This is an article from the September-October 2011 issue: Making Disciples

Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist

Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist

I have been in relationship with the Waodani since 1956, when they killed my dad Nate and four of his friends. My relationship continued through the time my aunt Rachel lived with them beginning in 1958 through her death in 1994. I most recently lived with the Waodani beginning just after Aunt Rachel’s death in 1994 until later in 1997, maintaining a house and spending about one quarter of my time with them until 2008.

When people visit the Waodani, they look around and think, “Wow, these people have nothing!” People from the outside think the Waodani are poor because they don’t have three-bedroom ramblers with wall-to-wall carpeting, double garages so full of stuff the cars never fit and, I guess, because they never take vacations to exotic places like Disney World.

So, on speaking tours I began describing these jungle dwellers as “People who all have water front property, multiple houses and spend most of their time hunting and fishing.” The most common response I have gotten when describing the Waodani this way is, “Wow, would I ever like to live like that!” I agree completely.

Mincaye, on the other hand, sees the way we “Outsiders” live here in “The foreigner’s place” and makes comments like; “Why, never sitting, do the foreigners run around and around in their car things speaking to each other on their talking things but never hunting or fishing or telling stories to each other?” After traveling and speaking with me in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Mincaye is always greatly relieved to get back to his thatched roof hut, with the open fire wafting smoke in his face, eating whatever happens to be in the cooking pot. He sits around in jungle-stained clothes and the look on his face tells it all. He would not live in North America for all the green paper and little pieces of plastic he could carry. He doesn’t understand how money and credit cards work but he knows foreigners can’t leave home without them.

Mincaye is a rich man. Or, he was until someone taught him to drive a golf cart and he started thinking how much fun it would be to take his 57 grandchildren for rides up and down the Nemompade airstrip where we used to live together. Now he wants his own golf cart (which means he would need a charging station, and a solar panel farm to power it, and a shop to maintain it, and spare parts to keep it running….)

From my life experiences with the Waodani—and other people groups in Africa, Asia and South America who live simply and materially contentedly—I have learned that it is unreasonable to evaluate their “lack” based on our distorted and exaggerated perception of need. When we try to meet phantom needs of people who live at a lower material standard than we have learned to consider “minimal,” we not only fall into a trap that keeps us from seeing their real needs but we also tempt them into a snare that can raise their perception of need beyond what their economy can support.

When we project poverty on people where it doesn’t exist, we also overlook the actual poverty with which they struggle. Solomon said it well, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase so do those who consume them” (Ecc 5:10–11).

Dangerous Charity

Often charity to help the poor attracts more people into poverty. One example I have noticed takes place when North Americans try to care for the needs of orphans in cultures different from our own. If you build really nice orphanages and provide good food and a great education, lots more children in those places become orphans. I see this happen all over. When we attempt to eradicate poverty through charity, we often attract more people into “needing” charity. It is possible to create need where it did not exist by projecting our standards, values and perception of need onto others.

So what is poverty? We in the “Wealthy West” have little understanding of “poverty.” As our standard of living has risen in developed countries, our perception of poverty has changed.

Consider how our definition of an orphan is different from most other cultures. In the U.S., you are an orphan if your mother and father have died. In South America (where I grew up), as in other contexts where extended family structures are intact, you are not really considered an orphan as long as you have a living grandparent, uncle, aunt or older brother or sister who is capable of helping take care of you. So when North Americans build an orphanage in South America, we “create” orphans by tempting family members to take advantage of our well-intentioned largess. This is seldom in the best interest of those children who are “orphaned” by our desire to meet what we perceive as their need.

Provoking Poverty

In the same way, proximity and exposure to wealth can provoke a sense of poverty. A group of North Americans going on a short-term mission—with our international cell phones, iPads, fancy clothes and fat wallets to buy curios and spend on hotels and restaurants—can create more comparative poverty than most of us can imagine.

But, all of that is not the issue. Do we have a responsibility to care for the poor? Yes. 1 Cor 8:11–15 hits the nail on the head. Let me summarize—“No Christ follower should have too much while anyone else has too little.” So, should we all become poor so that we are no longer responsible? No. Paul also points out that this teaching is not intended to put the poor at ease and to burden the wealthy (2 Th 3:6-12).

Among people living simply amidst abundant resources, poverty is not measured in annual income or net worth, but in “what I have in comparison to what those around me have.” In such contexts poverty is more of an attitude and a mood than an actual state of having or not having something. In such contexts, contentment is the secret. Some people think 1 Timothy 6:6 says “Godliness is a means of gain,” but really it says “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Where there is godliness with contentment there is no perceived “poverty” until discontentment has been stirred.

Building Up Christ’s Body

Our goal in planting Christ’s church where it doesn’t exist must be to produce churches that are self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting; especially where the members come from a background of hopelessness, powerlessness and inadequate resources. The most important aspect of church planting is whatever that fledgling congregation needs most. In a growing number of cases, the greatest need new churches have is to become self-supporting.

Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24–26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.

Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.

As followers of Christ we must fight poverty through discipleship rather than covering it with spiritual frosting. Either we do God’s will God’s way or we aren’t doing His will at all. Discipleship means teaching others what we have learned so they can teach others to care for their community’s physical, economic, emotional and spiritual needs on a sustainable basis! (2 Tim 2:2, Mt 28:19–20)


I appreciate your wisdom and balance here.


