Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Helping Can Hurt: Haiti Edition

It is all over the news. Helping disasters victims who have calamity suddenly thrust on them overseas. My next door neighbors are Haitians. It is terrible. Destruction of biblical proportion. 'Close to hell' some say. It makes me want to go and help - sort of.

I'm torn. We're involved with disaster victims who have calamity slowly thrust upon them here locally (the poor). Who should get my time, resources and attention?

Part of the answer is this: who is my neighbor? Who can I help? In one disaster everyone in the world gets motivated to raise money and go? And the other local poverty disaster gets overlooked and uncared for?

Part of the answer is that we all want to be heroes. It's sexy and cool to be on the first wave of help while the cameras are rolling and everyone's talking about it. It was the same way with Katrina, right?

God save the poor from help like that!
I have been restrained from trying show up and 'help' by reading an excellent book (and MSNBC article linked below) on the issue. When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Dr. Corbett and Fikkert.

In the past, I've only wanted to help the poor with RELIEF because it made ME feel better. This book and further study with the authors at the Chalmers Institute, have made me realize I should be helping alleviate poverty holistically with DEVELOPMENT rather than using the poor as a way to help me feel better in the short run.

I used to think poverty was something 'out there' and that I wasn't poor. Identifying with Christ has shown me that I am poor and poverty is close by. In me.

So by all means, let's help! Help the Haitians - but let's do so in a wise way. Let's help as the Lord Jesus helped. Not from above with all the answers (though He was from above and He did have the answers) but by humbling ourselves as He did (Philippians 2:5ff).

Let's help the poor in our own cities. It is a multi-year commitment with no cameras rolling. But helping does help. If done wisely.

PS. Yesterday I was surprised to see this article online. Guess the word is getting around.

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