The question ‘how can I help you?’ is a challenging question. Working in a developing country, I got many different answers to this question in order to provide the best help there is. Is there such a kind of ‘the best help’? Is it possible that the help you are giving is not good or even worse, not helping at all? What determines your way of helping? Do you help a beggar by giving him/her money, or is it better to buy a loaf of bread? Is a girl from a poor family being helped by paying her school fees? Is a farmer being helped by borrowing your tractor and plough? I can go on asking a lot of questions about the way you and I help.
To give at least a start in thinking about helping other people, I would like to share the content and my reflection of a workshop I attended in February 2010 in Maseru, Lesotho. This workshop, with the theme ‘transformational development’ was organized by African Inland Mission and given by Lois Oolms (an experienced field worker). It gave some biblical guidelines about helping people.
God as a God in relationship within Himself, created us with the ability and purpose to relate. He created us in perfect relationship with Him, ourselves, others and His Creation. After the fall of men, all the relationships were disturbed. There is a significant difference between broken and disturbed. Our relationship with God is not broken. That is why the line in the picture below is not cut but just the way it is. You can say that after the fall, it was sort of broken, but just look what God said when He came into the Garden of Eden: ‘Where are you?’. Moreover, after Jesus came to the earth and died for our fall, He restored the relationship, not to say relationships.
‘Original Creation ©’ – ‘After the fall’
But we still face blockages, boundaries, etc.
Because of a heavily disturbed relationship with God, all other relationships are disturbed. That is the only reason why we face problems. This says something about the areas we can help people. It also gives us direction regarding the way in which we can help people.
Lets take a close look at a few portions of Scripture. For this, I would like to go back to the beginning of the earth. That was God’s beautiful & original plan and dream.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
A few things we can say about our status since creation;
- We are people with dignity since we are created in the image of God (ourselves)
- We are people with responsibility to rule over creation (creation)
- We have work to do to maintain creation (creation)
- We have the Spirit of God, since He breathed life into mankind (God)
- We are creative, being created in the image of God (ourselves)
- We are stewards of what God gave to us (creation)
The words in brackets are pointing at which relationship is being affected by what is stated in Gen.1:26-28. From the first 2 chapters of Genesis, we can say more about all the relationships in which God placed mankind. God created us in a deep bond or relationship, man and wife. God talked to Adam and Eve freely, walking together though the Garden. This picture that is given in these chapters are the start of the world. When you would like to see what God had in mind and still is longing for, read these chapters.
In fact, we often face the opposite of our status stated above, don’t we?
Creation is ruling over us when we face a disaster like a tsunami. Relationships are difficult and sometimes stressful instead of strengthening and being a blessing. Creation is ruling over our bodies and minds if we take the products of the fields to smoke and blow it. Sometimes we lose dignity and struggle with our self-esteem. Our relationship with God is sometimes a silent one. It is difficult to discern where He is and if He really cares about you.
And we try to fix it ourselves. Some solutions we came up with according to the different struggles in relationships we face:
- We divorce
- We break up with family relations
- We bring down our expectations of God
- We let die our desires of having a relationship with God who is alive, and turn to religion
- We become activists in doing good things in our own strength
- We get scared about nature and its powers
- We beg for money or we take loans to get the things we want
- We go to alternative or traditional healers
- We make sure that we do everything right so that nothing wrong will happen
- We work hard, get stressed in order to save our identity
- We cover every risk with an insurance if we live in wealth
- We cover every risk with traditional practices
About this last one, I can give you just an example from the working field of Lesotho. People believe that when they have their laundry outside on the line after 4pm, lightening and thunder will hit their house or their relatives or maybe themselves. This gives an extra aspect to dealing with struggles or unwanted things. I stated already that we try to fix everything by ourselves, but we also try to find reason why these bad things are happening. Maybe we did something wrong, or perhaps someone else did something wrong. To avoid this, we try to live a good life, we put our laundry inside the house before 4pm, we try to have our quiet time every day, we try to satisfy our ancestors by slaughtering a cow, we try to keep the law or ….
That is how we keep ourselves busy, spend a lot of money and time in bringing life to a higher standard.
God wants us to be different to this. He knows what is wrong. He knows where it went wrong. He agrees with the fact that we are not satisfied with the struggles we face. His dissatisfaction goes deeper and His desire to bring life to higher standards goes higher. His standards of Life are even higher.
He wants us to deal with the root of why this world is going mad. The root is the fall of men and nothing else. He did what was necessary to reconcile everything, to bring life into every relationship He places us in. Our task is to cling on to His solution in order to build His Kingdom, that is to bring this World back to His standards. According to II Corinthians 5:20 are we Gods ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation. To make the lines more straight in all the relationships. Not in our own strength, not with own solutions, but in God’s power and Name.
Clearly; we can’t make the lines completely straight. That is the treasure we will all find in Heaven. But restoration and reconciliation starts here in Jesus name!