Great article but I would add: many times the “giving of something or handouts” (tutoring; ESL; hygiene kits; food; mentoring; clothing, etc) done with a heart of evangelism is all about the gospel! To me (and many others like Tim Keller, Eric Mason, Francis Chan, etc.) simply do not believe you have to seperate “hand outs” from evangelism and discipleship. It is all interwoven with Christ centered and gospel saturated ministry! Plus ministry among the poor should primarily be done under the umbrella of the local church. To put your spin on “hand outs” when one desperately needs food or medicine or something that any of us middle class (or wealthy) have is not wrong. Jonathan Edwards addresses this in his writings too. Blessings!

I like a lot of your article, Steve. But you take it too far when you say: “Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs.” One clear example of this is when there are natural disasters. Immediate help needs to focus on immediate needs, with the rebuilding following close on its heels. You leave no room for disaster relief and similar non-developmental assistance and it weakens your case. That is too bad because I too have seen financial help create dependency where there was none and you have a great case to make in that regard.

Well written..thanks

If we foolishly think that people who lack a Nintendo Wii are poor, it only reveals the extent of our materialism, and makes the case that we are the poor, not the Waodani.

You nailed it here Steve and I am glad that you and “When Helping Hurts” gang are brave enough to speak the truth about this.  I think giving a real critique of the real results of good intentioned ministry that has long term negative results often brings on a backlash…the road to hell is paved with good intentions and people don’t want to hear anything negative especially after they have poured their blood sweat and tears into something they care about.  Reality is that it just isn’t “all good” like the reports back to the donars and the prayers want to hear.  I have an MA in 3rd World Economic Development, have been immersed in it for the last 18 years and have spent 34 of my 44 years living in developing countries and I would have to pretty much agree with the whole article based on my education and experience. 
Charity has it’s place but the command to all Christians is Discipelship.  Discipleship is life together with the poor thus you are “loving your neighbor” and giving/helping each other.  The charity model is much more comfortable for us wealthy western Christians and thus it is vigourously defended but visits to places that have received disastor relief and lots of “help” pretty much tell a different story.  I am not saying that we don’t give or do disaster releif but it is pretty tough to come up with an example of Jesus doing either of those.  He seemed to be much more intent on all of us “loving our neighbors” and going out and actively “choosing our neighbors as the needy and the poor” and then investing our lives with them.
The longer I am in this the less I am convinced I know and the more I am ashamed of the results of my good intentioned labor.  I would have to say that from what I have seen of the short term folks, particularrly those involved in disaster relief, most often don’t see the long term consequences.  I cringe as I think back of some of the disaster relief I was part of in the early days and the damage it did. We continue to do the same thing that well intentioned churches, missionaries and charity organizations did to the native americans and australian aborigines and I wonder when we will learn from our history?  Readying “The Tragedy of American Compassion” by Olasky documents this so clearly in our own american poverty.  As Steve has seen with the Wodani and I have seen here in Papua, the poster children of the 50’s and 60’s have now become the the victims of “too much help.”  I see in myself that so much of my charity, sympathy and help is pride based form of self righteous pity clothed in the term compassion (which he only felt 4 times and he was God/Man). Not saying I didn’t have good intentions or that all my motivations are wrong or that God can’t do some magic with messed up tools but much of “my help” was a help at the time but when I look back I wonder if we did more good than damage?  I am pretty convinced that programs that go in and deal with orphans or empower women but ignore the God designed concept of family do more damage than good but these are the latest fads in development.  I would guess that after all these years I am still doing 30% damage to 70% good if I evaluate my help.  None of us are doing as much good as we would like to convince ourselves and others of so maybe I should lower that number. I’d like to go with John and Ed’s comments above cause they would make me feel better about myself but my feet are firmly planted in the mud and pig poop of the Papuan highlands and reality is right outside my window.  Thanks Steve, keep speaking to these issues, we need to do better in this area for the Kingdom and for the Kings kids whom He loves dearly.

Ed Lauber, an interesting book for you to read might be Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid”.

This is clearly not a black and white issue; even when you can slap the appropriate labels ‘aid’ or ‘development’ on to the ‘solution’ needed for different situations, it is always far more complex than one first realizes.

Nicola, Dead Aid is good. Lord’s of poverty is a bit extreme, but helps to frame the debate. Missiologist Glen Schwartz brings another pretty good perspective. I so agree about complexity and that was really my point. The article is weak because it is too simplistic - leaving no room at all for “relief”. The good Samaritan’s assistance to the man by the road did was pure relief - there is no financial help that developed “sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency”, unless you count simple health as producing that. We need to be careful that our reaction to the very real problems created by misguided “aid” do not take us away from clear Biblical teaching.

The value of this brief article by Saint is that it has gotten people thinking and talking. It’s obviously not a comprehensive plan, but rather a jolt of reality for people who never see the first-hand the mess that their good intentions create.

The folks who are going to save the world from poverty need to understand the consequences of their actions. Hopefully they get it, but somehow I doubt that they will.

Thank you Steve Saint. Your wisdom is very beneficial. We have much to learn and consider.

