Shortly after Jesus was born, wise men brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were quite valuable—presents that were traditionally offered to a king. Perhaps they came in handy, because Joseph and Mary, with their infant son, were shortly to flee from Herod and spend several years in Egypt as refugees.
Those days are long gone. Jesus, resurrected and glorified, is restored to his position at the Father’s right hand. He wants for nothing; he is the Lord of all Creation. But he tells us that he does still have “needs.” Jesus died for us, and he lives for us. In a parable in Matthew’s Gospel he reminds us that he still suffers with us.
When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
“I was hungry and you fed me
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40, The Message Bible)
Jesus is telling us that his kingdom—which will eventually bring salvation and justice to all—is even now concerned with the poor and the underprivileged. He expects those he has called and commissioned to represent that kingdom on earth to share his concern.
Getting on Jesus’ right side
To celebrate Jesus’ birthday has become a firmly entrenched Christian tradition, typically marked by the exchange of gifts with our loved ones, acquaintances and perhaps even people we simply want to impress. But suppose we let Christmas take on an even deeper meaning this year? Suppose we use the Christmas giving season to identify with what is important to Jesus—forgiveness, freedom, peace of mind, restored hope and a new way of life?
There are ways we can do this. In the next few pages, let’s take a look at several ideas that might help us share our blessings with those who live in poverty and loneliness, some simple and practical opportunities to help us reach out to our fellow human beings who are frequently overlooked and ignored. Some of these people are in other parts of the world, far out of our view. Others are close to home; almost 36 million people in America live in poverty! In fact, wherever we live, there are people nearby who need help.
This Christmas, what if we were to reach out to these people in a practical way, confident in the knowledge that “whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me”? After all, isn’t that what Jesus would want for Christmas?
Charity gift catalogs
“I’d like to help, but where do I start?”
Why not send for a gift catalog from one of the organizations that specialize in changing lives in practical ways. Browsing through the pages of the catalogs from World Vision or Church World Service can get the imagination going.
Just $25 provides an underprivileged American with desperately needed school supplies for a year. Or how about $40 for a warm winter kit, which buys a warm shirt, a thick sweater, gloves, a hat, a coat and some good shoes for a poor child facing one of Eastern Europe’s bitter winters?
A slightly larger investment can transform the lives of the members of a poor family. Just $100 can provide a loan for an impoverished mother in Africa or Asia to start a small business and $150 buys a treadle pump, saving a peasant farmer hundreds of hours of backbreaking labor.
Even something as simple as a hoe is beyond the means of some families. You might not appreciate a hoe as a Christmas present. But there are many people for whom it would make a real difference in their ability to garden and farm.
These charity gift catalogs are colorful and inspiring. They will show you what has been done and what needs to be done.
Church World Service
Be an “angel” to a soldier
By Paul Kroll
Would you like to support an American soldier overseas, some of whom have been wounded, sometimes severely? Now you can, through “Soldiers’ Angels,” whose motto is “May no soldier go unloved.”
In summer 2003, Sgt. Brandon Varn wrote home from Iraq about the plight of some of his fellow soldiers who were getting little, if any, moral support from home. His mom, Patti Patton-Bader, great-niece of Gen. George S. Patton, was greatly saddened to hear his story. She had been sending him letters each week and large packages filled with toiletries, snacks and other goodies, which he was sharing with other soldiers who received nothing.
When Brandon told his mom about the soldiers’ plight, she asked her friends and extended family if they would care to write to a soldier or two. That was just the beginning. Within a few months Patti was coordinating an Internet support community, and “Soldiers’ Angels” was born.
Through the efforts of Patti’s small army of volunteers, thousands of people began donating money and sending cards, letters and care packages to deployed and wounded military personnel in military hospitals. Merchants began donating services, money and items for mailing.
Soldier’s Angels is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in Nevada, accepting tax-deductible contributions. Staffed by volunteers, Angels supports thousands of American military personnel.
Soldiers’ Angels has been featured in local and national newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, and mentioned on radio and television programs. Its operations are many and varied, including its Holidays for Heroes program, Hero Packs, First Response Backpacks, Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pets, Cool and Sand Scarves, Sewing for Heroes, Blankets of Hope, Saving Soles and many others.
