Yesterday, I shared some ideas to encourage you to gather your family together and brainstorm with them ways in which your family can serve others.

Perhaps your family came up with the idea of helping the homeless or assisting someone with what we perceive as needs in their lives. Maybe you discussed going on a mission trip close by or traveling abroad to help a particular people group living in dire conditions.

Great ideas, of course, but may I encourage you to read this incredible book.  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This book totally rocked my view of helping others, realizing I am guilty of hurting them in my very attempt to help. I am better equipped now to make decisions that truly help them by meeting them where they are, entering their world, and seeing what “poverty” actually means to them.  We see poverty as lacking food, shelter, clothing. So often, the recipient of our intended good works, isn’t even thinking that. They just want you – you seeing them as a peer, a friend who also has your own set of challenges, and would love to learn from you as you learn from them.


We Cry, Heartbroken. They Cry, Crushed.

Without meaning to, so often we hurt the very ones we are intending to help by not seeing through their definition of poverty or their needs. We cry, heartbroken over the living conditions on our mission trip to India, visiting a woman whose  floor is only dirt. Little do we realize, that she had swept and cleaned and was excited to proudly show you her home.  Our tears and expression confused or even crushed her. She was looking forward to our visit so she could proudly show off her beautiful home. She was awaiting our arrival to serve us tea and sit and visit. We put our standard of poverty on her.

How could we have helped? See her world through her eyes. Sit and visit with her. Admire the beauty of her treasures and trinkets around her. Just be. Our unintentional judgment placed us as better than her. Her need was not a larger home, a concrete floor,  or running water. What would have shown the love of Christ most of all to her…sit, visit, engage in her life, enter her world.

Woah. I never saw my “ministry efforts” from THEIR perspective before!

We blaze into someone’s home, taking charge to clean things up. After all, her home is disorganized and has been ignored. You know this because it’s August and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree is still out, as is the one token Easter decoration that she managed to find and put on the table for a centerpiece. The dust, cat hair, and leaves piled up all over the back porch show you signs of depression, leaving her with an inability to make even the smallest decision.

While the clean up will make her feel like a new woman… and replacing the outdated decorations with current ones will spruce things up… and organizing needs to be done…and removing that huge pile of leaves will make the porch more inviting… is that THE most important thing that the recipient of your kind acts needs?

It very well might be.

Or not.

A few years ago, my husband and I met a lady whose life was shattered when her husband left her. Actually, we met her several years after this. She happened to mention that her roof was leaking. Instantly, the Lord said in my heart, “Go. Take your family. Teach your boys.” (well, I’m pretty sure He said, “Have your husband teach your boys.)

My husband and I talked about it later that night.

We decided to take the whole family. (All six kids were under our roof at this time. Oops. No pun intended). We just asked the Lord, “Okay, Lord. We’ll go. What else should we take so that we can be ready for any needs we see?”

Our family gathered together the ladder and roof-repairing things (you’ll have to consult my husband about what all that entails), cleaning supplies like brooms, a mop, Windex, Pledge, rags, and also yard equipment like a rake and a blower. We loaded it all up and on the way had a conversation that was familiar to them…

“Okay guys, we’re going over to X house, specifically to do Y to meet a need in her life and to be a blessing to her. We have other things in the car to help IF there is need. Boys, you’ll be working on the roof, but if you see the yard needs to be done, do it.  Weeds? Do it. Whatever you see to help lighten her load? Do it.

Girls, we’ll be inside. We’ve brought the cleaning supplies. Whatever you see that could help, you do it.” (Remember that my kids have done this many times before. If yours have not, you will need to be much more specific than this, teaching them how to clean well, the difference between what someone else may treasure and what we might not – so that they clean around the person’s belongings and don’t toss them out… you know, like some save the bread twist ties and others throw them out.) When you finish what you’re doing, look for something else to lighten her load. Do it quietly without bringing any attention to yourself. Look for things you know we don’t get around to very often in our own house, like spider webs, dust bunnies, cleaning the windows, etc…”

When we arrived, which she knew we were coming, we greeted her. Then, the boys got the ladder and up they went to her roof to survey the damage. The girls and I entered her home. Everyone busily set to work, makin’ a mama proud, you know… seeing the fruit of much training. This lady, who had been married over 30 years and raised many-a-kid, followed us around, sharing about every trinket and its meaning. We’d say, “Would you like for us to put these away? Where do you keep your Christmas decorations?” She’d answer. They’d get the box and there she’d go…following..talking…sharing…unleashing so many memories.  All of a sudden it hit me. The most important need was to feel heard. I motioned for the girls to gather ’round, and we sat and listened. We asked her follow up questions, and she responded…through tears. We didn’t have the answers, but we saw and heard her hurt. We saw the devastation left from a husband pursuing his desires. We saw bitterness. We saw pain.

We did go back to cleaning, but were mindful to pause and hear as she wanted to share.

We all learned a valuable lesson that day…many, in fact.

Sometimes our help is at its best when we are just there, with no agenda.

Or, if an agenda is had, to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to just switch gears to what is most important.

I believe we were truly a blessing that day. Her roof was fixed. My boys learned about roof repair. My girls learned about cleaning. We all learned about serving others, but more importantly our faith was grown as we were part of the Lord speaking to and guiding our hearts in ministering to a hurting woman. And, in so doing, our hearts went away full.

Did I already mention… True Joy is in Serving the Lord?

I’m giving you all a break from me for a few days while we take our daughter ten hours away to college. Pray for me.

Kelsey’s high school graduation

Kelsey’s high school graduation

Whose world can you enter to meet them right where they are?

We’re going to give away When Helping Hurts next week. Be sure to sign up for emails at the link to the right and LIKE my Facebook page by clicking here.

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Rhonda movingourdaughtertocollegetoday.boohoo. ellis

  1. Christina

    This is a poignant reminder that pride can invade even our acts of service and leave them in ruins. To not impose my paradigm of “help”…to humbly look through isomeone else’s eyes…to uncover the deepest needs and be willing to meet them at their level…oh, you touched on so much. It is much too easy to do it wrong. Thank you for expressing how to check our hearts…this example of being broken bread and poured out wine for someone is a sweet gift that nourishes even us who are reading it. I am now very interested in looking for this book! Thanks!!

  2. Rhonda, Ben has recommended this book also, but it’s stayed on my *someday* list. Must move it up that list now! You and your family so live out being the hands and feet of Christ to those around you. Love you! And ::sigh:: praying as God stretches you just a wee bit more this weekend as you help Kelsey get set up at college.

  3. Mel

    We are hoping to read this for small group as we seek to invest in the Lincoln Village community. The book “Toxic Charity” was also mentioned & may be helpful to your readers.

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