Ed, I think you are taking the Good Samaritan story out of context in defence of “relief.” I believe as you said to Steve, it “weakens your arguement.”  The Good Samaritan is about “who is my neighbor” not encouraging us all to run an ambulance service. 
I think it is all way simpler than any of us are willing to admit.  If it is “complicated” then we have excuses for why poverty is growing at alarming rates when we are throwing more resources at it than ever before. 
Jesus didn’t say it was complicated, He told us to love our neighbor as ourself.  Choosing my neighbor and then setting out to understand him is a bit of a puzzle but it isn’t rocket science.  I am convinced that I, a white american male with a masters, have 90% commonality with my black papaun highland neighbor who can barely read and write.  there are some minor differneces like language and food but all the core stuff… what we want for our kids, our need for respect, hope for dignity, saftey for our family, need to be a part of a community… those are the same.
I spent way too long learning how “complicated” it all is and now I am realizing more and more how simple it really is…that doesn’t make it easy.  simple is way harder to live as the good samaritan story shows us.  The priest and levite saw how “complicated” it all was and continued on with their lives.

Thanks for your insight and thought, Scott.

I would agree with much of what has been said by Steve (and Scott whom I know wink ) Years ago in a debate in university (intl dev) I argued that poverty is not (as the other side argued) a lack of gdp/financial means/material possessions - rather, it is lacking that which you need to do more than just survive in your particular culture.

In the west if you lack $$$ you are poor. In many places $$$ is irrelevant. If you cannot access land to farm, raise animals etc then you have poverty.

I have worked almost my entire career in NGOs and/or community development and I remain convinced that most of it is a gross waste of time and resources - imparting more harm than good. I recommend a favourite book of mine by a former co-worker (now head of Rio Tinto’s social programmes) Festival Elephants and the Myth of Global Poverty (Glynn Cochrane)  which talks about this and is dead on.

As CHristians we have a duty to orphans, widows and the poor. But throwing money at them is rarely if ever the solution.

What a great article. It is what makes me a missionary kid different. It is also what makes me not fit into the culture of the West, and my parent’s mission’s view of how to do things. AMEN to the story. AMENAMENAMEN.

Having spent time with people in poverty in Kenya, I can’t agree more with Steve.  We in the west are deeply impoverished when it comes to community.  We have so much to learn yet we are not open to it—instead we feel we want to make the world like the west.  Through media and hollywood we’ve made life in the west seem pretty attractive but most immigrants will tell you that it isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Aid is a deeply complex issue.  Some argue that stopping all aid would be the best thing.  Missions is a deeply complex issue, causing many cultural distortions far beyond the intended basic message.

I have many questions and few answers.  Thank you Steve for giving a picture of reality rather than trying to simplify it.

This article is excellent for those who want to help with poverty so that they will feel better themselves. People like that can do a lot of damage. Help must flow from a heart of love and care for the other. That includes a desire to understand and accept the points of view offered by those one might consider helping. Note how Steve shows real friendship and empathy, to the extent of being willing to let go of his own notions. That is a beautiful thing because it mirrors God’s love for us and His desire to know us. Those who want to throw a little money at a problem to feel better, or do a little poverty-reduction adventure travel, take heed of that Steve writes here.

Very thoughtful post from someone who has obviously talked the talk and walked the walk so to speak and frankly I admire you and your families role in missions. I find some challenge in your post however, I have recently agreed this winter to come and help work on buildings for an orphanage in Honduras. Pictures and stories of others that had gone to help on previous trips of kids and adults from that town competing with dogs and vultures for food in a garbage dump, moved me to consider going to help .
From what I can make of my study of the city and town they live near it appears a very westernized sort of place as far as mode of living, it is quite different from the way the waodoni are accustomed to living. Is this post suggesting that an orphanage in that place is counterproductive or even destructive?


You are correct in your understanding that this is a very complex issue with no simple answers.  I will complicate it further:

To send a team to Honduras for a week is pretty expensive.  The actual “building” part is on top of a lot of preparation.  It would be far cheaper to send the cost of your trip to the organization to hire local labour to do the building.  What is really gained from your trip?  A good feeling that you’ve helped do something good?

Again, it isn’t that simple as good things do come from short term missions, but in many cases it is an opportunity for people to feel that they are doing something good without sacrificing anything more than a week of vacation to visit an exotic location—even if it isn’t the typical tourist spots.

Kevin, Don’t give up on your trip to Honduras yet. But get some help thinking and praying about it. Check out
And even the satirical

A major study of short term missions in a large US church found that the trips did NOT change the participants. They were no more likely to pray, give or go in the following years than those who did not go on the trips. Of course, maybe that was because of the types of trips that church was organizing. It seems obvious when one says it, but genuine benefits of a short term trip for those who go and those visited are unlikely to be realized unless they are planned well and involve some real effort. Otherwise, you just end up with poverty-reduction adventure travel which is a knock-off of eco-tourism.

Michael, socioeconomics and the effects of western society on third world economies may very well be complex. My motivations for going and the extent of my involvement or commitment are not factors that you would be privy to, so in that respect it is not that complex or shallow.

Kevin, I didn’t intend that to be a personal attack, I’m sorry.  I do however have many questions about mission tourism aka short-term missions in general.

