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!”

It was a beautiful sunny weekend in Papua New Guinea and we were on a mission. A boarding school, which provided its students with two meals of rice daily, was about a 45 minute drive out into the valley. We had decided that this week the students were going to eat some greens (aibika, or island spinach) and sweet potato with their rice for additional nutrients, so we set off in our car to find some. 

We drove to the main market in town, but it was closed. We carefully eyed the stalls along the highway, but they were only selling betel nut, maggi noodles and fruit. We stopped and looked at the market nine miles from town, but no one was selling vegetables. We crossed the Markham River and kept our eye out for an open stall. 

After a little while we saw a group of people sitting in one of the wooden stalls with some bags, so we stopped and enquired if they had produce to sell. No such luck. They were just sitting there waiting to get a ride to another village. We explained what we were trying to do and asked if they knew of anywhere that might be selling such things. One lady, acting as spokesperson informed us that if we could drop the others off at the village, she would come with us and show us where to buy the produce, and once we were done we could drop her off at the village, also. Feeling somewhat nervous about having this group of strangers (which included men) in the car, we consented to her plan.

Going The Extra Mile

True to her word, after dropping off her friends and family she directed us to a tidy village then led us to a particular hut. After a brief discussion with the occupants in their Tok Ples (local language) a lady produced some large sacks of sweet potato. Another discussion ensued to determine price, and we handed over the agreed amount and went on our way. Our guide then led us further down the highway to another village. This time, after a chat with one of the villagers, we were led to a vast garden where its owner immediately harvested a large amount of aibika for us to purchase. 

Very grateful for the lady's assistance, without which we would never have accomplished our goal, we dropped her off at the village where earlier we had taken her relatives, thanking her profusely for having gone the extra mile for us and for the school.

Taking Care of the People Around Us

The Bible talks about this extra mile. Following the Beatitudes in Matthew Five, we find Jesus telling the multitude just what kind of people God wants us to be. He wants us to be giving, loving, forgiving, gentle, going-the-extra-mile people. He takes the Ten Commandments and then says to do more. Being a follower of Jesus is much more than not killing, not stealing, or not having affairs. We need to go further and take good care of the people around us—including our enemies. We need to love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. In verse 48, he says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I know God has a lot of work to do on me before my character will be like His. I take heart from what Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” I hope that we all can be as selfless and as giving as the Papua New Guinean woman in my story—going that extra mile for the sake of others.

 

Love this blog post? Never miss a post: Subscribe via email.