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November 3-9, 2010–Doing More Harm Than Good?

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question

How do you decide whether to help someone?

Doing More Harm Than Good?

Nine months after a devastating earthquake killed over 250,000 people, many Haitians and international experts say that the millions of dollars given in aid has actually caused infrastructure and business shutdowns, and may be hurting the nation more than it has helped.

After the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, food, shelter and medical assistance poured into the already poor country.  American and French doctors came and treated thousands of injuries.  Although many Haitians still live in tents after their shacks and cement brick homes were destroyed, most people now have access to food, clean water and basic medical care.

The unfortunate and unforeseen drawback of all this generosity, however, is that existing hospitals, stores and pharmacies have had to shut down because there is much less demand for their products and services. Some fear that the aid will actually leave the country worse off than it was before.

Nurse Beth Middleton says she has doctors handing her resumes, forced to live in tents despite their education and experience. “The healthcare that was in place before the earthquake was crippled by the relief effort,” she says. “Pharmacies closed because of all the free drugs, and doctors lost all their patients.” The middle class is finding it hard to find jobs, she says, and pay for their housing and their kids’ school fees.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, over 12,000 non-governmental organizations have provided aid. Some of these are doing good work, but it is difficult to tell what many are doing, if anything at all. Furthermore, some say these organizations are not doing very well working together or working with governmental agencies to best help the people of Haiti. Some fear  that many organizations will pull out of Haiti without making sure that the people are able to help themselves.

Dig a little deeper:

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has helped or donated money to the Haiti relief effort? (The ELCA has donated over 4.6 million dollars to Haiti Relief—
  • How does it feel to help someone, whether face-to-face or by giving money?
  • Have you ever seen someone get helped and be worse off afterward?
  • How can we Christians help in ways which leave others better off and ultimately independent?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 7, 2010 (All Saints Sunday)

 Daniel  7:1-3, 15-18

Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

What a hard teaching some of this is for those of us who live in America! You might not feel rich, but the average American is in the top 1% of the world as far as income level. All those “woe to yous” could very well apply to us. That’s something to think about next time we go to the all-you-can-eat buffet, isn’t it?

Jesus isn’t saying that we will be punished for having stuff or that it’s wrong to eat a big meal. It’s when we focus on getting more stuff, or better stuff, while neglecting the really important things in life that Jesus has a problem with us. If our focus is on caring about people, taking care of our responsibilities, helping those who truly can’t help themselves, and loving God, then we will be blessed. And if we focus on material things and ourselves, then we’ve already had our reward. That’s pretty simple.

The last part of this teaching is definitely the hardest. Loving those who love us is hard enough. But loving our enemies? Doing something nice for someone who is going to turn around and stab you in the back is just about the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. It goes against everything in us! It’s exactly the opposite of what the world does and expects us to do. Are we really supposed to just let people take our stuff and not do anything about it? Who does that?  Almost nobody.

Elsewhere in scripture Jesus makes it clear that Christians are supposed to be different from the rest of the world. (See, for example, Matthew 5:13-16) We’re supposed to go so far beyond the way the rest of the world behaves, that the world will look at us and say, “Maybe they are really about something real and special.” When we are unlike anything else in the world, people sit up and take notice. Some even get drawn in when they realize that they want what we have.

Discussion Questions

  • What part of the gospel reading seems the hardest to you? Which part do you most identify with?
  • Have you ever done something nice for an “enemy” (meaning someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you, or who has treated you badly in the past)? What happened, if anything, as a result?
  • As a Christian, what makes you different from other people you know?
  •  Do you think God wants us to help people even if it makes them dependent or if it makes their situation worse? Is it possible that sometimes the best way to help someone is to do nothing so that they learn to help themselves?

Activity Suggestions

One way to truly help people is to provide the resources they need to become independent—to help others help themselves. There are organizations which do this.  For example, Heifer International provides animals to families struggling with poverty. Providing something as simple as a flock of chicks or a goat enables that family to make an income from the eggs, the milk, and later the meat of those animals. Part of the agreement in receiving an animal is to share its offspring with neighbors, “passing on the gift.”

