Here is an interesting article by Tony Campolo titled “Making Matters Worse in Haiti” which I discovered through a link on the blog of Tim Archer. The article discusses how charitable works may do more harm than good in the grand scheme of things because the way such charitable works are pursued do more to disempower the Haitians and make them more dependent on foreign (American) aid. Campolo does offer an example of a charitable work that is doing more equipping and empowering of the Haitian people than just doing for them.
I believe there is some merit to what Campolo is saying. While sometimes the immediate moral response is to feed a hungry person, I have seen in my own ministry that by giving people fish it deprives them of the opportunity (and need) for learning how to fish. This article needs to be read by local churches and para-church ministries for several reasons. First, how does this impact local benevolent work? When is it morally right to hand out fish? When is it morally right to insist that insist that individual(s) be equipped and empowered to fish on their own? Secondly, planning short-term mission trips (especially service oriented trips to 3rd world cultures), what goals are we trying to accomplish? Do these goals (as well intended as they are) empower the locals to carry on such work independently on their own? Lastly, I am concerned about the ethnocentrism that innocently lurks behind our well-intentioned mission trips. Do the goals of such trips come about as a result of dialogue with the locals realizing that they (especially local leaders) are in a better position to asses their needs and long-term solutions?
Lastly, let me just say that this is not to discourage charity and good works. I believe there are times when the only moral option is to give whether that is feeding a hungry person or housing a homeless person. But I have also been around the block long enough to know that asking the critical questions will help us actually help others for the long-run.