Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Participant's Guide

Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Participant's Guide

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When Helping Hurts is a paradigm-forming contemporary classic on the subject of poverty alleviation with over 300,000 copies in print. This stand-alone resource applies the principles of  that book specifically to short-term missions.

Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Participant’s Guide aims to train and debrief team members, preparing them to do short-term missions as effectively as possible. To do this, it provides practical examples and guidelines for team members, and it creates interaction and reflection opportunities through questions and journaling.

With eight units, six of which are built around free online video content, this book equips teams to avoid harming materially poor communities and to translate their experience into lasting and mutual engagement with missions and poverty alleviation. In conjunction with the separately available Leader’s Guide, it is an ideal resource for churches, Christian colleges, mission agencies, and missionaries.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802409928
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 10/01/2014
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 388,191
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.31(d)

About the Author

Steve Corbett is the Community Development Specialist for the Chalmers Center at Covenant College and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.

Brian Fikkert is the Founder and Executive Director of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College, as well as a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.

Read an Excerpt

Helping Without Hurting In Short-Term Missions

Participant's Guide

By Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2014 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-0992-8




Discuss these questions before beginning this week's unit.

• What are the first five words or phrases that come to your mind when you think of poverty?

• If you had to describe the purpose of this short-term trip in one sentence, what would it be?

• What are your personal goals for this trip? Two years from now, what are two things in your life and actions that you would like to be different as a result of going on this trip?


Aubrey sat in the back row of the fifteen-passenger van, awkwardly curled up with her legs on top of her backpack. The rest of the team was sleeping, heads leaning against windows and piles of pillows. Aubrey, though, was staring into the distance, exhausted but unable to sleep. She kept thinking of Michelle, a ten-year-old girl from Chicago she had befriended over the past six days. Images of her adorable grin played on repeat in her mind. Each morning, Aubrey and her fellow team members worked on houses in Michelle's neighborhood, and then ran VBS classes in the afternoon. Last night, Aubrey had to say goodbye. She tearfully gave Michelle a box of candy and school supplies. It kills me to leave, but I know we both understand Jesus better because I was faithful to come here, sacrificing my time and resources to love her, Aubrey thought as the van pulled into a filling station.

At first glance, it seems like Aubrey and her team successfully acted on their biblical command to love and serve people who are poor. After all, houses were freshly painted, and the neighborhood children had bracelets representing the gospel story the team had shared. But if Aubrey could spend months, or years, in that neighborhood, she would realize that alleviating poverty isn't that straightforward—her team may have recognized the symptoms of poverty, but there was actually something more happening beneath the surface.


Close your books and watch this week's video via the QR code or link below.

Follow the prompts to set up an account or sign back in, utilizing the access code below to view the videos:

Code: COL120


Initial Reflections

1. What are two or three ideas that struck you in the video? What questions do you have after seeing the video?


Consider the following numbers and statistics:

2–3 million people: 2010 estimate of how many people from the United States go on short-term mission trips (STMs) internationally each year

20–25 percent: The likelihood of any given church member going on an international STM sometime in their lifetime as of 2009

$1,370–$1,450 per person: Range of average cost for an international STM

$1.6 billion: A conservative estimate of international STM spending per year—that's $ 1,600,000,000

4 million people: number of the world's extreme poor whose yearly income would equal the $ 1.6 billion spent on international STMs in one year

$3,000–$6,000 per year: the range of yearly salary for a community-level relief and development worker in the Majority World—an STM of fifteen people at $ 1,400 per person would spend $21,000, an amount that could support three to seven staff members for a year

1. Out of the above numbers, what statistics surprise you the most? Why?

These numbers paint a sobering picture. Simply put, we spend a massive amount of money on short-term trips—money that could be used to support people working and ministering in their own communities, people who are already familiar with the context and culture of the community. These people could be used by God to evangelize, disciple, and combat poverty over the long haul.

2. Given this reality, how do you justify using God's money to go on this trip?

So why go? As we will see throughout these lessons, the purpose of a trip isn't primarily about what you will do or what impact you will have in two weeks. It's about what you can learn, in deep and meaningful ways, and how that learning can translate into long-term engagement in the world of missions and poverty alleviation.


How we define poverty will heavily influence how we respond to and attempt to alleviate that poverty. Take a moment to review the table below of commonly cited causes and responses to poverty:

If We Believe the Primary Cause of Then We Will Primarily Try to ...
Poverty Is ...

