Gifts That Give Back

Here’s a post I wrote for the website that I manage at work, God’s Word in Action

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for someone on your list this Christmas?

Do you always get Dad a tie & want to do something a little different this year?

How about getting a gift that gives back?

That’s where this handy list comes in. Ties get stuck in a closet, fruitcakes sit uneaten, and the latest gadget will soon be replaced with something newer. This year, consider purchasing items that will really make a difference in someone’s life. Many organizations will let you donate to fulfill a specific need (buy a goat, provide job training for women, etc) and provide you with a lovely card to present to your recipient letting them know that you’ve done this in their honor. There are also items like jewelry and coffee that you can purchase to give to your loved one knowing that the proceeds go to a wonderful cause as well.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the list of great ideas below & get shopping!

World Vision

What do you buy for the person who already has everything? World Vision’s Christmas gift catalog offers many ways to give a gift in honor of a loved one while helping someone around the world.

Here are some needs that you can help fill:

  • A backpack & school supplies for a child ($22)
  • 2 chickens for a family in need ($25)
  • Seeds, tools, & training in Africa ($30)
  • Feed a family in the US for 3 days ($48)
  • A small business loan for a woman ($100)

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Click HERE to flip through their gift catalog.

International Justice Mission

IJM seeks to make public justice systems work for victims of abuse and oppression who urgently need the protection of the law. IJM fights injustice around the world, focusing efforts on rescuing slaves, victims of sex trafficking, and more. In all of its casework, IJM has a four-fold purpose: victim relief, perpetrator accountability, victim aftercare, and structural transformation.

Their “Gifts of Freedom” catalog allows you to join them in helping secure justice for victims around the world.

Some donations options include providing a bicycle for a former slave, aftercare help for a trafficking survivor, desperately needed medical care, funding to equip investigators, etc. Click HERE to explore the options.

Blood:Water Mission

Blood:Water Mission is a grassroots organization that empowers communities to work together against the HIV/AIDS and water crisis.

For their current Christmas campaign, you can buy a bag of cement in someone’s name. It’s usually not at the top of a Christmas list, but in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s a generous gift. Cement is the main component of most water and sanitation projects. In many of communities, it’s also one of the most expensive pieces of these projects. Although not glamorous, this gift will help transform lives for our neighbors in Africa. Each bag is $25 & for a limited time when you buy 2 bags, a 3rd bag will be donated free. Click HERE for more info.

31 Bits

What female on your list doesn’t love jewelry? Now you can buy some beautiful jewelry to give as a gift and know that it is helping women in Uganda too. 31 Bits is a socially minded business designed to give internally displaced women in Northern Uganda an opportunity to counter poverty. By giving women access to the international market, they are able to earn an instant income, providing homes, food, and education for their families. Their program equips women by providing literacy education, financial and vocational training, holistic care, and strong support systems, empowering individuals to further their careers and attain social equity.

And their jewelry is rather fabulous! Check out the collection HERE.

Project 7

Project 7 is a cause-related company that makes every day consumer goods, like bio-bottled water, gum, mints and coffee. They aren’t asking you to buy more stuff, just change the products that you already buy. For every purchase of a Project 7 product, some good is done in seven areas of need – Feed the Hungry, Heal the Sick, Hope for Peace, House the Homeless, Quench the Thirsty, Teach them Well and Save the Earth.

Their items make excellent stocking stuffers. Check out their online store for coffee, gum, mints, and more HERE.

Are you giving any gifts that give back this year? Have any other great organizations or websites to share?

I’ve Never Gone Hungry (& thoughts on living more intentionally)

Our favorite dinner in Haiti (2010)

One of the things that I probably most take for granted in life is my access to food. Anyone who knows me decently well, knows that I tend to graze. Breakfast, 10-10:30am snack, lunch, 2:30-ish snack, dinner, and maybe even a pre-bedtime small bowl of cereal. Some days it becomes more of a habit that anything. It’s what I’m used to doing, so I continue the routine.

Most of us have constant access to food. We’re surrounded by it and always have the option of eating or drinking something. We often don’t even wait until we’re hungry anymore. If there’s a plate of cupcakes sitting out in the office, well, of course we have to have one.

