The Root of Poverty And When Helping Hurts

I love Rwanda. I love the people, the country, the heartbreak, and the hope. I love that a country ravaged by a genocide less than 20 years ago is a country that can teach ME about loving others. I love that a country that once ran rampant with evil is now a beacon of hope and revival to the entire world. And I love that no matter how many times I visit, I am awestruck by the warmth and welcome I always receive.

One of the most incredible opportunities in my life has been to travel to Rwanda several times, work with coffee growing communities, and build deep and authentic relationships with the people there.  I often tell people they should expect to receive more than they could ever give when they travel to developing nations. It’s a vital perspective shift.

There are many misconceptions about how to “help” Africa. Yes, there are great needs. Yes, the Church is called to help the needy and serve the poor. But how we define poverty plays a major role in our attempts to alleviate it. Please consider with me that poverty is about much, much more than material goods. If we treat only the material symptoms or misdiagnose the underlying problem, we will not improve a situation. In fact, we might actually make it much worse.

What I am about to say may make some uncomfortable, and it may well be a shift in thinking, but I truly believe that many well-meaning Christians have harmed Africa more than they have ever helped. We have poured billions, if not trillions of dollars, into Africa. Has it helped? If you move past the lack of material goods and look at the underlying problems you begin to see that the solution requires a lot more than wealth. Often poverty is the result of broken relationships: with God, self and communities. What will make a poverty-stricken community whole again? If the people were educated, given authentic care, provided with guidance, a partner to encourage, train, teach would that not also be a solution?

While I encourage groups and individuals to travel to Rwanda and other developing countries, I must clarify: I do not mean the traditional “short-term mission” trip. Such trips commonly create more harm than good. It is in this case that the phrase, “It’s the thought that counts!” has no value.

It is simply not enough to just preach the Gospel; it is imperative to do the Gospel. During his time on earth, Jesus could have provided everyone with an equal income. But instead he spent his time with people, often those most broken. He loved them, He encouraged them, He instilled hope in them. When I traveled to Rwanda, my goal was to build relationships and through those relationships begin to address the causes of poverty. And for me, it all began with coffee and community.


For more information on the ideas in this blog, please read When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. You can also check out this article “Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips” from The Gospel Coalition. It details the common pitfalls of many mission trips these days, but also explains where there is still much hope!

1 Comment The Root of Poverty And When Helping Hurts

  1. Kimberly Coats

    You are absolutely 100% right, although difficult for many who want to do good to hear, it has taken me 5 years to start to make a real difference, changing lives for these cyclists and their families. Save your money on a 2 weeks trip and give it to an organization on the ground doing the grassroots, day in and day out real work if you truly want to affect change.


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