I always enjoy Portland’s annual mission conference and this year’s event was no exception. I was excited to hear Brian Fikkert, the author of “When Helping Hurts,” address the complex issue of poverty alleviation.
He did not disappoint.
Fikkert likened the West’s method of helping the poor to a doctor who misdiagnoses his patient. If the cause of the illness is misunderstood, then the prescribed medicine will cause harm–no matter how well-intentioned the doctor might be.
Fikkert believes that most westerners have misdiagnosed the cause of poverty. We think it comes from a lack of material goods, so our “cure” is to pour capital and technology into impoverished areas. But still the sickness spreads.
The World Bank surveyed poor people around the world a few years ago, and asked how they would define poverty. While many made reference to their lack of resources, most described poverty in emotional terms: a state of helplessness, feelings of shame and inferiority, a lack of options.
Fikkert believes poverty is caused by broken relationships–with God, others, ourselves and creation. There are plenty of resources to go around this planet, but because we are broken, we ignore God’s principles of stewardship and hoard and misuse what we’ve been given.
In his book, Fikkert develops the topic of transformational development–which is essentially a strategy to reconcile people to God, each other, themselves and creation. It is a holistic approach to sharing the gospel and emphasizes that Christ is the creator, sustainer and restorer of all things.
But even with this holistic approach, poverty alleviation is complicated. I loved the example Fikkert gave from Acts 14; where Barnabas and Paul come across the crippled beggar. They didn’t give him a hand out; they gave him a hand up and pointed him in the direction of the One who could supply all of his needs.
I know I’m not quoting him properly, but Fikkert said that if we want to help the beggars, we must become beggars ourselves, reaching out our hands to lay hold of what only God provides. We need to acknowledge our own brokeness as we come along side the poor and needy, and reach out together to Jehovah Jireh.
How this would look, practically speaking, I have no clue. But I love the concept of a band of beggars approaching the throne of grace together, hands raised to receive His grace!