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Finding new ways to help
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By Rob Hueniken

Helping others is a hallmark of Christianity, and an ongoing focus for church members and Christian organizations. In 2009, a book was published that startled both secular and faith-based service agencies. "When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself" was written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It made the strong claim that the causes of poverty are not truly understood, resulting in strategies that actually harm both poor people and the helpers themselves. Now, two years later, author Steve Corbett is on a speaking tour, presenting studies and improved ways for helping the materially poor, both locally and globally.

North Park Community Church (www.northpark.ca) was the London host for the Helping without Hurting conference, which was organized by Ron Burdock, North Park's Director of Global Outreach. Said Burdock: "Having wrestled with what doesn't work for 20 years, I can honestly say that this book has touched off a new and important wave of thinking." The conference has energized the London Christian community, attracting 500 people to share this important initiative and North Park's great hospitality, which included an amazing African lunch by the World Cooks — local women sharing their cooking and business skills with new arrivals to London.

At the heart of Corbett's message is the need to move more quickly from relief efforts to development efforts, to investigate what is truly needed by the people, and to ensure that the people being helped are active participants in moving forward. As Corbett said: "Development isn't done to people or for people but with people."

He gave the example of the ongoing problems in Haiti, where relief money poured in long after the area could have transitioned into development. Instead of using a work-for-benefit strategy, everything was given away for free, resulting in their local employers and food merchants going out of business. By ignoring the human assets already there, the generous but misdirected charity actually deepened the poverty in Haiti! But thanks to new strategies by Corbett and the Chalmers Center for Economic Development (www.chalmers.org) there is a widespread awakening to improving how we can help others.

The conference has sparked a lot of discussion in London churches and aid organizations, as people re-evaluate and update their own benevolent efforts. Helping to connect some of these efforts are two groups: Churches Together London (churchestogetherlondon.com) and the Christian Churches Network of London (www.ccnl.org). For information on the book that started this new phase of charity, you can visit www.whenhelpinghurts.org.