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  • Jeff Harvey

A landmark book...


Back in 2012 when Veronica & I knew that God was calling us to organize our ministry work more efficiently so that we could reach more people with the compassion of Christ, we found this book, ‘When Helping Hurts’ by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It has become a landmark book for churches, missionaries and volunteers, written to help them/us understand what poverty truly is and how it is not simply a lack of material resources. The book calls us to be much more wholistic in our approach to serving the poor and disenfranchised. Below are some excerpts from the Wikipedia summary of the book, as well as one of my favorite quotes.

Shame. Fear. Unhappiness. Depression. Inferiority. Powerlessness. Dissatisfaction. Voicelessness. No one wants these attributes in their daily lives but this is what a person in poverty feels everyday. From, not only a Christian view, but from the view of any person whether they are well off or have to live from day to day, understand that no human should live in poverty whether it be in physical, emotional, or spiritual poverty. Unfortunately, when people think of the word poverty their mind immediately thinks of material things or money.


“Poverty is not just a lack of money. It is not just hunger and need for shelter or clothing. Many poor people are plagued with social and spiritual poverty, and their view of their value is also affected.” For Christians, poverty alleviation stems from the Bible, first and foremost, and the key is to bring people to Jesus Christ while also providing necessary help. For many, especially in the western world, poverty is seen as a lack of material things.


Lack of housing, food, water, clothes etc., but for people and organizations that base themselves in Christianity it is more than just providing the basic necessities but also, as it says in ‘When Helping Hurts,’ “Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again”.


The book describes poverty alleviation as, “....the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation“. Poverty alleviation is not just the giving of material things it is about taking care of the whole human being: the social, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of the person.

“If you are a North American Christian, the reality of our society’s vast wealth presents you with an enormous responsibility, for throughout the Scriptures God’s people are commanded to show compassion to the poor. In fact, doing so is simply part of our job description as followers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31–46). While the biblical call to care for the poor transcends time and place, passages such as 1 John 3:17 should weigh particularly heavy on the minds and hearts of North American Christians: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”


Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for how each Christian should respond to this biblical mandate. Some are called to pursue poverty alleviation as a career, while others are called to do so as volunteers. Some are called to engage in hands-on, relational ministry, while others are better suited to support frontline workers through financial donations, prayer, and other types of support. Each Christian has a unique set of gifts, callings, and responsibilities that influence the scope and manner in which to fulfill the biblical mandate to help the poor.”

Steve Corbett

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