Book Review: Helping Without Hurting In Short Term Missions: Participant’s Guide

Helping Without Hurting In Short Term Missions:  Participant’s Guide, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This is a book with a great many praiseworthy qualities, especially in encouraging a sense of reflection among those engaged in short term mission projects.  On the other hand, this is a book that reflects a certain biased view heavily tinged with liberal white guilt that paints too sharp of a dichotomy between the United States and the rest of the world when it comes to matters of culture, and much of it reads like the authors have swallowed the wrong sort of sociology books when it comes to coming up with a heavily schematic view of different aspects of poverty.  As someone with personal experience in both short and long-term missions [1], I come here with my own experiences, and found this book to be of considerably mixed value.  On the one hand, it is worthwhile to confront our own paternalistic attitudes and either to minimize the horrors of extreme poverty or to neglect to mention aspects of relational poverty that are often present in our own lives.  On the other hand, though, this book misses the mark in its leftist political approach.

In terms of its contents, this is a short and practical workbook designed for people who are participants in short-term missions.  After an introduction and an engagement agreement that is supposed to be signed by the participant, the authors divide the contents of the book into three parts.  The first part is pre-trip planning, which makes up five chapters called “units” on the fact that poverty is deeper than it would first seem to be, that the poor include all of us who have experienced brokenness in some aspect of our lives, namely everyone, that the poor are not helpless, that the Kingdom of heaven is upside down, and that it takes a great deal of effort and skill to be a blessing to those whom we serve.  The second part of the book consists of on- and post-field engagement, and takes up three chapters that deal with our experiences on the ground, unpacking the experience and what it means, and making our service count, often through engaging people to help themselves or serve their own communities.  The last part of the book looks at discussions of fundraising as well as some rather biased and overly simplistic views of cultural norms that pit the United States more or less gainst the rest of the world in a harsh dichotomy that does not reflect a more complicated and nuanced reality.

This book is therefore one that requires a mixed approach.  There is a lot that is useful in this book, especially to those who are sensitive to questions that probe the level of motivations and in putting ourselves in the place of others and seeking to understand them and their need for dignity.  Where I think this book fails is largely due to the political worldview of its authors.  The authors make a few jabs at our president that are contrary to the biblical command to respect and honor our own authorities in Romans 13, and demonstrate throughout a surprising tone-deafness to the commonality of human nature in their efforts to make people feel guilty for their wealth and for the blessings of God and the habits of mind that lead to success.  When it comes to writing, it appears as if the authors wanted to influence the conduct of missionary efforts by smuggling in leftist ideology rather than to engage from a biblical perspective, and that political agenda is ultimately why this book cannot be recommended for readers.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/02/book-review-missionary-methods/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/11/the-most-awkward-missionary-of-all-time/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/09/28/so-youre-a-missionary-then/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010/11/18/the-missionary-approach-of-the-heliand/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/09/11/book-review-an-asian-harvest/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/24/book-review-coffee-the-world-and-jesus/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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