Tag Archives: When Helping Hurts

HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 3 of 3) … Toward Some Solutions

To calm fears that a full-blown implementation of this “Helping Without Hurting” model could never address the myriad nuances and unique factors of the special cases we face each day, know that there remains much room for flexibility in precise implementation. There is a time & place for the helper to bestow immediate relief (after a natural disaster or family tragedy, for example), to be more generous in terms of financial help during the ensuing months of recovery, but to encourage a greater sense of personal responsibility during the following years of personal & community development. All three phases of help must take into account community resources and (perhaps) larger factors (like unjust political systems) which complicate accountability.

The Biblical gospel informs all this, as the helper comes to terms with God’s perspective that his need (as the helper) for restored relationships (with God, with self, with other, and with creation) is just as significant as those of the “needy” person he strives to bless. Since this is true, the proper stance is for me to come alongside my new friend so that we might approach the Lord Jesus Christ as beggars together. In no way will I be interested in creating another dependent, even if having a human being depend upon me makes me feel better about myself, for a little while. You may recall one point of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters: that Satan and his demons are always working, to push each person just a bit off center. So which way is he pushing you? Are you the kind of person who is sinfully irresponsible, or are you sinfully independent (in a proud and deceived way)?

Christ Covenant Church is pleased to cosponsor an important conference to highlight these themes, September 23-24. The Tuesday night event is on the local university campus and the Wednesday morning event will be held at a nearby church. Please join us in praying that lasting benefits will come, for the good of 1) social welfare workers; 2) students of social welfare & sociology (future leaders); 3) deacon boards; 4) all charitable ministries. For all of us, we must be interested in serving smarter, blessing our neighbors Biblically. The sponsoring congregations and ministries are footing the bill for this conference as a gift to Lawrence, so that mercy funds can be preserved for investing in the “Helping Without Hurting” resources and into the critical ministries we must pursue.

While sharing many of these stories with a group of local ministers, one of them chimed in with his own. He is about to become a fellow father-in-law with another gentleman, a highly successful businessman and a growing Christian. When meeting for the first time, they were walking to a downtown restaurant and stepped around a homeless man lying down in the sidewalk. The soon-to-be father-in-law said to my pastor-friend: “Fifteen years ago, that was me!” My friend was perplexed, & asked for details. Much was shared about God’s grace in Christ, but I pass along to you the first sentence of the recovery story. In response to the question, “When/how did the positive change begin?” this formerly homeless man who will now be blessing a generation of grandchildren replied: “It started to go better when people stopped helping me.” Now there are many details missing which will likely show that this man has been blessed, all his life, by true helpers. But there was evidently a kind of “help” he was experiencing as a homeless man which was really hurt.

One final illustration, I trust, will highlight the critical need for these concepts, in our Christian ministries and in our civil governments. To my knowledge, many years ago there was one overnight shelter available for those in our community who were homeless ~ the faith-based Salvation Army, located strategically downtown. The leaders of that front-line ministry had one simple “moral” requirement (really, it touched only on the external behavior of the homeless): Basically, you cannot sleep overnight here if you are drunk or high on drugs. In addition, one could not “live” there; after a certain number of nights the client had to move out for a set time. Our city-fathers evidently thought that the simple moral requirement was too pushy, preachy, or judgmental, and that the limitation on number of night-stays was less than generous, so they established a city-shelter alternative with no such limitations. Many individuals who were being helped through the Salvation Army dashed over to “the competition,” and eventually the downtown Salvation Army was told not to house people overnight.

Consider: Which ministry actually had the higher regard for its clients, honoring them as human beings who must grow to understand and experience some of the natural consequences for their choices? Which ministry tried to direct needy people to the one Person with the power and authority to keep helping dependents (including ourselves)? Perhaps the deep revival we are seeking here will produce transformative changes in the people-helping operations here. May it be.

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.

HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 1 of 3) … Lamentations About Charity

Today I am an ordained pastor; in presbyterian polity, this means I am a particular kind of elder. Before I was ordained to the eldership I served as a young deacon in Indiana. Most of our congregations give their deacons access to mercy funds in order to bless the poor. Please allow me to rehearse some of my growing anxiety at that time, a deepening concern that, perhaps, we were “doing more harm than good.” At times, it seemed that we were supplying resources to deepen addictions (both to chemical substances & to an unhealthy kind of dependence on “O.P.M.” = Other People’s Money). We may have strengthened false impressions about “the Main Purpose of the Church.” It was remarkable to observe the audacity of callers who sought to instruct me (the church deacon) that the major mission of the Christian church is to give money to the poor, specifically, to them, at that moment.

