When Helping Hurts, Chapter 4 – “Not All Poverty is Created Equal”


  • There are three phases of material poverty alleviation. They are relief, rehabilitation, and development.
  • Effective relief is done seldom, is immediate, and temporary. This is dealing with emergency situations like an illness, or the needs of a returning citizen who has no job, clothes, food, etc. Effective relief stops the bleeding.
  • Effective rehabilitation is the second step, immediately following relief. Rehabilitation, “…seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions.” Rehabilitation is the process of working with the material poor in their recovery.
  • Effective development, “…is the process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved -both the “helpers” and the “helped” – closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation…Development is not done to people or for people but with people. The key dynamic in development is promoting an empowering process in which all the people involved-both the “helpers” and the “helped” – become more of what God created them to be…”

My Thoughts

Most pastors will tell you that they get to know the dependent poor pretty quickly. When I say, “dependent poor” I’m talking about people who live off the gifts of others. They have no job, no desire to get a job, no desire for any help that isn’t a handout. In Grand Rapids, we often find the dependent poor on street corners with signs outside the mall and Target shopping center. These are able-bodied men and women who are more comfortable begging for pocket change than working. These people are stuck in the first phase of poverty alleviation -relief.

Can we blame people for getting stuck in relief? If somebody pays your electric bill every time your electricity is cut off, why wouldn’t you go back to them whenever the lights go out? If somebody feeds you whenever your stomach growls, then why look elsewhere for food? It’s a Pavlovian response. People take the path of least resistance to solve their problems. If the church pays the light bill, go beg for money at church. If the church gives out food, go beg for food at the church.

Just to be clear, there are some people who must be dependent upon others. Children, the disabled, the chronically and severely mentally ill, etc., all must rely on others for their needs. These folks cannot work productively. Our families and churches must be the primary place of care for these dependent poor.

However, others can work. Not only that, they need to work. Working gives us dignity as human beings. There is nothing dignified about begging for money or food. There is nothing dignified about having to knock on a pastor’s door and ask for money to pay the lighting bill. Begging puts people on their knees. The gospel is about lifting people up. The only one we should bend a knee to is Christ.

Working is an act of worship. When we work, we are acting in a way that we were created to act. Without work, we atrophy physically, spiritually, and in our relationships with others.

Rehabilitation is the phase least developed by Fikkert and Corbett (C&B), so I don’t have much comment here except to say that I hope there is more on rehabilitation in the coming chapters.

Development is the goal. This is where we want to be with our poverty alleviation strategies. After reading this chapter, I got to thinking about how my prison ministry can be more about development and less about relief. Currently, we give away study Bibles to the men in our congregation. We give away study Bibles, because given the amount of money they earn they would have to sacrifice for months in order to buy one. How the men reclaim their dignity through this process? As things stand now, they become beggars and we become providers. They lose dignity and we get an inflated sense of self as saviors and providers for the poor prisoners.

After brainstorming with a volunteer, we may have a solution. Instead of giving the Bibles away, we sell them at a price prisoners can afford through a third-party vendor. By changing this process, we give the men something to work for, and in that process their dignity is restored. Additionally, we no longer feel as if we are being used by some men just to get a Bible. Instead of being their providers, we become their partners. Everybody wins.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s