If you are giving money or material resources to the poor, you are helping them overcome their problems in life, right? Perhaps, but maybe not, inevitably. Donating money, clothes, food and other materials does help the poor and needy but have we ever paused and asked them how our help truly affects them? For all we know, our efforts to help may have unintentionally done more harm than good.
Our guest today shows us a different perspective on helping the poor. Dr. Brian Fikkert of the Chalmers Center challenges us to veer away from considering the poor as problems to solve and projects to fix and instead see the dignity in everyone and understand people’s highly relational nature with fully integrated body and soul all reconciling to God. He dares us to ask questions that will help us understand how to extend genuine help and compassion that creates a long-lasting impact. Start listening now and learn better ways to help the poor.
Key Points From This Episode:
“We tend to define poverty as a lack of material things so as a result, our solutions for the poor tend towards material things.”
“The human being isn't just a body and we're not just a body that holds a soul. We're highly integrated body-soul relational things, and that really shapes every intervention we should use with the poor.”
“The foundation for helping the poor might be a shared meal once a week. Building a community is central to poverty alleviation.”
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Send an email to Brian Fikkert
When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn't the American Dream by Brian Fikkert and Kelly Kapic
Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant Myers
You're Only Human by Kelly Kapic
About Dr. Brian Fikkert
Dr. Brian Fikkert is a professor of economics and the founder and president of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. Dr. Fikkert earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, specializing in international economics and economic development. He has been a consultant to the World Bank; he is the author of numerous articles in both academic and popular journals and co-author of five books. Prior to coming to Covenant College, he was a professor at the University of Maryland—College Park and a research fellow at the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector.
ANNOUNCER: Imagine taking your generosity to the next level, impacting more lives, and leaving a godly legacy for generations to come. Get ideas and strategies to do just that when you listen to these personal stories from high-level Kingdom champions.
The Kingdom Investor Podcast showcases business leaders who have moved from success to significance, sharing how they use worldly wealth for Kingdom impact. Discover how they grew in generosity, impacted more lives, and built godly legacies. You'll find motivation, inspiration, and practical steps to grow as a Kingdom Investor.
Daniel White (DW): Hello and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. This is your host Daniel White. And today we get the honor of interviewing Dr. Brian Fikkert. Brian is the president and founder at the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. And he's also a professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. He has written numerous books, including "When Helping Hurts" and "Practicing the King's Economy. So without further ado, let's get right into the show.
Welcome to the Kingdom Investor Podcast. This is your host, Daniel White. And today I have with me Dr. Brian Fikkert. Brian, would you say hello and tell our listeners where you're coming from?
Brian Fikkert (BF): Hey, everybody, my name is Brian Fikkert. And I'm the founder and president of Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College Lookout Mountain Georgia overlooking the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee where I live.
DW: Excellent. So I wanted to ask you if you have a highlight for us for this week. If you're working on any interesting projects.
BF: The highlight for this week, the Green Bay Packers actually won a game on Sunday, and they're playing Thursday night. And so the focus of my week is prayer and fasting over the Green Bay Packers. In addition to that, I'm leaving today to drive to St. Louis to see my twin granddaughters, twin girls who are about five months old. And okay, certainly more ministry-related, let me think of something. Just got done with a very busy weekend speaking in Wisconsin, and then also at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, got a chance to speak to a group of Christian students, they're trying to be salt and light amongst the MBA students at Kellogg, and they're also some folks online from Yale and from the Booth School at the University of Chicago. And so I'm trying to get people in the space of business interested in thinking about business from a kingdom perspective.
DW: Excellent. Excellent. So I would like for you to tell us a little bit of your backstory and kind of what you're doing now. But before we jump into that, do you mind praying for our listeners?
BF: That'd be so great. Yeah, our Father, we thank you that you are, in fact, King of Kings and Lord of lords, that you own, all the cattle on thousand hills and the wealth and every mind, Lord, it's all yours. And we just thank you for the privilege of being part of your great mission. We pray that You would help the listeners on this podcast to press into the good news of the gospel of the kingdom. And that would they would be captured by that great vision, that great mission, and that they would be who they are. Your image bearers, your agents of reconciliation, and whatever line of work they're in, we pray you use this podcast to bless them, to encourage them, and to just strengthen them for the work that you've called them to do. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.
DW: Amen. All right, Brian, would you tell us your story?
BF: Yeah, I'll try to be concise. But um, I'm from a small town in a little village action, rural Wisconsin. My dad was a pastor. From a very young age, I felt called to work amongst the poor. And so life for me has just been about trying to figure out what is my role in trying to alleviate poverty. And when I was in college, I discovered the field of economics as a field that I could use to take the mathematical ability that I had and apply it to something I really cared about the space of poverty. And so, I went off in was able by God's grace, get a Ph.D. in economics, focusing on international economics, and what they would have called economic development in the majority world. And so, I thought about the global policy experts that was going to run around the world and perhaps work for the World Bank. And God had a different plan.
