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Helping the poor

How often do you struggle with knowing what your responsibility is to the individual you might see holding up a cardboard sign that says "Need Help," or "Please give — anything appreciated?"

Almost everyone is willing to be generous to a good cause and most people are willing to help out their neighbor when need arises, but no one wants to be taken advantage of or give unknowingly to someone's drug habit.

God gives repeated instruction on our responsibility to help those in need and especially to be generous to those who are unable to help themselves: Proverbs 19:17 states, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Helping the needy is like lending to God! God says that he himself gives special attention to those who help widows, orphans and the crippled and disabled (Psalm 72:4).

It is also obvious that there are different reasons for poverty, and in some cases poverty is a natural consequence of foolish spending and laziness (Proverbs 10:4; 21:17) — "The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing" (Proverbs 20:4).

So how do we handle the tension of what our responsibility is to those in need? Is it possible to curry generosity in confidence of a good cause?

In their book Helping Without Hurting, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe three arenas of poverty where different types of help and assistance are a responsibility to those who have the means to assist:

1. Relief. Relief is an immediate response to catastrophe or crisis. Corbett defines relief as "an urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis." The Red Cross is known for relief, and examples of this kind of need would be the earthquake and hurricane in Haiti, or a tsunami in the Pacific or the civil wars in Africa or the Middle East. Homes are destroyed, children are displaced, crops are laid to waste, parents are killed, and relief is a response to help 'stop the bleeding.' In this arena, victims are able to do little in the way of recovery. In our neighborhoods, relief might be needed if a friends' vehicle breaks down, there's a death in the family or someone is victimized. Relief is immediate help, but it is a temporary measure.

2. Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is described by Corbett as an effort to restore people back to their pre-crisis state, laying the basis for future development. In the rehabilitation arena, the people being helped begin to contribute to improving their situation; many aid groups give the responsibility of personal farming or raising provided livestock for self-sustaining measures; some areas are provided with factories or trade work to learn.

3. Development. The final arena, is the stage that hands off the responsibility of recovery and future investment to the people initially in need; the final stage of helping avoids doing for and focuses on doing with. Those who are unwilling to contribute to their own recovery and development are not good candidates for resource investment and whether the need is global or local, indiscriminate giving can have unintended consequences.

Whatever your feelings on who to help and how much to help, you can't go wrong by helping the needy you know and trust local charity efforts like our own Empty Stocking Fund and Cyber Café's coat drive — at the very least we can support those who spearhead local efforts for our very own neighbors, knowing that this kind of generosity attracts the attention and favor of our heavenly Father.