I have never, ever gone to bed truly hungry or had to wonder where my next meal is coming from. However, that is a reality for more than 1 billion people around the world.

My husband & I were out running errands recently on a Saturday. As we were leaving the Lowe’s parking lot, there was a man holding a sign asking for a combo meal. I had never seen a sign that specific before & it definitely caught our attention. I’ll be honest. I’ve grown quite jaded & skeptical of those who beg on street corners with signs. Are they truly in need or are they just trying to scam people into giving them money, like the stories we occasionally see on the news? The ones who then go walk around the corner to their nice car and drive away…

Honestly, I probably would not have done this if I was by myself, but my husband suggested that we go get him a combo meal. It was a Saturday. We had extra time. Why not. As we pulled in across the street at the Burger King, there was a couple sitting in the grass with a sign of their own, saying they were hungry and asking for food. How could we help one and not the others? What were the chances of there being 3 people in the same 1 block radius who were all asking for a meal? It only cost us about $10. Money that we’d never notice was even missing. All 3 were genuinely so grateful when we went back to hand them out.

It wouldn’t make a big difference in their lives – it was only one meal – but it definitely served as a bit of a wake-up call for me. We all I tend to turn a blind eye toward need. It could be for a variety of reasons – we’re I’m skeptical, too lazy, apathetic, scared… too busy and wrapped up in our my own life to even notice, etc.

I want to live more intentionally. I want to be more tuned in to those around me and to the opportunities that God places in my path. But that could be a blog post all to itself…

Anyway, if you are looking for some ways to help the hungry, I can offer 4 suggestions:

Change a Child’s Life Today

Did you know? 24,000 children die every day due to preventable causes – hunger, malaria, diarrhea, measles, and pneumonia. With so many children in need, you can’t help them all – but you can help one. We each have the opportunity to help change the life of a child in need.

I volunteer for World Vision as a Child Ambassador to help be the link between their world and ours. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice, all in the name of Christ. They serve about 100 million people in 100 countries & have been around for more than 60 years. They are widely respected & highly trusted.

Did you know that if you make over $50,000 per year, you are in the top 1% richest people in the entire world? God has blessed us with so much and we are called to share these blessings and His love with others like these children. Psalm 82:3 tells us to “Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need.” (The Voice)

My husband & I sponsor a girl in Guatemala – MayraFor just over $1 a day, World Vision provides her with things like clean water, food, health care, education, and sharing the love of Christ with her. We get to pray for her, write her letters, and we hope to go visit her in person some day. She writes us back and draws pictures to share with us. World Vision also sends us progress reports and updates on what they are doing in her community. It is amazing to see the work going on there.

Would you like to be a blessing to one special child today and give them a chance for new life? It only costs about a dollar a day. $35 per month. About the cost of one tank of gas. It is also a great way to get your kids involved in learning about how other children around the world live and just how blessed we are here.

If you are interested in learning more, or signing up to sponsor a child please click here. It links to the main World Vision site, but references my source code so they can track that it came through me. You can even search for a child that you might share a common bond with (shares a special birthday with you or one of your children, is in a country you have been on a mission trip to, etc).

If you do decide to sign up through my above link, please also let me know ( by comment here, through email, Twitter, or Facebook), so I can make sure my source code works properly. It’s been acting up lately. I really appreciate it!

**For every 5 sponsorships I help get this month, I get 1 entry to win a spot on a trip to Peru to see World Vision’s amazing work being done. I have already entered once, and now just need 4 more sponsorships before Sept 30th to earn another entry. Please let me know if you do sign up. Thank you!

Join the Fight Against Hunger – Famine No More

Fact: In the next 12 seconds, another hungry child will die.

In the Horn of Africa, hunger is stalking 12.4 million people, with 35% of all children in the region now facing emergency levels of malnutrition. Families are walking for weeks in search of food and water, often finding none.

The word “famine” isn’t used lightly. An official famine has 3 indicators: 30% or higher acute malnutrition rate in the area, at least 2 deaths per 10,000 people, and at least 20% of households facing extreme hunger. That’s why the famine in the Horn of Africa deserves our attention and help right now. It isn’t expected to end any time soon and supplies are running desperately low, but we CAN help.