The resources we have in the west tend to be financial.  Somehow we have to use that, without being paternalistic, to help those who have the knowledge and cultural insights as to how to do the right things.

Too many questions, too few answers.

A very thought-provoking article (and comments), thank you.  Isn’t it ironic that a great deal of the ‘wealth’ of the western nations is devoted to entertainment and self-image?  Of course I could be wrong in my thoughts/summarization on this, but it sure seems like that to me.  The richness of the Waodani life vs. the so-called richness of the typical North American life… hmmm.
Is the act of charity a subconscious ‘guilt’ over having so much in comparison, or is it true altruism?  Or is it both?  I’ve struggled with that inner debate for a long time, and I don’t know that I’ll ever resolve it.  I’ll continue giving where & when I think it may help, but I tend to avoid most of the large charities where the majority of donations are used just to keep their organization running - I favor more immediate and direct assistance.  Perhaps that’s flawed reasoning, but I still want to give somehow, somewhere.

As someone who’s been in the world of missions for the past four years, and as an individual who’s shifting their perspective on what third-world nations need from the first-world ones (whatever those terms mean), I am incredibly thankful for your wisdom and insight. This resonates deeply with me. Thanks for sharing!

About the only words I can muster up are “WOW” yeah a pretty simple word but as this story brings to light Simplicity is/should be the way of life. Thanks for wrecking my world as a missionary I needed to hear this.

Very interesting flow of comments here.  I worked with a ministry that brought many teams to Central America and other nations around the world for several years.  The benefit from these short term teams is not necessarily for the country that the team is visiting! The benefit can be primarily in a mind shift and worldview shift for the team! Yes, it costs a lot of money to go, but if it causes churches and teams to pray and intercede for others around the world after, it is beneficial.  Also, if it causes young or immature Christians to set their sights on things above, and not simply the American escalator, isn’t it a worthwhile trip? Plus, loving is never for nothing.  When people expand their borders in their hearts to genuinely connect and love others, it does have eternal “ripples.” Sure, there are people who go on short-term trips so they feel good, and these trips may be likened to vacations, but there are other believers who learn and grow and establish relationships with other believers through these trips, and they ultimately do give more to the kingdom of God.

Is the primary goal of missions to eradicate poverty? No, it’s to see discipleship and to see disciples.  I like KP Yohannen’s writings about entrusting pastors within countries with funds to build churches, but I also am not ready to get rid of all short term missions.

I am preparing 35 High School seniors (Christian school) for a short term trip and my heart is that they will be strengthened and stretched, and it will change them.  Is that a bad thing?

Elizabeth, I hope that God will use your short term trips to change those going. I wonder what is needed for that to happen. More than one study of short term missions has not found any change in praying, giving or serving among those who took short term missions trips. To be fair, the research is not yet mature, so the conclusions are tentative. I believe that they at least show that short term mission trips must be carefully planned and conceived. Just going and doing is not enough to get the right results.


That is the laudable intent of short term missions and it is still very valid.  What I’ve seen happen instead is that money that would have supported sustainable long-term missions is instead being diverted to sending short term teams out—sometimes repeatedly.

Building relationships is critical in missions of any sort, but there is an enormous expense involved when so many of the recipients are desperately in need.

But the question remains:  Is sending cash to a semi-unknown source a good way of doing mission?  Is maintaining a relationship through repeated visits a wise use of funds?

I’d like to think that sending people on a short term mission will expand their horizons and help them to find ways of supporting sustainable, long-term missions.  Instead I typically see them wanting to go on another missions trip and take their friends with them, paying for it from a church’s mission budget.

I don’t have any good answers.  I know the small project we support via trusted african friends in Africa works for us—but it isn’t a model that would expand too far.

I struggle with the lack of integrity in short term missions.  Virtually every trip promotes itself on “what it will do for the local people” but it seems each testimony on return is about “what happened to me”...  I think if we had more integrity about our motivations the short term trips would be far more successful.  Anytime we are self deceived we will unintentionally do damage. 
Elizabeth commented on the purpose of missions being discipleship.  Discipleship means making deep and meaningful relationships that build bridges of trust strong enough to bear the weight of truth.  Pretty impossible to accomplish that in our own culture and language in 2 weeks, much less in a foreign environment. 
Most short term trips seem to be like having student teacher without teaching experience, good for the student teacher to gain experience but not sure the class is getting much and in many cases it reinforces wrong/destructive behavior and beliefs.  Of course, long term missions can do the same just like a bad “experienced” teacher.  A group of 35 high school students going on a short term trip, maybe that is what it should be called, “a short term learning trip” and we should have integrity about the main purposes of the trip, it is really mainly about us.  As Elizabeth pointed out, loving and educating and training our kids is a good thing… we just need to model integrity and say that we are the main beneficiaries and if the locals get anything good as a by product we are very happy.

Thanks Steve for your insight. This was a great articles and thought provoking.

What makes you think that these people need your God any more than they need your golf-carts?

