ve done to show our churches.  We want to show donors what their money has gone towards.  This is not what missions should be about.  Instead of being results oriented, we need to focus on being relationship oriented.  The main relationship that should be examined and fostered in STMs?  The one between the church going on mission and the local church.  Far too often we undermine the local church, thinking that we have it all together and can do a better job anyways (we might not say it, but this is how we act!).  However, “research is finding that most host organizations would rather have the sending organizations give them money instead of sending a team.”  It is imperative that we communicate with the local church and ensure that they actually need us there.  If not, we undermine them and take away from their ministry.

Now, STMs are not always a bad thing.  They can bless in huge ways.  However, we must more carefully examine how we go about them and ensure that we are not stepping on the toes of those missionaries and local churches on the ground day in and day out.  Engage the local church!  Be sure they need you there, that you aren’t doing a job that can easily be done by an individual that is that already there (that doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get there).

There’s no way that a single blog post could even begin to do this book justice (I just scratched the surface of one chapter in a whole book!), so I highly recommend reading it (especially all my Brookwood family—it will both break you and encourage you as we strive for “the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world”).

 

We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth.  But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn to strive to do something about it.  There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.

-from the introduction of When Helping Hurts

Last year, on my way home from Zambia, I was given the book When Helping Hurts:  How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.  It’s almost (to the date) one year later, and I have finally finished the book!  I tend to read several books at once and got distracted with other things in the midst of reading this one.

Each chapter begins with some questions to get you thinking about the topic that will be explained and ends with questions that make you return to your initial thoughts.  This format allows for further understanding of what you have learned within the chapter.

The entire book is full of powerful statements and examples that show how the American church has tried to do good in the world by alleviating poverty but, in actuality, has tended to do more harm.  The chapter that struck me the most is entitled “Doing Short-Term Missions without Doing Long-Term Harm.”  Wow.  It was so incredibly convicting.

In our short-term trips, “projects become more important than people” as “less attention has been devoted to considering STMs’ impact on the recipient, materially poor communities.”  One example in this chapter pointed out that oftentimes STM teams bring in all kinds of crafts and resources that indigenous churches and individuals (who are the ones normally running the activity) cannot provide.  Therefore, children don’t return to existing activities after the team returns home because it just isn’t as entertaining to them anymore.

A few other ideas from this chapter that hit me hard:

  • “People who have power seldom think about that power, while people who do not have it are very aware that they do not.”
  • Think about how much we spend on a STM trip compared to how much it costs to support a missionary for a year.  A local missionary can be supported for anywhere between $1,500-$5,000 a year.  How much does a STM cost?  It easily costs between $20,000-$40,00 to send a team of 10-20 for less than two weeks.  “And we complain about wasteful government spending!”
  • “It is important not to trample the poor just so your church can get more engaged in ministry.”
  • “Don’t label vacations as “missions” nor dare ask people to fund them with their tithes and offering.”

We, as the American church, are so results oriented.  We want to see a physical representation of the work that we’ve done.  We want to take pictures of what we’ve done to show our churches.  We want to show donors what their money has gone towards.  This is not what missions should be about.  Instead of being results oriented, we need to focus on being relationship oriented.  The main relationship that should be examined and fostered in STMs?  The one between the church going on mission and the local church.  Far too often we undermine the local church, thinking that we have it all together and can do a better job anyways (we might not say it, but this is how we act!).  However, “research is finding that most host organizations would rather have the sending organizations give them money instead of sending a team.”  It is imperative that we communicate with the local church and ensure that they actually need us there.  If not, we undermine them and take away from their ministry.

Now, STMs are not always a bad thing.  They can bless in huge ways.  However, we must more carefully examine how we go about them and ensure that we are not stepping on the toes of those missionaries and local churches on the ground day in and day out.  Engage the local church!  Be sure they need you there, that you aren’t doing a job that can easily be done by an individual that is that already there (that doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get there).

There’s no way that a single blog post could even begin to do this book justice (I just scratched the surface of one chapter in a whole book!), so I highly recommend reading it (especially all my Brookwood family—it will both break you and encourage you as we strive for “the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world”).

 

We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth.  But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn to strive to do something about it.  There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.

-from the introduction of When Helping Hurts

Last year, on my way home from Zambia, I was given the book When Helping Hurts:  How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.  It’s almost (to the date) one year later, and I have finally finished the book!  I tend to read several books at once and got distracted with other things in the midst of reading this one.

Each chapter begins with some questions to get you thinking about the topic that will be explained and ends with questions that make you return to your initial thoughts.  This format allows for further understanding of what you have learned within the chapter.

The entire book is full of powerful statements and examples that show how the American church has tried to do good in the world by alleviating poverty but, in actuality, has tended to do more harm.  The chapter that struck me the most is entitled “Doing Short-Term Missions without Doing Long-Term Harm.”  Wow.  It was so incredibly convicting.

In our short-term trips, “projects become more important than people” as “less attention has been devoted to considering STMs’ impact on the recipient, materially poor communities.”  One example in this chapter pointed out that oftentimes STM teams bring in all kinds of crafts and resources that indigenous churches and individuals (who are the ones normally running the activity) cannot provide.  Therefore, children don’t return to existing activities after the team returns home because it just isn’t as entertaining to them anymore.

A few other ideas from this chapter that hit me hard:

  • “People who have power seldom think about that power, while people who do not have it are very aware that they do not.”
  • Think about how much we spend on a STM trip compared to how much it costs to support a missionary for a year.  A local missionary can be supported for anywhere between $1,500-$5,000 a year.  How much does a STM cost?  It easily costs between $20,000-$40,00 to send a team of 10-20 for less than two weeks.  “And we complain about wasteful government spending!”
  • “It is important not to trample the poor just so your church can get more engaged in ministry.”
  • “Don’t label vacations as “missions” nor dare ask people to fund them with their tithes and offering.”

We, as the American church, are so results oriented.  We want to see a physical representation of the work that we’ve done.  We want to take pictures of what we’ve done to show our churches.  We want to show donors what their money has gone towards.  This is not what missions should be about.  Instead of being results oriented, we need to focus on being relationship oriented.  The main relationship that should be examined and fostered in STMs?  The one between the church going on mission and the local church.  Far too often we undermine the local church, thinking that we have it all together and can do a better job anyways (we might not say it, but this is how we act!).  However, “research is finding that most host organizations would rather have the sending organizations give them money instead of sending a team.”  It is imperative that we communicate with the local church and ensure that they actually need us there.  If not, we undermine them and take away from their ministry.

Now, STMs are not always a bad thing.  They can bless in huge ways.  However, we must more carefully examine how we go about them and ensure that we are not stepping on the toes of those missionaries and local churches on the ground day in and day out.  Engage the local church!  Be sure they need you there, that you aren’t doing a job that can easily be done by an individual that is that already there (that doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get there).

There’s no way that a single blog post could even begin to do this book justice (I just scratched the surface of one chapter in a whole book!), so I highly recommend reading it (especially all my Brookwood family—it will both break you and encourage you as we strive for “the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world”).

 

We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth.  But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn to strive to do something about it.  There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.

-from the introduction of When Helping Hurts

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