It’s the Christmas season! It’s time to snuggle under a blanket with loved ones, with a cup of hot cocoa, a roaring fire, and all things peppermint. Along with the warmth and cheer of the season, it is also a time of reflection and generosity. Many seek out ways to bless others. After all, there are so many blessings to celebrate. Searching for the best ways to spread Christmas cheer, meet real needs, and honor Christ can be surprisingly difficult.

Weighing Your Options

In our desire to be generous, one of those difficulties comes from weighing the many opportunities available. Some organizations have done wonderful jobs of marketing their opportunities and making them accessible. I think of the bell ringers for Salvation Army, shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, toy donations through Toys for Tots, donating animals and sponsoring children through Compassion International, and sponsoring children for Christmas through Angel Tree. And these are just a few off the top of my head. 

With all of the available options, do we share our time and money locally or internationally? What organizations, people, or ministries do we want to focus on? An added factor for parents is finding opportunities that provide tangible and visual examples that children will remember. Our desire is to help instill the tradition of generosity in our children’s hearts. In a culture that screams “more!” we want our children’s hearts to instead sing “give!” This alone can be hard enough to sort through.

Meeting Real Needs

Another difficulty that has gained more attention lately is gifts or donations not meeting real needs. This is not a new problem, but one that donors are thankfully becoming more aware of. Although impoverished families may appreciate the temporary joy brought by small toys, toothbrushes, clothing, or even gifts of food, their underlying problems are not addressed. If their children are still dying from water-borne illnesses and their parents from medical conditions, then toys, warm blankets, or even food, will not save their lives. From an economic standpoint, providing temporary aid can create dependency and lower self-esteem. Recipients may become depressed and unmotivated.

Providing aid for impoverished countries can unfortunately be met with corruption within locals and their governments. Tejvan Pettinger, an Economics teacher in Oxford, writes a blog about economics, the developing world, and how aid can disrupt local governments.

“Aid is often subject to vested interests and fails to make real improvements in living standards,” he said in a post titled “Trade not Aid.”

He said that aid can interfere with democracy and referenced Milton Friedman’s Collection of Essays in Public Policy, “Foreign Economic Aid: Means and Objectives,” where Friedman said “many proponents of foreign aid recognize that its long-run political effects are adverse to freedom and democracy.”

In the same post, Pettinger gives an example of how foreign aid can be detrimental for a developing country rather than helpful.

“If aid finances public health care, governments in developing economies may feel they don’t need to set up efficient tax collection and spend money - as they can rely on foreign aid. This is damaging for the long-term,” he said in the post.

Financial Transparency

The last difficulty I would like to focus on is the lack of financial transparency within organizations like nonprofits and charitable organizations. It can be nerve-wracking to donate money both overseas and domestically, especially if you aren’t sure exactly where your money is going or how it will be used. Some organizations face corruption within the countries they are serving. Far too often, when donations arrive on site, they can be taken by criminals, and governments or people in need may be forced to pay high fees to get the aid meant for them.

Another thing we are wary of is high overhead costs. When an organization’s donations go to highly paid staff members or extravagant fundraisers, donors can be discouraged, and people may not receive the help they need. Websites like charitynavigator.org exist to keep charitable organizations accountable and to make consumers aware of exactly where their donations are going.

One Solution

With all of these things to consider, I would like to share why my family is choosing to serve through Jesus’ Economy. Jesus’ Economy takes a holistic approach to community development. We provide a platform for artisans in impoverished countries to showcase their handmade goods. 100 percent of the proceeds are reinvested in the artisans’ communities.

The artisans are provided with jobs, hope, better futures, and self-esteem. Jesus’ Economy partners with local organizations to meet basic needs and support church planters in the impoverished communities that the artisans live. We offer microloans, ethical business training, and we are the guaranteed buyer of products produced. We meet basic needs by identifying with local community leaders the most pressing issues and help solve them. We have successfully dug seven water wells in Bihar, India providing access to clean water for thousands of people.

You may be wondering how an organization can reinvest 100 percent of their proceeds. The answer is simple. Jesus’ Economy is 100 percent volunteer run. Even the founder and CEO, John Barry, and his wife Kalene, who serves as the CPO, volunteer full time. They sold their home and most of their stuff to start Jesus’ Economy, and live incredibly sacrificial lives to run it. I have volunteered with Jesus’ Economy for five years, and I have the utmost respect for our team. I can attest to the fact that every dollar donated goes directly to the designated destination. Donors can indicate which specific aspect of the ministry they would like to give to.

Involving Your Kids

If you are a parent, you may be wondering how this opportunity translates into a hands-on giving project to include your children. I offer two suggestions.

As a family, we began purchasing items from the Fair Trade Shop. My children got to pick presents for aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, and teachers. When they arrived, we wrapped and delivered them. Rather than giving trinkets from the store, we provided jobs. We talked about the items, marveled at the intricacy, and prayed for the artisan families that would be blessed by our purchases. We also prayed that the recipients would be blessed and perhaps challenged to consider making similar choices.