The Saving Soles project provides extra boots to soldiers because the military issues only two pairs. Boots are easily ruined by sand, heat and rough terrain. Project Valour-IT provides voice-controlled software and voice-activated laptop computers to severely wounded soldiers at military hospitals, especially those recovering from hand or arm injuries and amputations.
Through its “Holiday for Heroes” program, Soldier’s Angels distributes tens of thousands of Christmas stockings or bags filled with various treats, such as phone cards so that troops can call home, and provides blankets for wounded soldiers with a note that says, “Dear Wounded Hero, this was made for you.” Volunteers help by packing Christmas bags, sending money to buy stocking items and sending out flyers or donating items.
You can adopt an individual soldier, sailor, airman or marine as that soldier’s “angel.” In this program, you send a specific soldier letters on a weekly basis and packages each month—including such items as snacks, games, books, CDs and DVDs, and selected toiletries. Soldiers’ Angels provides full instruction and guidance on how to adopt a serviceman or woman.
You can also donate frequent flier miles so that troops can be quickly reunited with loved ones—and Soldiers’ Angels takes care of all the coordinating details. You can even donate a car you are no longer using.
For information about the many possible ways you can help, contact Soldiers’ Angels: www.soldiersangels.org
Before you make any donations, you need to visit their website for necessary information and instructions.
Get their goat
By Roger Lippross
Let me introduce you to Dina, a poor widow with two small children who lives in one of the thousands of villages on the flood plains in Bangladesh. Since her husband died, she works long days in the rice fields. She could never make ends meet, and did not expect to ever get out of debt. Then something happened to change her life, the life of her children and their children to come. She was given a goat.
Just an ordinary goat. But it was the way out of poverty. The goat gives as much as four quarts of milk every day, an unimaginable luxury for Dina’s family. And as goats often do, it produced twins, increasing the little family’s wealth even more. Looking after the baby goats is teaching them about livestock care, creating a future job opportunity for Dina’s children. And Dina was able to give a goat to her poor neighbor, thus passing on the love she received.
What a difference a goat made. It opened a door called hope, and carried a powerful message of God’s love for her, all because someone in a land far away cared about her plight.
You can start a chain reaction that will stretch across the world and keep on giving for many years to come. When you give a goat to a family, you don’t lie awake at night thinking, “OK, I fed them today, but what will happen to them tomorrow?”
Just $40 will purchase a goat from a breeder in Bangladesh, which will then be given to a well-deserving family.
You can send the gift that keeps on giving to The Bengali Evangelical Association, P.O. Box 776, Bryn Mawr, Ca., 92318. (They will do the rest.)
I was in prison and you visited me
By Rannie Childress
Do you, or does someone you know, have a friend or loved one in prison?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in every 136 U.S. residents is in prison or jail. This stunning statistic should concern us as Christians. The Bible teaches us to have compassion for prisoners (Matt. 25:36-46). That does not mean we approve of their crimes. But Jesus is in the life-changing business, and most men and women in prison need to make some serious life changes. They also need something many people in prison have never experienced—unconditional love. They need to know they have a Savior who loves them unconditionally, and who died, for them.
A display of Christian love toward a prisoner may bear fruit in a way you would never dream of! I know what I am talking about here. You see, I spent just short of 15 years in prison. If it had not been for some Christian people who befriended me, I would still be there. My sentence was 50 years!
I became a Christian while in prison, where I experienced the life-changing event of Jesus Christ entering my life. I have never been the same! I had visits from pastors and their wives, as well as from lay members, and at times I was overwhelmed with the concern and love displayed toward me. I received letters and packages (when allowed by the warden), which provided a little touch of home that I missed so much. The Christian friends that I made during those years are still my friends today.
Prison is a lonely place. The dreariness of day-to-day existence can be tormenting. Go into your walk-in closet, dim the light and sit down. Now, stay there until meal time, then go eat something you really do not care for, go back to your closet and sit down, take a shower (with several other people present), go back to your closet and sit down. Do this for several days, weeks, months, maybe years, and you will begin to get some idea of what it is like to be incarcerated!