A Lack of Knowledge
Educate the Poor
Oppression by Powerful People
Work for Social Justice
The Personal Sins of the Poor
Evangelize and Disciple the Poor
A Lack of Material Resources
Give Material Resources to the Poor

1. Look back at your answers to the preliminary questions. Do your answers about poverty tend to emphasize one particular category above?

2. Which line(s) of the table above do you think short-term trips most frequently try to address, and how do they typically do it? Why do you think this is the case?


Because God is inherently relational and made humans in His image, humans are wired for relationship, too. When the four relationships are functioning properly, humans experience the fullness of life that God intended—we are being what God created us to be.

But as we discussed in the video, the fall broke these relationships.

From this framework, poverty isn't only about a lack of material things. While that is an important element of poverty, there are many other crucial factors at work. As a result, poverty—and poverty alleviation—is complex.

Remember: because the fall impacted everything, both individual people and systems are broken. The brokenness in the four relationships means social, political, economic, and religious systems are marred by sin. Thus, poverty alleviation also involves transforming those systems. Sometimes people blame choices made by the materially poor for their poverty, arguing that anyone could escape poverty if they wanted to do so. While sinful individual choices can contribute to poverty, poverty is also the result of circumstances outside the control of the materially poor. For example, consider the prevalence of poverty in many US cities. Many neighborhoods bear the marks of centuries of racial discrimination and damaging economic, social, and political policies. What happens when society crams historically oppressed, undereducated, unemployed, and relatively young human beings into high-rise buildings, provides them with inferior education, healthcare, and employment systems, and then establishes financial disincentives for work? Is it really that surprising that we see out-of-wedlock pregnancies, broken families, violent crimes, and drug trafficking? Yes, those choices are still wrong. But they have a context. Both broken systems and broken individual choices contribute to poverty.

Part of the learning process of a short-term trip entails recalibrating our hearts and minds, moving away from easy—but incomplete and unbiblical—assumptions about the materially poor. Learning about and acknowledging the complexity of poverty, particularly in the community you will be visiting, is an essential part of long-term engagement in missions and poverty alleviation.

1. When you interact with the materially poor, do you tend to see their poverty more as a result of their personal actions or circumstances beyond their control?

• Would your answer to this question be different for the materially poor in your own community versus a community abroad? Why or why not?

2. Look back at how you described the purpose of your trip in the preliminary questions. Did part of your stated purpose involve poverty alleviation?

• If so, given the ideas on poverty and poverty alleviation in this unit, how might you need to adjust your expectations?

3. Given the complexity of poverty and poverty alleviation, how can you specifically commit to make this trip one part of a long-term process of learning and engagement in God's work, rather than a one-time spiritual or emotional experience? Take a moment to discuss what these commitments and goals might look like for your group.


• Keep your eyes open for the ways poverty is influenced by broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

• Remember that poverty alleviation is not just a matter of providing people with material things. It is a process of reconciling the four foundational relationships. You are not participating in a short-term trip in order to directly alleviate poverty.

• View your trip as one piece of a long-term process of learning about, engaging with, and supporting God's work of missions and poverty alleviation.


Poverty is the result of broken relationships, and broken relationships can be restored by the work of Christ. He came to make all things new, breaking the hold of sin and death "far as the curse is found." He came to show us that we can have a relationship with our Father, that we have dignity as creatures made in God's image, that we are to love one another in nourishing community, and that we have the privilege of stewarding the rest of creation. The fall has marred what God intended for us at creation, but the work of Christ offers hope that what is broken, both inside of us and around us, will be repaired.

But that process doesn't happen in the space of a few days or weeks. If we are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a trip, we need a different set of goals, namely entering into a long-term, intentional process of learning about and engaging with what God is doing in our own country and around the globe—and supporting the people who can alleviate poverty in their own communities. It doesn't seem as tidy as digging wells, repairing houses, or running sports camps, but as we will see in the next few units, it can foster deeper change in both the receiving community and our own lives.


"Every human being, regardless of income level, is made in the image of God, meaning that we are wired for relationship: with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of creation. When we experience these four relationships in the way that God designed them, we experience humanness the way that He intended. This is the 'good life' that we are all seeking. Unfortunately, the fall has broken these four relationships for all people. For some, this brokenness manifests itself in material poverty."

Spend time this week praying that God would open your eyes to the complexity of poverty—and the magnitude of His reconciling power as He is making all things new. Pray that He would prepare your heart to see and support the work of your brothers and sisters who are already serving as ambassadors of reconciliation in their communities. And pray for humility as you consider what engaging with that work around the world and in your own community would look like.




