Archive for the ‘Readings Got Me Thinking’ Category

Cross Cultural Connections

Friday, July 26th, 2013

This week I read a book entitled, Cross Cultural Connections, by Duane Elmer.

It was timely, and an easy read. At one point he listed about fifteen symptoms of culture shock, and I think I basically had all of them, or at least go through waves of feeling each of them at times. Including, “Wanting to withdraw from the local people,” “Doubts about being in the new culture,” “Criticizing local people and their culture,” and, “Feeling physically ill from the emotional stress.” The ones about wishing I were “home” didn’t apply as much, because I don’t feel like I have a home anymore. My honest feeling would be more, “I wish I weren’t here, because here is painful, but I’m not confident where would be better – America can be painful too, for different reasons.”

I’m reading another book, The Kindness of Strangers, about a guy who hitch-hiked across America (another thing on my short list of things to do) and in South Dakota he meets an older, down-to-earth farming couple. He spends the weekend at their place and meets extended family and community. Before leaving, he makes this comment:

“Throughout this journey, kind strangers tell me how brave I am to cross the country with no money. They  can’t imagine doing what I’m doing. Truth is, I can’t imagine doing what they’re doing. Pete and Doris have been married 43 years. That takes a kind of commitment I’ve never been able to fathom, much less display. While I’ve roamed, searching for life, they’ve stayed put and built a life. As I pack to leave, I’m filled with envy and regret. It’s only a rhetorical question when I ask myself, who’s the braver?”

There is something to be said for planting yourself. There is also something to be said for roaming.

Anyways, regarding me and culture shock, I’m sure people here in Ravine Seche think I get tired easily. In fact, I’ve been told that. But I wish I could explain that I only have so much cross-cultural energy and each time I have to communicate in Creole or respond to people asking me for things, that energy takes a hit. By afternoon I’m usually tired of the difficulty in trying to understand others, have them understand me, and be a combination Santa Claus, celebrity, and  “caring camp counselor” to the teenage boys – all in one. What is normal daily life for the locals is different and stressful for me.

Back to reviewing Elmer’s  culture book (the topic of this blog), it cursorily touches on many of the important points of understanding and dealinng with cross cultural differences (or differences in general, he said the book would help my marriage too), but I wished he would have dealt with the “messiness” a bit more. For instance, he repeatedly reminds us that most differences aren’t right or wrong, they are just diffferent. Which is very true, and something I often remind myself multiple times a day. Like when Haitians throw their trash on the ground. That’s not inherintly wrong, it’s just different. Or when I’m routinely brazenly asked for money and things. Not my style, but not wrong, per se. In fact, they may at times be trying to honor me with these requests, because in their mind they are giving me the “opportunity” to play the part of rich benefactor, a prestigous position in their culture.

But what about beatings? Those can’t be ok.  Kids DO get  beat around here. Or the frequent screaming I hear as background soundtrack to my life? Frequently Moms towards their kids. I saw a mom in a fit of rage even pick up an empty glass beer bottle and throw it at her son. He dodged, fortunately, but I felt it was “wrong” for her to have done that, and not just “different.”

I hoped the book would give me answers, but I found it at times simplistic (both its strength and weakness).  For instance, the part about the frustrations of language differences. The book focused on the aspects of not being understood. I’m at the point where I can almost always make myself understood. The tension comes from not understanding others! I was down by the ocean a few evenings ago and got to talking with a local fisherman. He began seriously telling me about the problem of orphans in the village and what he thinks would help them, and while I really wish I could have understood because I’m interested in the topic and his opinion, I could only catch about 25% of what he said. I got frustrated. The fisherman, who is a simple man with no cross-cultural training and little patience in language barriers, also realized he wasn’t being understood, but unfortunately wasn’t willing (or able) to slow down or speak with small words.

The upshot of not being fluent is that I think I’m generally seen as someone totally ignorant, which is a blow to the ego (probably healthy). When kids talk to me paternalistically and condescendingly because I don’t know basic things about life in a rural Haitian village, that is humbling at best, and hurtful at times.