While I was in grad school, actually, at the end of grad school, a couple of things started to nod me, and those things are really part of the story. I I took a job at the University of Maryland and was just outside of Washington DC. It's a great place to be an economist, the World Bank is there, the International Monetary Fund is there. I was 20 minutes from the White House if they'd ever called I could have been there. They never called but I was ready. And so I was going to do the academic thing and the kind of the policy thing consulting, but then some things that were starting to not me in graduate schools continued to kind of mushroom in my life. And the first is this I was increasingly uncomfortable with how economists think of what a human being is. And economists tend to reduce the human being to a purely physical creature. And so I was I was really struggling. I was studying poverty, India was my focus at the time. I was trying to figure out, how do I work within a framework about what a human being is that I don't really believe in. And so that was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me.
And then a second thing happened, I was very involved in my church. I was an elder in my church, and I was assigned as the liaison to our deacons. And I was supposed to help our deacons to care for the poor more effectively. And it seemed to me that our deacons were making the polar opposite mistake to economists. They were kind of reducing the poor to spiritual beings, that if they repent for their sins, all would be well. And so I'm not really buying the anthropology of my field, or the anthropology of my church, my midlife crisis started pretty early. So I'm stuck between these two things. And then a third thing happened, I was asked to teach a science class and I just grabbed a book off the shelf at a Christian bookstore. And it was a book about it was called "The Glorious Body of Christ". It was a book about just the doctrine of the local church. And in the process of teaching about the local church, I just fell in love with the local church, you know, it's supposed to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ. The Book of Ephesians says that his body, his bride, and his very fullness, and Jesus ministered in words and in deeds, to hold people, to hold poor people. And so he was, Christ brings these two things together, the physical and the spiritual. And he continues his work through the local church. And so I love that.
So one afternoon, I wrote a letter to Covenant College and sort of said to them, what I just said to you. And I said, somebody should start an undergraduate program that would think about poverty in a more biblical fashion. And should somebody should started a center that would equip churches and by extension, missionaries, to be all that God has called the church to be. And the college said, how about you and I said, not me, not now, down the road. But God called and so we came, and 25 years later, we now have a Department of Economics and Community Development, that does have a particular bent on the space of poverty, but also this thing called the Chalmers Center, which equips churches and missionaries and parachurch ministries, to really work amongst the poor in ways that we hope are really effective, and that declare the good news of Christ in His kingdom. We don't want poor people to ever hear of the Chalmers Center, rather, we want them to experience the local church in their community. That's what the Bible says it is, the body brightened fullness of Jesus Christ, who designs strategies churches can use to economically empower the poor. We field-tested those strategies and out of that we trained churches and church-equipping organizations all over the world, across the US.
DW: Wow, that's really neat. I really like how you walked through that and kind of hit the highlights and how God really shaped your life to you know what you're doing now.
BF: He really has, you know, I never dreamed I'd be doing it. He brought me down a path that wasn't anticipating. But once I finally stopped kicking and screaming, I realized that I was actually wired for what I'm doing. And that he's grown me and led me and shaped me through this. And I really am just so thankful.
DW: So how can you maybe share a little bit about the definition of poverty, and really kind of how that maybe build a proper foundation for us to alleviate poverty?
BF: That's terrific. You know, we try to get at this in our book "When Helping Hurts". God blessed us in just outrageous ways. We were hoping that book would sell 3000 copies. It was meant to be a side project. And God had other ideas. And so in that book, we asked the question, what is poverty? Because if you ask most Americans, what is poverty? They'll answer it like this. It's about a lack of food, a lack of clothing, a lack of shelter, a lack of money. We tend to define poverty as a lack of some material resource, and there's a reason for that. It's deeply rooted in Western culture and civilization. I think it's just really wrong. I know many of your listeners are involved in business and they're in that space that I think we really need Christ's healing and redemption to come to bear on that space. But, we tend to find poverty is a lack of material things. And as a result, our solutions for the poor tend towards material things, we tend to give away material things. This is true at the global level, it's true at the national level. We think of welfare programs, for example, that are very focused on giving away material resources. But it's also true at a very local level, our churches are often giving away resources. And it's what you and I do when we stop at a traffic light, and we roll the window down. And we put a quarter in the hands of a homeless person, it's material approach to solving a problem. And, of course, there is a material dimension to it. And there is a place for giving away material things.
