Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have a very good book called When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself. They address an issue that greatly plagues our ministry, Empower, in working in Africa. Our ministry is not about alleviating material poverty, but we are constantly confronted with it in our journeys. AFrican poverty is in your face all the time, and the impulse to “help” by handing over money is hard to resist — but simply impossible because the poverty is so vast. C&F make a point dear to my heart from my consulting: When we dash in the solve problems of poverty without really understanding the problem, we are very likely to make matters worse.
It is in this point that Corbett and Fikkert’s book offers more than just practical help in dealing with this particular missionary problem but goes right to the heart of what Empower is trying to do. They base their discussion in part on Bryant Meyer’s work on the brokenness that results from the Fall. Right up my alley. Myers writes that in the Fall, four relationships were shattered: Relationship with God; relationship with others; relationship with the rest of creation (hence material poverty) (okay, I got those in Redemption of Love, and New Man, New Woman, New Life); but also relationship with self. Among the poor, this shattered relationship with self results in shame and a sense of helplessness, core problems of poverty. Doing things for or giving things to the poor doesn’t do anything to mend these problems, in fact, make the problems worse.
I don’t completely miss that one, but certainly don’t make all the connections Myers, Corbert and Fikkert do. More on this later.