When NOT Helping Hurts


In the work I do to bring aid to those in need in Ethiopia, I see a lot of worry and concern about helping people the wrong way. I see this become such a concern that people are telling folks to just stay home from short term mission trips because they don’t help, they only hurt the needy because you are not there long enough to make a real difference. They say don’t give handouts to the poor, just let the professionals with years of experience in job empowerment handle the needy to ensure that they are helped the “right” way. And if we do try to help, and we happen to be white, then just know we are doing it with a “White Savior” mentality to really only make ourselves feel better in the end.

As with everything in life, there is always the good with the bad. There have been real issues that have arisen to warrant all the remarks that I mentioned above from people. I think we can agree that with everything in life there are seasons of learning, growth, and development. Most of us don’t start out as experts in anything. We have to learn as we grow in the experience. This is true as parents, in our marriages, in our education, our jobs, and this is also true in philanthropy work which brings humanitarian aid to the marginalized and impoverished. Therefore, if we don’t start out as experts, and we have to learn and grow in everything we do in life, then the big keyword here is MERCY.

We are approaching our 10th year since I started my organization, Ordinary Hero. Gosh, I look back at our early days of feeling such a call to help the orphans and the poor after the adoption of my son from Ethiopia in 2008. I jumped in headfirst without knowing what in the world I was doing. I just knew that I wanted to help people. We took our first short-term mission trip to Ethiopia with a team of 22 people in 2010. We helped in the best way we knew how at the time which was meeting a lot of immediate physical needs while advocating for orphans to find their forever families. As the years went on, we learned and we grew in experience and maturity as much as we could in a culture that was not our own. As we did have success in helping children find their forever families, we began to see the need for orphan prevention rather than just focusing on those children waiting in the orphanages. Why not keep them out of the orphanages? So we started our sponsorship program to provide monthly food for families, education for the children, and access to medical care. This would help keep children with their families and from becoming orphans due to poverty.  This was all great, but then we saw the need for job empowerment as to not have the family dependent on sponsorship forever. The parents need to be empowered. The kids need an opportunity for private school. We all know that education is the key, right? So now we have job empowerment programs and private school offered for better education. But there continue to be ways we can improve in other areas of need that pop up every day that we haven’t thought of yet.

And what about all those kids in the early days that we helped connect with adoptive families? Placing a child in a forever family is the ultimate accomplishment, right? But what if that child derails in that family? What if the family is not equipped to handle a child with trauma and we start to see the family torn apart? Thankfully there are better-equipped professionals to step in at that time, but those sure were not the things we were thinking of when we were helping the kids find their way into families in the beginning. Many of us back then had a “rescue the child” mentality that was not reality. So you ask is it worth it to advocate for this? But then what about the kids that are thriving in their families? We all know that every child deserves the opportunity to have the love of a family. Yes, it’s worth it! Is it warm and fuzzy and perfect. Never! What is?

So you see with everything good comes difficulties and helping the poor is no different than anything else. But it doesn’t mean we stop helping, we stop traveling on mission trips, or we stop giving while we search for better ways to give. While we strive to be merciful to the poor, we must also remember to show mercy to each other and to those who are also striving to give to the poor with the knowledge they have acquired up to that point. There will be those with good intentions who succeed and those who simply don’t know how to succeed. Yes, there are lives affected one way or another, for the good or for the bad. But God forgive us if we ever feel like we have got it all figured out and that “our way” of helping people is the best way.

If we are made in Christ’s image then there is something in us that is drawn to want to help others. As Jesus made his way on this earth he saw needs and he immediately met those needs. He met their needs in those particular moments as an expression of God’s love for them. It gave them hope and increased their faith right there where he found them in their greatest moment of need. I fear that in today’s world some feel they can’t give to the needy. They feel they need to pass off the poor to other, more professional ministries that do it the “right way”. They feel that others will provide better, more immediate, long-term solutions, but in reality, they are actually missing the front line of mercy, as Randy Nabor’s book, Merciful, explains it so well.

If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is  not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17 NIV)

Our relationship with those in need of mercy will sometimes begin with them being dependent on us for very basic things. It is better to give than to receive, right? I know I am responsible to discern the needs I stumble upon. We must not let our hearts become calloused to the point we turn our backs to real needs as we strive to build strategies to help the poor.