But what's so interesting is that if you ask poor people around the world, what is poverty, they will say things like this, they will say, I feel shame, I feel less than human, I feel like I can't affect change in my life, I feel like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of, I feel like I'm not really part of the team, I'm not part of the community. The poor tend to define their poverty in far more psychological, social, and even spiritual terms. And so we come at them with material resources, but what they're feeling is far more relational in nature. And so that disconnect between how we're conceiving of the problem and how they're experiencing it is at the heart of a lot of problems in the space of poverty alleviation. So we've got to get the definition of poverty correct. That's what we try to do in When Helping Hurts two or more subsequent works in becoming whole.
DW: Excellent. So what are some of the ways that you have found that are very effective because you said you come up with a variety of different ways you test them and see what the results are. Can you share, maybe some of the top ones that you've sure come across?
BF: I'll share some interventions, but lurking behind these interventions is a theory of change, if you will, a sense of what the good life is, and of how that good life is achieved. That's embodied in everything we're doing. And at the core of that, is trying to address the disconnect I was just mentioning, you know, again, most Westerners define poverty, in physical terms. The church has tended towards a kind of defining poverty in a way we might call evangelical Gnosticism. That's a big word, we tend to think that the human being is a body that contains a soul. And the real goal is to get the soul to heaven. So I happen to have a glass of water here, this wasn't planned, I guess, if get it in here. And so we tend to think of, of the human being as a body that contains a soul, just like a glass containing water, we think of the body as containing the soul. And in a lot of the Western Church, the goal is to get the soul to heaven.
You know, Gnosticism, was one of the heresies that the New Testament is often trying to address. It's this idea that the soul is good, and the physical is bad. And so the goal is to get the soul out of this evil material world. Well, the Bible actually gets a different view of a human being, the Bible actually teaches that the human being is a highly integrated body and soul. And so it's not like a cup that holds water. It's more like the relationship of water to a sponge that it's intertwined, right. And so the body and the soul are highly integrated. But then there's more. God is inherently a relational being. From all eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost exist in relationship. And God has wired us in His image. So the human being is deeply wired for a relationship. This is a very hard idea for Westerners to understand because we're so individualistic, it's hard for me to understand. But what the Bible teaches is that we are hard-wired for relationships with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of creation. And so the human being isn't just a body and we're not just a body that holds a soul. We're highly integrated body-soul relational things, and that really shapes every intervention we should use with the poor. So the Chalmers Center is involved in all kinds of things. We internationally are very involved in microfinance and micro-enterprise development, helping people to save and lend money to one another so they can start their own small businesses, pay school fees, pay for emergencies. In the US, we're very involved in jobs preparedness training and financial literacy training for poor people. But lurking behind all of that is this understanding of the human being as a body-soul relational creature, because we think that really frames how you work amongst the poor. It has huge implications for how you design your ministries, how you implement your ministries, how you measure success in your ministries. And so for us, the underlying theory of change of the human being is highly relational, it's really the important thing that's lurking behind was particular interventions of microfinance and micro-enterprise development, jobs preparedness training and financial literacy. And, so actually, now the Chalmers Center, in addition to equipping churches and ministries with those particular economic development interventions, were increasingly helping people to design their own ministries. But to sort of embed new ministries or to improve old ones, in light of a highly relational theory of change. That's a lot to unpack brother.
DW: It is, yeah, absolutely. So you know, maybe peel back another layer of the onion. And can you give us a little bit more?
BF: Yeah, yeah. So again, the idea here is that we're body-soul relational things, which means that whatever happens to us, relationally affects us physically and spiritually, and vice versa. So I'm going to give you a really simple example. The Surgeon General has determined that loneliness - so that's the relationship to others - that loneliness has the same effects on lifespan, as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. We are relational creatures. And when it's happening to us relationally affects us physically, and spiritually. Another example. I have a friend who's a physical therapist, and I asked my friend, what's the biggest problem you have? And he said, the biggest problem I have is my patients don't believe in my remedies. I said, what do you mean? He said, well, you said Americans are so materialistic and individualistic in understanding what a human being is that when I work on or more relational framework, my patients don't believe me.
