Sitcoms rarely address the effectiveness of charity and international aid. However, Michael Scott and Andy Bernard exposited these deep issues on a recent episode of The Office. Aiming to impress their friends and colleagues, the winsome duo joined a busload of aspiring youngsters bound for Mexico on a three month mission trip.
Michael Scott and Andy Bernard discuss charity
The scene unfolds:
Andy: Save me an aisle seat, Michael, I’m coming. I will not stand idly by while these Mexican villagers are sick.
Trip Leader: We are actually building a school.
Andy: Whatever. I won’t stand for it.
Michael: How long till we get to Mexico?
Andy: Well, two days minus how long we’ve been on the road. 45 minutes? So, like two days basically. Maybe more.
Michael: What are we building down there again? Like a hospital? A school for Mexicans? What?
Andy: I don’t know. I thought it was like a gymnasium.
Michael: Why aren’t they building it for themselves?
Andy: They don’t know how.
Michael: Do we know how? I don’t know how.
The episode closes with the comedic tandem abandoning their charitable foray, convicted that their talents would be better served selling paper to small business owners in Scranton. Channeling their inner Robert Lupton (and my other favorites, Brian Fikkert, Dambisa Moyo and Bill Easterly), Scott and Bernard touch on some deep issues in their short monologue:
Is our charity needed? Are we displacing someone locally who could do the job? Do we actually have the skills and capacity to serve well? Is our helping really helping? …an unlikely source prompts big questions.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Andy Bernard, Bob Lupton, Brian Fikkert, charity, Dambisa Moyo, dead aid, Michael Scott, mission trip, missions, NBC, short term missions, The Office, Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, William Easterly
I often get asked by friends for book recommendations on helping the poor. There are many wonderful texts on this important topic, but here are a few of my favorites, all of which are very reader-friendly:
- Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, Robert Lupton – Probably the most influential 100 pages I have read on this topic. Lupton’s focus is on his experience in domestic urban ministry, but the principles are broadly relevant. I wrote an entire post about this book last year.
- Giving Wisely or When Helping Hurts, Jonathan Martin or Brian Fikkert/Steve Corbett – I share these two as an either/or because there are such similar themes woven throughout both books (in short: we need to closely examine whether our attempts to “help” internationally are truly helping). Giving Wisely is a must-read for all missions pastors/committees and is oriented towards church programs to help the poor. When Helping Hurts is still a nationwide bestseller, nearly a year after its release, which is indicative of this book’s poignancy.
- Blood River, Tim Butcher – I felt like I was traveling with Tim Butcher in his harrowing cross-country journey through Congo while reading the account of his travels. Weaving in reflections on Africa, Congo, and poverty, this book gives you the taste of what life is like for many of our world’s poorest citizens. If you enjoy reading books in more of a narrative style, this one is for you.
- The Poor Will be Glad, Peter Greer – Full disclosure: Four years ago, I was Peter’s executive assistant at HOPE International, where I still work. After returning from a trip to Afghanistan, Peter handed me a stack of his own wrinkled business cards with small handwritten notes lining both sides. These business cards, the only paper available to Peter as he flew over Afghanistan in a rusty Russian helicopter, were the first draft of this book. Peter asked me to translate the scrawling into a Word document. Fast forward to October, 2009…and the book was published by Zondervan and is on its third printing. I have already identified my personal bias, but, that aside, this is an excellent book, specifically if you want to learn more about Christ-centered microfinance. And it’s loaded with award-winning photography — who doesn’t love a good picture book?
There are a few excellent academic books, which are fantastic if you are looking to dive a bit deeper. These books are not easy reads, but each is loaded with great content:
- Walking with the Poor, Bryant Myers – Great overview of why Christians should be concerned with helping the poor. Myers also outlines the theological underpinnings for how we should help.
- The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier – An examination of what makes poor countries poorer, and on what factors have prevented these poor countries and their citizens, the bottom billion, from entering the global economy.
- Portfolios of the Poor, Stuart Rutherford – How do the poor really live on less than $2 day? This book looks at the financial habits, tools and coping mechanisms the poor use to manage meager incomes.
- The Mystery of Capital, Fernando de Soto – The title is a great summary. De Soto looks at why capitalism has thrived in many parts of the world, but not caught on in others. Focuses heavily on property rights, legal systems and financial inclusion.
- White Man’s Burden by William Easterly or Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo – As you might surmise, these two books illuminate the incredibly low ROI the West has received from the trillions of dollars we have invested in aid in the developing world. Both Easterly and Moyo are scathing in their criticism of aid, but the data is irrefutable. In most cases, there is an inverse relationship in countries between a) the amount of government aid received and b) the prosperity of its citizens.
That should get you started. Have I missed any of your favorites?
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Bill Easterly, Blood River, Bob Lupton, books, Brian Fikkert, Bryant Myers, Chalmers Center, Dambisa Moyo, dead aid, Fernando De Soto, HOPE International, Peter Greer, poor, poverty, Stuart Rutherford, Tim Butcher, Toxic Charity, transformational development, urban ministry, Walking With The Poor, When Helping Hurts, White Man's Burden