Corbett, Steve, and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself. New ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012.
When Helping Hurts is a book that anyone in ministry, of whatever kind, needs to read. A book could be written about this book, but this review will focus on a few areas that the book is absolutely correct on. This review will look at what the book said dealing with why Jesus came, short term missions, and the problem of poverty in North America.
The book states, “Yes, Jesus died for our souls, but He also died to reconcile – that is, to put into right relationship – all that He created.” (p. 33) This book gets right what many others miss out on; Jesus’ plan of redemption for everything. In a time when many ministries focus only on getting someone converted this book is a breath of fresh air, breathing into the Church a right way of understanding the redemption. The authors also challenge everyone to focus on true religion. They write regarding James 1:27, “Somehow, we often overlook the phrase that pure and faultless religion includes ‘looking after orphans and widows in their distress.’” (p. 36) The book rightly criticizes those who ignore this part of the verse. Many people know the verse but do not practice the part of caring for the orphans and widows. In this example and throughout the book, the authors challenge the reader to be practical with their religion. The book rightly affirms that redemption is for the soul, but is also for other areas of our life and society.
When Helping Hurts also dedicates a chapter towards the practice of short-term missions. The authors do not shy away from criticizing the problems with short-term missions, and rightly so. One of the problems the book attacks is the ethnocentrism of people who go into other cultures. This is a subject that needs addressed because if the needs of natives aren’t being met then nothing will be accomplished. In many cases foreigners will go into other cultures and go with preconceived ideas of what the natives needs are. The problem is that sometimes the natives do not share the same ideas of what their needs are. The result is that the ethnocentric foreigner ignored the foreign culture and could possibly insult the natives of that culture. Many times this problem comes about when an individualistic culture goes to help a culture that is more of a collectivist culture.
The last topic to be reviewed is the one of participating in God’s redemptive purpose in America. In the chapter, “Yes, in Your Backyard”, the writers develop compassion in the reader for the poor and down trodden in society. Through stories similar to ones everyone has experienced, in one form or another, the authors open the reader’s eyes to the injustices taking place in America. Corbett and Fikkert teach the reader to look for the poor, sometimes they are easy to find, other times not. The authors correctly strayed from the idea that giving money is the way to solve these problems. Rather than giving money, the authors point out the fact that many of the poor are in need of skills. Money will not teach these people skills. Skills are developed by interaction with people who have the skills and through experience. The authors point out that the poorest school districts tend to receive the least funding from the government. They are right to point that out, but money is not going to solve the problems. There is a need for Christians to step up and teach the poor new skills, one-on-one. More learning takes place outside of a broken school system than within. The problem is not that the students do not have good teachers and a nice place to learn, it is that the method of learning is perceived useless by them. Many of the kids that do not learn within the schools easily learn practical skills of survival on the street. The kids in gangs have no problem learning certain skills that will give them an advantage over rival gangs. The authors do address the sin issues, but do not develop the idea of teaching outside of a school setting as much as they should.
Overall, When Helping Hurts is a book that needed to be written. The book challenges the traditional way of doing things, but also introduces a new of helping the poor. The main overarching theme of redemption is the strongest point of the book. It is on this point in which gives a reason to help the poor. Helping will not always be easy, but Christians are called to help, even when it hurts.