I still will give you an example. He said, well, I had a patient who was struggling with back pain. I did the MRI, and I realized that the guy had had a back injury, but the injury had healed. But he still had pain. He said, my physical therapist friends said, Brian, all the research tells us that if you're having relational problems, it will manifest itself in physical pain. But nobody believes that. But he said, I knew the guy was lonely. So I said, what'd you do? He said, well, I lied to him. I told him he needed to exercise every night with his one friend in the whole world, Jake. He said the dude didn't need exercise, he just need to have a friend. But I couldn't tell him that because he wouldn't believe me. So after two weeks of exercising with his long-lost friend, Jake, the patient calls the doctor, the physical therapist back, and says, I'm healed, I am healed. And my friend says, no, you're not. If you don't exercise every night with Jake, the pain is going to come back,
We're highly relational creatures. But in the West, we've lost track of that. And so that has huge implications for program design. I'll give you a quick example. Sometimes, I do a little grant exercise with people, with audiences. And I give them a scenario of let's imagine that we are training very poor people in, let's say, Togo in West Africa, in principles of small business. And so these people come together every week, we train them, maybe it's a local Christian ministry, it trains them in small business principles. Now, imagine that that ministry discovers that they can record the lessons on video. And they can simply distribute the lessons on video to people's cell phones. And so this dramatically reduces costs, the staff don't have to show up and train anymore. All you gotta do is record the stuff on videos and beam it out there. And so there's no more need for group meetings anymore. Well, is that a good or a bad kind of thing to do?
Well, most western donors love that because you can substantially cut costs, right? No more group meetings, no more staff time, poor people are not to travel to come to group meetings. It's a highly efficient intervention. And so when I put that particular idea in front of Christian donors in America and I say to them, would you fund this? Yes, you can substantially reduce costs. Well, that is the right intervention if you think the human being is simply a physical creature that holds a soul that we can pour information into. But what if the creatures relational? Well, suddenly that group meeting has power in its own right, and we're actually wired for relationship and, and without those relationships who can flourish? Well, that's true for all of us. It's particularly true for the poor, who often feel disconnected, who often feel socially marginalized. There's power in the group. But as westerners, we blow that apart and say, well, it's just about information dissemination. And so with the way we fund tends to impose on people, an anthropology, a theory of change that comes from anthropology that is actually fit human beings. And so this has really practical implications on the ground. There's a lot to unpack here. It's not quick, but what we need to understand is highly relational with God, self, others in creation, it changes program design, it changes program implementation, it changes metrics of what human flourishing really look like. It's a complete paradigm shift.
DW: So you're saying that the four relationships are all intertwined, can you define those four again?
BF: Yeah, the God, self, others and creation, relationship with God, deep intimacy, deep communion, relationship with self, dignity and worth, not because I produce something, but just because of who I am as an image bearer. Relationship with others, deep fellowship and community. And out of the security of those deep relationships, we're called to have a relationship with Krishna. It's a relationship of caring for the created order, of nurturing it, but also of unfolding it and unpacking it through work, not to feed myself, not just to have more stuff but work is an act of worship to God and to others. And this may sound familiar to the listeners, these are this is actually the conditions in the Garden of Eden, you see that this this body-soul relational creature is designed to thrive in a certain kind of environment. And that environment is actually the environment of Eden.
And so what you know, theologians are discovering that the Garden of Eden, when I say discovering it, I don't mean through archeological digs, I mean, the biblical narrative. They're discovering that actually the Garden of Eden was a temple. If you start to think about the Holy of Holies, in the tabernacle, and in the temple, there's all this imagery that are in the furniture, that's in the temple in the tabernacle, that's actually harkening back to Eden. And theologians are discovering that the Garden of Eden, in the center of the garden was actually like the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle of Temple. What do we learn from that? Well, we learned is that human beings are actually wired to dwell in God's presence. The Holy of Holies is where God dwells. Well, God dwells in the Garden of Eden. And so we're actually hard-wired to dwell in God's presence, we're hardwired, we're the kind of creatures that are, are created so every day when we get out of bed and be in the Holy of Holies, that completely changes everything about how human flourishing looks like, about how we promote such flourishing. And so for me, poverty alleviation is basically about replicating the conditions of Eden, that as we replicate the conditions of Eden, we create the kind of habitat if you will, in which the human creatures are actually wired to flourish.
DW: I really liked that, that's really insightful. And, you know, it just makes me think about how, you know, those four relationships were broken during the fall. And then, you know, we're working to restore each of those relationships along with God. And that's really, you know, we get to join Him in restoring the earth.
BF: That's it! That's it! The coolest thing is, you know, and what's so crazy is if you look at the book of Revelation, the imagery in Revelation is of Eden restored. In Revelation 25, now the dwelling of God is with his people. And all, the tree of life is in the new creation. And so it's not the restoration of the primitive state of a garden. It's a city, right? It's a developed culture, but the conditions of it are the conditions in which God dwells in a community with people. We are in communion with each other. And then there's this crazy thing. Revelation chapter five, it says, and they will be priests and rulers and rain on the earth. Well, actually Adam and Eve's job was to be preached rulers who extend the garden template into all of creation. So it's like, we get our old jobs back. In the new creation, we get restored, we get our jobs back, we're in the restored garden template and out of that we're supposed to be priest rulers again. Well, there's an even crazier thing. It's not all just future. Because Christ continues his work right now where to the local church, and the local church is the dwelling place of God.
