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  • Renata Joseph

First, do no harm

This famous Hippocratic phrase has been buzzing around my mind for a few days. Do no harm.


Moving to an economically depressed country, with the intention of doing development work "in the name of Jesus" makes me nervous. Over centuries so many horrors have taken place "in the name of Jesus," I am loath to contribute to the list.


I'm reading a book that has been recommended to me several times over recent years, entitled, "When Helping Hurts." It talks about how well-intentioned people (namely Christians) have gone into communities aiming to help, but instead have hurt not only the members of the community, but themselves in the process. Having studied Anthropology and lived and worked in low-income contexts, I am very familiar with the phenomenon and I'm excited to learn how to avoid common pitfalls.


The other area where "First, do no harm" is ringing true is in my work with the young adults of our church. People are familiar with the shocking ways Christians have harmed each other; priests abusing altar boys, supposed faith healers conning sick congregants, parents disowning their children...but there are myriad ways to hurt people that will never make the headlines.


Do we gossip? Lie and manipulate? Judge? Criticize people or humiliate them? Do we make people feel lesser-than when they're with us? In these ways, and a million others, we are taking out our youth with friendly fire. As I prepare to speak with my small group of young ladies, I must commit to "First, do no harm."


I'm pretty aware of my actions and attitudes when I'm in "work/ministry" mode. It's part of my process to take stock of myself, how I show up in a space and the effect my contribution may have in a situation. This is not always true when I'm at home.


Am I grumpy? Annoyed? Inconvenienced or disappointed? First, do no harm.


Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry."


The last few days of distance learning with our oldest child has brought up rage in me. I'm not exaggerating. Feelings of confusion, annoyance, frustration, and impatience have culminated in a ball of anger in my gut. I want to throw things and curse out loud. But I know that lashing out won't change anything. In my anger, which is justified, I must not sin.


So, whether I'm planning development projects in a depressed community, leading a small group Bible study or helping my kid with grammar, I am called always to do no harm. And if I blow it, if I lose my cool, I must repent, take responsibility and ask God to help me do better next time.



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