A second suggestion is picking a specific aspect of the ministry, and asking that your loved ones donate to that cause in your name. Last Christmas, our family asked that loved ones donate in our names toward a water well in Bihar, India. We made a chart and cheered together when donations came in. We also did several water related science experiments and crafts to drive home the focus on clean water in their minds. We were thrilled that it was fully funded! We made charts and celebrated each time a donation was received.

Essentially it comes down to conversation and involving your kids in every aspect. If you walk them through it and let them be intricately involved, they’ll grasp the importance of helping others and see the results. They’ll also get the chance to be excited about being generous which can be hard for kids at Christmas time when everything is geared toward them and their Christmas wish lists.

There are many other organizations with similar models, and I encourage you to look into them. Leslie Verner, author of the blog Scraping Raisins, has compiled a wonderful list of ethical companies. I highly encourage you to look into some of them. In the meantime, perhaps you can think about some of the difficulties I presented when you choose where you volunteer your time, efforts, and money this season. Maybe it’ll help you to better figure out where your donation will help the most, leaving you with full confidence that your dollar went where you want it to.

I hope you have a blessed season in which you embrace the old adage, “It is more blessed to give than to receive!”

Many artisans in Brazil have the skills to create beautiful and sustainable products, but because of the poverty of their communities, they have no local, sustainable market to sell or trade their products. Their only option is to sell their goods at a Sunday market for a fraction of their worth, and they usually walk away with barely enough money to buy a small bag of rice.

This is where Cross Trade came in. Cross Trade, a new partner of Jesus’ Economy, works with artisans in impoverished areas of Brazil by connecting their handmade goods to customers in western markets. Cross Trade pays a fair price for the products, and also provides interest free loans to artisans when they need to purchase equipment.

Cross Trade maintains a relationship with the artisans they work with, and their true focus is on enhancing livelihoods and providing hope. Because of Cross Trade, artisans in Brazil are able to procure stable incomes, meet their families’ basic needs, and even afford appliances like refrigerators and plumbing.

Shopping fair trade can help families around the world afford the things we take for granted.

What value do you place on a human life? Can you even name a price? Since Jesus died to save each one, then aren’t all of infinite worth?

It was a cool, wet evening in Lae, Papua New Guinea. I was relaxing at home with my husband when my cell phone began to ring. Answering the phone, I listened carefully as my guard told me in broken English that his little girl (my namesake baby, Kriselle) was very sick and had fainted. Given the wet weather and the risks of driving at night around Lae, I asked him hesitantly if he wanted us to drive as close as we could to where he lived and take the little girl to the hospital, or whether he would prefer to watch her through the night and take her to the hospital in the morning if necessary. He assured me that he thought it would be okay to wait until morning, and we hung up.

The next morning as I was washing the breakfast dishes, my neighbor came rushing into my kitchen. He informed me that our guard and his wife were at my house, and that baby Kriselle had died in the night.  My heart sank and a million thoughts raced through my mind. I should have done more. I should have insisted we take her to the hospital last night.  Why on earth did I let a bit of rain and fear deter me?

Fortunately, there was a happy ending to this story. I sorrowfully accompanied my neighbor outside to greet my guard and his wife. Strangely enough, the child in his arms looked just about the right age to be baby Kriselle. Yes, she was sick and needed medical attention, but she most certainly was not dead yet.

It seemed there was a misunderstanding. In Tok Pisin (the common trade language in Papua New Guinea, which has more than 850 languages) the word “dai” (pronounced “die”), refers to unconsciousness, but the phrase “dai pinis,” refers to death. My neighbor had simply failed to differentiate between the temporary and permanent forms of “dai.”

But this incident did cause me to think seriously about the value I place on a human life, and how I determine and express that value. It also made me realize the vast difference between my system and God’s system of determining human worth. God sent his Son Jesus in the form of a human baby to rescue the volatile and ungrateful bunch that we are. The delivery of Jesus in a stable was risky—just think of the potential for infection. And then while still tiny, he was at risk of being slaughtered by a maniacal king. And in the prime of his life, he was tortured and murdered by the very same people he came to save. Jesus held nothing back in his mission to save lost humanity.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:4–8 ESV).

How can we apply Jesus’ approach and value system to our own situations? What kind of risks (personal, financial, or other) are we prepared to take in order to contribute to God’s work?

I challenge you to hold nothing back. Put it all on the line. Every soul is of infinite worth and the rewards are literally out of this world!

 

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There was only one request from the apostles in Jerusalem of St. Paul. In this video, CEO John D. Barry talks about the apostles' request that he not forget the poor. What would it look like if we, too, walked with the impoverished?

The Apostles Only Had One Request of St. Paul 

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