In yesterday’s post, I quoted Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert from their book, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself.
One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.
The authors say that there is a deep brokenness that exists among both the poor and the rich.
In the case of the poor, they have a “poverty of being” often reflected in their loss of dignity; they may be marred by both their personal sin as well as the sin of the world system that contributes to their poverty.
In the case of the rich, they have a “poverty of being” often reflected in their arrogance and pride; they may be marred by both their personal sin as well as the sin of the world system that contributes to the gap between the rich and the poor; their “poverty of being” may be contained in the false belief that they are superior and know innately how to alleviate the problems of the poor. Corbett and Fikkert refer to this as a “god-complex.”
One of the great seductions for western Christians in serving the poor is the belief that money and technology will solve the problems of the poor. Of course, this is partly true. But what westerners often fail to recognize is that without relational healing—without the transforming gospel and kingdom of Christ—money and technology will often only make matters worse. Corbett and Fikkert argue this point very persuasively.
I have been thinking about this idea of “embracing our mutual brokenness” and have made a connection with an ancient practice and prayer of the Christian church. It is called the “Jesus Prayer.” At the risk of sounding simplistic, I offer this as an antidote to the problem of rich Christians serving the poor:
There is a prayer from the Eastern Orthodox tradition that is widely prayed by people of faith all over the world. It is short—and it is meant to be said over and over again—almost like a mantra. It is a prayer that is meant to cover all the bases as it were—and goes like this.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner …
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
“The Jesus Prayer is composed of two statements. The first one is a statement of faith, acknowledging the divine nature of Christ. The second one is the acknowledgment of one’s own sinfulness. Out of them the petition itself emerges: ‘have mercy.’”  Of course, the Jesus Prayer is not all there is to serving well in a cross-cultural partnership. We are advocates for developing godly character, cultural intelligence, and organizational competence (for more on these three arenas of competence, see page on The Beauty of Partnership). But I believe that the godly character trait of humility—the inverse of superiority—is perhaps the one thing that will carry your partnership further than any other.
What if the Jesus Prayer characterized the attitude and behavior of both western and majority-world Christians—as they partnered together in serving our Lord’s Great Commission? I imagine that in living this prayer … “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” … we would:
- be more aware of the presence of Jesus Christ in our cross-cultural relationships and in our work together,
- be willing to confess our mutual brokenness to one another, sharing our life stories, praying for one another, touching each others’ lives, hearing each others’ hearts,
- be in less of a rush to get things done, more patient with one another,
- not hesitate to repent of attitudes of superiority or inferiority, realizing our dignity is solely in Christ,
- be connecting to the ancient grand narrative—the history of God’s people, the church—who have for centuries, been giving witness to the redeeming presence of Christ in a broken world,
- more readily and more deeply experience our unity in Christ,
- be able to work through conflict or confusing situations with less effort,
- be less dependent on money and technology while more dependent on God,
- have deeper, longer-lasting friendships that glorify God.
What do you think? How can we more readily “embrace our mutual brokenness” in our cross-cultural partnerships? Please comment below.
1. From a sermon by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild: http://www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/b-or30su.php