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Posts Tagged ‘development’


Much of Generous Justice to this point has been theological- why we should pursue justice as Christians.  Keller moves into the more practical with the 6th chapter of his book.  Taking Job 29 & Psalm 4 as a starting point- we are to give sustained, concentrated attention to the hows of justice.  We won’t accidentally become just (or mature in Christ).  Often it requires analyzing a situation and using wisdom to determine the best goals and means.

Here Keller brings us some examples.  One is of a car dealer who realized that haggling for prices tended to benefit the rich, men, and whites (who were more persistent negotiators).  The people who most needed a good deal weren’t getting it because the business practice exacerbated inequalities and cultural differences.  So he set fair prices without negotiation (I have negotiating, and always feel ripped off when done.  I am thankful for the Christian businessmen who sold me car at fair prices.)  Businesses sometimes choose the short-term over the long-term.  This car dealer was choosing the long-term.  He knew he was building a loyal base of customers who appreciated his more equitable system.  But he also disadvantaged himself, reducing his profit per car.  Justice cost him.

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I’ve finished reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.  It was a very challenging read.  I previously mentioned the foundational concepts they covered, including the differences between relief, rehabilitation and development.  We hurt the poor, and ourselves, when we neglect these differences and act the wrong way.  The 2nd section covers General Principles for Helping Without Hurting.  The 3rd covers Practical Strategies.  The book is not just theoretical, but tries to provide some helpful ways to think about missions, both local and international, and community development.

The second section helps you to identify the needs of the poor, and emphasize their assets.  The latter is often neglected, which furthers the paternalism that ends up continuing and even worsening their poverty.  Paternalism takes many forms: resources, spiritually, knowledge, labor and managerial.  Pride is very subtle, and finds many ways to exalt ourselves above others.  We mistakenly believe that since we have more material resources we are somehow better than them in all ways.  We forget the providence of God in the distribution of resources/abilities.  I say this, not to keep people in poverty, but to humble many of us that we realize the advantages we do enjoy are not earned or deserved.  We benefit from where we are born, the family, community and culture into which we are born and all that it entails.

One chapter focuses on how not understanding the culture, not listening to the people, can result of wasting resources.  They tell of a group that built a home for a pastor in Africa.  They designed the home without input from the pastor.  He tried to inform them that in his culture, bathrooms are in the back.  But they refused to listen and continued to build the home with it in the middle of the home.  This was a huge culture faux paux that would lead to great shame if he lived in the house.  Their efforts were wasted because they did not listen.

It isn’t just mission teams.  The U.S. government, in an early attempt to provide low income homes, built identical homes.  The plan called for carpets and clothes washers in the kitchen.  Most of the people worked in jobs that left lots of dirt on clothes and shoes.  Linoleum would have been much easier for them to keep clean than carpet.  Their old washers overflowed in the kitchens.  So much didn’t make since for those people.  But they thought they knew better (and things really haven’t changed).

My small group and local leaders

The chapter on short-term missions was very challenging.  It prompted me to think about my experiences in Mexico.  Thankfully, I can see that we were led by people who submitted to local leaders.  But many don’t.  As the church I pastor now considers some trips, we will need to ask some important questions.  One of those is whether or not that is the best way to use the resources.  Sometimes it is better to provide the funds to them to enhance their work.

In that chapter they mentioned the problem of our notion of “equality”.

“A STM team will tend to assume that treating every individual in the community the same way is obviously the right thing to do and may give out, say, food, in equal amounts to everyone.  But some collectivist societies have found that giving a disproportionately large amount of food to particular individuals can increase the chances of financial success for those individuals, who will then share their earnings with the community as a whole.”

I could not help think about our own nation’s quest for equality of resources via income redistribution.  Some people are better stewards of resources, and expand the wealth of the community.  They provide jobs for others.  Taking money away from them doesn’t really create jobs.  Our misguided notions of “fairness” will impoverish more and more.  It is telling that after 40+ years of the “war on poverty”, the poverty rate in America is essentially the same.  Whole lot of good that has done, and at what cost?

Locally the focus tends to be on relief.  It sells, plain and simple.  And it tends to impoverish people spiritually and emotionally.  They provide some examples of people who have implemented programs to rehabilitate or develop communities and individuals.  This is more nuts and bolts than the earlier theoretical section.  It can be of great assistance to deacons and parachurch ministries.

This was an easy book to read.  They  include questions for small groups to answer to process the information and consider how to implement it in their communities.  It gets 2 thumbs up from the Cavman.

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One of last year’s more important books was on the topic of helping the poor.  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself was written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.  This is no treatise hatched in the hot house of academia.  They have been engaged in developing these models on the field.  They have often had to learn from their mistakes.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so my comments are only with regard to the first 5 chapters of the book.  The book does come with an endorsement from John Perkins who has worked in tranformational ministry for decades.  He’s one of those guys shaking his head when Glenn Beck lumped everyone who talks about social justice in the same bucket.  John Perkins sees a connection with redemption (we seek it as redeemed people longing to see that redemption extended to others) and the need for solid theology- not liberation theology.  The book has the “dubious” distinction of being recommended by people as diverse as Ron Sider and Bryan Chappell (or Joel Belz) and Steve Childers.  This means it has enough gospel in it to be Christian, and enough justice in it to get Ron Sider to buy in.

It starts with the premise that much of the work going on around the world to alleviate poverty actually makes matters worse.  John Perkins recognizes this with the U.S. government’s war on poverty.  It left people dependent on the government.

John Perkins

Another important premise is that most Americans (and other westerners) live as though there is nothing wrong in the Majority World.  We have no grasp of how serious things can be, and think a little money can make it all better (or a concert fundraiser).  We live as if not much is wrong.  We don’t need to feel guilty for our wealth, but we do need to think of ourselves as stewards instead of consumers.

Theologically they embrace both the individual and cosmic implications of the redeeming work of Christ.  Yes, there is the forgiveness of sins.  But there is much more too!  Some churches (and Christians) seek to bring forgiveness but neglect the justice of the kingdom.  Some people seek the justice of the kingdom without bringing the forgiveness of the king.  They illustrate this from the story of a southern pastor and civil rights workers.  They both got it partly right and partly wrong.

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