I would say in general I’m not treated as an adult, but more as a child. That is because that’s where my language skills put me (and my general ignorance about things they think everyone should know, like cooking rice the “correct way,” how to fish, or the performance of the Haitian national soccer team, etc.)

The only advice in the book about language barriers was to relax. Maybe that is the only advice there is? but it doesn’t negate the frustration of constantly having to repeatedly ask, “What?” and listen as hard as I can, only to have them get exasperated at  me, or worse, make jokes about me and laugh, but I can’t understand the joke, only that it was about me, and derogatory.

Another example where the book took the “easy side” was in the story of how an American couple tried establishing a friendship with another couple in an African culture by inviting them over to their house at a set time. The African couple came, and everyone had a good time, and even though this was repeated multiple times, the African couple never reciprocated the invitations. What the American couple should have done, says the book, was to drop in unannounced, because this is how African cultures express their desire for friendship. Wonderful. But that doesn’t help me in this situation (which is essentially African culture) where people “drop by” my place all day long. In fact, they are at my door waiting when it opens in the morning. The book goes on to say it is a good idea to unexpectedly stop by at your Africans friends house at mealtime, because they always cook for extra people, and will think it’s great you want to share a meal with them. But the book doesn’t advise on how to respond when others show up at your house at mealtime, expecting free food, expecting to be graciously entertained, etc

The most stressful aspect of my life right now probably regards food. I’m not much of a cook, and am regularly expected to provide food for a group of teens and young adults, who think it their right to impose, but honestly don’t think they are imposing.

The major point the book repeatedly makes is recognizing that just because the host culture does things differently doesn’t mean what they do is wrong, and we should be very slow to judge. He extrapolates this point to interpersonal relationships and makes the point that friendships grow in a climate of acceptance and trust, and that attacking others over differences which aren’t “wrong” is a relationship killer. Like long hair, tattoos, alcohol, whatever. He goes on to say the same principals apply in church, where issues of worship, dress, style, etc are often different in cultures of the 2/3rds world than from the West, but those differences aren’t wrong, and they are Christians too, accepted by God. I agree with all that. Good points.

“You worship God with your head. We worship God with our whole being.” – Zimbabwean Pastor

But there are two sides to the coin. While I try desperately not to judge Haitians over mere differences (and try to be accepting of people who hold different views than myself in general, even trying to keep an open mind and often asking myself the question if perhaps their viewpoint is superior to mine? and should I be the one to change?), I find here in Haiti very little reciprocal slack. I find the people here often not willing (or able) to realise I’m often not “wrong” in how I do things, just “different.” Like the other day I was washing my clothes by hand, and several teens offered to help. Naturally, they had to critique my technique as, “Wrong.” But just because I can’t do it as well as them, and even was modifying the “approved” style because my wrist was bleeding from chafing, doesn’t mean my way was wrong, the clothes I was washing were still getting clean. And it was my clothes anyway, why did they feel they have the freedom to openly criticize?

Or for another example, since I’m sick with a cold, they are annoyed at how I still use my fan because it will make my cold worse, they say. Of course its nearly 90 degrees and my shirt is wet with sweat, but my little fan is going to give me death of cold. I asked if riding my motorcycle was bad for my cold too then because there is a 50mph wind blowing on my face down the highway? Of course not, they retorted, and I just needed to use some “logic” if I wanted to understand the difference.

Another thing that’s not good for my head-cold, apparently, is to take a shower after it has turned dark out. The Pastor came by last night and the first thing he wanted to know is if I’d shower yet. No, but told him I was going to before sleeping. He was very disapproving of this action as it was very bad for me.

The only bad thing about a shower at night that I can tell is  negotiating with the cockroaches. I shoo them out of the little concrete room first, but last night I noticed cockroach tentacles begin sticking out of the center of a roll of TP sitting there, and a big roach started crawling out, but I quick put my plastic soap holder over the hole, trapping it inside. Ha.

