When we see someone in significant need it is very natural for us, as compassionate human beings, to want to try to quickly and efficiently meet that need.
There are times when this is an entirely appropriate and helpful response- in light of a natural disaster for example. Certainly the epistle of James commends us:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? -James 2:15,16
People experiencing poverty, marginalising circumstances and disadvantage tell us that constantly being “provided for” (with no hope of eventually becoming the provider) is both demoralising and dehumanising.
As one mother told me: It is very easy, when you are constantly on the receiving end of “help”, to begin to believe that you are less valuable that the person giving the aid.
As Christians, who believe in the inerrant value of all people as image-bearers of God, we should be horrified to think that what we believed we were doing out of compassion has actually resulting in a person feeling less valuable.
So how then DO we respond to people presenting with significant need?
Taking an asset based approach towards community development does not require us to deny needs. When working with people experiencing poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage the “needs” will quickly present themselves. By starting from a position of affirming a person’s gifts, dignity and capacity to “repair their own web” we can start to see them as God does; helping us to overcome any sense of superiority and ensuring they also have a sense of equality in the relationship.
As I said at the front, there will be times when an individual or community do not have sufficient assets to address all of their needs. And when such needs are pressing then it may be appropriate to provide external resources.
It is crucial that such outside resources do not undermine the willingness or the ability of the poor individual or community to be stewards of their own gifts and resources.
-Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert; When Helping Hurts
I think the word “willingness” here is really important. Constant provision or simply the corrosive power of constant stress/trauma can undermine not only an individual’s ability to find the assets to meet their needs but also their willingness to do so.
This makes the work of calling out of a person’s gifts, talents and assets even more significant because the work we are doing is restorative not only of their fiscal but also their spiritual resolve.