David and Daniel survived their surgeries last Thursday and have been on the road to recovery. Daniel bounced back a bit quicker than David, as his reconstructive surgery was just on one foot, and he was ready to go back to school on Monday. David had both of his legs broken and reset to straighten his feet, and he has been struggling with a lot more pain. But the pain has been gradually decreasing, and he felt up for going back to school for two hours yesterday. He was ready to try an even longer day today.
On Wednesday afternoon, we took the boys to Cottonwood Creek Park to let them enjoy the sunshine and get some practice with their wheelchairs. It was hard work for them to stay on course, without rolling off into the grass, especially when the sidewalk wasn't flat. Their competitive sides were in full force and there were shouts of “I'm beating you!” and “Watch out! I'm getting closer!” One would move into the lead and then the other as they raced and got themselves stuck.
Daniel started getting tired and slowing down about halfway around the 2/3 mile course. He focused on and got himself worried about the drop-off on one side. “I'm scared!” he kept telling me. And I kept reassuring him that I wouldn't let him go down the hill. “Just keep looking ahead. Don't be afraid. You can do it.”
“Will you push me?”
That was definitely the easier and faster option. If I had chosen to push him, we could have caught back up with Charly and David, who were getting farther and farther ahead. But I was thinking about the class I'm taking this semester on Discipleship and Development, where I've been learning that we so often choose the faster and easier option in helping people, which can actually disempower them.
We default toward giving handouts and doing things for people before stopping to evaluate how we might help them grow and develop.
How can we help to empower? At the park, my desire was to see Daniel grow in his ability to maneuver the wheelchair. Not to always have to depend on someone to push him everywhere he needed to go, but to become more independent. To do the hard work, to overcome his fears, and to become stronger.
The main text for my online class is When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brain Fikkert. They make clear distinctions between relief, rehabilitation, and development and then expound upon the results of each.
What is our ultimate goal when we try to help people?
“The goal is to see people restored to being who God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacities to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God. These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.”
“The key feature of relief is a provider-receiver dynamic in which they provider gives assistance—often material—to the receiver, who is largely incapable of helping himself at the time. The Good Samaritan's bandaging of the helpless man who lay bleeding along the roadside is an excellent example of relief applied appropriately.
“Rehabilitation” begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. The key feature of rehabilitation is a dynamic of working with the tsunami victims as they participate in their own recovery.
“Development” is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both the “helpers” and the “helped”--closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.
Development is not done to people or for people but with people. The key dynamic in development is promoting an empowering process in which all the people involved—both the “helpers” and the “helped”--become more of what God made them to be.
The When Helping Hurts website states: “Unfortunately, many Christians don’t recognize these distinctions, providing relief in situations that actually require rehabilitation or development. By giving handouts to low-income people who are capable of helping themselves, churches and ministries contribute to the materially poor’s sense of shame and undermine their capacity to work.”
My favorite part of walking behind Daniel, as he struggled with his wheelchair, was when he yelled out to David and Charly, “I AM COMING!”
It would take him longer than if I pushed him, but he was going to get there. And I was experiencing firsthand the principles from my class that the best help I could give him wasn't to do it for him, but to let the process take longer as he learned to do it himself. I walked along beside him, offering encouragement that he was getting better and stronger and that he was growing in his own development. Empowered.