Lets take a look at what Paul writes about this in his letter to the Colossians.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Paul states that everything is reconciled through the work of Jesus. Everything on earth and in heaven. Every relationship will get its reconciliation and peace in Jesus. You can read more about how God is reconciling every area of your life when you read the whole letter to the Colossians.
We can say amen and hallelujah to all this. This is what the gospel is all about, isn’t it? Still the questions will be there, how we can do this, what does it looks like, where do I start, how can I help? I think that when we understand more of this, we understand more of the gospel.
relationship with yourself
Everybody on this earth is an image bearer of God. If you are poor or a whore, if you are a church goer or a pub clinger, you are created in the image of God. It is sometimes difficult to find that image, but it is worth looking for.
To give a picture of this, I would like to share an illustration from Africa: When you do not have a stove and electricity, you will cook on a fire. You make that fire at the end of the day. At the end of the day you cook your meal on it. The fire will remain burning till you go to sleep. During the night you are busy with dreaming and snoring. Therefore you are not able to keep the fire burning. In the morning you will find ashes and no flames. If you would like to get fire again, you have to find one coal that is still glowing. To find that, you have to remove the ashes and search carefully. Once you find that small coal, you put it in between small dry branches and start blowing gently and softly. One by one the branches will catch fire and the fire will be there again after a while.
This is a principle that will help you look at people and yourself. In each person there is still something of the image of God. This helps us to recognize gifts rather than needs. It is a helpful starting point. We can grow and help other grow and develop, as we recognize we all have God-given gifts and abilities. As a result we move towards the destiny for which God created us. By encouraging people to discover their God-given gifts, they can use them in the situation in which God has placed them.
It will give fulfilment, joy, satisfaction, dignity and self-esteem since they will find the purpose God created us for. This has a big influence on the relationship we have with ourselves. Or perhaps we should say, our self-image. And when it comes to sustainability, it will make them owners of the solution.
Lately a few volunteers gave out blankets to some street kids. Knowing the winter would come soon, the blanket seems to cover their need. Within an hour 50% of the blankets were being sold and the kids used the money to cover other needs (addictions). Although in an emergency situation handing out blankets can be sustainable help, in this situation it did not help them. The volunteers started looking at what they thought was a need and not at the gifts/abilities of the street kids.
This brings me to the definition of poverty:
‘Poverty is the injustice of not having or using the opportunity to use the God given gifts, not being stewards of what God gave.’
That is the opposite of what you see happening in the world. Big organizations are writing programs, donating big amounts of money and overruling poor people with it. We think that money is the solution to all the problems in the world. Money won’t solve our problems. Reconciliation will make it better here and solve it finally when Jesus comes back!
The problem with many programs and organizations is, that they are robbing people of their dignity. We don’t like the picture of a beggar or a kid that is lacking food. Our primary reaction is to give or donate money or products that will cover their so called needs. We created this picture by ourselves. Many poor people will think seeing a church or a white guy; MONEY! That has a history of a church and white guys giving money to people. But, it is not dealing with the root of the problem: the fall of men and the reconciliation that Jesus fulfilled for us.
In fact, what we are doing is putting another relationship in place that was not there. Besides the relationships in this picture with God, yourself, others and creation, we put a bag with money and a zigzag line as the disturbed relationship. All we have to do is to restore that relationship and everything will be fine, according to that view. It won’t work that way.
Just another story to illustrate this: once their was in a village a big explosion of an army depot. All the houses were gone and the people were homeless. Different mission organizations sent big trucks with food and tents. When they arrived at the spot, a big riot occurred. People were fighting to get the things that were being handed out. The community was no longer a group living in good relationship, but they were fighting each other. The organizations weren’t happy as you can imagine. When some people did some research they found out that all the people were not in need of food or tents. They had family in the surrounding villages that were taking care of them in food and housing. That was all arranged already and fine with them. The only need they had was a mosquito net.
The starting point was wrong, the organizations did not look at what the people had, but thought what was needed according to their ways of thinking and their standards.
relationship with others
This story shows clearly that these people found within their relationships, the things they needed immediately. If things are in place according to the relationship with others, try to find how these relationships can help them grow.
In many cases the relationship with others is being disturbed. People die or have a big argument about something. I see children here going to school, but the parents are not supporting it. Sometimes a child doesn’t have parents as they died. It looks easy to give him/her money so that he/she can go to school. This is not sustainable, and it doesn’t solve the problem in the relationship to others. You can look for possibilities of care takers, relatives or a children’s home. By then, you restore a lot more then giving money. You work on the restoration of a relationship that the child is in need of.
relationship with creation
When it comes to creation, it is very important to bring people back to the creation of God. How do you need to deal with the problems in creation, how do things work in Creation? When the harvest is small, you need to find out what happened. Did I sow too early, was the soil not fertile enough? A lot of African countries are struggling with famine. Many harvests are small or burnt away. An organization called ‘Growing Nations’ is trying to restore the relationship between farmers and Creation. They are not only working on this but also restoring their relationship with God.
