When Helping Hurts, Chapter 5 – “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Their ASSETS”

Been off on Thanksgiving vacation. Sorry for not posting in a while. Here’s the latest installment!

Synopsis

  • Alleviating poverty doesn’t start by asking the questions, “What’s wrong with you? How can I fix you?” Alleviating poverty starts by asking, “What gifts do you have?”
  • Asking, “What gifts do you have?” is the starting step in ABCD – “asset based community development.” ABCD is the process of reconciling people to God, creation, and others.
  • “Once the assets have been identified, it is appropriate to then ask the poor individual or community the questions: “What needs can you identify that must be addressed? What problems do you see that must be solved? How can you use your assets to address those needs and to solve those problems?” Fikkert and Corbett (F&C)
  • Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) – “…a mind-set and an associated set of tools developed by community development workers in the Majority World…uses a variety of group-based exercises to engage and energize community members in thinking about their community’s history, assets, survival strategies, and goals…designed to affirm the community members’ knowledge and skills in order to empower them to take greater ownership of their futures.” (F&C)
  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – focuses on what is right and good in a community’s past as a means of creating a more positive future. Based on a postmodern perspective that says that humans construct their own reality, AI argues that we should facilitate a process in which poor communities narrate what has worked well for them in the past. Once the community has constructed this positive understanding of its history, it can then use this narration to imagine how life can be even better in the future…AI can help shift the focus from all that has gone wrong to all that has gone right” (F&C)

My Thoughts

I was particularly struck by the process of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). History is tremendously important. It’s important, not just so that we understand current events in the proper context, but also so that we can understand ourselves. The LORD’s continual charge to Israel was to remember. Remember that I am the one who created you in my image. Remember that I am the one who brought you out of Egypt. Remember the covenant I made with your father Abraham. Remember the covenant blessings and curses. Jesus continued calling his people to remember. In the Lord’s Supper, we are to, “do this in remembrance of me.” The LORD calls his people to remember who we are, and who we are is defined by our relationship with him.

Storytelling, narrative, is a powerful means of communication. No wonder we celebrate great storytelling! I have yet to discover a list on the Internet of “The Best 100 Essays Ever Written!” but dozens of such lists exist for novels, short stories, comic books, and films. Narrative is so important that no religion is founded or sustained without stories. As Christians, the vast majority of our scriptures are narrative, from the story of creation all the way to the story of the end of time. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, recognized the tremendous need within the African-American community to tell a new story. He attempted to change the narrative of history for African-Americans by making the black race the creators of a civilization that was millions of years old. According to Elijah Muhammad, a black man named Yacub created the inferior race of white people. Muhammad promised that one day soon the black community would be restored to their rightful place as rulers and gods. As amazing and ridiculous as that story seems, huge numbers of African-Americans believe it because it is a powerful story of their greatness, which contradicts the prevalent narrative as a race of former slaves.

What stories are we telling others? When we interact with the poor, are we telling them that they have the proud heritage of people made in the image of God, or are we telling them that they are children that need to be cared for by those of us who have material blessings?

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