What happens when our good intentions do more harm than good? We asked three Christian development practitioners to share what they’ve learnt about how we can help people without hurting them or ourselves.
Lindsay Henley, Director of Beth Uriel, a home for previously disadvantaged young men
“Be constantly aware of what you are bringing into the relationship/acts of service in terms of your own expectations, needs and attitude. Giving can be ‘toxic’ on both ends. Over helping to the point of ‘other reliance’ is toxic for the recipient. It creates issues of dependency and perpetuates cycles of poverty. While giving out of your own un-met needs and with unrealistic expectations of transformation is toxic to the giver and unfair to put on the recipient. If the result of your service is not life-giving to yourself as well as the recipient, then hit the pause button and take some more time to think it through.”
Colleen Saunders, core member of The Warehouse‘s Church Mobilisation team
“It’s easy for the well-resourced church to give of what they have to help ‘the poor’. But unless the recipients themselves recognise the possibility of change and acknowledge the need to change, that help will always be paternalistic and led by the giver – no matter how pure the heart behind the giving. Transformational development is a long, slow walk alongside another, helping them to recognise their own resources, worth and potential, and together with them seeking to restore what was lost.I value this scripture in realising how much this is on God’s heart … ‘The Son of man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10).”
Dave Barnes, manager of Westlake United Church Trust
“Hand outs create dependency and usually don’t help people to move above their circumstances. The toxic spin off for the giver is that one can create a patronizing/paternalistic relationship with recipients where you see the person as someone always wanting something from you, not as a someone who is struggling but who could have some of their own idea(s) of how to try to improve their situation. Our help or charity can rob a person of their own initiative or enable them to maintain bad habits and remain in negative situations.