Discuss this question before beginning this week's unit.

• Take a moment to reflect on a time when you helped a materially poor person. What was going through your mind during and after you helped this person? What do you imagine was going through their mind?


"We've been sent to the least of these." "Taking back Africa for Jesus." "Hope for New Orleans." The taglines appear on brochures, T-shirts, and fundraising letters. Images of malnourished children or homeless people sleeping under overpasses star in short-term trip promotional videos. The appeals are emotionally compelling, and appear to be built around the biblical mandate to care for the materially poor. But on a deeper level, they say an enormous amount about how we view ourselves and how we view low-income people. As we saw in unit 1, poverty is rooted in the complexity of broken relationships. Then who are the poor? And what does poverty alleviation look like?


Close your books and watch this week's video via the QR code or link below.

Follow the prompts to set up an account or sign back in, utilizing the access code below to view the videos:

Code: COL120


Initial Reflections

1. What are two or three ideas that struck you in the video? What questions do you have after seeing the video?


As discussed in the video, brokenness in the four relationships shapes all of us, not just the materially poor.

1. You may not be materially poor, but what evidence do you see in your life of brokenness in the four foundational relationships?

• Relationship with God:

• Relationship with Self:

• Relationship with Others:

• Relationship with the Rest of Creation:

Being aware of the way our own foundational relationships are marred by sin is crucial in fostering an attitude of humility. We are all dependent on the work of Christ in our lives, and we all share equal worth and value as His image-bearers. But as discussed in the video, the ways we experience poverty are fundamentally different. There is something uniquely devastating and painful about material poverty. The ways the materially rich experience poverty don't typically involve hunger pangs, watching family members die of malnutrition, or living in fear of violence outside our front doors. As we enter low-income communities, we must be very aware not to cheapen or delegitimize the pain that the materially poor endure by claiming to understand it, or that our experiences of brokenness are fully the same.


One of the biggest problems with short-term trips focused on poverty alleviation is that they can exacerbate the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame.

Yes, we may help temporarily improve people's physical conditions. They may have clean water, repaired houses, or new classrooms. But other, powerful aspects of their poverty can be deepened. The equation below summarizes this dynamic:

Material Definition of Poverty + God-complexes of Materially Non-Poor + Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor = Harm to Both Materially Poor and Non-Poor

David Livermore, who has spent years studying cross-cultural engagement and short-term missions, shares a story that illustrates this dynamic. He and his wife, Linda, and their daughters were visiting Malaysia. After seeing a materially poor Malay father and daughter on the street, Livermore encouraged his own daughter to give the little girl a frog stuffed animal.

As we started to leave, the Malay father ordered his daughter to return the frog. We motioned that we didn't want it back, but he insisted. He began to raise his voice and grabbed the frog and handed it to me. As I began to talk with Linda about it, we thought back to bur home in the Chicago area. Though a beautiful house, our home was one of the more modest homes in our town. Linda asked, "So how would you feel if one of the parents in the million-dollar homes near us suddenly walked up to our girls and started handing them gifts?" All of a sudden I began to see this in a new light. I thought about how I would feel if some rich person started giving my girls unsolicited gifts in my presence. I'm quite capable of caring for them, thank you!

Livermore didn't anticipate that giving a simple stuffed animal—something he intended as an act of generosity—would provoke a negative response. Livermore's intentions were good, but he inadvertently angered and shamed the Malay father by implying that he could not adequately provide for his own child.

1. Have you ever seen this type of dynamic at work, whether in your own community or during a short-term trip? If so, how?

2. Look back at your answer to the preliminary question. In the situation you described, do you have any evidence to support what you think was going through the materially poor person's mind? How else might the materially poor recipient have perceived your help?

3. How might going on this trip help challenge you and heal you in areas of your brokenness?

4. How might going on this trip tempt you to further entrench areas of your brokenness?


Excerpted from Helping Without Hurting In Short-Term Missions by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert. Copyright © 2014 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Note: Video content will parallel these subjects. Videos will consist of interviews, teaching from HWH Seminars, and on-field footage where possible.

Part I:  Before You Go

Chapter 1:  Do No Harm

Chapter 2:  Repent? Who Me?

Chapter 3:  They are Not Helpless

Chapter 4:  The Kingdom is Upside Down

Chapter 5:  Being a Blessing on the Field

Part II:  While You Are There

Chapter 6:  Field Journal

Part III:  Now What?

Chapter 7:  Take Aways

Chapter 8:  What Will You Do Next?

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