My point is, it seems like the locals put nearly everything different I do in the “wrong” category, instead of the, “not wrong, just different,” category. So I think the book should add the important point that, when entering another culture, besides the character trait of graciousness, one will also need to be thick-skinned because the host culture will likely not be gracious to you.

There. That’s my book review rant for the day. It really was a good book overall, and I recommend it as a good starting point. It has a Biblical perspective, which I appreciated, and gave me new ways to think Biblically on several issues such as shame vs. guilt cultures and time-focused vs. event-focused cultures.

The final chapter on reverse culture shock was also quite interesting, and I’m curious if I’ll have any upon returning.

There were many good quotes littered throughout as well. Here are several:

“The more we retreat from the people and the culture the less we learn about them; the less we know about them the more uncomfortable we feel among them, the more uncomfortable we feel among them, the more inclined we are to withdraw.” – Craig Storti

“The great common door through which most forms of negativity enter is pre-mature expectations.” Hugh Prather

(this blog post written from my telephone)

What Should Wealthy Churches Do (and Not Do) with Donated Money to Avoid Creating Unhealthy Dependency

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

I’m currently reading through a book by Glenn Schwartz entitled, When Charity Destroys Dignity.

I thought the content in one of the chapters was particularly solid enough to bear repeating.  So this information is mostly from chapter four of that book.  I think the advice is mostly relevant for individual Christians as well as churches.

The first point is to define “wealthy.”  The definition given is, “those who have more than needed to live on.”  So “wealthy” doesn’t just mean “western,” but rather any church (or person) who has more than they need for themselves. In some cases, by that standard, many westerners are not wealthy.

The second point is to think about where financial unbalances come from in the first place.  Especially when there is a potential that wealth was created in a questionable way.  Schwartz writes, “In other words, someone may not have received a fair price for the raw materials that were sold to those who manufactured them into items for sale.”  He goes on to add, “Those who are benefiting from this imbalance end up with more than they need to live on (excess spendable income) which they then decide to give back in the form of charity.”  Then Schwartz makes this anecdotal point, “Would Ugandan farmers prefer the charitable handout, or would they rather have a fair price for their raw materials?”  Probably the latter. 

This is a complicated factor, but the bottom line is that, “all of us should look at the income we get and ask, ‘Has it been gained in a fair way?’”

Glenn’s List of Positive Ideas:

  1. Preach the Gospel Where it has not been Preached (particularly the 10/40 window)
  2. Consider Providing Full Missionary Support for a Missionary Family (instead of supporting many partway)
  3. Invest in Cross-Cultural Training for Missionaries (more important than many realize)
  4. Invest in Mobilization Efforts (“wherever there are sleeping Christians, waking them up and motivating them to make the Kingdom of God their highest priority is a worthwhile investment”)
  5. Invest in Ministries that do not have a Natural Giving Constituency (e.g. radio broadcasting, campus organizations, Bible translation)
  6. Help Refugees (but sensitively, being mindful of their dignity)
  7. Invest in Preventive Health Programs (rather than curative health)
  8. Invest in Breaking Dependency-Not in Creating it (investing in employment projects, job creation schemes and revolving loan funds)
  9. Never do for Others what They Can and Should Do for Themselves
  10. Don’t Forget about Outreach in Your Own Community

Others I would add to Glenn’s list that I also don’t think create unhealthy dependency are:

  1. Disaster relief, particularly if it has a gospel emphasis (eg Samaritans Purse)
  2. Organizations that combat worldly thinking (eg Focus on the Family, Answers in Genesis)
  3. Prison Ministry (eg Prison Fellowship, CEF)
  4. Supporting the Persecuted Church (eg Voice of the Martyrs)

Items to Exercise Particular Care With:

1. Child Sponsorship Programs. Often there are extended families intact to care for their own children.  “If outside child sponsorship is used in a place where the extended family could and should be doing such things, the outside funding becomes a substitute for the family.  It is here that the seeds of dependency can easily be sown.”

