Locations of visitors to this page
Not All Poverty is Created Equal
Scripture: Luke 10:30, 33-35
Track 4 of 8 in the When Helping Hurts series
Running time: 1 hour, 07 minutes, 45 seconds.
Many of us assume that we have a lot to teach the materially poor about God. But very often, the poor have a lot to teach us about God and have insights and experiences that we have never walked with God before. We just need to stop talking and start listening.

Click above to listen in this window.
Right-click to download MP3. With one-button mouse, control-click.

Be sure to scroll down to read the transcript.

Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Not All Poverty is Created Equal

We spent three weeks looking at the foundational concepts of Poverty. In those weeks we discovered some important truths:

• The reason Jesus came to this earth was not only to tell the Good News of the Kingdom, but to show the Good News of the Kingdom
• God created man just like Himself, a relational being. In the beginning, God intended man to have four core relationships.
o Relationship with God
o Relationship with self
o Relationship with others
o Relationship with creation
• The fall of man corrupted and changed those relationships
• Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationships again.
• Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living right relationships with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation.
• How do we define success? When the four foundational relationships are reconciled so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of their work.

We are now going to start a second phase of this study and look at general principles for helping people without hurting them.

Let’s ponder some questions before we get started. Think about the materially poor people in our area who have asked our class for immediate financial assistance. Under what conditions do you believe would be appropriate to give things or money to these people?

How many times have we seen or read in the news about a devastating catastrophe leaving millions without food, water or shelter? At the same time we see commercials about the growing numbers of homeless people in our cities that also are without food, water and shelter. Both are in tremendous need but are the solutions the same or do they require different types of help? How do we know what the appropriate responses are?

Pick a number between 1 and 3. Before helping in any situation, we must first determine what is needed. We need to discern whether the situation calls for :

1. Relief
2. Rehabilitation
3. Development

The failure to distinguish between the three is one of the most common reasons why poverty-alleviation often does more harm than good.

Relief: Urgent and temporary provisions of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering. Stop the bleeding. Provider-Receiver Dynamic. Provider gives assistance to someone who is incapable of helping himself at the time. Good example is the Good Samaritan.

Rehabilitation: Rehab starts as soon as the bleeding stops. It seeks to restore people to the positive elements of their pre-crisis condition. The key feature of rehabilitation is working with the victims as they participate in their own recovery.

Development: This is a process of ongoing change that moves all people involved – both the helpers and the helped – closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation. As the poor develop, they are better able to work and support themselves and their families. The key dynamic to development is promoting the empowering process.

What do you think is the biggest mistake the local church makes when dealing with the poor? Applying relief in situations when rehabilitation or development is required.

We need to determine at which point the person needing help is at. The victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan was at level #1. He needed relief. But a person who is at level #3 gets hurt when level #1 is applied.

Luke 10:30, 33-35 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead… But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Scenario: A person comes to our church for help. They are in a crisis needing emergency financial help for utility bills, rent food or transportation. They express to us from their requests that they are at stage #1. Is relief the appropriate intervention for such a person?

Maybe or maybe not. What are the things that need to be considered?

First: If you fail to provide immediate help, will there be serious, negative consequences?

Second: Is the situation self inflicted? If so, some pain helps to teach that irresponsible behavior is bad. The object is not to punish but to ensure the appropriate lessons are learned.

Third: Can the person help himself? If so, a handout is always inappropriate as it undermines the person’s capacity to be a steward of his own resources.

Fourth: Has this person received relief from you or others before? What are the chances this request will be repeated in the future?

When applying these considerations to a person’s situation, what do we have to be cautious about? Not to allow our own understanding and thoughts of poverty to cloud our decisions and actions.

What happens if the person requesting help doesn’t agree with the type of assistance offered? What if they don’t want to address larger life issues that might have contributed to their problems?

So who truly are the #1’s? What is the Bible definition of the #1’s? (They are the ones who are unable to help themselves and need a handout of relief). Think of the people the Bible teaches need relief or to whom Jesus demonstrated relief for. These would be the disabled, some elderly, very young, orphans, the mentally ill homeless population and victims of natural disasters. In most cases, we won’t meet or run into those who truly need relief.

How do you spell effective relief?

• Relief needs to be immediate. A timely response is critical especially when responding to a disaster. What other situations require action to be immediate?

• Relief is also to be temporary. This is only to be provided as long as the people have no means to help themselves. The trick is not to stop the relief too early and more important, not to allow it too long.

So how do you spell effective relief?

S-E-L-D-O-M, I-M-M-E-D-I-A-T-E and T-E-M-P-O-R-A-R-Y.

Turning Relief into Rehabilitation:

When you think of rehabilitation, what are the images that come to mind?

For the poor, once the bleeding has stopped, it is important to quickly move into rehabilitation. SLIDE 10: Basically the best way to describe rehab is working with the poor and not for the poor. The effort is to help them return to the positive elements before their disaster. The goal is to reconcile relationships with God, self, others and creation.

But there is a poison that many make with the poor. We also make the same mistakes with our kids too often. It is called the poison of Paternalism. We must avoid paternalism at all costs.

Paternalism: Doing things for people that they can do themselves.

As parents, this is a very strong temptation and a very big mistake that causes great harm to kids as they move into adulthood. Sometimes it can last a person’s lifetime if allowed to happen. The question always arises, when should a kid grow up and be expected to accept responsibility and do things for themselves?

The same is true when dealing with the materially poor. When is helping someone helpful and is there a difference in our help from paternalism?

So we must keep this saying out in front of us every time we are engaged in poverty alleviation:

Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.

How many people do you think will be active in giving if their giving had to include being involved in the daily lives of those they give to?

Now this mistake comes in a variety of forms.

Resource Paternalism:

This is a common mistake in America. We tend to believe the solution to poverty is through material giving when the real need is for the local people to be stewards of their own resources.

Spiritual Paternalism:

Many of us assume that we have a lot to teach the materially poor about God. But very often, the poor have a lot to teach us about God and have insights and experiences that we have never walked with God before. We just need to stop talking and start listening.

Knowledge Paternalism:

This occurs when we assume that we have all the best ideas about how to do things. As a result of this the materially poor need us to think for them concerning the best way to plant crops, to operate their business, or to cure diseases.

What major mistake does this type of paternalism cause? The poor, even though they are in a bad situation, they are created in the image of God and have the ability to think and understand the world around them. They actually know something about their situation and we need to listen to them.

Tom wants me to get involved with a program that CIY has where business owners and managers go overseas and works with other small business owners to help them run and develop their businesses. This is a great job but there is a danger of knowledge paternalism.

If I decide to do this, what are the things I need to be aware of? What temptation must I resist in doing? What mistakes do churches make when they go onto the mission field to help win the lost and grow churches?

Labor Paternalism:

This takes place when others do the work for someone who can do the work themselves. Tom taught us last week that Know/Sweat changed their policy in that all the people being helped must in some way contribute effort or work with those helping them.

Why is this important?

Managerial Paternalism:

This is by far the hardest to do and the easiest to make mistakes in. We in America love to see things get done quickly. In fact, we need to see results so we can confirm our efforts are working and worth investing in. If things take longer than we feel they should, we have a tendency to take over and manage the projects ourselves as if we are specially gifted.

What damage can this paternalism cause? They don’t see the need to manage because they know someone will do it for them. This shatters their confidence. Reinforces the age old concept, whites run things, everyone follows. They don’t want projects as bad as we do. They know that If we run the show, our money will follow.

Here are some things I want us to consider about those we help.

• All the people we help, do they need relief or do they need rehabilitation or development?
• Are we paternal in how we approach the poor or those needing relief?