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


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.


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


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.


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.

From the Margins to the Center: Being With the Poor Who Are With You Always | by Dan Hugger


“The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.” – Mark 14:7 (NABRE)

Poverty is deeply disturbing. We see others who lack, others in need, and we feel that in a better world this wouldn’t be so. Christ points out, as is his habit, an uncomfortable truth. The poor will always be with us and, by extension, that poverty is an insoluble problem. Judas, as was his wont, was not pleased.

Poverty is an insoluble problem because it is a human problem, a social problem, and, as with all social problems, the result of our individual and collective ignorance, neglect, and sin:

Well this side of Paradise! … There’s little comfort in the wise.

In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith puts his finger on the fundamentally social nature of the problem of human need which is made of, “not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.”

Many economists attempt to distinguish absolute and relative poverty and this has merit in some contexts (e.g. tracking the effects of public and private reform initiatives), but our concern for the poor is not abstract and strictly material but concrete and relational. As St. John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis explains,

We should add here that in today’s world there are many other forms of poverty. The denial or the limitation of human rights as, for example, the right to religious freedom, the right to share in the building of society, the freedom to organize and to form unions, or to take initiatives in economic matters do these not impoverish the human person as much as, if not more than, the deprivation of material goods? And is development which does not take into account the full affirmation of these rights really development on the human level?

Poverty means existing on the margins of a community be it in economic, educational, ethnic, familial, national, or religious spheres. And just as there must always be a center to society so must there be margins. Civilization itself produces its discontents. The poor are with us always. Economic development can, has, and will continue to occur when and where the habits, institutions, and traditions of free societies put down roots but there will be many for whom higher standards of living come more slowly and gradually than those at the centers of development.

This is why the preferential option for the poor is needed. It centers our concern on the human person irrespective of privilege. As Christ tells us:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” (Luke 6:20b NABRE)

This is why Pope Francis tells us in Evangelii gaudium:

Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”. This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith.

The poor are not a problem to be solved but persons to whom we are called to solidarity. And if this is true of the poor what does this mean for poverty? First, it means that poverty does not compromise the dignity of persons and should not be the measure of men and women. Pope Leo XIII in Rerum novarum rightly observed,

True dignity and excellence in men resides in moral living, that is, in virtue; virtue is the common inheritance of man, attainable equally by the humblest and the mightiest, by the rich and the poor…

Second, it means poverty is best addressed not by planned programs of assistance and development but by breaking down barriers between marginalized groups and peoples and opportunities for personal and social development; shrinking the distance from the margins to the center. St. John Paul II provides both a cautionary tale and an excellent example in Centesimus Annus:

The fact is that many people, perhaps the majority today, do not have the means which would enable them to take their place in an effective and humanly dignified way within a productive system in which work is truly central… Even in recent years it was thought that the poorest countries would develop by isolating themselves from the world market and by depending only on their own resources. Recent experience has shown that countries which did this have suffered stagnation and recession, while the countries which experienced development were those which succeeded in taking part in the general interrelated economic activities at the international level.

The poor may always be with us and poverty may be an insoluble problem but, “whenever we wish we can do good to them” by attentiveness to and solidarity with their struggles. From that place we can seek their good by doing what we can to bring them towards the center of our social and economic lives. Encounter by encounter. Likewise, we can examine our institutions to remove obstacles we’ve erected intentionally or accidentally which keep people at the margins of our society, and bring many closer to the center of our society.

Dan Hugger

Dan Hugger is head librarian at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

The Power of the Gospel | by Caleb Stewart


The gospel of Jesus Christ is the great equalizer of humanity.  In it we understand that the differences between one man and another are painfully minuscule when compared to the differences between any man and God.  As Paul flatly states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 – NIV)

It may be easy to think of myself as high on the ladder of life because I’m a few rungs above my neighbor.  However, the gospel shows us that a few rungs is nothing.  The ladder of God’s holiness stretches through eternity.  I may perceive a gap between me and someone else.  But from God’s perspective, we’re practically sitting on each other’s lap.  Thus, Jesus himself encourages us to take stock of our vision toward the misgivings of others: “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 -NIV)

It is called the gospel, or good news, because God (in His mercy) spans that infinite distance between us and Him through his Son, Jesus Christ.  We all, simply put, are in desperate need of a savior – rich and poor alike are united by their need for Him.

James, the brother of Jesus, applies this truth to personal economics in his letter to Jewish believers in exile.  In James 1:10, he notes: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” (NIV)

You don’t have enough money?  No big deal! God chose you to be lifted up above your circumstances through the salvation that Jesus brings!
You have more than enough money? No big deal!  Naked you came into this world and naked shall you leave.  The only thing you really have is the salvation that Jesus brings!

The astounding power of the gospel lies not only in its ability to lift up the poor, but also its ability to flatten the well-to-do.  For the poor, the gospel corrects their self-perception.  In its estimation, they are not the forgotten of this world.  They are the remembered of God whom He loved so passionately that he sent His own Son in order that He could redeem them and subsequently share His riches with them.

For the well-to-do, the gospel also corrects their self-perception.  In its estimation, they will be forgotten by this world.  But, if they will consider what they have in light of God’s desire to share His riches with them, they too can be the remembered of God.

And since, in the end, our only treasure is His anyway, we are free to take the financial advice that Christ himself offers, “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.” (Luke 16:9 – NLT)


Caleb Stewart is an award winning filmmaker, writer and public speaker.  He is the owner of Nomenclature Media and blogs weekly at


An Inconvenient Truth about Development Work | by Peter Johnson


When I was 22-years-old recent college graduate, I decided to join the Peace Corps for a variety of reasons—but mostly as a way to avoid the mundanity of a common office job. An ancillary benefit to joining the Peace Corps, I soon found out, was the admiration I received from friends, family, and acquaintances when I told them I was going to be teaching beekeeping in Paraguay for two years. People called me an “altruist” or even a “humanitarian.” I didn’t disagree.