2. Don’t send money to individual church leaders. “Frequently when individual church leaders get outside funding, their own church members don’t know how much has been received or how it is used.  If local believers suspect that funds are coming in from the outside, it can easily destroy local initiative for giving.”

3. Don’t subsidize literature which reduces its value in the eyes of those who buy it.  “This principle has to do with Bibles and other Christian literature.  Some years ago a person who was becoming aware of the dependency problem said, ‘But our whole ministry is to give away literature.’  Without realizing it, they were reenforcing the idea that people are too poor to pay for what they want; in that way, free literature exacerbates the problem of dependency.  The end result is that eventually people begin to think that Bibles and other Christian literature should be free of charge, not realizing that somewhere, someone is spending a lot of money to produce it.”

4. Be careful about providing scholarships for people to be trained outside of their cultural context. “Sometimes those who have been educated outside of their cultural context find it difficult or impossible to go back and minister among their own people.” (reference Pius Wakatama’s book Independence for the Third World Church: An African’s Perspective on Missionary Work)

5. Avoid building church buildings for people who can build them for themselves.  “Building church buildings is one of the biggest areas of abuse in the dependency syndrome.  Once while in Capetown, South Africa, I was doing a seminar, and a man stood up and said, ‘I know what you are talking about. We went over to Namibia, built a church building and gave it to the local people.  We had taken enough money and people from Capetown to complete the project.  We gave the building to the people assuming they would use it as a church.  After we left, the people divided the building into four parts and four families moved in and used it as a place to live.’  Consider this: If local people had built that buildingi n Namibia with their own hands and with their own resources, is it conceivable that it would have been divided up and used as a place for several families to live?  It is most unlikely.”

“Regarding church buildings, remember this principle: People can have a church building equal to the houses in which they live.  If they live in a house that is made of sun-dried bricks with a grass roof, they can have a church of sun-dried bricks and a grass roof.  If they live in a house with burnt bricks and an iron roof, they can have a church with burnt bricks and an iron roof.  If they live in a house with carpet and air conditioning, they can most likely afford a church like that.  The problem is that many of us as westerners look upon people who live in modest houses and conclude, ‘You shouldn’t have to worship in a church that looks like the house you live in’ – and then the problem of dependency gets a foothold and is perpetuated.”

5. Avoid glittering projects such as satellite dishes, etc.  “Sometime ago I heard about some well-meaning westerners who gave a satellite dish to a bishop in Central Africa.  While the pastors for whom he was responsible were hardly getting any salary, he had something that was very much out of character in his community.”

6. Be careful about food aid projects which may have the potential to affect local prices. “One of the dynamics … is the long time between the identification of the need and the delivery of the food aid”  [referring to food aid corresponding with a farmers yield which can decimate local markets – reference Travesty in Haiti for a good example of this]

Glenn’s Conclusion

“There is no simple answer to the question of how resources should be used in the Christian movement.  The challenge is to keep the love of money which is the root of all evel, from looking like the Good News of the Gospel.  Another challenge is to use resources in a way that does not create or perpetuate a dependency mentality.”

Info Nuggets versus le Livre Crème de la Crème

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

As a kid I used to always read books while eating breakfast and lunch.  And supper too if it had been allowed.  But it wasn’t.  We ate supper together as a family and were supposed to talk to each other instead of burying our nose in a book.

Sometimes one of us kids would try sneaking one to supper anyways, hiding it on our laps under the table, looking down between bites.

That was all before the internet. 

Nowadays I read a lot on my phone instead.  Even entire books sometimes, but more often just scanning RSS feeds, websites, Facebook, Wikipedia, and the news.

One feed I follow is Popular Science… who can resist spell-binding headlines like, “What’s the Half-life of DNA?”, “Build Your Own DIY Space Plane”, and “New Worldwide Network Lets Robots Ask Each Other Questions”?  Great lunch-reading material for sure.  A mile wide and an inch deep.