This “Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs.” could seemingly apply to the missionaries themselves and missions trips. Such would throw a major wrench into contemporary thinking, but if missionaries were intended to be long term self sufficient from the get go, mo matter they were sent to, it would seem the dangers of projecting poverty would be substantially reduced. The proverbial sell everything and give to the poor to start over with nothing on the field would be quite the missions worldview changer…

Another aspect is contentment, but alas there is an element of pragmatism involved. Should we be content with a 45 yr old car w/o todays safety features? A friend was… and it worked well for him for years, but alas a swerve to miss something a couple months back, and he was instantly killed when he ran off the road. A steering column through the chest would never happen with today’s vehicles… The same could be said with respect to high yield agriculture, or health care. A 50 year lifespan is probably fine if thats all one knows…. but are we really upholding the sanctity of life when we deny food and medicine?

I am a little behind in the comments game here, but I don’t think there was a relief issue in the tribe Saint spoke of. In that respect a discussion of the “Good Samaritan” is pointless in reference to the above mentioned people group. They were not in crisis, they had needs but not devastation.

A discussion of identifying relief versus development would be more beneficial. Creating and implementing a plan based on your assessment would be more valuable in curbing the dangers of hurting while helping.

Scotty Wisley, I am interested in possibly using some of your insights in a blog post and a series of podcasts on Short-term missions. Is there a way we could contact each other? Having been in the mission field here in Paraguay for only 3 years I and my projects could benefit tremendously from experiences.

What does God want? What does the Word teach? We will not be judged on that great day by if we obeyed certain popular methods or teachings. 

  “Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
  Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
  Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
  Give clothes to those who need them” Isaiah 58:6b-7a

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble. Isaiah 58:9b-10a

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Mt 25:36-37

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.  James 2:14-17

And lets teach disciples to obey every command of the Lord and baptize and preach and cast out devils, heal the sick and raise the dead. And, let’s make disciples who make disciples and visit widows and orphan.

I am too busy to argue.

glad to.  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
I am in the highlands of Papua.

I feel a whole lot better now about all the “goods things” that I haven’t done. No guilty conscience here.

Great discussions all.
There are so many related issues here. If you want more, you can poke around the Mission Frontiers web site, in almost every issue there is one page on issues related to dependency (like Steve talked about, related to poverty).
But also Short Term (not every issue, but we have done WHOLE issues on this), and lost of other topics.
Clearly there is a difference between sustainable development and immediate needs after a disaster. We need to think through issues, learn from those who have gone before and do these things wel

The author makes a good point but throws the baby out with the bathwater.

By saying that there are negatives to a charitable work and that is why we shouldn’t do it is not making good decisions.  Every charitable work has both positives and negatives.  The proponets err in only talking the positives, equally the opposition errs in only talking the negatives.  Both do a disservice to both truth and love.  To decide is a certain work is worthy of support an in depth analysis of whether or not the positive greatly outweighs the negative or not.  To not support because there are negatives is unbiblical.  If that was what God would want there would have been no death and resurection.  There were tremendous negatives to Jesus’ death on the cross.  His disciples and mother were very disturbed and emotionally wounded.  There were indisputable negatives to his physical health that day.  But God decided that the positives (resurrection, salvation from our sins, inspiring billions to greater love for thousands of years, etc.) outweighed the negatives, so he supported this.
Those that say “don’t support an orphanage (for example) because there is a negative in that the local adults need to care for those children” are not allowing the positives of the situation into the decision making process.  Like, children in an orphanage get a few things that they might not outside of it.  Like: housing, food, better clothes, education, lack of physical abuse, lack of sexual abuse, training in how to treat others right, salvation, being inspired to do missions/compassion work since they are being raised by people who have given their lives for that and seem happy.  One orphanage worker estimated that half the kids there go on to be christians in a society that was less than 10% christian.  I have met teenagers raised there and still there who were preparing to go on the mission field to other countries.  There are children at orphanges whose other option is to eat what they find in the city dump.  To criticise the local adults for not taking care of their children may carry weight.  To deny those innocent children the things on the list above because of the local adults wrong decisions wrongs those children.
Further the orphanage does not cause more children to be born.  So how is it adding to the problem?  Only semantically.  Some uncle raising his deceased brother’s child drops the child off at the orphanage didn’t create an orphan as the article alleges.  At worst a child being raised well by the uncle is now being raised well by missionaries.  The uncle benefits from the donation dollars being sent to run the orphanage.  This is the negative from which we should stop funding orphanages and thus denying all the positives listed above from the children who really need those things?  Don’t help the poor so much that they become dependent upon it is a great truth.  But it doesn’t apply to children, especially, the abused child who finds a safe place to grow up at the Christian orphanage.

Sorry, I should have noted that the last post by “Greg” was from Greg Parsons, Global Director, USCWM and Mission Frontiers columnist.
THANKS for all the comments. Please pass on or post links to this and other articles!

