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How We Can Break Free of the Handout Mentality | by Andrew Vanderput

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Handouts can be a pretty contentious term. Hopefully my next statements will help ensure that I do not increase that contention. When you saw  “handout mentality” you might have thought I was referring to the material poor. Actually, I was referring to you. More on that later.

For the sake of this article, let’s define handouts as the provision of resources to people in material poverty without any expectation that the recipients will need to invest their own time or other assets in order to receive those same resources in the first place. Note: Relief or aid given to people immediately after a manmade or natural disaster would not fall under our definition of handouts.

We know that handouts as defined above can be ineffective and damaging. They can create dependency and destroy initiative in the recipients. Why develop your own talents and work to become independent when you know you will be provided for free of cost? Because of this, recipients will become chronically reliant upon their patrons and will never be able flourish themselves, let alone help their communities do the same.

There are a myriad of other reasons handouts are damaging that we could discuss, but I want to get back to you. While handouts can be destructive, it is the views that undergird handouts that are even more pernicious. To be more specific, it is how you see the people you want to help that causes the damage. This may sound tangential but it is not. It is crucial. How you view people will invariably dictate and shape your efforts to help them.

If you only and ever see people as incapable, helpless, unable to contribute, and even burdensome then your actions will naturally flow from that perspective and inform your poverty fighting efforts. You will not partner with the poor, you will patronize them. You will only see their lack, so you will give shortsightedly. This errant view of the material poor is the handout mentality.

Please do not automatically dismiss this point or see it as irrelevant to you. While you may think you do not see the material poor in such light or would never dream of doing so, subconsciously you may. When examined carefully, the causes you give to, and the way you have gone about addressing poverty will tell you a lot about how you see the poor. Given enough critical thought, you might realize you have a handout mentality.

How do we break free of this mentality? We must change our thinking so that the material poor are seen as they truly are: Created by God and fellow bearers of His image. As people full of potential and endowed with incredible, creative abilities. As savvy and entrepreneurial. As partners. As equals.

When you begin to view the poor like this, everything changes. You are no longer focused on lack, want, or deficit. You only see assets, potential, and opportunity. You see all of the enterprise and business opportunities you can support. You no longer see yourself or your institution as the answer. You realize they are the answer. You break free of your handout mentality.

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Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute. Andrew comes from a diverse background in public policy, non-profits focused on international poverty, marketing, and consulting. He has long held a passion for promoting entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. He lives with his wife and two children in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Question I Hoped I’d Never Hear from Someone Living in Poverty | by Becky Svendsen

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One minute, I was alone … and the next, I was overrun. While I was answering emails on the last day of a trip to visit savings groups in Asia, teenage girls suddenly swarmed into my bedroom unannounced, covering giggles with their hands.

These girls—who lived at the orphanage next to my guesthouse—asked to see my clothes and touch my hair and page through my books. They called me “sister” and showed me how to wear the sari I bought that week, explaining that only married women wore saris. Whoops! They acted shy at first but were soon gently elbowing each other out of the way to have me photograph them by the window.

Eventually all the girls disappeared except one—Anaya.* She told me how her father abandoned her after her mother died. And how despite huge class barriers, she dreamed of being a nurse. As she scrolled through photos of HOPE International clients around the world on my laptop, I explained that I sometimes traveled to help others—mostly Americans—understand what poverty is like.

Her curiosity bubbled over. “So your job is to help the poor people? People like me?”

I nodded.

“But you are one of the money people, right?”

“…I guess you could say so.”

And that’s when she asked it:

“Sometimes I feel sad and ask God why I am one of the poor people. Do you know why?”

This same question has hung in the air, unanswered, for generations before her, but I’ve only ever heard it articulated by Westerners walking away from poverty like doctors walking out of a sick room. Talk about a heavy moment.

I didn’t know why, I told her. I added that I didn’t understand many things about God, but that I knew He was good and trustworthy and loved her and loved me the same amount. She smiled knowingly and agreed.