Though often my feeds don’t even hit an inch deep, like this recent one from National Geographic, “Ancient Egyptian Cemetery Holds Proof of Hard Labor.”  Yeah, no joke, I knew that just by glancing at the pyramids one day. (not to say I didn’t read the article anyways) 

But I’m wondering if it was better for my brain back in the olde days.  Back when I read a mile deep and an inch wide.  Even when they were fictional titles of Peretti, Tolkien, and Dumas.  Plenty of true stories mixed in too… about war, explorers, the Wild West, hunters, adventurers, more war, astronauts, and missionaries to the headhunters.  Not to forget religious works like, “Mere Christianity,” “My Utmost for His Highest,” and of course, The Bible. 

If I remember correctly, I’ve read the Bible straight through some six times, and individual books of the Bible innumerable times. 

Most stuff on the net is recent.  Yet isn’t there something to be said for reading old stuff? Like the stuff of the ancients?  Like Mark Twain?  Back when they had a flair for words?  Those dead people offer us a balancing perspective of wisdom from before the era of iPhones and dishwashers. A much needed perspective, I think.

Books I read as a kid stuck with me.  And influenced.  And had a smell too.  An old, musty smell.  The best ones did.  To me, Narnia holds a distinct aroma.  If you only watch the movies you miss out on that other-worldly smell, that grand scent of moldy paper.

What do you think?  Is it better for us to read books?  …or articles?

(like this one) 

Lord of the Flies

Monday, April 4th, 2011

flies_cover

There are 17 books in my reading stack. I just counted. Granted, some of them are library books. And some have been in the stack a long time. Lord of the Flies was one of the latter. Nevertheless, I finally finished it, as I do most in my stack. I like to complete things I start.

In Lord of the Flies, I think William Golding put together an entertaining and thought provoking story, it is a compelling piece of fiction. Having said that, it did take me nearly two years to finish, and I might have skimmed a little in the second half.

Set in the 1940’s, a group of young English boys six to twelve years old find themselves deserted on a tropical island after the plane they are flying crashes. There are no adult survivors. The book describes the boys’ formation of a miniature society, and the eventual breakdown and collapse of that society.

By Golding’s own admission, Lord of the Flies has a well defined plot line, calculated to provoke thought. Hence, it has been categorized as a fable, implying a moral to the story. Fable aside, I found the narrative interesting on its own accord (though containing disturbing elements).

On the last page of the book, the main protagonist weeps for “the end of innocence [and the] darkness of man’s heart…” I would suggest an alternate title to this book might be, The Loss of Innocence.

An obvious point from the book is the innate evil inside us humans. Golding suggests that, left to our own devices (sans the curbs of societal boundaries) we would tend downward, following out natural urges to the lowest denominator. To wit: savagery, even head hunting.

I found Simon the most interesting character, though he’s not the main character. Literary critic James R. Baker made this observation:

“Simon, call him prophet, seer or saint, is blessed and cursed by those intuitions which threaten the ritual of the tribe. In whatever culture the saint appears, he is doomed by his unique insights.”

Golding summarizes Simon’s role in this quote from an interview:

“So Simon is the little boy who goes off into the bushes to pray. He is the only one to take any notice of the little ‘uns-who actually hands them food, gets food from places where they can’t reach it and hands it down to them. He is the one who is tempted of the devil: he has this interview with the pig’s head on the stick with Beelzebub, or Satan, the devil, whatever you’d like to call it, and the devil says, “Clear off, you’re not wanted. Just go back to the others. We’ll forget the whole thing.”

Well, this is, of course, the perennial temptation to the saint, as I conceive it, to just go and be like ordinary men and let the whole thing slide. Instead of that, Simon goes up the hill and takes away from the island, removes, discovers what this dead hand of history is that’s over them, undoes the threads so that the wind can blow this dead thing away from the island, and then when he tries to take the good news back to ordinary human society, he’s crucified for it…”

The unique epiphany Simon had was this: the irrational superstitious fears of the boys would never be alleviated by hunting down and destroying a physical “thing,” because the object of their fear was within themselves.

