Helping Others or Ourselves?

June 22, 2016

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I have a good friend who is from the local community in South Africa near my home. He organizes a number of after school programs to create hope in the young people.

He regularly tells me stores of how he receives cookie donations from older (insert the race which is economically better off) for his young, poor (insert economically worse off race) kids.

“These folks feel so good about helping these poor kids!”

This friend is an honest voice in my life to point out the sometimes misguided attempts to help people. I’m so grateful for this refreshingly honest voice.

He can tell when people really love those they are serving or if they are merely looking for photo ops or feel good moments.

Eugene Cho, in his book Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? explores our obsession with changing the world. He says many of us are more in love with the thought of changing the world rather than the hard work it will actually take.

This takes on a harsh reality

Sometimes we serve to make ourselves feel good.

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As Americans our generosity is unparalleled. But, we must make sure we are not telling people what they need rather than listening to them.

Cho encourages going into communities and asking them what their needs are rather than dumping truckloads of used clothing and unnecessary supplies on “poor people”.

Here are a number of questions he challenges us to ask:

  • What is most needed?
  • Have we spoken to the local and community leaders?
  • Will we disrupt the local ecosystem and marketplace?

It takes genuine humility to find out what people really need rather than what we feel is best. We can’t go in with an air of superiority.

We are not someone else’s Messiah or Savior.

I see many people enter the missions field with high dreams and plans to make quick changes. It always concerns me when they are not interested in speaking to the long-term workers or, better yet, the local leaders.

In a recent study of the book of Proverbs, I was stunned how many times wisdom is linked to several common, but humbling actions:

  • Listening
  • Receiving rebuke and correction
  • Asking for input and advice

When is the last time we received advice or input from someone we work alongside, or even have authority over?

By all means lets continue to help, but make sure we assist; not merely with good intentions but also wise methods.

There are various books on aid which come highly recommended and fully explore this issues. Here are a few I have read or been recommended:

What things would you add to the discussion? 

Photo by Oscar Keys

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Chris

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A missionary teacher for 24 years currently living in South Africa. I am a recovering superhero, daily in need of the grace of God