When Helping Hurts

When I worked in homeless ministry, I saw numerous instances of volunteers doing more harm than good. This harm went both ways: they rarely addressed actual client needs, and they unintentionally misrepresented the nature of the gospel. One example of this unintentional cycle occurred when a church group visited the mission to bring a Christmas tree to decorate with the homeless, along with presents.

This annual activity was a dreaded mark on the calendar, but the clients were required to attend. For the clients, Christmas was a painful holiday to spend in a shelter. This activity unfortunately reinforced the clients’ overall struggle of identity with feeling ashamed, embarrassed, inferior, and socially isolated.

At the same time, the volunteers felt like they provided a significant service. There were smiles, pictures, and a report back to the church about their “meaningful” project. Regular volunteers eventually noticed the same men and women in the shelter, and over time they developed a disdain towards the clients. Instead of seeing opportunities to serve in ways that addressed spiritual and physical needs, they looked down on those staying in the shelter. The volunteers could not understand why the homeless could not fix their situation, especially after they had ministered to them. Essentially, there was an unidentified gap in the deeper, unaddressed needs of their souls that would prevent the alleviation of physical needs from lasting.

In their book, When Helping Hurts, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert clarify that “one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being for the economically rich – their god-complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.”

The volunteers at the homeless shelter suffered from what so many well-meaning people suffer from: uneducated assumption. Instead of taking time to learn what needs were present by building relationships with the homeless, they felt as though they already had a great plan for making a difference. The time and resources that went into that service project ultimately had a negative impact.

The more I experience the work of CARE for AIDS, the more I am encouraged by our belief that the local, seemingly little churches in Kenya, can do big things in their own communities. You won’t see a giant “CARE for AIDS” sign in front of our centers. Instead, you will see the name of the church. Why? We are passionate about equipping the local church and unifying the global church. We desire for churches in the U.S. to help maximize their people and resources to strengthen churches in Kenya, making a positive difference for HIV-positive Kenyans for eternity, body and soul.

What ways do you partner with others to help meet needs?






“People call me Papa Geofrey or Pastor,” says Geofrey with a laugh.

Born into a polygamist family, Geofrey admits he didn’t learn much from his own father, who was rarely home. During his childhood, Geofrey’s family lived in extreme poverty, but his mother was a devout Christian.

“My father passed away when I was sixteen and from that moment on, we finally had some peace, because there was no more quarrelling between the two wives.”

Tragically, the peace wouldn’t last long. Three short months later, Geofrey’s mother also passed away. “After that, I was convinced that things had to change, and when I was twenty-three, I gave my life to Christ.”

“In 2009, I began to volunteer with CARE for AIDS to help build a base of operations in Kisumu. In December, I registered to get my certificate in counseling. Soon, I was working full-time with them.”

Around the same time, Geofrey’s wife began working at a local orphanage, which Geofrey and his family now call home. “We take care of thirty-six children,” he says, “from primary school all the way up to college.”

Geofrey takes what he has learned with CARE for AIDS and shares it with his community. “Even though our local church is very small,” he says, “our influence can be very big.”

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Geofrey’s story is one of 100 client and staff stories that will be published in the CARE for AIDS coffee table book this October. To pre-order your copy, visit careforaids.org/100faces.


A Good Name

The CARE for AIDS family has been so blessed by the generosity, philanthropic heart, and incredibly passionate employees of Chick-fil-A, and we would like to take some time this morning to reflect on the legacy of Truett Cathy. Mark Miller wrote an extremely poignant blog post this week about the good name that Truett made for himself, his family and his company:

“When Truett was a child in elementary school, one of his teachers asked each student to bring in their favorite Bible verse. The teacher would select one as the verse of the week. Truett submitted Proverbs 22:1:

A good name is more desirable than great riches.

Truett’s verse was selected by his teacher and written on the board as the verse of the week.

For him, this became much more than the verse of the week – it was the verse of his life. Not only did he inscribe thousands of his books with this verse, Truett lived each day protecting and building his good name.

How did he build his good name and what can you and I learn from his example? I think one of his secrets was his consistency…”

To read the whole article, visit Mark’s Blog.

This verse is also important to our team, and we have each learned so much from the leadership principles, business acumen, and life example that Truett has imprinted on so many supporters and mentors of CARE for AIDS. We each strive to embody the principles represented in Proverbs 22- principles that, when lived out, give the good name that the Lord desires each of his people to earn.

Our prayer this week is that we would all be inspired to earn our good names, and that we would remember the great example of Godliness and service that Truett gave throughout his life.



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