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Tips for Celebrating Christmas in Survival Mode

Tips for a Simple Christmas Season

As I’ve shared over the past few days, we’ve had a pretty low-key December as I’ve been in the midst of significant morning sickness, and there are many things we did not do this holiday season.

And yet, we’ve truly had a lovely December, we enjoyed a super-simple Advent season with our kids, and we celebrated a pleasant Christmas holiday with our extended family.

In hindsight, I’ve been thinking through some things that helped us this month.

I did not plan ahead for this month, but if we were hoping to have another super-simple holiday season, particularly one where I knew it would be extra-crazy, here’s some things I’d consider.

I hope that if you are looking ahead to a “survival mode” Christmas – maybe you’re anticipating a move, have a job that means the holidays are extra-busy, face sickness, or are expecting a new baby – these tips might help you, too.

How to Enjoy a Simple Holiday Season (especially in survival mode)

1. Identify what is #1 most important to you and your family members/loved ones.

Sit down and ask each person what is truly the #1 only thing that is most important.

For me, it would be singing lots of Christmas carols. For my 3 year old, she wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but it’s been “decorating” (in her own way) by placing ornaments on the tree and also “decorating” our presents with ribbons. For the baby, it’s having not-stressed out parents. 🙂

Whatever the case, figure out what’s most important, and put those at the top of your list.

2. Similarly, identify what is not important to you or what is a big stressor.

Is there a holiday event you always go to, and it never ends well? The kids stay up too late, or you feel stressed out, or you have to provide expensive gifts for an exchange, or whatever? Consider skipping it (or just sending the people who actually enjoy it!)

For us, it’s sending Christmas cards. Growing up, my parents wrote the most clever Christmas letters each year, and it was a highlight of our celebration. Likewise, I’ve always loved reading Christmas letters/cards.

However, we now work for an aid organization where we already send out a monthly email update to most of our loved ones, and it seems that each year, sending even a simple family photo ends up taking hours as we try to take a nice photo and then stuff and stamp envelopes.

So this year, we finally opted not to send them out, at least not until the new year when life calms down a bit.

3. Pray and ask God to direct your plans to honor Him.

I don’t think everything on your December calendar needs to be religious in nature, but we do want to honor Him with all that we do, particularly as we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Is there anything on your list to remove?

4. Set yourself up for success.

Remember that list of #1 most important things?

  • Put any specific dates  into the calendar (like, “attend church choir concert on December 10 at 2:00 pm”).
  • Make a list of other items that can happen anytime (like, “make cocoa and watch a Christmas movie”) and stick on your phone, refrigerator, or somewhere obvious, so that when you have a spare moment, you can make it happen.
  • Set a deadline for certain items, especially the “maybes.” Though we knew it’s stressful, we actually did intend to still send out some simple Christmas postcards… until, the week before Christmas, we crossed the threshold of “even if we do them now, they won’t arrive before Christmas” so I took it off my list. If you have something you might want to do, set a deadline for it: “If we haven’t made homemade gifts by December 15, we’ll just go buy storebought.”

5. Identify what is easy and set yourself up for impromptu fun.

This has been key in our family’s Christmas celebration. We already had a few Christmas craft kits and activity books, so I threw those in an empty drawer and my 3 year old has been doing a few over the past few weeks.

Because we’ve had a pretty open schedule (I’ve just felt horrible in the midst of it), we’ve had the freedom to turn on a Christmas movie on Netflix or bake super simple cookies. I gathered up a small basket of Christmas books from our bookshelves and the library, and we’ve been reading them periodically.

None of these activities were planned more than five minutes before we began doing them! But I’ve tried to stay open to a few simple activities.

Some other ideas for facilitating impromptu fun are:

  • make a list of holiday events in your community, and refer to it if you find yourself with a free evening/weekend.
  • if your kids are looking for something to do, glance at a Christmas Pinterest board for simple crafts or ideas.

6. Delegate and ask for help!!! 

So many of the things we did this Christmas happened as a result of other gracious people in our lives.

Family members provided tickets to two holiday shows and arranged all of the food/activities for our Christmas celebrations.

My sister baked cookies, made icing, and invited us over to decorate them, with zero effort on my part (except enjoying the finished product!) 🙂

Even participating in Christmas Eve church was the result of the hard work of the pastors, choir members, and worship leaders! It’s been easier for us to attend events that others have arranged, rather than trying to put it together ourselves.

