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“When Helping Hurts” … Hurts

Plenty of people have read the book When Helping Hurts. Has the book helped or hurt the global poor?

Have you read the book “When Helping Hurts?”

I read it, I think the book is hugely important and influential.

Here is the big idea. The authors tell us that the world has a poverty issue. But it is bigger than you think.  We are all poor.

The Global North has a spiritual poverty. While people living in the Global South have an economic poverty.

How do we fix the problem?

It is only through an exchange. A real interaction. Moving into healthy relationship where we both grow beyond our own blinding and binding systems of poverty.

I agree we must do this in relationship!

It is a great premise, but When Helping Hurts has a flaw.

Too many people who have read “When Helping Hurts” have agreed that this is true. We all share versions of poverty. Some of us are financially poor, others have a poverty of relationship.

Here is the problem. The word poverty gets applied to both of us.

To call out our culture as “spiritually poor” confuses the meaning of the word. Using the word poverty for all of us suggests an equivalence between:

Are we all poor?

If we are – then we all ‘get’ poverty –  Right?

NO, we are not all poor at the same level.

I don’t feel particularly rich, and given permission, it is easy for me to assume the word poverty for myself. But using the word ‘poverty’ to describe a frustration in our church growth strategy can re-victimize the real (economic) poor.

Let’s not kid ourselves –  there is real poverty out there. Global Poverty is horrible, systemic and grinding.

If we are not careful, we can find all kinds of reasons to ignore global poverty because ‘we get it too’ … after all. I’m also poor.

That means (ironically) for some people “When Helping Hurts” … has hurt

Does calling ourselves poor helps you ignore the real poor?


I continue to recommend the book quite frequently, I tell everyone I know that is involved in faith-based mission to give it a read. There is some GREAT advice on how to begin working with the materially poor. If you haven’t already checked it out, you should!

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