What is “labor paternalism?”

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert are the authors of this excellent book

From When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert …

Labor paternalism occurs when we do work for people that they can do for themselves. I remember going on a spring break mission trip to Mississippi while I was in college. I will never forget the sick feeling I had as I stood on a ladder painting a house while the young, able bodied men living in the house sat on their front porch and watched. I did so much harm that day. Yes, the house got painted, but in the process I undermined these people’s calling to be stewards of their own time and talents. It might have been better if I had stayed home for spring break, rather than to have gone and done harm.

This statement really hits hard: “I did so much harm that day.” I am grateful for the authors’ honesty and vulnerability. I wonder: How many non-poor evangelical Christians from North America are willing to admit that they “did harm” on their mission trips, despite their good intentions?

How many mission trips have occurred in which North American believers built a church for a community, while marginalizing members of the local church, local construction workers and small businesses?

Helping the poor and cross-cultural partnership is not simple. It requires training and learning from others. Thank you, again, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert for your insights. God help us to avoid “labor paternalism.”


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