Today I’m joining my friends at World Vision and saying that we can’t tolerate these conditions any more. The question they’re asking is:

What one thing can we give up in order to make a simple $10 donation to help save lives?

The truth is, I have a very comfortable life. I have never truly experienced hunger. I have never wondered where my next meal is coming from. I have never had anything other than an abundance of clothes & shoes to choose from each day. We tithe, we sponsor a child, and we give to our favorite charities but the truth is I have never really even given sacrificially – given until it really hurts.

By American standards, we are very, very average. Nowhere near what I would call rich. I look around at friends & family and sometimes struggle with comparing ourselves to others. But in reality, we are all much more privileged than we realize. If you make over $34,000, you are among the world’s 5% richest people. Let that sink in for a moment…

And I do truly believe that we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others.

So really, at the end of the day I would never notice a $10 donation. And that’s why last week we decided to give much more than that. And really, we still won’t notice it missing from our account, but it will make a significant difference in the life of someone who really needs it.

What can your donation do? For the price of your favorite Starbucks drink (USD$4) you can feed a family of 6 in the Horn of Africa for a day!

Head over to the World Vision Blog where Joy Bennett has asked this question (What would you give up)?

Learn more & make your donation to World Vision at www.FamineNoMore.org or text “FAMINE” to “20222″ to donate $10.

Party with a Purpose

Julia, myself, & Kelly with our new 31 Bits necklaces

This past weekend was my 28th birthday.  This year I wanted to do something just a little bit different. I wanted an excuse to host something, to have people over to my house, make some yummy treats, and also to do something with & for 31 Bits – a new favorite organization. So it worked out perfectly. I threw a birthday brunch/31 Bits House Party, & was even able to throw my World Vision stuff into the mix.

I met two of the girls from 31 Bits back in March at the Ideation Conference – Jessie & Alli. As I sat & listened to their story and learned about the organization, I couldn’t help but be impressed & inspired. Here are some girls around my age, who are directly responsible for improving the lives of over 100 women & their families in Uganda. They were the ones in particular that had me leaving the conference saying “what am I doing with my life?”

From the 31 Bits website:

USING FASHION AND DESIGN TO EMPOWER WOMEN TO RISE ABOVE POVERTY.

31 Bits Designs is a socially minded business designed to give internally displaced women in Northern Uganda an opportunity to counter poverty. By giving our beneficiaries access to the international market, they are able to earn an instant income, providing homes, food, and education for their families. Our program equips women by providing literacy education, financial and vocational training, holistic care, and strong support systems, empowering individuals to further their careers and attain social equity.

The women in Uganda make the jewelry. 31 Bits buys it from them on a monthly basis, providing them with regular income. They then bring here to sell in stores, through house parties, etc, and the profits go back to the women through programs that include job training, English lessons, health/AIDS education, and more.

As an added bonus, the jewelry is fabulous! I love this stuff!

My jewelry display

One great thing that 31 Bits does, is they let you host house parties. You just need to fill out an application, with your credit card info & they’ll send you a box of jewelry. At the end of the party, all you have to do is send back the money that is collected & the unsold jewelry. It’s a very simple, yet innovative concept.

So my party went very well. It was fun to set up the jewelry, prepare all of the good food, and then to enjoy the company of good friends. I think almost everyone left with at least one piece of jewelry, and of course, full bellies!

The yummies - mini quiches, bacon muffins, pound cake, frozen banana bites, grapes, strawberries, pretzel chips, m&m's, then cappuccino punch & virgin mimosas.

The 31 Bits pieces that I choose to keep/purchase.

In addition to the 31 Bits materials, I also took the opportunity to set out my World Vision materials. One friend even did sign up to sponsor a child that day! It really was the best birthday present.

All-in-all, it was a great way to celebrate a birthday. Maybe I’ll even do it again next year!