And there's this crazy thing that happens. As we become part of God's family, the Bible says, we're new creatures and Christ are restored. It's not just that Jesus has paid the penalty of our sins, He has done that, of course, praise God for that. We actually become new creatures. We were this kind of creature, we become that kind of creature. And who is that kind of creature? It's a creature that gets its job back First Peter, chapter two, we are well preach to the holy nation against a restoration for all of us, including for the poor, is to live in right relationship with God, self, others and out of that, to live in right relationship with creation. And this affects how you design your programs.
BF: Sorry, I'm getting excited. I love this, the greatest story never told.
DW: This is great. This is so so cool. And it's really, you know, we're living in the already but not yet, right? And so, it's sometimes hard to see that and it's easy to see, okay, well, eventually, everything's going to be restored. And, we're going to live in eternity with God if we're in a relationship with him, right. But, you know, once we come into a relationship with Him, we're already living in, in the current kingdom that is going to be fully established.
BF: That's it's, that's it. So it's, there's a tension here. On the one hand, we don't want to be overly optimistic and feel like, oh, gee, everything's gonna be great. It's through my own work, my own effort, I'm going to bring about the kingdom, that's a mistake. If there's a not yet and the kingdom won't be fully here until Christ comes again, He brings it at the same time, we can make the mistake of thinking that there's nothing yet. That's not true. Christ emerged from the tomb 2000 years ago with a resurrection body. And we are, as believers united to Christ, are filled with the Holy Spirit were new creatures in Christ to so there's a sense in which we are already living into the new creation, even now. And so there is kind of a now going on. And so it's hard to know how to balance those but sometimes Christians think we can't get them done. That's not true. The same power, Ephesians chapter one, says the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us, that's a lot, there's hope, we can lean into it to prepare for reign.
DW: So it makes me think about how, you know, my wife and I were talking about this the other day, but it is so fun to be around people who exhibit the fruit of the spirit because they're fun to be around, because they're being restored, right? And so, you know, as we grow closer to Christ, and are more like Christ in our, in our sanctified or become more like Him, in our daily lives, we're more fun to be around.
BF: Totally. We're more fun, we bring, we spread the aroma of Christ. Yeah, and we bring healing. We are actually called trees of life in the scripture. So, we are bringing that, that restoration, wherever we go. It's the greatest thing ever. And what's really cool is when that woman walks into our church, asking for help with her electric bill, God's story for her, God's design for hers, for her to be restored to humaneness, for her to be restored, as a priest ruler for her to unfold and unpack the created order. This actually affects what we do with her, when she walks into church asking for help their electric bills, not as much a theory has huge implications on the ground.
DW: So, now that we have like, the vision, really, I mean, this is paradigm-shifting, I think. And so now that we see that, and that goal, what are some of maybe the tactical things that would help us see like tangible steps and what I want to do here is, you know, as Kingdom investors, we want to make an impact on our community, but then also out on our globe and and around. And so, you know, maybe starting at home and saying, okay, in our own community, you know, what does that look like? For example, you know, I was, I was with a local church planter, yesterday, and I went with him and he drove me around the neighborhood that he's called to. And, you know, it's really there are no new church plants there. You know, it's an area that's less affluent. And there are, you know, more needs there that they're trying to serve and everything. And so, you know, just learning and picking up different things from that experience, maybe talk about kind of maybe a similar situation, and maybe advice on what that looks like.
BF: So let's imagine that we're in a low-income community. And we are maybe trying to plant the church, for example. What do we do? Well, you know, there's so much content here. Let's just keep it simple. We're trying to replicate the conditions of Eden, and how hard could that possibly be? So a simple way for me to remember it, it's just I remember, okay, four relationships, God, self, others, and the rest of creation. God, self, others and the rest of creation. That's it. And so I want to create an environment where people can experience fellowship with God, deep communion with others, a sense of dignity, and then out of that, to be able to use their gifts, to be able to work and support themselves and glorify God through work. And so it's really God plus community plus dignity, plus work, God, community, dignity, work. Those four things, God, community dignity, work plus one more thing, time. It takes time. If you've got those four ingredients, plus time, transformation tends to happen. We can't manufacture it, we can't force it, only Holy Spirit can do it. But generally speaking, it seems to work through the conditions of God plus community plus dignity plus work plus time.