Prison is also frightening and at times dangerous. But then, it is not designed to be a “nice” place. However, with the help of Jesus Christ and some of his people, time spent behind bars can become a positive training ground for future life, rather than negative, wasted years.
I am now the executive director of a residential substance abuse program, and I am involved in a prison ministry. I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling and am a National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II. Not bad for a high school drop-out who was sentenced to 50 years in prison. I share this not to boast, but to give honor and glory to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all that he has done in my life. I owe this new life to him. He came to me in that awful place where I thought I would end my days, and he did it through the lives of Christians and through their acts of Christian mercy and love. Our acts of Christian love toward inmates and their families can and do bear fruit!
Obviously, not everyone has the inclination or the temperament to become directly involved with a prison ministry. But what better way to show Christian love than by helping family members of inmates, especially their children and spouses?
The Christmas season can be especially lonely and stressful for inmates and their family members. First, the pain of separation is intense. Added to that is the knowledge that you cannot provide the gifts and greetings that make Christmas so memorable for children. But there are organizations that exist for the express purpose of filling that gap. Through them you can play a part in bringing some seasonal joy and warmth to a lonely prisoner and his or her family. Believe me, as one who knows, it makes a much bigger difference than you might think.
So, I challenge you to not forget the prisoners and their families this Christmas season. Remember “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).
Rannie Childress, MS, NCAC II, is Executive Director of CED Fellowship House, in Gadsden, Alabama. If you have questions on how to help prison inmates, he would be glad to help. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This organization lists numerous groups that are dedicated to helping inmates and their families, such as Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and their Angel Tree program, which is dedicated to supplying Christmas presents to inmates’ children.
By Brenda Plonis
When I was a child, a “fair trade” meant that I swapped a pony sticker for a jelly bracelet. I heard stories about “sweat shops” in other parts of the world, where children my age were forced to sit at sewing machines all day to produce the jeans I loved so much. I enjoyed sewing, so I didn’t really understand why that was so bad—until I discovered how little money those children made. I was shocked to learn that I made more money with my allowance for helping out in the garden than those kids made working all day and half the night.
I have spent the last ten years living in and traveling through places like Ukraine and West Africa. I have seen the poverty, and I am acutely aware of how the products filling our shelves and closets are made.
Most of us take the plentiful supply of affordable consumer goods for granted. We are concerned about getting a “good deal,” but do we ever ask if a fair percentage of that money reaches the hands that made them? That is the goal of the Fair Trade Organization (FTO).
The FTO has made a commitment to social justice in which employees and farmers are treated and paid fairly, sustainable environmental practices are followed and long-term trade relationships are fostered. The FTO website explains that its goal is to benefit the artisans they work with, not maximize profits. By reducing the number of middlemen and minimizing overhead costs, they can return up to 40 percent of the retail price of an item to the people who make it. Working conditions—and workers—can then become safer and more dignified. Many producers who work with the FTO have committed time and money to build health clinics and support other community projects in their villages.
The FTO markets its products under the distinctive “Fair Trade” logo. These products are not always easy to find in large superstores, although I have noticed the occasional product stocked on their shelves. I have also seen Fair Trade coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. But just imagine the impact if we all, as we celebrate Jesus’ birthday in our richly blessed nations, began to ask, “Do you have anything that is ‘Fair Trade’?”
Here are some businesses that distribute Fair Trade products in the USA.
Fair Indigo: Women’s and men’s clothing, gifts, accessories and coffee.
Starbucks: North America’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified coffee.
The Body Shop: In August 2006, The Body Shop announced a new range of preservative-free aloe skin and body products—the first in the world to feature fair trade aloe, by paying a fair price to aloe farmers in the El Progreso region of Guatemala. Other products include: toiletries, makeup and body items for men, women and children. Buy a prepackaged gift basket or create your own, or purchase a gift card.
Ten Thousand Villages: The largest fair trade organization in the United States. They carry unique housewares and gifts from around the world.