Good thots Andy,
The point that I think Steve and others are trying to make is not so much the “straw man” argument as you highlighted very well. The discussion shouldn’t be “we should never open and run an orphanage” but it should be “How can we be committed to the most excellent way.”  I would agree that there are, and probably will always be, a need for orphanages.  But, is it “the most excellent way or is it our favorite way?”  If you read the studies it is something like 90% of kids institutionalized at a young age will end up in the black market…prostitutes, drug dealers…etc.  Major non-Christian org’s are putting out studies that say that institution’s such as orphanages should be “the last option” because of the negative consequences to the child. We as Christians know the sanctity of family yet we are behind in realizing what the UN and others are publishing.  Throughout history Christian Charity has run orphanages but are we willing to admit what really happened to the American Indians and the Aus. Aborigines as a result of our Mission Schools? 
It doesn’t take turning over too many rocks to start figuring out that “there has to be a better way.”  Those of us MK’s who went to boarding school at 6 years old have some major issues even though we were probably in the very best possible form of “institutionalization.”  We have pretty much jetisoned the boarding option for elementary MK’s which has completley reshaped missions because we don’t want these results for our kids.  Instead of missionaries being spread out we have massive clusters around mission schools and missionaries do short “forays” out.  This is pretty much based around us not wanting our children to be institutionalized.  What would that mean then to “love my neighbor as myself?”  Would I institutionalize his small child if I would not do that with my own?  What is the most excellent way of love?  Lets strive for that target rather than lower our standards to “good enough.”
Many use the example of Samuel in the Bible… look at the end result.  He had no idea how to raise his own sons because he was institutionalized and in the end the elders of Israel begged for a king because they were terrified of the idea of Sam’s sons ruling over them. 
The long term effects of our interventions are often more difficult to see.  So often we set up a clinic on the edge of the battlefield but unless we go in and find ways to stop the war we will never address the root causes of poverty.  Not saying the clinic or temporary help is not important, but in the package of “the most excellent way” it should only be a small part.

Hi Mr. Saint -
We spoke at Okobjoi Lakes Missionary Conf. in 2010 and were blessed to hear your share the night you were there.  I loved this piece and agree with everything you said ....

I agree that the more orphanages that we build, the more we contribute to the orphan crisis. I have seen over and over again that as long as it is assumed that a better life can be had in the orphanage run by Americans, the Haitian people will place their children there .... orphan is a misnomer and no longer does it mean “no living parents”.  We don’t need more orphanages.

When Helping Hurts is more than important for ALL going on STM to read ... it is nice that people going on the trip can be changed (and that the reason you go is to help change the hearts of Americans) but if it is at the expense of the poor we are making a huge mistake ... how ethnocentric and egocentric!

What a load of crap.

Not very “nice” nice_marmot!  guess nice marmots have teeth too! ha.

Anyone interested in these issues should check out a great blog. You probably will not agree with everything that is written, but you will be provoked to use you whole mind to love as God loved.

This is a good article overall, but as some have pointed out, there are dangers and pitfalls in the logic which was presented here as well. One danger is that real need which necessarily must be addressed by an outside source due to lack of local capital and/or infrastructure is not treated at all.In a desperate situation of daily death, people are not considering how to start a good self-sustaining church body, they are simply trying to survive. Another danger surfaces in our current pop psychology which is the notion of “I’m not personally responsible for anything”. In other words everyone considers that everyone else will do something, do their part in contributing to situations of real need which require an outside impetus, while in reality no one does anything. Or worse we pat ourselves on the back for “not creating poverty” or “dependent situations” by giving. We think we are wise about our giving by not giving at all. This leads into a third danger for us which is that we will never really learn what giving means. We consider it only something we can do sometimes if the needs and the conditions warrant attention in our minds and if we feel we have enough “extra” from all of our dizzying needs in the west. This does not leave room for the prompting of the Holy Spirit against the logic of this article (on occasion) nor does it leave room for truly sacrificial giving, nor does it teach us to be givers, having and practising a continues attitude of giving. Don’t take me wrong here, I sincerely appreciate and agree with most of this article, but please also be aware of these caveats.

I’ve had the priviledge of hearing you speak in person and was so impressed with your article. 
One such “charity” through legal “orphans” and orphanages is adoption.  The money involved in the process creates an environment for unethical practices and fails the very children is claims to help.  Thank you for speaking the truth.

Thanks for writing.  On any given day, I could have written this article.  However, the next day I would perhaps change my mind.  Thus, our missiology is complex isn’t it?  I agree that our world needs discipleship/evangelism.  I am a strong advocate of developing/facilitating a context of self-supporting, self-sustaining, self-propogating and self-sending missiology.  I have looked at it for 30 plus years.  I am still learning.  I don’t know it all.  I do feel that relational equity that comes through giving compassion in many forms creates a context for proclamation.  However, there is no substitute for a dying child, a thirsty mother etc.  At the same time, everything I have attempted has been with the intention of having someone with me, thus contextualization and ownership.  The selling point is that a work becomes local-people led in time.  There are abuses in all of this.  Amongst the high volume of social justice attempts without strong mission background/education there are those who serve themselves and their hearts bypassing longevity and sustainability issues.  However, my experience has been that developing relationships and understanding is a key to compassion ministry.  I am not naive.  I have been burned, deeply hurt.  But the vast majority of my experience has been a very positive experience.  There is nothing like a consistent table and a cup of coffee for quality success and the timeline for that takes time.

YES!!! to “those who serve themselves and their hearts bypassing longevity and sustainability issues”

I have had the opportunity of serving a field missionary for 16 years and been dedicated to producing sustainable, reproducible systems, both in church planting and in alleviating poverty.

And while the question is asked “What is poverty?” no clear answer is given. 

In the region where I work, annual GDP numbers are about $700 per person compared to $47,000 per person in the States.  You can be assured that there is more poverty here than in the States.

Using a solar powered golf cart is a sad choice when we talk about helping the poor.

