Book Review: When Helping Hurts / Becoming Whole

Book Review: When Helping Hurts / Becoming Whole

Book Review by Kenedi Newport


When Helping Hurts

The book “When Helping Hurts” by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a part of a duology. The second part is “Becoming Whole”. The series is mostly for missionaries or church groups helping others in need but aren’t aware that they’re causing more harm than good. This means there are a lot of biblical references in the book to support their stance on how God wants people to be helped.

The groups of people they mention assisting include natural disaster survivors, people in poverty, homeless people and more. Helping hurts whenever it creates dependency or disrupts the culture of the people affected.


Build Relationships

One of the first things they point out is communication. Building relationships with people creates trust and more long term results. The problem is that many people visit other countries for a couple weeks to help and return home. There’s not much that an individual or small group of volunteers can accomplish in two weeks. If things are moving too slow, volunteers may decide to take charge so they can see results before they leave. This can lead to creating changes people don’t necessarily need and in some cases, don’t want.


Don’t Create Dependency

Some examples of helping that cause harm include giving money or food for an immediate problem or doing the work for them. This helps them at that moment but what about when the problem happens again? Those people will expect you to help them again and they won’t learn to try and solve the problems on their own. This will create dependency. They will continue to depend on volunteers to do what they are capable of doing for themselves.


Cultural Disruption

Culturally, outsiders who “help” a situation by telling people what and how things need to be changed can be harmful. It takes away their ability to think and do for themselves. It also undermines their values and capabilities. Also, there is the chance that what the outsider is doing, works against the people’s normal way of life. Corbett and Fikkert, point out that this increases the chances of them returning to the way they did things prior to the help. When they do that, any work the volunteers have completed becomes useless. The authors suggest building relationships with people and attaching yourself as help rather than leaders or people responsible for what’s happening.


Think Before You Act

This book gave me a new perspective on caring for others in need, I never thought of the long term effects of most of the ways that people decide to help those in need. It seems like a lot of other people haven’t either. Corbett and Fikkert give many examples of people in desperate situations and how they either approached the situation or how they would have approached it. They also talk about teamwork and community, the stronger those two things are with the people, the less problems.




Becoming Whole

“Becoming Whole” by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic is the second book in the duology. This book has the same message regarding Americans helping other people in need. It differs in that it focuses on taking a holistic approach to helping others. This means being aware of the whole person, their history and their culture rather than their current situation. The authors point out that Americans often “help” by offering assistance to people based on their ideas of the American Dream. A part of the reason the authors don’t think it’s a good idea to help people in other countries live the American Dream is because it is not working here either. It is also likely to undermine cultural values and traditions held by the people being helped.


They make it a point to emphasize communication. When helping we have to listen to the people who are being helped and let them take charge of the situation. Let them tell us what to do so we can help assist them. In that situation, it does not matter what values we hold nor the time we spend assisting, the locals maintain control of the situation. They have our assistance and the ability to exchange ideas but they maintain the authority to make the final decision.  Most importantly, they won’t become dependent on our volunteers.


The American Dream

Fikkert and Kapic discuss how some people have worked hard and made a lot of money but studies were done and showed that even though more money was made, the happiness of people actually went down. To continue to help the poor by teaching them how to overcome poverty in the same way Americans overcome poverty, basically teaches them consumerism. A closer look at the fate of many Americans regarding poverty would prove that The American Dream is not working well for many people. Therefore, we should not teach people how to overcome poverty by behaving the way we do. Although the book is strongly Christian in belief and practice, it does not focus solely on church organizations. It useful because it applies to any person or organization who helps or wants to help less fortunate people. It presents examples that encourage the reader to analyze the services they use or want to use to help those in need and correct them if they don’t result in solving the long term problem. Overall their solution is to become better people and better Christians as God teaches, and use those lessons to help those who are in need. God doesn’t teach consumerism, nationalism or patriotism, neither should we.

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