Thursday, August 11, 2011

Standing on the other side

In March of 2010 my world was rocked as I read the book When Helping Hurts on a flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. If you've been around Trinity for the past year or so, you know what the book's about. It's authors compellingly make the case that in order to properly help people around the world (or around the block), those seeking to help need to keep straight whether those on the receiving end are in a true emergency needing relief (e.g. they need immediate outside aid to get clean water, basic housing, food, sanitation, etc.) or are not in a true emergency, but need coaching in development (utilizing their own available resources to better their living situation with decreasing dependence on others).

In late June 12,000 of us here in Minot suddenly became those in a true emergency due to our historic flood. Our housing was gone and easy access to food, water, sanitation, etc. was limited. We needed relief. Thanks to friends, the Red Cross, churches and other agencies, our immediate needs were supplied. At present, the only aspect in which we continue to need relief is for housing, which is being supplied soon through FEMA trailers. All this to say, we are no longer in a relief situation. We are entering the development phase.

At the center of relief are outside agencies/individuals coming to the rescue of those in a true emergency. In the development phase the center of attention shifts away from 'rescuers' toward those in need taking stock of their available resources to begin the rebuilding process. As When Helping Hurts rightly emphasizes, development is only successful when relief agencies begin weaning those in need off outside resources and when those in need begin taking ownership of their own development. The person in development may still need help from the outside, but that help must come in forms which require of him greater ownership and responsibility as grants transition to loans and doing for him transitions to doing with him as well as teaching him new skills so he can begin helping others.

For more than a year, I've been 'preaching' the vital distinction between relief and development. I taught a Sunday School class on it last fall. I believe in it, but now that I'm on the other side of the equation, it's time for me to live it. As one who is currently transitioning from relief to development, I can testify that that transition is easier said than done. Honestly, I want to be rescued. I want agencies and individuals to come in and restore my pre-flood world for me. I want relief to continue, even though I am entering a situation of development. Moving successfully through this process on the receiving end requires a great amount of self-control, maturity, foresight and sanctification. All of us who now need to wave 'good-bye' to relief need a great measure of God's grace.

In light of this, I have two words of counsel:

1. For those on the receiving end: Trust God and move toward development sooner rather than later. Don't wait for outside agencies or people before you move forward. Even if you're often on your own, go ahead and work on your house, start planning your future, start saving your money and strategizing your own recovery plan. If others continue to help you, great! But don't depend on them. Also, increasingly try to utilize others as teachers and advice-givers rather than workers and donors. The long road of development (and it is long) requires taking stock of your present resources, saving for future resources and getting to work.

2. For those on the giving end: Trust God and begin to help those in your world who are no longer in an emergency situation to strategize their own long-term recovery plan. Guard against doing things for them which they could do for themselves. Move increasingly from a worker role into a coaching, praying, encouraging, support role in their lives. Give them less money and more relationship as you provide care for their souls to help them take stock of their resources and begin the long process of development. Shifting from a rescuing to a coaching/support role requires great self-control and may be more challenging (as long-term relationship is always more time-consuming and messy than just showing up to swing a hammer for an afternoon), but in the long run it will be much more helpful to your friend in need.

1 comment:

MLS said...

Steve Saint has developed a ministry (ITECUSA) with a very similar focus of training people to help themselves rather than becoming dependent on long term or short term missionaries. He is very passionate about this subject having seen the problem of inappropriate dependence first hand with the Waodani Indians of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.