Do No Harm: Knowing When


Sweet young mama sitting on the curb near where you parked your car at the grocery store holding her baby, looking rather dirty and tired and weary…

Old man, scruffy face, wearing old dirty clothes approaches you as you walk downtown asking if you can just spare a few dollars for him to grab a sandwich…

How do we know when to help… what do we do? Often times, we either turn our heads and run, hoping they didn’t see us and that no one else saw us go right on by. And sometimes we stop, pretend we are in a hurry, reaching for change to throw their way… Either response is not enough.  Helping someone requires much wisdom, patience, and time. It’s not a quick fix and if you are reading this with a desire for a quick answer, well… sorry to disappoint ya. 

When we view needy people in light of our own brokenness, which, we learned about in the last post, we should first realize that they are really no different than we are. They are loved by a Heavenly Father just as you are. But, we have to start somewhere and knowing when to help is hard to discern. I believe that it begins by getting to know them personally. Ask them their name. Ask them their story. Take time to get to know them. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned through serving at Refuge, a homeless ministry at First Baptist Spartanburg, is that they really just want someone to listen to them. Someone who cares enough to take 10 minutes. 

A crucial step in understanding poverty and how to best help is to know where that person is in their poverty. Are they in a midst of a real crisis? Or is this an always ongoing or chronic need that with long term help and encouragement they could be in a different place. Steve Fikkert, author or When Helping Hurts, shares that there are three stages of development: 

  1. Crisis – This is someone who possibly just had a house fire, or went through a hurricane. The crisis just happened and if we don’t step in to deliver support it will be critical for them. 
  2. Rehabilitation – This is someone who has been restored back to their previous pre-crisis state; however, they still need support to move forward and onward. 
  3. Development – This is someone who with the support of community and shared wisdom, they can begin to make decisions and changes for their future. They are climbing back up the mountain after their crisis. This stage is where the majority of those in poverty are. 

Those in the last two stages actually need very little financial handout but sadly this is what we often spend time doing instead of getting to the heart of the matter and helping those in the last two stages. When we offer handouts to those in stage three (development) we can often do more harm than good. We become a crutch for them and don’t allow them to feel a real need for change or experience the joy in achieving and excelling! 

My motto in serving others is “never do for someone else what they could and should do for themselves.  When we allow someone to make decisions and steps in the right direction, we are empowering them and not enabling them.  This is a LONG process. It’s not a process that happens in the parking lot or on the street downtown. 

So who can you get to know today? Who can you begin to walk alongside of through the development process, encouraging them and helping them to make wise decisions? This way is a lot harder but the rewards are amazing when you see that sweet friend come out on the other side – fully restored and confident in who God created them to be. 

And when you pass that sweet mama or older man, stop and offer to pray for them, ask them their name, encourage them to seek help and assistance from various resources or begin a deep friendship with them and walk with them over time. Don’t just walk by them… 

Knowing when to help is sometimes hard to discern. If there is something that you are struggling to understand from this post, the next post will have resources where you can get more answers and learn more about how to help those in poverty, or send us a comment or message and ask! We only learn through encouraging and asking one another! 

Don’t miss out on our previous post in the Do No Harm Series:

Be Prepared

We’re all Poor


2 thoughts on “Do No Harm: Knowing When”

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