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later: I’ll give it tomorrow,’ when you NOW have it with you. (Proverbs 3:27-28 NIV)

Will there be people that take advantage of your kindness? Sure thing! Do you need to use wisdom and discernment in certain situations when you are approached or run across certain situations? Absolutely! And will you get it wrong sometimes? Yes, you certainly will. But it is God that sees your heart behind your giving.

Of course, it is good to build better strategies of self-sustainment, and Lord knows people and ministries need to apply that, but it is wrong to use that as an excuse to deny immediate and necessary help to our neighbors. All I have to do is think of the times that God has shown me mercy and it is my driving force. Mercy in the moment, unexpected gifts of mercy, unexpected acts of kindness, and even checks in the mail at the exact moment I thought all hope was lost. What is the point in all of that? It turned my heart back to God in thanks and praise, knowing where my gifts come from because my prayers were answered. God used other people’s acts of kindness to show me His great love in very practical ways. I think that should be the goal for all of us…to show His great love by being His hands and feet. By all means, bestow on others the same love and mercy that has been given to you. And if you are white like me, and trying to help people in Africa, then that does not make you a “White Savior”. It makes you a white person pointing someone to the true Savior, which is Jesus, by your love in action. 

So here we are just approaching our 10th year with Ordinary Hero. Some would say, “Congratulations, you must really feel like you have come a long way.” But in reality, we are 10 years old. We would tell our 10-year-old, 5th graders, “Good job, Buddy! I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished.” But in reality, we know how much life and learning is still ahead of that child. So yes, I am proud of all we have accomplished in 10 years but I still humbly view us as still capable of learning SO much more. Maybe we have made A’s or B’s in some areas with our current 5th-grade knowledge but we haven’t even approached Algebra yet. We are responsible for what we have learned up to this point and what we can learn from others along the way. I think we need to ALL have this level of grace for others who try to help people in need and may not always get it perfectly right as we see it from our perspective. 

I want to leave you with a comment that a sweet, sponsored child left on someone’s page on facebook. He happened to tag me in it which is how I saw it. His post really touched my heart because, to me, it explains all that we desire to do through Ordinary Hero, through our sponsorship program, through giving people the initial “hand up” and even some “handouts” that they need to give them back their hope and their dignity and allow them to dream again and ultimately point them back to Jesus. Here are the wise words from a 17-year-old boy whom we met when he was 14 years old and found him as a double orphan, living with his grandmother in ultimate poverty. We then found him a sponsor and watched his life change. Thank you, Yared for sharing your heart! You are wise beyond your years and God will use your words.

In Yared’s words this week…

We really need everybody to come and change one persons world like my world changed by one ordinary hero!! I need everybody to help this ordinary hero so that she may Change one persons world! ! let me tell you how my life changed !!!!
Lori Sweede I’m so exited for you to come here and met your sponsor family and i always grateful for sponsorship through OH because it is the one that changed mine and my family’s world! ! You know we was hopeless and i was a boy who have no dream because of lack of food, clothes, materials of school and i don’t even know English before one ordinary hero met me to change my world but after that my grandma got support of food then i start having food everyday so my interest to go school increased and our home rebuild because 7 of us were sleeping on ground(our home was so so small because of that we can’t sleep by stretching our legs and we have no matteres and bed). after that i got the wonderful opportunity to know my saviour Jesus! ! I heard he loves me so muc(before this time i think no body loves me but Jesus shows me his love for me through the ordinary hero people thats why i always love to be with team of OH so that i enjoy Love and Love) Now I’m telling people about my Jesus loves them and then I got dream ( death is not the most tragedy thing but the life without dream IS)and have Hope!!! Now my grandma is raising my cousins and me in a better standard of life Praise God! ! God changed our world through ordinary hero people’s! ! I want to say thank you the founder of OH Kelly Deatherage Putty!! Love you all!!! God is making our dreams to come true through ordinary Hero’s! !

(Yared with his sponsor, Shannon, and his Grandmother and cousins)
(Yared and his Grandmother)
(Our visit with Yared in the southern region of Ethiopia in February as he helped serve with our team)

If you would like to learn more about how YOU can sponsor a child, travel with us to Ethiopia, or help someone in need, visit the Ordinary Hero website.

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