The dissonance was heartbreaking: Anaya and I were totally equal, but our lives couldn’t be more lop-sided. There’s no explaining why I wasn’t born into her life and she wasn’t born into mine.

Honestly, I don’t often let myself feel the confusing weight of poverty in my work with HOPE.  It’s exhausting, of course. And with more and more leading voices decrying knee-jerk, short-term responses to poverty—and rightfully so—more practitioners and donors are prioritizing an analytical approach.

But hearing Anaya’s question makes me think we might have lost something there.

Sure, if emotion is our only motivation, we’ll run out of steam halfway and be of no help. But God’s Word speaks of softening, not hardening, our hearts. What if we only need to learn to harness our feelings?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath portray our emotions as a mighty elephant and our powers of reason as its tiny but thoughtful human rider. When the elephant and rider are out of sync, disaster ensues. But when led well, the elephant becomes the powerhouse that overcomes inertia and barrels through challenges.

In economic development, emotions without reason can quickly take us off course—into things like dependency, cynicism, or megalomania. But without emotion, we might never find the momentum to get started at all.

I suspect there’s a reason, then, why empathy, compassion, and emotion are at the core of how Christ calls us to live: Love your neighbor as yourself. Anaya’s life is too precious to concentrate only on her most heartbreaking, immediate needs. But if we’re not willing to tap into our emotions as we go about the work of empowering men and women like her, we’ll never end up where we want to go.

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Becky Svendsen has served with HOPE International since 2008 and currently leads HOPE’s communications team. It’s her privilege to share about HOPE’s mission, operations, and incredible clients with churches, donors, foundations, and others. One of her greatest joys is getting out from behind her computer to interact with HOPE’s clients and field staff to see firsthand how God uses meaningful work to help families break free from poverty.

5 Actions after your Missions Trip | By Peter Greer

673 resizedOn my recent flight back from Haiti, the plane was full of short-term trippers. It was the matching t-shirts and sunburned skin that gave them away (no judgement from me… my skin color matched theirs, and I’ve worn my share of matching t-shirts).

I wasn’t trying to be nosy, but I overheard one enthusiastic high school-er comment, “I’ll never be the same.” And I sincerely hope she’s right.

Like few other experiences, short-term trips have the potential to help us see our own materialism, grow in our appreciation for other cultures, form paradigm-shifting friendships, and experience the Gospel outside of our cultural blinders.

As ease of travel, income, and global awareness have increased, the number of short-term trip participants in the U.S. has increased from 540 trippers in 1965 to an estimated 1.5 million annually today. And unlike some who are calling for an end to short-term trips, I think the radical jump in those who’ve had these experiences has much positive potential. In fact, I’d be thrilled if, as a modest goal, the number of short-term service trippers matched the number of Americans who go on cruises every year (currently over 20 million).

For short-term service trips to make a lasting impact on our lives, though, it’s crucial for us to ensure we go with greater humility, we serve in a way that doesn’t perpetuate paternalism or dependency, we listen and support local leaders who continue to serve after we leave, and we give thought and attention to our experience after we return. Ironically, what happens after a trip typically receives the least thought and attention, yet it’s an essential part of every experience.

Here are five suggestions for ways to ensure that your short-term trip makes a long-term impact:

  1. Love your neighborsthe ones next door.
    Sometimes, it’s easy to love people who are far away or to give generously and selflessly to others on a short-term basis, while missing the need and hurt that surround us every day. While a week-long service trip in another part of the world can absolutely make a difference, we can often have an even greater impact on those we see every day—our family members, friends, and neighbors. Love your neighbor.
  2. Suspend judgment of others.
    I consider myself a pretty peaceful person, but when I returned from Cambodia on my first longer-term cross-cultural experience, I almost erupted in a grocery store. Having just spent time living with those in poverty, I entered the store and was overwhelmed by the excess of America. I hit my breaking point in the cereal aisle, where I saw a child complaining about wanting a different kind of cereal than her mom was unwilling to buy. People were starving. And she was a selfish, wealthy, and entitled spoiled brat.