Says William R. Mueller, in his analysis of the book:

“The ‘ancient, inescapable recognition’ is that the Lord of the Flies is a part of Simon, of all the boys on the island, of every man. And he is the reason ‘things are what they are.’ He is the demonic essence whose inordinate hunger, never assuaged, seeks to devour all men, to bend them to his will. He is, in Goldings novel, accurately identified only by Simon. And history has made clear, as the Lord of the Flies affirms, that the Simons are not wanted, that they do spoil what is quaintly called the ‘fun’ of the world, and that antagonists will ‘do’ them…

He [Simon] carries with him a deeper revelation; namely, that the Beast (the Lord of the Flies) is no overwhelming extrinsic force, but a potentially fatal inner itching, recognition of which is a first step toward its annihilation.

The ultimate purpose of the novel is not to leave its readers in a state of paralytic horror. The intention is certainly to impress upon them man’s, any man’s, miraculous ingenuity in perpetrating evil; but it is also to impress upon them the gift of a saving recognition which, to Golding, is apparently the only saving recognition. An orthodox phrase for this recognition is the ‘conviction of sin,’ an expression which grates on many contemporary ears, and yet one which the author seemingly does not hold in derision.”

Indeed, lecturing at John Hopkins University in the spring of 1962, Golding bluntly stated that Lord of the Flies was, in short, a study of sin. He expounds,

“The theme [of Lord of the Flies] is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.”

For a book that is required reading in schools across our land, I was surprised at the orthodox overtones. For instance, the obvious message that man is basically evil, rather than basically good. Or that the first step towards redemption is recognizing that evil within us. I believe this realization is the first step towards reconciliation with God as well. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached, “Repent!” Repentance implies we have something we need to repent over.

Though Lord of the Flies was entertaining, I really started digging it when I began reading critics discussions regarding its literary value. There were layers of meaning woven through the story I had missed in the straight reading.

I became fascinated with how Golding put so much thought into every element of the story. Nothing was written without effect. Even the way individual sentences were worded often was not accidental. The speech of the boys subtly changed over time and conversations frequently held double entendres and innuendo.

In a related vein, I’ve began studying the Gospel of Mark recently and similarly, what has become fascinating to me about Mark is its’ literary quality. There is a flow and a point to everything written, like in Golding’s classic.

When you look under the hood of Lord of the Flies, you begin realizing the author is no dummy. Similarly, when you look under the hood of Mark, you begin realizing that author is no dummy either. There are depths of meaning in Mark that are not obvious from the casual reading.

Ok, enough on this. I wonder how many people have voluntarily written a review on Lord of the Flies?  yikes, nerd alert.

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Introduction (and all that implies)

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Steve Corbett and John Perkins. I heard of this book through a required reading list of a certain Missions organization, purchased it, and recently finished it. 

Though written from a Biblical perspective, the highlights I took away were rooted more in common sense. I don’t mean that negatively, because I did feel this book added an important piece to the overall puzzle of life I’m slowly piecing together.

The following 5 points aren’t necessarily 5 points from the book, just the 5 points of this post (disclaimer). Since I’m currently reading Total Church, the wires are crossed in my brain between these two books.

Main Point 1 (poverty defined)

The first epiphany uncovered was that we (the rich) tend to define poverty in terms of lack of material goods, whereas the poor themselves (when asked to define poverty) do so more in terms of a poverty of “being." In other words: feeling inferior, trapped, humiliated, deprived of opportunities to make significant decisions with their lives – in short, having a lack of dignity.

Following these lines of thought, the author shows how when materially rich people try helping materially poor people through giving handouts, it only exacerbates the problem because of reasons including the following:

  1. Giving handouts makes the receiver a "charity case," and thus can be interpreted as condescending. This would result in the recipient feeling less dignity and, consequently, more impoverished.
  2. It subtly reinforces the “God-complex” of the donor, further widening perceived relational barriers and setting up a benefactor/client relationship instead of an "everyone created with equal worth and dignity" relationship.

