When Helping Hurts - Book Club Discussion Summary

Posted at 04:52am on 27th February 2018

How does it make you feel when you help someone out? Or when you give to charity? Big time! Go on. Be honest. Inevitably, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Doesn't it? But what about when someone offers to help us out? With care? Or financially? Don't you feel just a teensy bit ashamed? Embarrassed? Humiliated?

Yet again, when we met last night as a slightly depleted group due to some members being away, our enthusiasm for the book we'd read was inspiring. When Helping Hurts was not, actually, our choice, but was a suggestion made by John Archer of Tearfund, when I was invited to become a Speaker for the charity. And it was easy to see why because the theme throughout the book matched so well with their ethos. As it did to ours!


Beginning with the brokenness that afflicts us all, the authors highlighted the sense of shame, humiliation and dependency felt by those in need. But the fact is that we're all broken, and helping others can create in us a sense of superiority over those we seek to help; a 'we know best' mentality, which reinforces their supposed inferiority. We need to learn to avoid paternalism. Do not do for people what they can do for themselves, we're told.

I recalled an incident which reinforced the lesson. While out with a walking group recently, despite her protestations, I'd insisted on helping a lady who was nearly blown over by the strong wind on the seafront. Her embarrassment was plain to see as she pulled her arm from mine and said, quite forcefully, 'Please stop making me out to be an old lady.'


It is not only humanity that is broken, however. Why did Jesus come to earth? was one of the questions in the book, and the answer, we found, is to be found in the Biblical framework for poverty. This comes down to the relationship we have with God, self, others and creation. Because the fact is that the whole of creation is broken.

The good news is, however, that contrary to much evangelical thought, Jesus did not come merely to save us from our sins so that we might go to heaven. Wholeness depends upon our understanding that he came not only to reconcile us to God, but to reconcile everything; the whole of creation.


Sadly, as one group member pointed out, the Church at large tends not to think sufficiently about the physical world and its needs of care, nor the practical. The trend is to separate the spiritual from all else. Yet God worked six days of the week to create the earth; and human beings, made in his image, are created to work to glorify him. And just as God works with us to bring his kingdom - which is both now and in the future - so, too, we need to work with those in need, not for them, in order to show them the Way. In order to bring about the four-point reconciliation between God, self, others and creation in those we seek to help, conversion is not sufficient. Discipleship is the name of the game.

This, we reminded ourselves, is not that easy. While the public square should belong to God, the politically correct world in which we live, would have us shut it down. Public funding is not available if you preach the Gospel. Nevertheless, however hard we find it to imagine, the fact is that God is working in situations where we may not see, or recognise, his being.


How do we perceive the basic principles of poverty alleviation? we're asked. The authors then take us through the requirements of assessment, asking, What does the situation require? A crisis, such as the tsunami of 2004, obviously requires immediate relief. But that, in itself, is not sufficient, and rehabilitation, whereby we work long term with communities would be necessary. And then there is development, a process of change, particularly in discipleship.

Using an ABCD method - Asset-Based Community Development - we should focus on the assets people have, rather than on what they lack. We thus replace shame with pride; brokenness with competence and ability. These assets, we're reminded, whether they are individual skills or the geographical and biological resources available, are not socially manufactured but are God-given.

Once again, I was reminded of a situation I experienced in real life: an occurrence I've written about in several of my books. This was when, having helped my daughter to overcome a 13 year heroin addiction on no fewer than three occasions only to have her start again, we had to tell her that much as we loved her, we could do so no longer. In no way were we turning our backs on her. She was about to set off to help her brother-in-law with lambing because her sister was pregnant. Helping on a neighbour's farm had been the love of her life as a child, and recalling her talent in this respect turned out to be the turning point for her as an adult.


With an Action Plan as to how best to help those in need, When Helping Hurts is a must read for all, whether you are a Member of Parliament, a voter, a Church leader, a Global Charity worker, someone who wants to know where to tithe your giving, or simply an anxious parent or friend wanting to do your best for others.


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