So many people I know want to genuinely help others who, in some way, may be less privileged than themselves. Wanting to help others is a good thing! Unfortunately, many people think it should be as simple as giving things or money to others, but it's actually complicated to help well.
The desire to love and help others should come easily. The actions taken should be done carefully.
I have begun to read some articles from others who are taking on this subject and encouraging others to help thoughtfully, while others reply "It's the thought that counts." or "At least we're doing something." Tragically, giving without thoughtful consideration of the following points can be very damaging, not merely unhelpful.
- Our instinct is to give material possessions. Here are a few problems with that:
- The underprivileged actually describe their lack in non-material terms. They want a chance to improve themselves, a say in their future, and a sense of hope.
- Sometimes there are material needs, but have we asked what they are before we give things? There may be a real need. Let's ask first.
- Unfortunately, giving can endanger a recipient. In cases where there is desperate poverty, people are willing to hurt others over a possession that many of us would consider a trifle. I am sorry to say I know this personally from some of our overseas partners.
- We cast ourselves in the role of giver.
- When we go as the deliverer of goods, we are automatically setting up a transactional relationship, in which someone is the giver (us) and the materially under-resourced is the receiver. That one way relationship can be damaging to the self-worth of both sides. Instead, let's approach others with a desire to get to know them and learn from them.
- I have learned deep life lessons on joy, perseverance, forgiveness and faith from people who have much less stuff than I. This attitude creates a transformational relationship, in which both sides can learn, grow and benefit from the other. And, yes, that may include giving materially at some point. It is easier to do that well once you've gotten to know someone.
- What do we do when we want to help, but we aren't in a place to build relationships?
- You may be saying, "This sounds great, but I am not going to .... where I can get to know someone personally." That's ok! Many people will not. I suggest you give to an organization that is about building healthy, two-way, transformational relationships with those they seek to serve. For many of you, this could be your church. Are they building relationships with those they are reaching in your community and around the world? Support those efforts.
- Do you have a particular cause that makes your heart beat or keeps you up at night in anger over injustice? Find a non-profit that deals in that area, then find out how they treat those they aim to serve. Once you've found a ministry or NGO that is dignity-giving to the people with whom they work, support them. There are so many good organizations, but I'm going to share one because you can see from their stories how this attitude I write about is put into practice. Meet Blood:Water Mission. I have followed their story and been a supporter for many years and am so proud of what they do.
Many of these concepts are based on invaluable lessons I learned from the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I highly recommend that anyone involved in compassion, who cares about the poor, who is involved in ministry, and especially anyone who travels for a short-term ministry trip, read this book.
I plan to keep writing--and keep learning--about this subject. Please feel free to share thoughts and/or questions in the comments. Loving others well is one of my favorite topics!