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Helping Without Hurting by Andrew Rienstra

I regret taking this photograph.

I took this photo on a college trip in Liberia, West Africa. I regret doing so because shortly after I took it, the driver and passengers of the motorcycle yelled at me and flipped me the bird.

I remember feeling shocked, embarrassed, and a little afraid. I was also humbled.

Surrounded by the unfamiliar and the exotic I had been tempted to take this photograph. Something to display to people back home. Something to show them what “crazy” things I had seen. The problem with that though is that these weren’t just “things” I was photographing..these were people.

Initially I was in shock at how the motorcyclists responded, but as I began to process what happened, I couldn’t get rid of this thought: how would I feel if someone drove by me and took my picture without my permission?

It hurt me that  that I had offended someone and degraded them. I vowed to never do anything like that again!

That vow was broken in under 24 hours when I took a photograph of this child.


This is a child who I don’t know, have never talked to, and didn’t ask permission to photograph.

He looks pretty upset with me and understandably so! What had happened to my vow?

Once I returned home, I remember reviewing my photographs and becoming increasingly frustrated with myself. I felt like I didn’t like the person I became when I was traveling through developing countries. Why did I treat people in a way that was demeaning? Why did I view people as a spectacle?

I went to Liberia with the intent of learning about community development. I went to learn how to help others. Why was I hurting them instead?

After this trip I began to research and learn about what good development looks like. What does it look like to treat those you are trying to help with respect, to see them as equals, to uphold them as image bearers of God? I dedicated myself to a path that will take me away from my prejudices and my assumptions of the poor. I want to be a person that empowers those in need, not someone who oppresses or degrades them.  As I prepare to travel to Haiti next week I find it necessary to remind myself of the path I have decided to walk on. I also find myself praying that our team and I will be good guests to the community of Pignon: that we will listen, respect, learn, and overall share what the love of Jesus looks like.


These were not the last incidents I ever had in regards to hurting instead of helping. I am not afraid to admit I have stumbled and erred, but I have overall stayed my course and I have grown a lot since those formative experiences all those years ago in Liberia.


If you are interested in learning more about the concept of helping without hurting, one resource I found helpful as I set out on this path is actually a book that World Renew Global Volunteer Program recommends to our volunteers: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.


Thank you for keeping our team in your prayers!