HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 2 of 3) … But It’s Going to Hurt (Someone)

I was blessed to observe a junior missionary’s appeal for prayer and financial support to bless an impoverished community in the Philippines. The part of the ministry she was highlighting entailed a lunch truck driving into the poorest slum of a large city. Through story and photos, we were urged to pity the hundreds of children, sprinting toward the setup post where they would ~ in all likelihood ~ get their only decent meal of the day. Whether the missionary intended for us to notice the dozens of parents and grandparents, sitting in front of their slum houses in the middle of the day, doing nothing but gambling away the little money they had somehow acquired ~ I am still not sure. But I am gravely concerned that goodhearted missions like this one (& there are thousands) might actually communicate a paternalistic, “the rich Westerners will take care of your children” message which in the end, hurts these poor-thinking societies more than it helps them.

Christians are led, by holy Scripture, to an obvious observation about the home, that it is the best laboratory and proving ground for the production of leaders for church and state. So consider that in the home, we have long been aware of the need to systematically turn over power, responsibility, choices, and consequences to our growing children ~ and all of this in the name of love. Now how we love a five year old looks different from how we love a fifteen year old, but again, it may be (in the long run) harmful for “loving” parents to continue doing for Junior what Junior could be doing for himself. Surely, sparing him from the consequences of his poor choices is not preparing him for his future outside the home … but perhaps many of us are unclear that this is the goal. Or consider the proverbial thirty-year-old, still living in his parents’ basement, living off the folks, “failing to launch.” See, if we really love him, we will (at this late hour) do some hard repenting, to this son, and then move aggressively toward this overdue state of (his) healthy independence.

By happy contrast, I invite you to compare the recent transition for the Pregnancy Care Center of Lawrence. We are a ten year old ministry, and followed distinctly different paths in the first & last 5 year segments. Without intending to be, we became a fair experiment concerning the old & new way. In the first 5 years, I would describe us as a goodhearted ministry to young mom; we expressed that heart by trying to give away as much free-stuff as we could. That was an advertising tag-line toward our clients & donors: Always free! Without thinking about this, we were violating a key principle for helping people change for the long run. That is, we didn’t ask the client: What can you do? What are your skills & capabilities? Can you do something in the interest of helping yourself while we come alongside to encourage you in that? After each board member read the culture-shifting book When Helping Hurts we implemented an already existing program for PCCs called “Earn While You Learn.”

This series of videos and worksheets basically put before our clients outstanding basic information about health, pregnancies, education, child-raising, and spiritual life in Christ. By watching these lessons and filling out the simple worksheets (perhaps discussing them with a volunteer counselor), the client earned “Baby Bucks” which she could then redeem in our “Buttons & Bows Boutique” for diapers and wipes, clothing for baby & mom & siblings, cribs, and other necessities. But in this EWYL model, she was no longer the needy victim with her hand out to “the rich and stable people who have it all together.” Rather, she had earned her products by doing good things and making better decisions.

Two small additional examples: Every time the client would show up on time for her next appointment, she would be rewarded with another Baby Buck. Every time she brought a friend, her mom, or another adult into the Center to go through lessons with her she would receive double the number of Baby Bucks she earned that day. Well, the report, after five years, is that we are overjoyed about the life-transforming impact of this new approach. Our clients are much more motivated now. We are seeing them 5-10 times as often (so contact hours are up), relationships between counselors & clients, and between the clients themselves, are growing. This interest in “being together” has led to the offering of focused classes, even a gardening course which is all “hands on” (and the “fruit” is take-home)! This community garden includes life lessons about sowing, investing, waiting, watering, collaborating, harvesting … and good peer pressure (to remember your turn to water)! We have the joy of watching women move from a debilitating victim mentality to understanding that they and their babies are made in the image and likeness of God, and can be redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This strengthens them to say “no” to the wrong kinds of pressure.

It is important that I correct one possible misunderstanding about the “When Helping Hurts” idea or concept. One good pastor who did not know much about the book declared: “Well of course, helping and Christian ministry are supposed to hurt!” How true, the deep aid and assistance which we are to render will end up being very costly & painful ~ to us. Much more expensive than money. I asked a group of very busy pastors: Which would be harder for you right now: 1) to cut a check for $100 to help a needy person, or 2) to enter into an open-ended relationship, which may require hours of your time and boat-loads of emotional energy, week-by-week, for potentially years to come? Well, all agreed that #1 would be much easier. The investment of self (which includes time) is much harder, and in a way, it will “hurt” (cost) you more. It comes closer to the ministry model of Jesus.

But the hurt in the title of this book has to do with hurting the individual who is standing in front of us ~ and we must never do that on purpose. So the real point of the book title: In order to make myself feel better and to calm my sense of guilt (a false guilt, usually, that I seem to be doing better than another person?), I may drop a few bucks into a hat or a pan and then march off feeling much better about my generous self, continuing the self-lie that I am the self-sufficient one. In a Christ-like spirit, it is essential for me to at least wonder what impact those dollars ~ attained that way ~ will have on the life of that man, woman, and family … and if it will really help or hurt concerning the deeper issue of …

The authors of this book hold out the need for restoration of broken relationships between the individual and: 1) God, 2) self, 3) others, and 4) creation. Consider making a C/F/R/C journey through all those connections, pondering how God’s bigger story has something to say about each of them: Creation / Fall / Redemption / Consummation.