So what does that look like? It's all about relationships. It's starting with relationships, you know, it kind of the American narrative, we kind of have this idea of, you know, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and making something of yourself and sort of this rugged individualism. Well, actually, that's completely antithetical to how the human being is wired. I want to be careful here, because we can fall into a heresy. So listen carefully, from all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost exist in deep community, that community exists before God acts. Now, in God's case, he doesn't need it, because he knew what He wants. So but being precedes doing, it's out of the love at the core of the Trinity, that God acts and creates the world. Well, the same is true for human beings. In the garden, there's deep community, with God with self with othe33:36 rs, before Adam and Eve are told to be fruitful, multiply, increase number and subdue the earth. And so being precedes doing. Don't tell people to go out and get jobs, create community, create safety, create security, create identity, create a sense of worth, and capacity and security because work is hard and scary.
One of the primary qualities of poor people all over the world is a sense of shame. A sense of I can't do it. A sense of I can't succeed. Well, I mean, I'm neurotic about work. I got a Ph.D. and I'm still nervous, am I going to perform? Am I going to do it right? Am I going to show up to play you know, and so you know, trying to get a job is hard. It takes risk. It takes so, what I'm trying to say is even before the fall, Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve had deep security with God, self and others. Out of that foundation of community, they were told to go work well, so much more. So post-fall, where there's all kinds of insecurities, all kinds of dangers, all kinds of things war against us, we need deep security. So, the first thing is to build community, it's central to poverty alleviation. The foundation for poverty alleviation might be a shared meal once a week, a barbecue in your backyard.
So how would I plant a church and welcome a community? I'd have a lot of meals together. I'd have a lot of meals. I'd invite my friends and neighbors over, and have meals for a long time. Just hang out, hang out, be together, share, break bread together. It's in that act that we develop community. Out of that, things can happen. Out of that, things like getting jobs, jobs preparedness training, housing development, all that stuff can happen. But it's built on the foundation of community. Secondly, it's built on a foundation of God's story. And what I mean by that is God's story is a story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. What most of us do when we walk with poor people was we start off with Genesis chapter three, instead of Genesis chapter one. It's a terrible mistake. Genesis chapter three is when the fall happens. And so what we tend to do is we focus on needs, what's wrong with this individual? What's wrong with this community? How are they broken? How can I fix them? It's a disaster.
Because what poor people are experiencing is a sense of shame, a sense of inferiority, a sense of incapacity, and we tend to suffer from a sense of pride, a sense of superiority, a sense that we can fix the world. When people have a sense of pride interact with people have a sense of shame. It's a bad mix. Because the way that we communicate to them, the things we do with them, communicate what they're already feeling. You can't do it. You need me to fix you. They become more passive as they wait for us to answer. Don't start with Genesis three, start with God's story. Genesis, chapter one, assets, what gifts and abilities do you have? Asking the poor, asking the low-income community? What gifts and abilities and resources do you have?
And actually, there's activities and exercises you can do to actually list those, literally can't write down but we shouldn't write it down. They need to write it down.
An exercise of, it's called mapping. Map, write down all the assets spiritual, physical, economic, social, relational, spiritual in your community, write them all down. Map them out, and you could have walls full of these assets. What are your dreams? Dreams! They've never had any dreams. Just asking the question is empowering. What do you want to accomplish? Write those down. How can you use your assets to achieve your goals? It's an asset-based not a needs-based approach.
Start with Genesis one, living in God's story. What dreams do you have hotkeys your assets to achieve your dreams? What obstacles are you? What obstacles do you think you've got? That's Genesis, chapter three, the fall happened. What obstacles do they have? How might we walk with you as you use your assets, to overcome those obstacles to achieve your dreams, it's a walking with process, helping them live into creation, fall, redemption. Now there may be some obstacles that can get over themselves. And it's at that point, we as outsiders can say, maybe we can help you by addressing those, but it's, it's living into God's story in community.
DW: Wow, that's really cool. I really liked that. And it really changes. I mean, the whole way that you come at a situation, I mean.
BF: It's all about helping local people discover who they are. They don't know who they are, who they really are image bearers. Priests, rulers, who are created and called to use their gifts to subdue the earth, and to bring glory to God in the process. That's who they really are, but they don't know it. And so it's helping them discover who they really are and living into that.
DW: Yeah. And I, I'm thinking about, you know, the pastor that I was with, he was talking about, you know, he was building a relationship with this guy who's, you know, planting trees in the community and doing all of this, like, agricultural stuff. And I'm like, how does that? And then he explains, well, you know, where do you go for a walk that you can see the beauty of nature in this community? And so, you know, it's psychological and, you know, even emotional, you can, you can make.