Fast forward 15 years and, through a number of twists and turns in my life, I found myself working at a think tank in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was introduced to the PovertyCure film series. In a few short hours, PovertyCure distilled what it took me years of work in developing countries to really understand: Popular culture has sentimentalized the plight of the world’s poor, leading many young idealists, like the man I was after college, to think that a development work promotes social justice.

Occasionally, development work and development workers can be agents of social justice. Unfortunately, it was my experience both in Paraguay, South America, and later in Senegal, West Africa, that development initiatives often do not foster social justice. In fact, development work sometimes contravenes social justice precisely because the industry buys into the sentimentalized version of the world’s poor.

If we begin to think of justice broadly in the way Thomas Aquinas did—giving each person his/her due—then I think many development workers, myself included, would think of their work quite differently. Unfortunately, development work tends to focus on the deficiencies of poor people and not on the broader challenges that are keeping them from demonstrating their inherent strengths.

For example, I went to Paraguay and was told that my mission would be to teach rural subsistence farmers modern beekeeping practices. I was taught by my Peace Corps trainers that through beekeeping I would be able to accomplish a broader agenda of teaching more sustainable agricultural practices. My beekeeping colleagues and I were told that the farmers with whom we worked were poor because they were not educated on modern agricultural practices. Paraguayans still practiced “slash and burn” farming, I was told incredulously by my ecologically-minded trainers, and it was only through initiatives like the Peace Corps that they would be able to finally join the wealthier developed world.

Of course, lack of education is not the true reason Paraguayans—and most of the world’s poor, really—have trouble rising from poverty. In Paraguay and Senegal, where I worked for over three years, there were a whole host of structural problems—mostly political and economic in nature—that kept poor people from rising out of poverty. In both countries there was incredible corruption at all levels of government. Most any favor could be bought from government officials; graft was rampant and rarely punished. This, of course, led to a whole host of related issues, which touched the lives of poor people: property rights were often unclear, contract enforcement was nearly nonexistent, and the concept of Rule of Law was quite foreign.

The marginal benefit that poor people get from development workers like me really does very little to address the important political and economic problems that will have to be resolved if we truly want the world’s poorest people to rise out of poverty. There is very little an enterprising subsistence farmer can do with knowledge of modern beekeeping practices if he/she cannot even legally start a honey business or gain access to capital so as to finance the equipment needed for a largescale beekeeping operation.

If we really want to help the world’s poor, if we really want to accomplish “social justice”—to give each person his/her due—then we need to address the political/economic problems first. This leads to the tougher question: Do NGOs and development organizations do more help than harm when they align itself with a corrupt political establishment in order to legally work in these nations? The answer is not simple—as it depends on the specifics—but it is a question we ought to be asking more often.


Peter Johnson is the External Relations Officer at the Acton Institute. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay 2002-2004 and did development work in Senegal 2006-2007.

How We Wrote a Book Together | By Chad Jordan

ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s a new book that was pre-launched at the Global Leadership Summit. I wrote it on behalf of PovertyCure. It didn’t start out as a book, though.

missions_toolkit_p5_2I was asked to write some content around global missions that could be included in a PovertyCure DVD package. With the help of the PovertyCure team, we asked for input from the global network, we interviewed some of the partners, and we asked some tough questions. The responses were amazing. You had a lot to say.

I run a small international consulting firm and a finance platform for emerging entrepreneurs, both of which have been a part of the PovertyCure Network for a while. When the responses from the network started coming in, I was really encouraged. I was proud to be part of a network willing to engage in a sometimes taboo conversation. You didn’t just talk about what was wrong with short-term missions, but you offered valuable perspectives and solutions. You gave me an extra boost to keep going, and you helped turn this book into something so much more than what was originally planned.

At the end of the gathering phase, it became clear that a little content wouldn’t be sufficient. The vision needed to expand, because the information we’d gathered proved so rich. Laying everything out in front of me, the book began to emerge.

In the book, we get to hear perspectives on global missions from people who have been engaged for decades, and people who are just starting to get involved. We get to hear from people who work domestically, and from those who work only internationally. There are opinions, there are facts, and there are unforgettable stories included in the pages.

There are some hard truths and sobering realities discussed in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact, but there’s also a great deal of hope. In working to put the information into a coherent form, it was important to me that you were left with a sense of solution, not just confusion. I highlighted organizations that are doing a good job of combining missional attitudes with intentional action. I highlighted your ideas, your insights, and your opinions surrounding how we can do missions in a way that will produce the greatest good while doing the least harm at a local level.

Hopefully when you read the book, you feel empowered to act, not scared to move. By offering a variety of perspectives in one place, I tried to compile a resource that would inspire continued action as we simultaneously ask and process those tough questions.

As I really went through the submissions from PovertyCure’s global network, I was impressed with the sheer number of responses, but also with the thoughtfulness of each person. Clearly, the conversation around global missions is one you are all eager to have. That’s exciting. It means we’re onto something. It means the time is ripe to dive into the topics we discuss in ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.

So to everyone who sent in a response from the global network, to all of PovertyCure’s Action Partners, to each person we interviewed, thank you for engaging. Thank you for agreeing to write a book together.

Chad Jordan is the co-founder & CEO of Arrow Global Capital and author of ReThink Missions: Real Stories, Real Impact.