Tag Archives: hurting

Book Review: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (New Edition), by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

When Helping HurtsThere was a time when I felt alone in my thoughts on the damaging effects and arrogance of many short-term mission trips. While working as a full-time missionary in a rural area of Central America, I’ve even been pushed to the side and encouraged to keep quiet about the perpetuation of a welfare state and divisiveness of a community by those visiting from my supporting congregation in the US. Once I was eventually completely silenced and pushed out of that work, I began to discover others outside of my own tradition had been wrestling with these things, too. We were (are) concerned with the long-term impact of short-term mission trips and were seeing a wake of cultural and theological devastation in the way things have been going. “White is right” and “money heals” has often been the practical approach, even if it is denied and described in other terms. Most of the people and teams I’ve come across do not lack good intentions; they do often lack humility and effectiveness.

Why did I begin with this specific experience? Most American church “missions” are focused on “the poor” (as perceived by the churches), and it is to this end (and further) that When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by economists Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert has much to offer. Emphasizing an holistic approach to helping those in need, Corbett and Fikkert take into account the much disregarded economic factors in the way we “help” others, noting that we are often blinded to the reality of our doing more harm than good. Leaving behind the method of paternalism, the reader is encouraged to come alongside and work with others (not doing things for or to them), as well as recognizing that not all “poor” is created equal.

One of the principle equations used to demonstrate the harm done to both parties follows thusly: Material Definition of Poverty + God-complexes of Materially Non-Poor + Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor = Harm to Both Materially Poor and Non-Poor. The authors help the reader see the distinctions between relief, rehabilitation, and development, as well as the time and place for their relevancy and proper implementation, though always encouraging participation of the one being aided (if that’s even the right word to use for a given situation). Of course, the authors want to be clear of their intentions and note the following in this new edition:

Some of our readers have misunderstood the message of the first edition of this book to be: “Individuals and churches with financial resources should stop writing checks.” That is not our message. We do believe that individuals, churches, and ministries should rarely be simply “writing checks” or handing out cash or material resources directly to materially poor people. However, we also believe that individuals and churches that have been blessed with financial resources…should dramatically increase their financial giving to churches and ministries that pursue gospel-focused, asset-based, participatory development. The churches and ministries that are engaged in development work have a very difficult time raising the funds needed to pay for this highly relational, time-intensive approach, an approach in which there are not always clear measures of success or of the “return on the investment.” Development ministries need financial supporters who understand what poverty alleviation is really about—reconciling the four, key relationships—and who are willing to fund the long and winding process that must be used to get there. (233, emphasis original)

My wife had already read the first edition of this book, but I’m thankful Fikkert recently provided her with the latest edition and that it was passed on to me. It doesn’t provide all the answers, nor does it make such a claim; in fact, it should be used as an introduction to further processing and discussion among churches and religious organizations. For more information, the authors encourage checking out www.chalmers.org.


As an added plug, I was blessed to be able to participate in a private showing of the new documentary “Poverty, Inc.” while reading this book. They have much in common and I highly recommend it for both religious and non-religious institutions. The film has yet to be fully released, but you can look at hosting a showing in your area by visiting www.povertyinc.org.

Book Review: After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again, by Glenn Pemberton

After LamentGlenn Pemberton’s eagerly awaited follow up to Hurting With God (ACU Press, 2012), After Lament honestly and sincerely brings the reader back into Pemberton’s struggles with chronic pain, his acceptance of a life therewith, and what life looks like after lamenting, all through the use of the Psalter. Not holding back his feelings concerning the pat answers of many Christians in the context of pain and suffering, some may find their toes getting a bit crushed by Pemberton’s trampling on what “church language” has become, but it all comes from love and his own experience with hearing the same unhelpful words for years. This is why I highly recommend first reading Hurting With God (my review here), for better understating the language of lament, the necessity thereof, and from what perspective After Lament is written.

The first two chapters reorient the reader into a position of appreciation for lament before moving on, a must for those who have not read Hurting With God, but a nice refresher and life-update on Pemberton for those who have. The last eight chapters deal with Pemberton’s use of Psalms as a way of relating to and moving from lament into any of the following: 1) trust and confidence, 2) thanks, 3) praise, 4) joy, 5) instruction, and 6) broken hope, none of which is a guaranteed since varying journeys have varying outcomes. A discussion guide for each chapter is also including at the end of the book for those who wish to go through the book as a group or more personal introspection.

Lamenting is a journey, not a destination. Life After Lament won’t always be that for which we’ve asked, but we must eventually move out of lament. To this, Pemberton states, “It is easy to serve God and shout hallelujah as long as the payoff is there—a good life, the answer I wanted to my prayer. But what if there is no payoff, just pain? Will you serve the Lord for absolutely no reason other than that the Lord is God?” (197, emphasis original). Along with Pemberton, I’m sure, I pray those who read After Lament will find it helpful in answering him (and God!) in the affirmative.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, by Glenn Pemberton

Hurting with GodPemberton provides an approach to lamenting much needed by today’s congregations, especially among the increasingly shallow forms of “Praise and Worship”-only gatherings. “P&W” formats serve a purpose and may be beneficial, but they do just that—serve a purpose. And so with public and corporate lament, a purpose is served. Incorporating all forms of worship and God-talk are important for all churches, and in their relevant time and place.

Pemberton writes, “If what I have found in university classrooms and churches is a reliable indicator, believers are aching for words to express the realities of their lives, to speak the truth to God instead of putting on a charade of repetitive and empty praise clichés that ignore or deny the relentless storms” (25). Yet these words, words of lament, have been pushed out of our gatherings, and ultimately our vocabulary, by years of insistence on being “joyful” and “happy” Christians who approach times of hardship with phrases like, “God has a plan,” “It’ll all work out,” and, “Blue skies and rainbows . . .” These may be true, but may also likely prove to be utterly unhelpful in times of suffering. Many biblical texts, in both the Old and New Testaments, help us through these times and give us language to talk to God and help us through. Pemberton, does a fantastic job using the book of Psalms, as well as other Scripture, narrative, and personal experience, to point out this language and guide us through its usage, including a rare and needed address of the imprecatory psalms.

Pemberton well addresses those who would rebut and dissuade Christians from the use of lament or anything that hints at anger, dissatisfaction, and even resentment towards God. Along with being told the one side of being humble and reverent toward God, we ought also to be continually reminded these words: “To lament is to humble myself before my sovereign. It is pride that prevents me from telling God and others the truth. Masked by false piety, pride may look like authentic faith: we appear to be successful, we talk about our blessings, we minister to others in crisis, and we even talk about God a lot. But our pride prevents us from telling anyone the truths about ourselves—that I am not okay, that I am confused, that I am angry, that I feel as if God has abandoned me. Arrogance, not humility, keeps us from speaking the truth of our lives. . . . No expectations, no disappointments, no questions for God: a low-risk, minimalist version of Christianity, safe from ever needing to have a difficult conversion with God” (172).

The appendices provided are great resources for group study and discussion, locating helpful psalms, and locating information for further study on topics in the included chapters and their subsections. Hurting with God will surely prove beneficial for the hurting and regaining the language of lament in the church.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”