Denise* is a single mom raising two sons ages eleven and nine. With earnings from a part-time job, child support, food stamps, and Section 8 vouchers for reduced rent, she is able to pay her rent and bills. However, her hours at work were cut recently, and an illness made her miss several weeks of work causing a reduction in pay. Consequently, with little saved, she has not been able to pay her bills and is two months behind in her rent resulting in the initiation of the eviction process by her landlord. Denise contacted GRC’s Mercy Ministry for assistance.
The Bible calls us to love our neighbors and to tangibly help those in need (1John 3:17-18). But what is the best way to meet Denise’s need? The obvious answer is to give her relief assistance by paying her rent because of its urgency, since she will likely be homeless if we do not help. Afterwards, everyone is happy. Denise is relieved and appreciative because she and her children avoided homelessness, and we are satisfied that we’ve done a good deed. However, her underlying situation has not changed, and her risk of homelessness and inability to handle a future emergency remain. What is a better way to provide assistance?
The book on poverty alleviation, When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, challenges us to look at poverty from a biblical point of view and rethink how we assess poverty and its causes and remedies. The authors explain that poverty is a result of damaged relationships with God, self, other people, and the rest of creation, so the alleviation of material poverty requires reconciliation with God and with the other three entities. Because poverty is a relational problem, the solution requires us, the helpers, to be in relationship with those we seek to help with the goal of restoration of the four damaged relationships. Therefore, Christ’s ministry of reconciliation of bringing sinners into right relationship with God and our own ministry of reconciliation are essential to truly help the materially poor (2 Corinthians 5:18). We practice the ministry of reconciliation through preaching the gospel in word and deed as Jesus did. We cannot separate the preaching of the word from the deed which is what we do when we only provide relief assistance. So, when the materially poor, like Denise, come for assistance, we need to begin with a relationship with her and help her deal with her damaged relationships. If we give assistance that does not help to correct the underlying problems, we are hurting those we seek to help. Helping without hurting requires more people, resources, time, and effort, but the end result will be changed lives.
On April 22, 2023, Star of Hope Ministries is sponsoring, at GRC, a workshop on Helping Without Hurting, based on the book, When Helping Hurts. Understanding that giving only relief assistance may be hurtful, we in the Diaconate hope to learn more about poverty and explore ways to serve the materially poor biblically and effectively through this event. We invite everyone at GRC to participate in this workshop and learn what we can do together to help without hurting.
Shelley Hahn serves as a Deaconess at GRC.