Book Review: When Helping Hurts

If you have ever been placed in a situation of wanting to help a person in need, but hesitated in taking that initial first step, then this book is for you! When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor is a thorough, engaging book that should be considered a must-read for anyone involved with ministry to the poor.

There are Four Parts: Foundational Concepts For Helping Without Hurting, General Principles For Helping Without Hurting, Practical Strategies For Helping Without Hurting and Getting Started on Helping Without Hurting.

‘Poverty consists of broken relationships…and the brokenness in these relationships is expressed not just at a personal level but also in the economic, political, social and religious systems that humans create’ (p. 72). Because there are so many various reasons why a person is living in poverty, we need to be cautious in how we approach assisting them. Many times, the help we offer is given as immediate relief, but in offering immediate relief, we often undermine the person needing help by creating a cycle of dependency, shame and powerlessness.

Relief (as in immediate financial or other material assistance) should only be given in very few circumstances in which a person cannot help themselves. More often than not, the best help that we can offer those in poverty are aspects related to Rehabilitation or Development. The book goes into detail as to what Rehabilitation and Development entail, but basically the point is that to truly help the poor, we need to move beyond paternalism (in which we do things for people that they can/should do for themselves) and come alongside them in relationship to help them become the people that God has created them to be- people with gifts and talents- and in turn, they use these gifts to affirm their dignity and contribute to the process of overcoming their poverty. ‘Pouring in outside resources is not sustainable and only exacerbates the feelings of helplessness and inferiority that limits low-income people from being better stewards of their God-given talents and resources’ (p. 120).

Truly, it is much simpler to toss some cash at the homeless man on the corner or to write a check to a person unable to pay their utility bill; it is simpler because we leave this situation feeling important, that we have done our good deed, but when we choose to dig deeper, we find that we didn’t really help. The person is still the same: living with shame, powerlessness, humiliation, hopelessness, social isolation. Unfortunately, many of us purposely choose this simple avenue of helping because it keeps our hands “clean”. Who wants to dirty their lives with the problems of the poor? “Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us” (p. 75).

I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I learned so much and feel better equipped to help those in need. The book did get a little redundant in certain parts and I skimmed over certain sections because I did not feel it was completely relevant to me (as I am not a business owner or developer). Overall, I highly recommend this book!

This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review from the Moody Blogger Review Program.


About Brenda Weatherly

Christian wife and mother to 7 children, grandmother to 2. Woodlawn Refugee Ministry Team Leader. Refugee advocate in Knoxville, TN.
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One Response to Book Review: When Helping Hurts

  1. Pingback: 2013 Book Reading Challenge: The End | All Things New

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