What We HAVE Done This Christmas Season – some simple ideas

Despite all that we’ve skipped, here are the things we have done, perfect for our current situation, that have resulted in a meaningful December nonetheless. You’ll notice that many of these happened as the result of delegation/other people helping us, or as the result of impromptu, spur-of-the-moment fun.

  • We have done evening Advent wreath devotions at the dinner table about half the nights in December. This has been the #1 most meaningful thing this year. It requires virtually no preparation, other than having an Advent wreath with four candles. Most nights, we turn off the lights, light the appropriate candle(s), read one Bible verse related to the Christmas story, and then sing a verse (a capella) of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Often since we already have the hymnal out, we sing a few more carols – usually just the first verse of each one. Then we blow out the candles. That’s it! It usually takes about 5 minutes, and to be honest, several nights I’ve just stayed on the couch and hollered the songs from across the living room to my family at the table. 🙂 But it’s been so special to hear our daughter start to learn these songs, and I love singing as a family. (We have no future as the Von Trapp Family Singers. We’re often off-key and I inevitably start “Away in a Manger” too low so halfway through I can’t get the notes out. But it’s still fun, and I hope worships the Lord.)
  • We spread out all our Christmas ornaments on a table and let my 3 year-old decorate and redecorate our little two-foot (fake) Christmas tree. So far we’ve only broken one ornament!
  • We dumped all our kid-friendly nativity scenes into one tub together so the kids could pull out pieces and play with them.
  • My mom purchased a chocolate-filled Peanuts countdown calendar, and most days, we’ve pulled out a chocolate for our daughter.
  • We went to see the Nutcracker and Disney Frozen on Ice, thanks to extended family members who got tickets and made all the arrangements.
  • We strolled around a Christmas tree festival (where they decorate trees in different themes and people purchase them for charity).
  • Whenever Christmas comes up in conversation, we try to tie in Jesus as much as possible. We talk about how Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and how some of the characters on the Christmas shows we watch don’t know Jesus yet.
  • I threw our children’s Christmas books into a box and have read them sporadically.
  • We purchased and wrapped gifts for our extended family members (about 10 people) + a gift to my daughter’s eye specialist and our apartment complex managers. Those are the only people we gave anything to, but this still felt like the most time-consuming part of our holiday season, especially since we opted not to buy gift cards but instead do pretty personal gifts. (But it ended up being fun to do this and feel a little accomplished. 🙂
  • I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was not Christmasy, but did help me focus on Christ throughout this season.
  • We have watched pretty much every Christmas cartoon on Netflix. 🙂 (Seriously!) We’ve also enjoyed watching White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • My husband and daughter made super-simple chocolate chip cookies in Christmas shapes.
  • We attended church on Christmas Eve.
  • We went to my parents’ house for the entire week of Christmas, where we were spoiled with food, cable television, presents, and child care. My parents and sister planned and provided all the food/merriment for our actual Christmas celebrations.

In the end, we’ve ended up with a nice Christmas season, where we were able to spend time together and celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth.

And it’s not over yet! There are still a few more of the 12 Days of Christmas left… I’m hoping we still might get out to look at some lights or sing a few more carols before the season officially ends. 🙂

**Leave a comment below. What tips do you have for a simple Christmas season, especially when life is especially crazy?

Global Missions with Kids: Around the Web

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers!

All month you’ve been hearing from me… today I want to share some of my favorite blogs and blog posts about Global Missions with Kids from other people!

We are THAT Family has a list of 100 Ways for Your Family to Make a Difference.

Passionate Homemaking is one of my favorite blogs (and though it mentions homemaking in the title, these posts work for both men and women!) Sadly, the author doesn’t write anymore, but I love these posts from a few years ago:

Missional Women and Missional Mom are two blogs that have been highly recommended to me by others.

Finally, Kara Chupp has an excellent post called Praying to Grow a World Christian.

If you’re looking for more, check out my Global Missions with Kids board on Pinterest.

Also, I have a list of LOTS of resources (books, downloadable resources, DVDs, and more) for global missions with kids.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Do you have a blog post or resource to recommend? (your own or someone else’s?) Leave a link in the comment section below.