Reaffirming My Passion for Advocacy

I am a Child Ambassador for World Vision, which means that I seek out opportunities to share sponsorship with others, through one-on-one conversations or through speaking engagements. I am a passionate fan of World Vision’s work and that was something I felt called to do back in early 2010.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to speak at North Middle School in Winchester, TN about World Vision and child sponsorship. They were holding an event called “Wake Up”. It was kind of like a science fair, but instead of science topics they had researched and were presenting on global issues such as child abuse, poverty, homelessness, child & maternal health, genocide, etc. Pretty hefty stuff for a 7th grader. I have never heard of a school doing something like that before. It was really neat. What a great opportunity for a student to learn about things going on in the world and what they can do to help.

As part of the event, they were seeking out speakers from various organizations. That’s where World Vision (& I) came in. I was able to talk for about 20 minutes, including 2 short videos. It was a great experience. Cason & I really had a lot of fun being there with them, educating the students, and talking with them afterwards.

Three children were sponsored at the event! Many more took home the information – either it was a student who didn’t have a parent there to ask or there was a parent there and they needed to think it over. So hopefully a few more will sign up in the days and weeks to come. Even if they don’t sign up through my materials, maybe it will plant a seed and lead to signing up some time in the future. And above all, I think we did help educate them on a couple different issues and about the great work that World Vision does.

Two heartwarming stories:
1) There was a family that genuinely wanted to sign up but said they only get paid once a month and would have to wait for their next check to come in. I was impressed. It reminded me of the story of the widow’s mite. They didn’t seem to have much, but really wanted to help a child.

2) There were a couple of girls who really wanted to sponsor a child and went around rallying up their friends. They ended up getting a group of 6 of them to commit, and convinced their teacher to be their responsible adult. The girls were so excited about all of it. They are planning on holding fundraisers (a car wash, a bake sale, etc) in order to raise the $35 per month required. They couldn’t stop plotting and planning about it, even about how they’d write their child the first letter, with each of them writing one paragraph. The girls even came up & gave us both a hug before leaving at the end.

I loved the excitement of the students! I was really glad to be there with them and be a part of their unique event. More schools should do similar programs.

It also reaffirmed my passion for advocacy and educating others about global issues and the needs in the world. It was fun and exciting! The fact is that we can all do something to make a difference. People just need to be made aware of the need and the ability that they have to help.

If you want to read more about child sponsorship click here. If you want to sign up to sponsor a child, please click here. (This is my personal link to the World Vision site and will ensure that my Child Ambassador account shows up as the referrer.)

If you happen to know of a church or a group that would let me come present (for 5 minutes or for 20 minutes), please let me know. Thanks!

God’s Word in Action: Together We Can Change the World!

This is an article that I wrote for this new campaign that we launched at work this Spring. It’s called “God’s Word in Action” and has been my favorite project by far. I am blessed with being able to run the marketing for it. I wanted to share this with you and let you know what we’re up to in the Thomas Nelson Bible Group.

God’s instruction that we should serve others is unmistakable in Scripture. It’s not a choice that we’re given. It’s a command. God charges us to reach out to those in need – in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces, in our cities and nation, and around the world.

In fact, God issues a specific call that we are to especially look out for “the least, the last, and the lost” – the marginalized and disadvantaged in our society. The widows, the orphans, the sick and the poor.

Did you know that there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with God’s view on justice & poverty? Verses like this one:

“Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need.” Psalm 82:3 (The Voice)

Thomas Nelson, Inc., one of the world’s oldest and largest Bible publishers, has selected this verse as the theme of their God’s Word in Action campaign. They are striving to put God’s Word into action by helping others in tangible ways and inspire others to do the same.

Thomas Nelson has partnered with World Vision as part of the campaign. Every Thomas Nelson Bible purchased at Christian retail helps World Vision eradicate poverty & preventable deaths among children.** When you buy a Thomas Nelson Bible, you can know that you are helping save children’s lives in the U.S. and around the world.

According to World Vision, each day more than 24,000 children die from preventable causes. The donation from Thomas Nelson will target the fundamentals of child health, including clean water and nutritious food. Water is one of the world’s most important natural resources, yet every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness. Worldwide, one in four children doesn’t get the nutrition he or she needs.