At a more personal level, this anecdote from Total Church:

Mrs. Jones, a mother who has lived in poverty all her life, described the experience of poverty like this: “In part it is about having no money, but there is more to poverty than that.  It is about being isolated, unsupported, uneducated and unwanted.  Poor people want to be included and not just judged and ‘rescued’ at times of crisis.”  (pg. 79)

Main Point 2 (serving others vs. cash handouts)

This may sound like splitting hairs, but instead of asking, "How can I help?" perhaps it would be better to ask, "How can I serve?" The difference may be subtle, but serving can give dignity, whereas receiving charity often requires humility on the part of the receiver.

An example showing how serving can enhance dignity, think about how honored you would feel if someone thought so highly of you they offered to willingly be your servant, free of charge! What an ego boost that would be. And this type of serving is something Jesus did for people during his time here on earth. Jesus even said as much, "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

An example showing how receiving charity requires humility, think about how much humility even receiving God’s gift of salvation requires. Indeed, I speculate this is why most refuse, because it requires their acknowledgment of having a need for a Savior and Lord.  The first step into God’s Kingdom is to become, “Poor in Spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

Main Point 3 (cash handouts OK sometimes)

The point above segues to the following: there IS a time when handouts are appropriate.  As just mentioned, God extends to us the most amazing handout imaginable. Other examples we’re familiar with include times directly after a natural disaster (when a situation is still in the Relief phase) and caring for the very young, very old, and physically/mentally infirm.

Unfortunately, far too often we (well intentioned individuals/organizations) continue in the Relief response long after the situation calls for a Reconstruction response. Reconstruction helps regain pre-disaster conditions via empowering individuals to help themselves.

The final stage is Development.  Ideally this stage is entirely directed, led, and operated by the individual(s) originally needing help. Helping others help themselves is what promotes dignity (the whole, "teach a guy to fish," instead of "giving a guy a fish" concept, yadda yadda).

Main Point 4 (relationships more important than projects)

When Helping Hurts gets into the nitty gritty of Relief vs. Reconstruciton vs. Development and all that entails.  It was quite fascinating, but Tim Chester and Steve Timmis from Total Church get to the heart of the issue and provide real insight here:

…a central theme of the literature on development is the importance of participation.  As a result the development community has created … a collection of methodologies to facilitate community participation… but when development professionals talk about participation, they mean participation in projects.  It is all about working with the poor to identify their problems, to develop solutions, to monitor progress, to evaluate outcomes.  But the poor need more than that… they want to participate in community.  A woman told me, “I know people do a lot to help me.  But what I want is someone to be my friend.”  People do not want to be projects.  The poor need… community.  They need the Christian community.  They need the church.

Main Point 5 (rethinking assessments)

One last insight from the book When Helping Hurts, which I hadn’t thought of before, was the importance of going into a situation providing ASSETS assessments instead of (or at least before) providing NEEDS assessments.

When we approach people by asking what’s wrong with them, it immediately sets us up as “expert” and them as “helpless waifs” needing our rescuing. This reinforces negative poverty mindsets.

When I volunteered with our local Red Cross, I performed many Needs assessments. In retrospect, I see how this one bit of advice could save the Red Cross a lot of money. For instance, we frequently put people up in hotels after their house had caught fire when they probably had family or friends who could have housed them (we did at least check with their home insurance first).

Conclusion (wrapping up loose ends)

At the end of the day, the authors of When Helping Hurts feel that in order to rehabilitate an impoverished people group (or solitary individual), there is no "fast-food" answer. Rather, it involves getting in the trenches, helping them see their own worth, their own assets, and inspiring them forward.

Additionally, long-term solutions are only realized when the spiritual component is considered.  Being reconciled with God is the most important factor for long term success, in my opinion.  Only God can give true freedom.  And we can never grasp our priceless worth until we understand the priceless amount Jesus paid for us.