BF: Totally. Totally. a quick story. Early on, the Chalmers Center was trying to figure out how can we help very poor people in Africa, to be able to work and support themselves to the work. Well, we were working with a church in Maasai land in Kenya, and trying to help this church to help the Maasai, a particular tribe. And the church wanted to minister to women in particular, the church was full of beside themselves. And they said, how can we empower these women economically? Well, there's no jobs. There's no jobs around so people have been self-employed. Well, there's no banks. So how are people gonna get the capital they need to start small businesses? Well, in God's providence, we were able to help that church to help very poor people to start what's called a savings and credit association. It's like a very small, very primitive credit union. And so we started with assets, their own savings, rather than focusing outside money. Let's start with the resources they have. They know how to save. They have a little bit of savings, and they can manage things.
So we said let's help them form their own savings group. It's like a very small, very primitive credit union. And so these Maasai women come together they save they lend their own money to one another. Well, it's all based on their assets, their gifts, their abilities, their management, their vision, it's all them. It's given them a vision, and a few tools to mobilize that vision. Well, you know, the Maasai tribe has many wonderful qualities. But being a female would not be easy in the Maasai tribe. The men treat the women like cattle. The men practice polygamy, female genital mutilation, these women are treated like things. I had a chance to visit this church and the savings group, these Maasai women are in there, they're saving like $1 a week each, really small amounts of money. And I noticed a pickup truck, I said to them who gave you the pickup truck, they said, nobody gave me the pickup truck. So where'd you get it from this? Oh, we saved our money. We lent it to each other. We took the loans, we bought cattle, we raised the cattle, we sold the cow in the marketplace, we made profits, we brought the profits back in. We made more loans, more, more cattle, more profits, plod it back in, we said we had so many profits, we bought a pickup truck. We use the pickup truck to get more cattle to market.
I said, what did your kids think of you? They said our kids think that mommy's a rock star. I'm paraphrasing a little bit. I said, What does your husband's think of you and they said, our husbands didn't know who we were. They didn't know that we were image bearers of God Almighty. So I thought to myself, these are like Proverbs 31 women whose children and husbands call them blessed. I get up to leave the meeting and when lady said sit down, I'm not done talking to you yet. She said, I want to tell you my dreams. You know, in the west, as we grow as we prosper economically, we become very self-centered, very materialistic. Listen to her dream.
She said, my dream is to go as a missionary way into the interior regions of Kenya to tell the Maasai fathers who their little girls are because they don't know. They won't put the little girls in school because they don't know they're image-bearers of God Almighty. And little girls don't know who they are. They don't know they're image bearers. And so I want to go to tell the Maasai fathers and little girls, who their little girls are, they're image bearers of God almighty. This was all completely local resources, local assets, local everything, all we did was train them. And when you're building on local capacity, local dignity, local know-how, you're helping to build them up as image bearers who are on mission with Christ. That's the goal. And there's a way to get there. But it doesn't start with outside stuff. It starts with helping to rebuild people, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally so they can be who they're called to be.
DW: Yeah, I really liked that. And it makes me think about the, the quote, that “There's gold in every one if you can dig deep enough.” And I love that God does create gifts and talents and abilities for all of us, we all have different talents. But if they're, if they're not, you know, developed and drawn out and even explained that we have them then, you know, they're just a very talented…
BF: They're dormant. Yeah, they're dormant. It's so so you're right. So a lot of population is about fanning the flames of that spark that's already in there. And that doesn't mean that there's no external issues. There are, there's broken systems that oppress people, there really are. There's also things broken inside, there's a voice that says to people, you can't do it. You're good for nothing. You're less than human. So as rich people, they're successful, you don't have what it takes. And so we want to change the broken systems. But we also want to change that voice inside that says, You can't do it into a voice that says through the power of Christ's death and death and resurrection. You can do it. He's in the process of restoring all of creation, which means you are being restored to what in who your credit to be. Yeah, that's really fascinating.
DW: What would you leave us with as we wrap up this episode? We're going to do a mentor minute here in a second. But what would you say to the audience of people who are really wanting to make an impact, make a difference and invest in God's kingdom? How can we do that practically?
BF: Yeah, so great question. I was under contract with Moody Publishers. They're the publisher of When Helping Hurts, I was under contract with them to write one more book. And that book was supposed to be called Helping Without Hurting in Giving. And the premise of the book was supposed to be in light of When Helping Hurts. How should a donor or investor steward their financial resources. And what happened is, every time I sat down to write that book, I got stuck. I got to chapter three, and I realized, I can't really write this because we're not actually working on the same theory of change. And so donors and investors want tips, they want to know, you know, what's the top three things you have to know. And I realized that that the tips that I had to give didn't have enough context that there wasn't a theory of change that was common, common language about what success looks like, and how to achieve such success for the poor and for ourselves, to enable me to write the book and so I gave up. So went back to Moody and said, we gotta, we gotta go back to the drawing board. And so we wrote a book called, sorry for the commercial, but it's the most important book in your I don't know how to get it on the screen. There you go, "Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn't the American Dream", and then there's a companion the Field Guide to Becoming Whole. These are way better than When Helping Hurts, I just can't get anybody to believe it.
So what we do in those books is we try to articulate some false theories of change, that have impacted all of us, including myself. And we try to articulate God's theory of change. In God's framework, what does human flourishing look like? And how does God typically go about getting us there? And once we have that in place, there are some questions we can ask of ministries about the kinds of things they're doing to discern. Are they kind of living into God's story or not? And are you and I living in God's story? Now, what we're going to find is that we've all been tricked by Satan into some false understandings of human flourishing. I'm trying to undo some things in my life that are just wrong, that the world looks at us successful, and even the church looks at as successful that in God's mind, I don't think actually are and so I'm trying to undo my own brokenness in my life. And so we hope that these books will help donors and ministries and ultimately the poor to live into God's story more faithfully.
DW: I love it. Thank you so much, Brian. As we transition into the mentor minute, who is the most influential person that you know, and how have they impacted you?
BF: The most influential person I know other than Jesus, right? Bryant Myers, his book, “Walking With The Poor” is brilliant. It's had a huge impact on my life, Walking With The Poor by Bryant Myers. He was a leader at World Vision for many years. And then he went on to become a professor at Fuller Seminary. His book walking with the poor is absolutely brilliant. It's a bit of a hard read, to be honest with you but he's had a huge impact on my life and my thinking, and you can see traces of Bryant Myers in all of my writing and my thinking, very grateful to him.
DW: What about a book or podcast that you'd highly recommend?
BF: Book or a podcast I highly recommend. I like everything by Tim Keller. I'm a huge Tim Keller fan. So pretty much anything written by Tim Keller is very good. Also, my co-author Kelly Kapic, who's a, he's a theologian, has written a wonderful, a number of great books, most recent one being You're Only Human, he's had a huge impact on my thinking as well, really helping me to understand the relational nature of the human being.
DW: And then what is the greatest lesson in leadership that you've learned?
BF: That I'm really broken, and that if Jesus doesn't show up and do something bad things are going to happen. So it's just, I think, a gospel-centered humility, just recognizing that I really don't have what it takes to do this. And that God's got to show up and make something happen because I can't do it and as I do that, I'm increasingly available to some I'm wrapped pretty tight, I'm type-A high anxiety kind of person. The more I just press into the good news that this is God's story. It's God's mission. And I'm just a little piece of that. It's really up to him, helps me relax, gets me in a better place, I think makes me a better leader. And it's more of just pointing people to Him and away from me?
DW: Absolutely. Is there anything that we or our listeners can do to help you in accomplishing your vision?
BF: Yeah. Well, the most important thing you can do is to just live into God's great story. I really believe that most Christians don't really know the good news, its fullness. And so it's, it's God, God's redeeming story and of the coming of his kingdom and all that that entails. And, and I know many of the listeners here are involved in business. Oh my word, the role, the crucial role that business people can play in their own businesses. It's just off the charts. There's probably, it's hard to imagine a greater place of brokenness than the global economy, then the kinds of things happening in corporations. And so you're part of creating the conditions of Eden, part of conditions of Eden that we can work in community as an act of worship. And so the most important the listeners can do is just help advance Christ's mission. You know, at a level closer to home, the Chalmers Center needs prayer supporters, we need champions and quite frankly, we need financial supporters to come alongside of us in this work.
DW: Yes. And if listeners want to reach out to you, do you want to share some contact info?
BF: The Chalmers Center's website is just www.Chalmers.org. It's just C-H-A-L as in Larry. M as in Mary, ers. www.Chalmers.org is our website. I can be reached at Brian.fikkert@Chalmers.org, Brian.fikkert@Chalmers.org
DW: Excellent. Thank you so much, Brian, for your time. And is there anything that we can pray for you right now?
BF: Yeah, that's a good...thank you! What a great question. I really appreciate that. Just pray that I will stay in deep fellowship with God, I'm working very hard at just my relationship with him and just pray that I will just be fully immersed in in God and His presence and in his great story, and I won't deviate that I'll stay focused on Him.
DW: All right, let's pray. God, I thank you and praise you for Brian and all the work that he's doing. I pray that You would help him to, to really be in deep relationship with you that he would continue to pursue you first and foremost, pursue your kingdom, and that you would bring the results and bring the fruit. God I pray that also for our listeners and myself, that we would really pursue Christ that we would live in, in relationship, in these four different relationships we talked about that, that you would help us to restore those relationships in our life and in the lives of those around us. In Christ's name, I pray, amen.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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