The God’s Word in Action campaign will support sustainable solutions for clean water and secure food, including digging and improving wells, teaching good hygiene practices, providing food aid, improving agricultural practices, and monitoring children’s heights and weights.  It will help children like Mariama, 6, who suffered from trachoma, a blinding eye disease from unclean water, until World Vision installed two water pumps in her village in Niger.

For children living in need in the United States, contributions will make available top-quality necessities that disadvantaged families are unable to afford. Donations also will assist community-based medical facilities in providing children with personal care items.

“As a Bible publisher, we’re making a concerted effort to ensure that we’re living out what God calls us to do as people and a company,” says Thomas Nelson’s Senior Vice President & Bible Group Publisher Gary Davidson. “In today’s economy every penny counts, but we felt strongly that this was an important investment. We’re in a business of developing life-changing products, and it’s only fitting that we are actively involved in other life-changing initiatives.”

In addition to the financial donation to World Vision, Thomas Nelson is creating a movement to encourage Christians to put God’s Word into action in tangible ways. We all have different passions for our personal areas of service. Some feel strongly about helping the homeless, while others thrive doing service at nursing homes or working with children. Some feel called to go on mission trips around the world, while others constantly look for service opportunities every day in their own neighborhoods.

It does not matter what you do, as long as you do something. Start somewhere. Buy a cup of coffee for the car behind you and leave a note for them expressing God’s love. Give up buying lunches out for a month and donate that money to an organization that feeds the hungry. Volunteer to tutor at an underserved school in your area. Just start today.

Thomas Nelson’s Bible Group has built a website that is full of ideas on how you can help others. You can sign up to receive weekly Bible verses, action challenges and ideas. You can also share a story of what you or someone you know has done to put God’s Word into action and help others. Get inspired and then take action.

Join the Movement Today! Learn more by visiting www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Buy a Bible, Help a Child

Every Thomas Nelson Bible you purchase at a Christian retail store helps World Vision end poverty & preventable deaths among children in the U.S. and worldwide.** Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson logo. For more details and to join the movement visit www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Together We Can Change the World!

**Applies to sales at U.S. Christian retail stores only from April 1, 2011 – March 31, 2012. Thomas Nelson will donate 10% of its year-over-year net revenue growth achieved during that period to World Vision, with a minimum donation of $75,000. In addition, when World Vision combines our $75,000 minimum donation with grant funds and corporate donations, the donation multiplies 4 times to provide $300,000 in help to improve the health of children. Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson “house” logo. For more information about World Vision, visit www.WorldVision.org.

Controversial Generosity

My wonderful roommate, Marianne, & I at the Child Ambassador's Conference

I just spent a fabulous weekend at a conference for World Vision Child Ambassadors (of which I am one). We are volunteers who aim to talk to others about World Vision’s child sponsorship program.

It was a wonderful weekend of refreshment and encouragement for me in my ministry of finding sponsors to change the life of children in need.

  • We worshipped together
  • We watched some incredibly touching videos
  • We heard from amazingly inspirational speakers like Max Lucado & Marilee Pierce Dunker (daughter of World Vision founder Bob Pierce)
  • We learned more about the history of World Vision (started in 1950) and the nuances of how some of the different programs work
  • We got down to some nitty-gritty statistics and logistics (half of the world’s population – 3 billion people – live on less than $2 a day)
  • We got some great new ideas and set some goals
  • We were able to meet and bond with other Child Ambassadors from around the country

More of what I heard and learned this weekend may come out in some future posts, but one of the highlights for me was what Max Lucado spoke to us about. I have heard him speak numerous other times, but this time, he told us that he had taken what he was going to speak about and chucked it out the window, feeling that the Holy Spirit was leading him to share with us a message that he’d be sharing with his church in the near future. It was essentially a sneak peak of a brand new sermon from Max Lucado.