This organization is teaching the farmers how God created everything and how we as man can take care of this. Principles of ‘farming Gods way’ are being used to show how to sow, to take care and to harvest.
To illustrate this, again a story from the field:
Many farmers will complain that they need money to buy a tractor or an ox in order to plough their land. No money, poor planting conditions, no harvest. Here the story ends if you only look at this. If you know more about creation, you can find out that you do not have to plough. It is even better not to plough. By not doing this, the structure of the soil is better, you save a lot of money and you can start immediately with sowing. Another principle is called ‘Gods blanket’. This means that the leaves and other things that are left after the harvest, will remain lying on the field. This covers the soil and this brings many good things to the field. The temperature of the ground is steadier during every season. Erosion is reduced because of the covered field. The soil will keep the water longer since it is in direct sunlight.
There is a lot more to say about this, but since I am not a farmer, I won’t go into that. The few things I have written, show that if you work on the relationship between a farmer and the Creation, there is a lot of benefit. It will solve problems being faced since the relationship with Creation is in the process of restoration.
relationship with God
This is the last relationship which needs to be reconciled. It is maybe not the last relationship to work on and for sure it is the most important relationship. I’m coming to this now, because most of the times in helping other people you will start talking about their gifts, or their field or their relatives. Also when it comes to our own lives, we will be more and acutely aware of the problems in other relationships than in our relationship with God.
But all of these relationships are being influenced by the relationship with God. This is obviously the case since God created everything. If we are working on restoring the relationships we are placed in, we need to bring people at a certain time to their relationship with God. Just see how the process is going and you will definitely come to the relationship with God. Sin will still play a role in all the things you are doing and the relationships will be disturbed again easily. In order to receive reconciliation fully, you need to embrace the one and only Man that brought peace to the World.
Relationship with yourself: If we discover the things we are proud of, we will be brought back to the Giver of these gifts. OK, only if that is explained or discovered. It is crucial to come to that point one day, otherwise we will run away with our so called restoration of the relationship with ourselves, but still the core problem is not solved.
Relationship with others: If we have to restore the relationship with people that we live in anger with, how do we need to work on that? Topics like forgiveness and love or that God is a Father to the fatherless are so important to discover in order to work on reconciliation.
Relationship with creation: If we want to know more about creation, we have to discover how everything is created. We need to find out why disasters are there and that lightning is dangerous but not a punishment of God. The laws in Scripture regarding the treatment of a field are really great and helpful to make the best of your (God’s) field and harvest. All these things are telling us about God. It will bring God into our lives.
The more we know about God, the more God comes into our lives. The more we discover about God, the more we would like to know Him and to be right with Him.
In a crisis you need a little bit of a different approach. When people are lying under a collapsed building after an earthquake, the first question you will ask is not (I do hope): ‘Hey, what are your gifts? Or ‘How are your parents?’ You will help, and you can feel free (knowing all this) to help immediately. This kind of help is called relief.
It is immediate, short term and seldom. Steps that are taken in such a process, start with relief followed by development, targeting finally at rehabilitation.
Sometimes you need to push a car to get it out of the mud. After a few meters the car will drive again itself.
This is a very short review of the subject. It is not my area of expertise, but since I am talking about helping people, we can find ourselves in situations where we can’t start working immediately on the restoration of the relationships.
Just in closing, I will explain a model that is being used in development organizations but that is also known when it comes to personal development. The model talks about what is behind the things you see. What drives you and why is a country like this?
The model uses the picture of an onion. The onion is built up of layers. You can only see the inside if you peel all the layers off. Let me show you the layers from outside to inside:
- consequences – What do I see? What is the outcome?
- behaviour – What should I do?
- values – What is right?
- truth, faith and belief
in some models they added more layers, but this is just in closing
If we want to fight AIDS, we can provide in every public building free condoms. We can also provide the ARV’s (medication to treat the effects of HIV) for free, but we are only working on the consequence level. It won’t change the behaviour or values. Maybe by handing out condoms we are working on the behaviour level. But we can also stimulate sexual activeness. It is too short sighted and not right to say that a person who is HIV/AIDS positive created his/her own problem since their behaviour was bad. It will be good to talk about the behaviour of a community when it comes to this topic. But to see a real change, you have to come to their faith and belief and to come to the Truth.
It will be good to see at what level we are dealing if we really would like to make a significant change.
This model shows and supports the things I wrote about in this article.
Now really in closure.
I hope this article contributes to your view of helping people. I also hope that this may change your view (if needed) of how to help the needy. This doesn’t help you only in helping others. Think about the struggles you have in your own life. At which level are you dealing with it? Which Truth needs to be discovered in your relationship with God, yourself, other or creation?
If you are willing to embrace the one and only Redeemer and Saviour and if you are willing to sit at His feet to discover His purpose for your life, there will be a significant change in your life and His Kingdom will break through!!
Trusting in Him,
Gert van den Bos
Maseru, Lesotho, september 2010