Monday, May 9, 2011

When Helping Hurts

In a previous blog post I mentioned that as a staff we are studying a book called 'When Helping Hurts' by Steve Corbitt and Brian Fikkert. Don't let the title fool you like it did me. When I read 'When Helping Hurts', I anticipated that I would be reading about how to stay strong as a foreigner in this country, and prevent myself from becoming burned out in the daily grind of ministry here. Humbly, I admit that this assumption exposes my tendency to take rather than to give. What I realized quite quickly when I opened the book was that it was not at all about me. It was about the people I was helping, and how my perceived methods of assistance could in fact be hindering.

Chapter by chapter, it's exposed a lot of my North American tendencies. Mindsets of power and wisdom based on wealth or education. The idea that I am capable of 'fixing' poverty. That one life at a time, with the resources that have been bestowed upon me, I can repair the brokenness around me.
It's been a real accountability check - a chance to reflect and evaluate how I have acted upon the needs I have seen and addressed. It's dispelled myths about efficiency and impact of mass giveaways with no relational attachment. If we want lasting change, we can't just cover wounds with a band aid, we first have to diagnose the problem and then take steps toward full healing. By assuming needs and solutions for others, especially in a different culture, we aren't doing them any favours.
It's been great to take time in our staff meetings, discussing these ideas and how we as a staff are continuing out the vision of life transformation through Jesus Christ. We have had and continue to be deliberate about investing a lot of time and energy into the people we care about here. But when you're working with people, results are never guaranteed, nor are they immediate, which makes it harder than we'd choose sometimes. Words like sustainability, empowerment, and long-term results have come up a lot, and I have caused me to reflect a lot on my relationships here, especially with the mountain families.
I've asked myself a lot of questions: How am I impacting this family long-term? Is there sustainability? In what ways are they being empowered?
These are hard questions with hard solutions, and like we have emphasized in our staff meetings, they cannot be answered alone.

I don't want to focus solely on the negatives. There have been a lot of progressions since my first connections with the families. In my visits over the few years I've known them, I see evidence that there has been change for the good. The sand filter still has a prominent place in their living area, giving them clean water to drink. Baby Fania and Micaielle are no longer babies wrapped in swaddling cloths, but busy toddlers with precious personalities. In my most recent visit, I smiled to myself when I saw crayon markings of the alphabet and numbers from 1-10 written on the outside of their shelter. Indeed, good change is happening.
And yet in the same breath, I am aware of many other areas where I need to be a vessel of empowerment rather than dependency. As we move into a new season of planting and harvesting fields, enrolling their kids in school, and planning out where homes should be built, I know I cannot do it alone. I need the Lord to pave the way ahead, provide understanding beyond the language barrier, and bring alongside others to give the families wise counsel.

This afternoon I met with the Patris, who is the pastor of the Church of Hope, as well as Met Soufrann, who is the principal for the School of Hope. Both conversations went better than I expected and give me hope that more good things are on the horizon for these families. Thank you for partnering in prayer and support along with me in the past and in the days to come. That I would have wisdom in knowing how to communicate and continue to deepen my roots with the families. That I may not have feelings of superiority towards them, but that I would be reminded that no matter what culture, country or family history I've come from, the earth I live on is broken, and that means I am too. I am in desperate need of love and grace, and the true source of that is our Saviour. Together with His love we can build each other up and bring His kingdom to earth.

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