I also had the strong impression that we were fostering a culture of lies. Many times after the bestowal of some mercy gift a recipient would insist that, out of gratitude or some kind of pay-back, he’d see me on Sunday for worship. In the early years of my diaconal labors I thought this was wonderful and appropriate. Alas, by my count, 14 of the 15 who made this commitment (one I was never seeking) failed to attend THAT Sunday or any Sunday.

More reasons for angst: We know the Biblical importance of giving even a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, but our typical design for delivering the help made the mere mention of Christ’s name (and His gospel) awkward. We were also hearing from the same people quarter after quarter, with the same “emergency” need, and sometimes the one asking for the assistance had no recollection I was the same person to whom she spoke on the previous occasion [this “relationship” was not progressing]! We also found ourselves giving charity dollars to people who were members and/or attenders at other Bible-based churches in our city. Often the needy person told me that his church did not give charity. So in my giving, I ended up resenting some in the wider body of Christ, but today I am wondering if those congregations had good reasons not to give to this one or that one.

Many of the people who called were driving from East Coast to West, to attend the funeral of some dear one, but alas, their old car blew a tire, and they had three babies in the back seat running out of formula, and all they needed was $50 & a night in the interstate motel. Or so they said; so they all said! Then again, how many ostensibly starving folks I offended and angered by buying $30 of groceries and putting $20 of fuel into their tanks instead of just handing over the $50 they really wanted, even though they told me they needed food & gas. On several occasions, the very announcement of this plan led to a fast drive-away!

One particular mercy call stands out from the rest. Following good counsel, I grew into the decent habit of enquiring about the caller’s relationships & circles of helpers. That is, I would observe aloud that this individual was calling for help from total strangers, and so it was only natural for me to wonder if the caller was capable of addressing his own financial needs. If not, what about his/her family, out to the level of cousins? Then: Do you belong to a church, even one in which you were involved years ago? On this occasion, the young man was telling me his sad story about the mean grandparents who had kicked him out onto the mean streets of our city. Jaded, perhaps, I asked to speak with these monsters. Within the hour, there we were, all together ~ myself, the eighteen-year-old, and his grandparents in their living room. Clarity came swiftly: This youth was repeatedly violating their reasonable standards about drugs and curfews, and so he was experiencing the first hours of some hard consequences for his foolish choices. I mean, he had called me and many other churches within one day of being evicted! At best, this youth was giving me selfishly slanted truth. My impression was that this boy’s real needs were much more complicated than I had considered. The grandparents, in a gesture of great patience, expressed a willingness to take him back into their home that very evening if he would promise, once again, to comply with their simple regulations. A $50 gift from our church to this youth might have cut off his strongest human relationship.

There are interesting parallels in the area of foreign missions, with plenty of good and bad examples still bearing their fruit many decades after “the missionaries landed.” More than a century ago, John Nevius noticed (from his Biblical and practical studies) that the new fields do much better in the long term if “three selfs” are respected from the earliest days: self-support, self-governance, and self-propagation. But if the outside missionaries insist on doing for the “natives” what the “natives” can do for themselves, a root of paternalism and unhealthy dependency is planted which may never be removed. For those who care for details, this Nevius Plan was carried out most insistently by presbyterian missionaries in South Korea, a church-culture which is doing well in many ways. The RPCNA’s more recent efforts in Sudan seem fruitful in the early decades. The Westerners resolved, there, not to preach, but to get behind the best young men who showed some gifts and ministry inclinations. These young leaders were highly supported, behind the scenes. The sense that our workers might have to leave this war-torn region at a moment’s notice also helped with this resolve to get in & get out. In missions ~ it appears ~ we start out on the right foot or curse our friends to limp along for generations after we enjoy a hero’s praise.

Closer to home, our denomination sponsored holistic ministries in Alabama among the freedmen, in Kentucky among the mountain-poor, and in Oklahoma among recently relocated Native Americans. In each case, churches and schools and craft-shops worked in unison to care about “the whole man” and the individuals in community. Clear evidences of social transformation were showing. Then, of course, a government public school was built nearby, offering free education, welfare for parents, & fewer strings or conditions for all the assistance. Hundreds transferred out of the church schools & these missions closed down soon after ~ producing a poverty of spirit which remains to this day in these places.