In my self-righteousness, I forgot that not everyone had seen what I saw, felt what I felt, experienced what I was privileged to experience with my Cambodian neighbors. As Christ said, “Take the plank out of your own eye”—before judging people in the cereal aisle.

  1. Look for ways to stay connected.
    There are many downsides to social media—but one of its greatest advantages is offering an incredibly easy way of staying in touch with people far away. When you return from a trip, become Facebook friends with the people you met on your trip. Share photos and messages about your time and nurture those new relationships. And make sure your friends globally would be proud of the way you are talking about their country, their friends, and your experience with them. Enter into long-term relationship, and continue to learn through the gift of global friendships.
  2. Simply fast.
    As much as we promise “we’ll never be the same,” the reality is that we will quickly forget the experience unless it’s combined with habits to help us remember. An uncomplicated but powerful way is to start fasting, committing to a complete fast or to eating a simple meal like rice and beans one day a week. Globally and historically, we are living in unparalleled opulence; we must be intentional about remembering just how much we’ve been given.
  3. Share, pray, and give before you go again.
    It sounds modest, but after a trip, invite friends over for a night of sharing about your time, commit to praying daily for those you met, and grow into greater generosity. Don’t allow yourself to go on another short-term trip, if you haven’t spent your time and your money supporting the people and causes you experienced. Become a friend and ambassador to the people and projects which stir your heart and move you to action.

Want more resources on short-term trips? Here are four excellent resources I recommend:

What else do you do to make sure that your international service experiences make a lasting impact?

Written By Peter K. Greer, President of HOPE International

Things I’ve Learned from the Poor | By Doug Seebeck

When I was 22 years old, I went off to Bangladesh as an Agri-missionary. On fire in my call to Christ, I was going to teach the farmers how to farm. They would be the grateful recipients of the God-given wisdom I had acquired at that ripe age and in short order they would feed their nation.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I ZambiaFarmer.DS.PovertyCureBlog(body2)understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 

1 Corinthians 13:10

I quickly learned that the Bengali farmers were excellent farmers. They were able to survive even though they had no access to things we take for granted: the systems, resources, and models that bring about markets and flourishing economies.

I then did something I never expected to do: I asked those Bengali farmers what they needed to move from subsistence farming to the business of farming. And then I listened. My “know how” from a more developed farm environment partnered with their deep knowledge of their own land and culture fostered a deep and multi-generational transformation in their communities.

That was 37 years ago and Partners Worldwide now asks and listens to small-scale farmers and emerging businesspeople in 25 countries.  Here are a few things they’ve taught me along the way:

  1. They know how to fish! The oft-quoted Chinese proverb tells us that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but if you teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. People at the margins know how to fish … but they don’t have access to the pond. They aren’t able to engage and participate in the economic systems, markets, relationships, networks of support and collaboration and cooperation, tools, and models many of us take for granted.
  2. They are more resourceful money managers than most people I know. You try living on $2 a day! Yet they pay multiples more for food, water, shelter, electricity, energy and transportation.
  3. They are smart business people. When we take time to understand the decisions they make, they are always the best, given their circumstances, and our partnership with them only magnifies a talent they had to begin with.
  4. They are innovators. Their capacity to “work-around” the obstacles they face reminds me that God created us in Genesis 1 as trusted stewards of the Garden, imbuing in us the knowledge and creative power to tend to Earth and bring forth its bounty.
  5. They are entrepreneurs, intuitively demonstrating the traits associated with successful start-ups: keen observers of behavior, slow to speak and long on listening.
  6. They are servant leaders, they humble themselves to serve, they truly served me, and I realize there is still so much for me to learn about how to best serve them.

 

Doug Seebeck serves as the President of Partners Worldwide