Helping Without Hurting

When God asked us to start a maternity home in Kenya, Africa, we had no idea what we were doing.

That hasn’t changed much.

But for the last 18 months, we’ve had one goal in mind: to help without hurting.

“Unless a man undertakes more than he possibly can do, he will never do all he can do.” Henry  Drummond

It’s more difficult than you think. The easier option would be to create an American home in a third world country. But from the beginning, our vision has been to empower and employ local Christians to do the work, to create a Kenyan vision and a Kenyan home. It’s been beyond challenging in so many ways, especially since there isn’t a home like Mercy House in Nairobi, that we are aware of.

And anyone who enters this home will see that it’s exactly that, a home.

It’s not an institution or an organization, it’s a family.

If you know me at all, you know I’m extremely protective of our Kenyan family.  But I also know that none of this has been done alone. Ultimately, it’s up to God to provide and take care of them.

You won’t find any American employees (or any plans to add any). You won’t find American food or American influence. There’s nothing wrong with Americans, but our Kenyan friends look at us like a big brother. In many cases, we bring the mindset to offer aid and not development. Aid is good when there’s a devastating earthquake, but aid that isn’t temporary breeds dependence. We can easily influence consumerism and convenience among other things.

“One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make-by far-is applying relief to situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.” from When Helping Hurts

Mercy House is inundated with requests from people to visit the home and meet the girls. We love the idea of visiting sponsors, but we are implementing a pretty strict visitor policy to protect our girls and our guests. We aren’t bringing teams in to repair or construct because we don’t want to take a job away from someone who lives here or sending over supplies for product-making. If any needs can be met locally, that’s the priority.

We are very careful not to give our girls too many conveniences…a washing machine seems like a great idea until a girl returns to daily life and doesn’t know how to do laundry. Offering gifts and wardrobes and too much stuff, only makes transitioning out of the home in a few years harder.

“Our relationship to the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both us need the blessing of reconciliation. Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.”  from When Helping Hurts

[Maureen stopping on the side of the road to barter and buy vegetables. The farmers tried to triple the price because of her white friends in the van]

This trip has confirmed in more ways than one, that our beloved Kenyan family doesn’t need more of us. They just need more of Jesus. We see our physical presence in this home being minimized in the future. We can offer Jesus by simply loving and offering development and empowerment.

[Maureen and I in our 6 hour meeting, working on a 3 year plan]

Offering Him is the only way to help without hurting.


*If you feel like God is calling you to do something in another culture, I highly recommend reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikker. I can’t answer if what we’re doing is replicable, but I urge you to seek God’s face and I’m confidant He will lead.


  1. 1


    I’m reading Helping without Hurting as I prepare to go to Ethiopia next week with Food for the Hungry. It sounds like you are doing the difficult job of helping in the right way. Keep up the great work :)

  2. 2

    Courtney says

    That is so beautifully written- prayers as you and your family are there and mostly, prayers for your sweet girls and their adorable babies!!

  3. 4


    So perfectly written and well explained. I couldnt agree more and you are doing a fantastic job and being a great example.
    Short term or long term missions need to look like this all around.


  4. 6


    This is exactly what our church does: bringing the Gospel of salvation to the materially poor, to receive salvation first and foremost, and then to LEARN TO TRUST AND DEPEND on God for ALL their needs and not on the brethren or other people. Although initially, aid would be offered – some cash to buy rice and pay for fare going to the worship services, some decent, modest clothing to wear for services, etc. – but later on, they would, and must, learn God’s principles, of course with the Church guiding, teaching, exhorting along the way. They will learn to give for the work of the Lord as a key in receiving abundant blessings.

    Thank you, Kristen, for this post has made me appreciate deeper what our church (Jesus Miracle Crusade Intl. Min., Philippines) does. The Lord bless you and your family!


  5. 7


    Excellent, excellent, excellent.
    The other day my sister (who has worked in different developing countries) was talking about this with one of our friends who happened to visit. It had a profound impact on this friend, and her desire to work abroad, and most likely means that she won’t continue with the plans that she was making.
    Having grown up abroad and seeing some stuff firsthand, I wish more projects were set up like yours!

  6. 8


    {Melinda} Beautiful. I love the Henry Drummond quote. We so often limit God when He wants to do amazing things through us. Your goal to empower them and not make them dependent will change lives and have a lasting impact and legacy. So admire how you are allowing God to use you!

  7. 9


    As I read this post, I thought “This is how we should minister in the US also.” Sometimes I think it’s easier to just give someone money than to help them find a job (or help them develop the skills they need) or drop off toys at the local toy drive than to come alongside a needy family and help with their day to day spiritual, emotional and physical needs.

    I can’t wait to read the book.

  8. 10


    I’m about 80% done with When Helping Hurts, and I am SO glad to see you have read it too! It has completely changed my way of thinking and ministering to those in other parts of the world, and even at home too. When I reflect on past ministry and how we “served” in Kenya a number of years ago…oy. Many regrets.

    I have to admit I cringed a little when you said you the house a clothes dryer, but I feel so much better after reading this post. You get it :)

  9. 11


    Thank you for sharing this, Kristen. I returned from Kenya a month ago, and it’s hard to explain sometimes, why we can’t just go do things over there the way Americans want to. It isn’t in the best interests of anyone. God bless you for sticking with it!!

  10. 12


    Dear Kristen…

    *Thank you* — leaving for Haiti tomorrow morning. You are on my heart and in my prayers and I can never thank you enough, sister. God Himself goes before you and that is all that matters.

    More love than thin letters can hold,

  11. 14


    I really love this post, and I really love your and Terrell’s heart for these Kenyan daughters of yours. Isn’t that the real goal of parenting? To raise our children to be able to follow God and live their lives independently, without our help? And sometimes that requires that we let them figure it out, on their own, the hard way, even when we could step in and make it all better quickly and easily. I can’t imagine how much harder it is to stick to that goal when you’re navigating a different culture and children who have been abused, but I sure do applaud you for sticking to the very difficult task of teaching and developing these girls, instead of just rescuing them for a short time.

  12. 15


    I love the heart behind your post — and I’m going to read that book! There’s another thoughtful book by KP Johannan that challenges the short-term mission trip idea, and it shares much in common with what you’ve written here. It’s called “Revoluntion in World Missions.”

    Cheering you and Maureen on!

  13. 16


    I attend a small inner-city church where many of those attend are homeless, suffer from mental or physical disabilities, or gave a drug addiction. Our core leadership have been reading through this book over and over for the past year or more. We are trying to get the book into as many hands as possible! I love how the writers remind us we are all suffering from some form of poverty, even if it is poverty of relationships or our own broken relationship with God; we are all the same and we all need grace and the redeeming work of Jesus in our lives. God bless you and your family, and Mercy House!!

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