Brainstorm ways your group or class could help someone in your community or elsewhere in the world. There are probably organizations right in your community to which you can donate money or volunteer time—your leader or pastor may be able to help. Even writing letters of encouragement can be a great help to someone in need

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

February 11-18, 2009 – FEMA, National Guard aid recovery from Midwest ice storm

Warm-up Question: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most dependent), how dependent do you think you are on electricity for your daily life?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continued to hand out emergency food and medical supplies in the aftermath of a multi-state ice storm that has killed 55 people so far. Over 150,000 people were still without power a week after the storm damaged Kentucky’s power grid and knocked out power to 1.3 million homes in several states.

Kentucky’s entire available National Guard has also been deployed to help repair power lines, remove debris, and distribute generators to keep essential services like hospitals and water services running. Emergency service workers are also beginning to go door-to-door in the more rural areas, checking on people trapped in their homes by debris or unable to get to shelters.

Amid the destruction of trees and power outages, rural neighbors are coming together to help each other, sharing food, blankets, and lanterns, and in some cases, knowledge. Kentucky’s 8,500 Amish population, which shuns modern conveniences like electricity, have been helping their neighbors figure out how to live without power in the cold winter temperatures.

Of the 55 deaths blamed on the storm so far, most are from hypothermia, traffic accidents, or carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper indoor use of portable heaters and generators.

Discussion Questions

  • What would your first priority be if your power went out in cold weather?
  • How do you typically handle emergency situations? (i.e., panic, problem solve, try to get help, make a plan, etc.)
  • What do you think is the best response to an emergency situation?
  • Who is the first person you’d contact or try to reach for help in an emergency?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 15, 2009.
(Text links are to
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

I wonder how many treatments the man with leprosy (people of Jesus’ time thought this skin disease was contagious) tried before coming to see Jesus. I wonder how desperate he had to be to come before Jesus “begging on his knees.”

I don’t know about your life, but there have been times where I have been that desperate. When I was 16, I became pregnant. Yes, I was still in high school. I was ashamed. I was terrified. I was desperate. Maybe you have been in a situation where your own choices or just a bad situation have put you in a corner, seemingly with nowhere to go.

Right now, in Kentucky, I wonder if there are people who cannot leave their homes, but are running out of food and ways to keep warm. They must be desperate too.

I hope that in our times of desperation, we can get on our knees like the man with leprosy and ask Jesus to come into our lives and do what only he can do. I’m not saying that Jesus will take away all our problems and fix everything in our lives. That will not be the case.

But, he will be with us as comforter, strengthener, healer, and friend. He will make a difference in our situations and our lives. I am living proof that this is true. When I was pregnant, I asked for God’s help in what seemed like an insurmountable task for a 16 year old: raising a child. My daughter is now 18 years old. She has been an incredible blessing to me. She has also opened me up to many other blessings in my life: parents who helped and supported me in every possible way, the grace of my church in loving me and my child, and a husband who loves my daughter like his own. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus is just as much a miracle worker today as he ever has been. He continues to work in our lives and the lives of those we care about—in every situation!

Discussion Questions

  • How would you feel if you were the man suffering with leprosy and avoided by the people around you? What would you feel after the healing?
  • Do you think Jesus is still involved in our world today? If so, how and why? If not, give a reason.
  • Have you ever had one of your prayers answered? (Remember, no and maybe are among the range of possible answers. Sometimes other people are the answer.)
  • How comfortable do you feel telling other people about how God has worked in your life? What or who would stir up more courage in you to do so?

Activity Suggestion

Provide the words and music to one of the following songs:

  • “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns from the Lifesong album.
  • “Blessed Be Your Name” by the Newsboys from the Devotion album.
  • “Amazing Grace,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #779.
  • “Borning Cry,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #732.

Videos for these songs can be found on if you have the capability to play them in your class (some of the videos even display the lyrics). If you choose “Amazing Grace” or “Borning Cry,” maybe your church musician or one of your young musicians can play the song for the class while they read (sing?).

Give out (or post up) the lyrics and play the song.

Explain to your students that it is sometimes difficult to talk with others or confess the things in our lives that make us feel desperate. Give out slips of paper on which students can write down something about themselves or their situation that they want to ask God’s help with. If you have an old diary box or cash box with a key, have students put their papers into the box and lock it. Get rid of the key. You can also use an envelope that you seal.

Hold the box or envelope and pray the following:

Closing Prayer

Jesus, we praise you for the way you have always transformed people’s lives and continue to do so even today. We ask that you would come into the situations on these pieces of paper and help us with them in whatever way you will. Thank you for caring about all the small and large details of our lives. Amen.

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Bethlehem, PA