Congregation at Duke Chapel

Re-thinking Missions: How to Engage in Charity Without Eroding Dignity

 

Re-thinking Missions: How to Engage in Charity Without Eroding Dignity

presentation at Adult Forum by
Rev. Gaston Warner
February 26, 2012

A resource mentioned during the class is the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... and Yourself by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, and John Perkins.

cover of book 'When Helping Hurts: ...'
As an introduction, below is an article which previously appeared on page 3 of the Winter 2011 Quarterly Newsletter of ZOE Ministry - Empowering Orphans in Africa.

WHEN HELPING HURTS: An Essential Read about a Better Approach to Missions

by Gaston Warner, Director of Church Relations and Strategic Planning

Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.

ZOE Ministry’s own learning curve concerning how to engage in missions has been steep, and much of what we have discovered has been through the grace of God. I recently spoke with a mission pastor about the lessons his church learned about engaging in more effective missions. He referred to the mistakes they made as “paying their dumb tax.” Luckily, there are an increasing number of books that speak directly to what we have had to learn through experience – that not all missions are created equally. Some missions bring glimpses of the kingdom of God to earth; others make the people doing the missions feel good about themselves, but bring very little long- term benefit to those being served; others do actual, if unintentional, harm.

One of the best new books on Christian mission available today is “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This is a great book for any mission committee or Sunday School class thinking deeply about doing missions well.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write from their own background as evangelical Christians engaging in social action. They share profound insights gathered from a lifetime of engagement in this work. They first lay out the biblical mandate for Christians to work toward alleviating poverty. “Simply stated, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and deed, so the church must do the same,” they write.

For many years, western Christian ideas about what engaging in missions to the poor meant were anemic at best and harmful at worst. Some missions have broken from this model, but most have not. Fikkert talks about this situation in ways that illuminate the problem and the possibility for something better. He writes, “many observers, including Steve and I, believe that when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non- poor. Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.”

Corbett and Fikkert go beyond telling Christians what they already know, and press forward to how churches can do better. “When Helping Hurts” begins to reframe the conversation. They discuss the very nature of poverty, the challenges of short-term missions, and how to use abundant resources well. They also address the the local vs. international argument, and discuss other issues in ways that are profound and easy to understand.

I was able to spend time discussing this book in the context of ZOE’s model with Brian Corbett. This book gives voice to exactly the kind of ministry that ZOE is attempting to carry out. Books like this, and the ministries that take these issues seriously, make us hopeful for the future of Christian mission


ZOE video Mission Moments from Africa