BY ASHLEY CHAPMANHundreds of people poured through the doors of First Baptist Church, but it wasn’t for a Sunday morning service or a chamber music concert. They came to hear Dr. Brian Fikkert speak from experience on right and wrong ways to engage with issue of poverty and injustice at home and abroad. The crux of his message came early on in the day.
“We need to get the diagnosis right; good intentions are not enough,” he explained. It’s something that donors and frontline workers don’t always like to hear.
Brian is the co-author, along with Steve Corbett, of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...And Yourself. On January 25 he headlined the “Helping Without Hurting” conference in Vancouver, BC, hosted by Food for the Hungry. It follows on last year’s successful conference in Edmonton, AB.
FH Canada training manager Melissa Giles organized the event as a training tool for pastors, lay people, aid workers, and anyone involved with engaging poverty and injustice locally or globally.
“We wanted to give back and provide a resource for people,” says Melissa. “This isn’t presently being talked about by other big speakers in Canada.”
She realized just how pertinent the topic was when 525 people registered for last year’s event, with participants coming from all over Western Canada and even the Northwestern States. Response this year was just as strong.
The conference broke down the principles of relief and development, equipping participants to respond in appropriate, life-giving ways that empower the poor instead of undermining their dignity. It’s what ‘real help’ must be founded upon.
Based on the overwhelming feedback, the training challenged the crowd and confronted several assumptions about the nature of poverty. It also suggested alternative ways to engage complex issues and laid the foundations for more effective involvement. Most importantly, it helped participants be aware of the ways their good intentions could actually bring harm.
"We are all poor. But, not all of us can effect change. As ‘the helpers’ we must repent of our sense of superiority. The poor, on the other hand, mention feeling ashamed and worthless. This is why our definition of poverty is a crucial starting point before we begin to form relief and development programs. Walking humbly with the poor transforms all of us." - Karen Bergstrom, Director of Intercultural Studies, Columbia Bible College
“This event had a huge impact on my understanding of short term missions, and helping the local individuals on the street." - Susan Plouffe, Coastal Church
“There are things I think the church needs to hear, and Brian has a way of communicating them that’s really effective,” explains Melissa.
But it wasn’t a conference about guilt or shame for mistakes of the past. It was meant to inspire, educate and enable individuals, churches, volunteers, and non-profits to make smart choices as they engage with issues of poverty—not only for their own good, but for the good of those they aim to help.
You might be surprised by where you fit in all this. Evaluate how you think about “the poor” in North America and abroad. What are your assumptions? What can we do to really help? Maybe it’s time to challenge this. Join the discussion.
If you missed the conference, consider attending a Poverty Revolution Boot Camp. It’s a day and a half workshop where participants challenge their deeply held assumptions and explore their worldviews to better understand the nature of poverty.
CLICK HERE for a list of dates and locations or to book a two-day Poverty Revolution BOOT CAMP for your community, church, team, study group or club.