What about medical issues? 
Broader health care & preventative care issues? 
Educational issues? 
Nutritional issues? 
Starvation issues? 
Basic housing issues? 
Clothing issues? 
Real transportation issues? 
Communication issues? 
Literacy issues? 
Slavery issues?
Child prostitution issues?

All of these are genuine issues that can be addressed on a global level.  We no longer live in isolation, but we have definitely become a global community, for better or worse, and as such, we all bear responsibility for the responses we have to the needs we see as well as to how we steward our resources accordingly. 

One point that can be clarified is that nothing exists in isolation.  When something is given, it is much better to give in the context of that culture rather the context of our own culture.  Often there is a misconstrued point that sending something “technically superior” must provide a better solution.  However by giving outside of the context, we often endanger the long term viability of the solution. 

Clearly there is much that can be said on this issue and this post just touches the surface as do all the comments here.  One concern is that this is a vast oversimplification of a complex problem.  The church does clearly need to do some deeper thinking in how they will best steward the knowledge and resources they have in serving the poor around the world. 

What you said might be right at the same time your thinking of making disciple by foreign missionaries also could be wrong. There is no such effective discipleship done by one native people to another native people. Native leaders, native missionaries are always the best. Any work either charity or mission…always think first native leaders and back up them. I see God using more local people effectively in this century.

I agree that the people you describe in this article are not “poor”. I also agree with the previous poster that they don’t need our God anymore than they need our golf carts. I was wondering when reading this article, however, if you would consider it “dangerous charity” to provide these people with medicine (including immunizations) when the need arises. After all, those are benefits of our standard of living in developed countries. Do we just let them suffer? Do we use our technology to help them with other civilized societies threaten them? To me, it has to be one way or the other.

The opinion that “they don’t need our God anymore than they need our golf carts” is one point of view. But really, I think that all peoples have the right to hear about all ideologies and religions and make their own choices. Deciding for others that “they don’t need our [whatever]” is a slippery slope.

Please I have tried to submit a comment a few times and it is not being posted; can you confirm receipt? Thank you.

Perhaps the problem is with the links?

Hi… This has been a fascinating discussion to follow. Thank you so much for your words. There’s one element, though, that I haven’t noticed mentioned that I think is important. If it was mentioned but I missed it, my apologies.

People like to meet people, and people like to meet people who are different. And if they don’t want to meet people who are different, we might consider that a problem that will be solved by them meeting people who are different. Not just the people traveling on the short-term trips, but the people receiving the guests from the so-called wealthy country, benefit from the encounter. Yes, there are complicated wealth dynamics as well-described in this article, but we need to remember that that encounter goes both ways.

Just one more thing to remember smile

Maybe I explained myself a little better when I wrote a blog with my thoughts last night:
English: (link deleted?)
Portuguese: (link deleted?)

This is an excellent article.  After being involved in missions for over 20 years (both as an M.K. and as an adult missionary), this article finally put into words things I have seen all my life.  It reminds us to really examine the actual social context of our ministry without attempting to compare one reality to another.  Saint obviously speaks from very real experience.  We should lend him a listening ear and really take to heart what he has to say.  If not, we could find ourselves creating poverty where didn’t exist.

i couldn’t agree more.

I have seen charity first hand cause more poverty than it alleviated.  But was more than accurate was the issue over Orphanages.

A rich American, no mission group, no local church, no state side sending church totally independent set up an orphanage here (Location will not be mentioned). The local churches that had orphanages before this man came in have since been closed down do to unsanitary conditions.

The American was the one who shut them down.  for years they operated orphanages and children’s homes using the native styled housing and condition.  Nothing that the children were not used too and for some it was a move up but never down.

He came in set up a million dollar building for his children that is so American it is like living in a luxury Hotel.  After setting up he got himself into the local Govt welfare dept and set up this American standard for all orphanages in this province.  Once in he reported all the local orphanages and Children’s homes and because they could upgrade to the American Standard their children were taken away and their work shut down.

Did the American Takes these children into his home? No. He rejected all children under 3 years of Age (they cry to much for him and his workers) and all over the age of 7 (they become to much trouble and no one wants to adopt them). 

Where did these Children go?  To Roman Catholic Orphanages they were the only ones not shut down by the local Govt welfare dept because they could payoff officials to stay open despite this American’s foolishness.

Wonderful American Christian Missionary ruined the works of dozen of local churches, promoted himself and now there are not to many people wanting to start orphanages here because of the high standard of living they are requiring for the work.

I couldn’t agree more.

I have seen charity first hand cause more poverty than it alleviated.  But was more than accurate was the issue over Orphanages.

A rich American, no mission group, no local church, no state side sending church totally independent set up an orphanage here (Location will not be mentioned). The local churches that had orphanages before this man came in have since been closed down do to unsanitary conditions.

The American was the one who shut them down.  for years they operated orphanages and children’s homes using the native styled housing and condition.  Nothing that the children were not used too and for some it was a move up but never down.

He came in set up a million dollar building for his children that is so American it is like living in a luxury Hotel.  After setting up he got himself into the local Govt welfare dept and set up this American standard for all orphanages in this province.  Once in he reported all the local orphanages and Children’s homes and because they could upgrade to the American Standard their children were taken away and their work shut down.

