When Helping Hurts

Hurricane Dorian has devastated the Bahamas.  As a Floridian, the last time I saw anything like this it was when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead.  For those of us who remember Andrew, remember Homestead, we have a deep appreciate for what the people of the Bahamas are currently going through.  Loved ones are displaced.  Homes destroyed.  People are missing.  The storm has taken lives.  In our hearts we feel a deep need to do something to help.

helpinghurtsYears ago, I had an opportunity to talk about missions with some very long term missionaries.  I was surprised to hear about all of the things that we send overseas or things we do when we volunteer there… that are not only unhelpful, but actually counter productive.  At some point, missions became more about US than others.  It was a way to appease that part of us that wants to make a difference in the world.  It became a method or tool that we as parents use to send our children off to some other place where they will be suddenly humbled in to appreciation for the life they have.  This was also when I was introduced to the book When Helping Hurts.  I highly recommend it for all church leaders to read before you begin missions (local and global) in your church.  It will open your eyes to how we can better serve those who are in need.

Last year, a friend of mine showed me a series of pictures.  It was a missions supported school in another country.  In each picture you would see the same kids, in the same clothing, seated in the exact same position.  However, from photo to photo the banner with the school’s name changed.  Each banner reflected the name of the church or missions program that supported the school.  Why?  Because, it made the donors feel better to see their name on the school.  This wasn’t a scam, but a way to appease the donors so that the funds kept coming to support the school & keep it running.

A few months ago, a missionary friend shared with me how church missions groups come and go to their location.  She said, “This room has been painted ten times this year.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t even paint the inside of my home once per year.  When I asked her why, she explained that they needed something for the visiting missions trips to do and painting was an easy project.  She went on to explain that they had tried construction projects in the past, but due to the lack of experience of the people on the trip, they often had to go back and redo all the work.

I went on a missions trip several years ago.  It cost me just over $1000 total.  Ever since I’ve wondered how much further my money would have gone, how much more good it would have done, had I just sent $1000 to the organization that received us.  That feeling has only been reinforced as I learn more and more about the other side of missions trips.  As I connect with more long term missionaries who open my eyes to what is really needed and how much of what is done is a waste to simply make us feel good.

That brings me to Hurricane Dorian.  The outpour of good hearted people who have a strong desire to help is heartwarming.  The Bahamian Government has provided a list of it’s immediate needs (and what it doesn’t need).  Locals are looking for donation drop off locations.  There are quite a few Facebook groups used to keep in touch about the Hurricane & now the talk has turned to Bahamas Relief.  Praise God for the generosity of humans when crisis comes!   Based on my observations, here are some questions I have compiled when you consider donating goods to relief.

  1.  Is it better to donate your stuff or your time?   We all have stuff to spare, but our stuff may not be what is most needed.  If you have the time to volunteer with the relief that may do more good than sending over piles of things you do not need anymore.  You don’t even need to leave your home town, volunteer to work at any of the collection centers.
  2.  Do they need your stuff or your money?   There are immediate needs for search and rescue, medical care, and clean up that take precedent over comfort items.  Money doesn’t cost anything to be transported to the location, it can often buy more when used by relief organizations, and they know best how to spend it.  For example, getting portable water filtration systems will product the same amount of water but for less cost.  It’s a long term solution that also doesn’t create the waste of bottled water.  Please Read:  After A Disaster Don’t Send Toys or Clothing, Send Money. Here’s Why.
  3.  Is sending these items going to help or hurt?   Certain items, like used clothing, are a logistical nightmare. Once received they must be cleaned, sorted, and stored.  In the case of the Bahamas, there is currently no where available to store clothing, nor do they have the manpower to sort it.  It could also take up valuable space for more needed supplies, or even get in the way of the relief efforts.  Not tomention where does one store the loads of clothes they have been given when they lack a home to keep them in?   Please Read:  Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But Relief
  4.  Am I donating what THEY need or what I THINK they need?  When someone has lost everything, you may think the recipients will be grateful for anything you send.  You may think you know what they need, but do you really?   I have a garage full of items I have been gathering up for a yard sale.  All things that could help a person who lost everything get re-established.  The question I need to ask before dropping off donations is whether or not that will do good TODAY.  If not, then I can either hold on to the items until they do ask for those types of goods or have that garage sale but give all the money to a relief organization.

What can you do to help the Bahamas?

Pray.  People are still searching for family members, mourning those who have been lost, and coming to terms with the destruction.

Give.  There are great organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, The Red Cross, Convoy of Hope, etc. that are well known and established organizations.  Give financially and let their expertise funnel the money where it will do the most good.

Donate.  Listen to the reports on what the Bahamian Government needs and donate those items if you have them, or donate funds to purchase those items as needed.  Recovery is going to take a very long time.

Volunteer.  If you have expertise (recovery, building, medical, etc.) and can take some time off to volunteer… GO!  Use that expertise.  If not, look at how you can help locally by volunteering at local donation collection centers.

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