When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

With the rise in Christians wanting to make a difference in the world, Corbett and Fikkert address the many issues, challenges, and mistakes involved in working to alleviate poverty both domestically and internationally.  Who are the poor?  How do we help?  Most importantly, what do we do that actually hinders or hurts? The authors explore the good, the bad, and the ugly in helping the poor. They challenge some foundational beliefs and concepts about poverty and provide basic principles of the types of assistance (relief, rehabilitation and development) truly required to make a difference.

I read this book ten years ago, in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Our area had been the destination of many groups coming down to help rebuild. And our little church became a haven for a number of marginalized people. I wanted to learn about effectively helping those around us.

As short term missions came down to the coast, we experienced good help and not so good help. Unfortunately there were those who seemed to be there as a site seeing trip. There were many who came down with their plans, their agendas, their ideas of what they wanted to do. And there were those who came down and asked, “What do you need done next?” They were there for us. Not for themselves. They were there to serve. Not to make themselves “feel good.”

And as we walked along side low-income neighbors trying to get back on their feet, I felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped. So I started reading. Corbett and Fikkert opened my eyes to many of the preconceptions, biases and assumptions I had about those in poverty, in our country and in other countries. They also opened my heart to address pride and arrogance in myself. Both are critical to be effective change agents in the world.

Recently, my husband and I attended a missions banquet. He went on a short term mission trip to Haiti last year and is planning to go again in a few months. During the banquet, another trip also caught his attention. But what caught my attention was the endorsement of this book. Which compelled me to pull it off the shelf again.


  • We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.
  • When people look at the church, they should see the very embodiment of Jesus! When people look at the church, they should see the One who declared–in word and in deed to the leper, the lame, and the poor–that His kingdom is bringing healing to every speck of the universe.
  • …the church needs to rediscover a Christ-centered, fully orbed perspective of the kingdom.
  • …this mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty alleviation efforts.
  • If we reduce human beings to being simply physical–as Western thought is prone to do–our poverty-alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember than humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.
  • The fall really happened, and it is wreaking havoc in all of our lives. We are all broken, just in different ways.
  • …until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.
  • By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.
  • …the goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
  • The goals is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God.

About Jill English Johnston

God writes His story on every heart, if we only pause to read it. My heart has lived in a fantasy world since early childhood and am delighted that God has finally brought me to the place where I can bring the fantasies to life through story. I am currently working on a fantasy trilogy (of course) but I also post thoughts, reflections and (hopefully) inspiration to my website: tabletsofhumanhearts.wordpress.com I am a follower of the Rabbi Jesus, married to my best friend and inspiration, and the mother of three incredible children, one daughter and two sons, a son-in-love, a daughter-in-love and two adorable granddaughters. When not writing, I passionately pursue prayer, reading (never enough time to read them all!), and the outdoors. My husband and I both served in the US Navy and have lived/travelled through many states and all over Asia. We both still enjoy travelling, but we really love our home in New Braunfels, located at the Texas Hill Country.
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