Helping or Hurting?

If you are reading these words, there is a good chance you have an interest in Ethiopia, or Africa, or perhaps just global philanthropy or missions in general.  That is a wonderful thing.  Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful things in which we can participate. That can be a difficult thing to remember, though...that we are merely participants in something much greater, much deeper, than ourselves.  For those of us who choose to put teams together in the US, get on a plane, and spend time on the ground in another culture’s midst, the pull to help can sometimes take us into unfocused territory. With the best of intentions, we can unknowingly become more of a hindrance to the mission of the very organizations we are seeking to help.

I have seen the very same things a lot of you have seen.  The children, draped in rags with shoes falling off their feet, and living in conditions unlike anything witnessed stateside.  The begging mothers with babies strapped to their backs.  The well-dressed and successful people, hurrying by them to get to work.  The seeming indifference of their own countrymen.  The needs compared to our own are incomprehensible.  We have seen these things for which we don’t have a category.  Thankfully, our partners on the ground have a better vision for all of this than we ever could.

Nobody is better equipped to minister to the people of Ethiopia than the people of Ethiopia.

Regardless of what ministry or organization you represent, the people who live on the ground, year in and year out, in the country you serve know how to best serve the needs there.  They know the country, mission, vision, community, and CULTURE best. The things we may think we should do in order to help just don’t translate the way we think they might.

So, how should this knowledge play out? Here are just a couple things to remember.


          1. Communication is key.

I’m grateful to be involved with Carry 117, and especially so because of the clear lines of communication set up between our base here in America and staff on the ground in Korah.  We are very familiar with the vision and mission of this organization and work very hard to make others aware of it as well.

I think what others could learn from this structure is that not only have guidelines been put in place to encourage the best ways to help the people of Korah, but questions and education about best practices that serve the organization are encouraged.

This type of communication ultimately leads to what is best for Korah and what is best for Carry 117 and their efforts there.


        2. We are not the heroes.

I’ve been there.  I get it.  We can help.  We can give things out.  And why not?  Well, because it’s not about us.  If the best outreach into a culture can be carried out by the people of that culture, why would we want to run the risk of undermining that?

Our ministry partners on the ground are the real heroes.  Their effort, sweat, and tears go into their work year-round.  Rather than handing out gifts, money, candy, whatever it is, personally I’d rather give it to the ministry and let them distribute those things as they see fit.  They just have a better vision of the landscape where they are from and where they live.

Seeing them lifted up in the eyes of those they are serving is far better than anything I could do on my own.  They deserve that.

Communicating clearly and setting up the organization you serve to be the best they can be are just two ways to ultimately serve the countries and areas we are so passionate about.  What other ways do you find helpful?