“Un-Scrooge Your Heart”

We all struggle with fighting off the threat of stinginess from taking over. “We ought to give… but don’t give too much.” “Serve others with our time, but we don’t really have that much time.” “Forgive, but not all at once”…

But our God is controversially generous. He has fun doing good. He has never been about stinginess or holding back or giving simply what is sufficient. (See Romans 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:14, 2 Corinthians 9:15, 1 John 3:1, James 1:5, Psalm 107:9, Psalm 23, Luke 6:35…)

God lavishes generous amounts of grace on us every day of our lives. And “grace is the seed out of which the tree of generosity grows.” It only makes sense that since we have received so much grace and generosity, we must bubble over to others. We must give because we first received. We must heed the call to live a life of controversial generosity.

That is a taste of what he talked about. And then, at the end, Max asked us:

How long has it been since you gave a gift that was controversial? (of stuff, money, time, etc)

Does this convict anybody else like it convicts me? I’m not even sure I can think of one good example, sadly.

How long has it been since you gave a gift that was controversial?

Blog Action Day: We’re Talking About Water

Today, over 4,000 bloggers from 130+ countries have signed up to spark a global discussion on a very important global issue – water. It’s called Blog Action Day. (Read more about it here & find other bloggers talking about it.)

Fast Facts

  • Over 1.1 billion people are without access to safe drinking water.
  • Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.
  • About 4,500 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities.
  • On average, women and girls in developing countries walk 6 kilometers a day, carrying 20 liters of water, greatly reducing the time they have for other productive work or for girls to attend school.
  • When a community gains access to clean water, its child mortality rate drops by half.
(Sources: World Vision, 2010 and UNICEF Children and water: global statistics, 2006)


What About Me?

  • The average American uses 100+ gallons of water per day
  • Millions of the world’s poorest subsist on fewer than 5 gallons per day
  • It takes 53 gallons to make every latte
  • The average faucet uses about 4 gallons of water per minute (brushing your teeth with it running uses about 8-12 gallons of water)
  • In the US we each drink an average of 200 bottles of water per year (17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce all the plastic water bottles we use in the U.S. each year — and, shockingly, 86 percent of them will never be recycled).

Clean water is definitely something we take for granted. Most of the time we don’t even notice how much we use. This is something we must become more aware of and we must work together to do something about.

And it is easy. Continue reading

World Vision Aids Experience Exhibit

This week the Word Vision AIDS Experience exhibit has been in Nashville – at the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood. I have heard about this traveling exhibit for years, but have never been able to go to it myself. When I heard it would be right around the corner from our church, I got excited. I was glad to be able to help promote it at my work and at my church. It has been fun.

And on Monday night, we were able to gather a group from our Bible studies, as well as some other friends, to go experience it for ourselves.

It’s quite impressive. It’s a 2500 square foot exhibit that they set up to look like an African village. When you enter, you are given a headset and you are led through a path that follows the life of one of four children. These are real children in Africa, with real struggles. Each of them has been directly affected by AIDS, losing one or both parents, becoming infected themselves, struggling to survive and searching for hope. It is incredibly impactful. You are led through areas that look like their homes and you are directed to sit down in them while you are told about their lives. You visit a medical clinic where you have to wait on the results to find out if you are HIV positive or not. There are real images of them on the walls, along with staggering facts and figures about the effect of the AIDS crisis in their particular country and village.

One person dies because of AIDS every 15 seconds.

On Monday night, I followed the story of Babirye and her twin. They lost their father to AIDS and almost lost their mother, but she survived and become one of the first World Vision caregivers in their village. On Friday morning I organized a trip for my marketing group at work to go together. I was then able to follow the story of Emmanuel. His is definitely a heart-breaking story (losing both parents to AIDS and being taken care of by his 9-year old brother, for 2 years on their own until a World Vision worker finds them), but it definitely has a hopeful ending.

I highly recommend going and experiencing this exhibit for yourself. It is powerful. Tickets are free and it only takes about 30 minutes to go through. You may not be able to travel to Africa, but World Vision has made it possible to bring Africa to you, if only to get a glimpse of what children there are struggling with. It is very eye-opening and it makes it personal. They do a great job.

To see the video trailers for the exhibit, go here.

To check out the website to see if there is an upcoming week in your area see http://www.worldvisionexperience.com. And if you’re in Nashville, it’s still here today and tomorrow. Please go check it out.