Did the American Takes these children into his home? No. He rejected all children under 3 years of Age (they cry to much for him and his workers) and all over the age of 7 (they become to much trouble and no one wants to adopt them). 

Where did these Children go?  To Roman Catholic Orphanages they were the only ones not shut down by the local Govt welfare dept because they could payoff officials to stay open despite this American’s foolishness.

Wonderful American Christian Missionary ruined the works of dozen of local churches, promoted himself and now there are not to many people wanting to start orphanages here because of the high standard of living they are requiring for the work.

I guess the point is we should not bring in our standards of poverty or prosperity and put it on the ones we are ministering too.  We need to come along side their standards and reach them they maybe poorer that most poor Americans but God’s word does say “the poor shall be rich in faith.”

I have given away thousands of Bible, tons of clothing, shared our own food, and delivered babies.  All to be part of their community to reach them with the true Gospel of Christ.  Often people portray their fields in such drastic and dire straits in order to bring in more money for themselves.  When what is needed is for them to just reach them where they are at.

hi to all at  i thought i had sent this newyears eve but it didnt send so i have sent it again happy new year   to every one      
-  matt-gent

Bottom line.  Give where the Spirit directs you.  Go where the Spirit leads you.  Do what the Spirit tells you.  Obey God!

The Gospel did not spread by debating where it would be best received.  The disciples followed the Spirit!  So, even if it is against MY better judgement… or Steve Saints recommendations.  I will go, give and/or do what the Spirit tells me.

Having a heart for the poor is much easier than having a *mind* for the poor.  Treating them as partners, as equals. A relatively new project, looks, at poverty from many different angles.

What a marvellous discussion. I love the reminder from Saint that we in the West can be happier with less. In terms of the excellent orphanage debate ongoing in the comments, there is a great book on this issue – ‘The Urban Halo’ by Craig Greenfield (Authentic Media 2007) of ‘Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor’.

After extensive research into current orphanage systems (wanting to start one himself in Cambodia), Greenfield was shocked to find that children often cope better in society coming from ‘bad’ homes (poverty, addiction issues) than even good orphanages. (Abuse of course is a separate issue, one that unfortunately is prevalent in orphanages also). One of the reasons for orphanage children’s’ difficulties is the high turnover of staff in orphanages, forcing children to reform integral attachments over and over again. Eventually, they can become unable to form those attachments at all. Other issues are the separation from their home community and the loss of identity that ensues, as well as feelings of abandonment.

Does this mean no children need orphanages? No. But Greenfield’s response to the problem was different; rather than starting a new orphanage, he and his team began to work with the local churches to support families who could take care of orphaned relatives, and to find local families to care for children who were genuinely orphans. In doing this, whole communities are being reached with the gospel of compassion, and supported to raise orphans in a traditional community focused and newly Christ-centred way.

@Scott Wisley I appreciated your comments about Samuel’s parenting, and ‘The longer I am in this the less I am convinced I know and the more I am ashamed of the results of my good intentioned labor’! How I regret the attitudes of my youthful short-term mission days. And praise God that he works with a broken and imperfect church – shining his light through us who are foolish to this world. And redeeming us time and again when we fall short.

@Elizabeth Lowe I also loved your reminder that the Holy Spirit can prompt us against logic sometimes, and the need for an attitude of giving. I think Saint is pointing out that we need to find ways of giving that are appropriate for the community and promote real wellbeing, not simply transferring wealth and our own materialism.

@Tom Hinton – ‘However, there is no substitute for a dying child, a thirsty mother etc.’ … absolutely well said.

@Don Foster thank you for your Biblical reminder to be givers. God, let us give wisely! I enjoyed @Bud Simon’s point about needing to give in context to the local community.

@Kevin Bullock and @Andy Sturges you may find the urban halo by Craig Greenfield (Authentic Media 2007) helpful and thought provoking, though I like you continue to financially support and visit an orphanage run by dedicated and spirit-led Christians.

Thanks Merryn, I will check it out when i have more time than i do right now and share my thoughts with you. Also, my son and i just returned this week from Honduras It was to say the least eye opening and I took the the thoughts and considerations given by he posters here with me and they gave me much to reflect on when I had time.

Merryn Fawssett, I ran into a church group from North America doing the same thing in Kenya - finding ways to support children in homes. They had a two-pronged approach which was done through partnership with a larger church in Nairobi.
* Give some small, targeted financial help to struggling parents so that they would keep their children
* Work to change some cultural biases so that Kenyan Christians would adopt more.
There is more than one way to solve the problem. Orphanages may have great donor appeal, but donor appeal is often misguided. As even some secular sites like point out. Of all people, we Christians should know that good intentions are not enough.

I can remember seeing a documentary of a Catholic priest giving tobacco to local natives. They had never smoked tobacco, but now they lined up to smoke the cancer sticks supplied by the “church”. Without the life changing power of the cross through the Holy Spirit all evangelism will end up pretty much the same.
This means you.

I think the perspective from Steve on poverty is helpful - especially how the Waodani live simply and are content.  That will be my main takeaway from this article.  It is a simple and clear observation that I think will help inform my thinking on how to minister to others.

There are some profound things here that I believe we need to keep in mind as we go forward withchurch planting.

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