Relief, Development, and Crisis

When people are in a crisis, it is appropriate to rush in and do whatever is within your power to help them. We see this when hurricanes, tornadoes, and pandemics strike. There are other moments where rushing in and helping would be inappropriate because it keeps people from solving their own problems using the assets God has given them.

It is important to understand the difference between relief and development. Relief is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis, according to Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts. It is employed to “stop the bleeding” and to halt the freefall of plummeting economic conditions.

On the other hand, development is a process taking place over a period of time that helps people identify, develop, and use their God-given assets and talents. As Corbett and Fikkert describe, it is the process of ongoing change that moves all people involved (both the “helpers” and the “helped”) closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

Here’s a simpler way to think about it:

  • Relief occurs when we do things for people.
  • Development occurs when we do things with people.

In a crisis, it is appropriate to rush into a situation and do things for people. Crises are exceptional moments like pandemics and tornadoes. But for most moments, we need to be focused on development efforts, walking alongside people to help them discover ways to put their God-given talents to use.

As we give resources, it is important to distinguish which response, relief or development, is the appropriate intervention. There are times, as during our current crisis, when immediate relief is the appropriate response. The Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 serves as an example of effective relief. He provided effective relief to a victim who was in dire need of material assistance. There are two principles to remember as we consider providing relief.

Relief must be immediate. When a large-scale crisis hits, a timely response is crucial. Victims cannot wait months for material assistance. The body of Christ functions as the human body. When you injure one part of your body, the rest of your body shifts resources to support and restore it. In the midst of a pandemic, the body of Christ will need to shift resources to make sure people harmed physically and economically are supported and restored.

Relief must be temporary. While relief is necessary, it is reserved for situations of great need and crisis. Once the bleeding has stopped, it is important to quickly move to stages of rehabilitation and development, where we work with people to help return the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions.