What to Consider When Asked for Help (When Helping Hurts – part 6)

(A mule from the village of Maramara in Chad)

OK – so someone asks for help. What should you do? Here are guidelines from the book "When Helping Hurts." He uses the illustration of what a church might do if someone asks for money. Some reasons you might be careful about giving something out too quickly. See what you think:

  1. First, is there really a crisis at hand? If you fail to provide immediate help, will there really be serious, negative consequences? If not, then relief is not the appropriate intervention, for there is time for the person to take actions on his own behalf.
  2. Second, to what degree was the individual personally responsible for the crisis? Of course, compassion and understanding are in order here, especially when one remembers the systemic factors that can play a role in poverty. But it is still important to consider the person's own culpability in the situation, as allowing people to feel some of the pain resulting from any irresponsible behavior on their part can be the "tough love" needed to facilitate the reconciliation of poverty alleviation. The point is not to punish the person for any mistakes or sins he has committed but to ensure that the appropriate lessons are being learned in the situation. 
  3. Third, can the person help himself? If so, then a pure handout is almost never appropriate, as it undermines the person's capacity to be a steward of his own resources and abilities. 
  4. Fourth, to what extent has this person already been receiving relief from you or others in the past? How likely is he to be receiving such help in the future? As special as your church is, it might not be the first stop on the train! This person may be obtaining "emergency" assistance from one church or organization after another, so that your "just-this-one-time-gift" might be the tenth such gift the person has recently received.

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