Ways to Bless and Encourage a Missionary Overseas

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

Yesterday we talked about donating to missionaries, and today we’re going to continue to talk about supporting overseas missionaries, especially the fun stuff, like sending letters and care packages, writing encouraging words, hosting missionaries for meals, and praying for them.

If you don’t already have a missionary or two in your life, check out yesterday’s post for some ideas for how to “find” an overseas missionary to encourage (like asking at church or calling a missions organization).

bless and encourage

a note about safety

You may know someone helping others in a “difficult” area of the world. If this is the case (or if you’re not sure), please use caution as you implement these ideas. When in doubt, be sure to ask the person before you send a care package filled with overtly Christian materials or when posting about the person on the internet.


Pray for the missionary!

A simple, meaningful way for you and your kids to encourage your missionary is to pray for them.

As I shared yesterday, my family serves with a missions organization (currently in the US for medical treatment for our daughter, but we plan to head overseas soon.)

I can’t tell you what a blessing or encouragement it is when someone says, “I pray for your family every day” or “I have your photo posted above my desk as a reminder to pray for you.”

Many missionaries have a “prayer card” with a photo. They also likely share prayer requests through an email, newsletter, blog, facebook account, etc.

If you don’t have a prayer card or don’t receive these newsletters, contact your missionary. (You could also just print off a photo from their facebook profile or web site.)

Read the prayer requests together with your children and display the photo somewhere in view of your children (like a map prayer garland!)

Read the missionary’s letters, emails, or blog posts.

As I already mentioned, your missionary likely writes some type of newsletter, email updates, or blog posts.

Share these with your children. For non-readers, you can share videos or show photos from the newsletters. For readers, you can pass the letter around at the breakfast table or encourage your teenager to sign up with their own email address or follow the missionary on facebook.

happy birthday

Encourage the missionary through emails and facebook messages

As a family, send an encouraging email or facebook message to your missionary.

Your children could dictate a note to include in the email.

You could have your child draw a picture, then snap a photo (or scan it) and attach it to your email.

In the photo above, my daughter had drawn a picture for a missionary kid we know in Indonesia who was turning two. We took this photo and posted it on her mom’s facebook page.


Send a letter or card to the missionary.

Find out your missionary’s international address and send Christmas cards, birthday cards, or everyday cards in the mail. (Because international shipping can be very slow, your Christmas card will likely arrive in March. That’s okay).

You’ll need international postage, of course. Here in the U.S., as long as you are sending a lightweight letter, you can buy some international Forever stamps at the post office (or online) and then send them with your regular mail. For a package (see more below), you’ll need to fill out a customs form.

If your missionary works for a large organization, you may even be able to send a letter to a U.S. address for the organization (with just a normal postage stamp), and they’ll forward it to the missionary. It’s worth asking!

Younger children can draw a picture or put stickers on the envelope.

For an extra special card, an older child or teenager could create photo cards through Shutterfly or Cardstore. For about the same price as a regular greeting card, you can insert photos of your own family and/or the missionary family and customize with your own message.

Send a care package.

Receiving a dose of snacks, toys, and special treats from their home country can be a great mood-lifter for missionaries serving overseas.

Plus, it’s a great way to include your children as they help you select items and you pack them up into a box together.

Check with your missionary whether or not they can receive care packages. Then check for details regarding what to send, how to fill out customs forms, and any other special information.

I was hoping to put together a whole post about “How to Send an Amazing Missionary Care Package,” but then I realized there are just too many variables regarding what to send and how to send it.

So check with your missionary! Even if they never mention it in newsletters, they may just feel sheepish about asking for one – so go ahead and ask! Send an email or facebook note that says, “We’d love to send a care package to you. Is this convenient for you? What would you like us to send?”

Be aware that occasionally, people in certain countries won’t be able to accept care packages. Customs taxes on incoming goods can be quite high, or the mail service may be too unreliable. So please don’t be offended if the missionary says “No, thank you.”

Provide for the missionaries needs when they’re back here for furlough.

Missionaries usually return back to their home country for a few months every one to four years. This is called “furlough” or “home assignment.”

When they are “home,” it can be hard. They are likely not in their own house and may be traveling around the country to share about their work and thank ministry supporters. They probably have lots of doctor appointments and shopping to do. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a time of rest and rejuvenation for them. All while experiencing “reverse culture shock,” as their hometown probably doesn’t feel like home after their experiences overseas!

Consider ways you could help. Do you have a home with plenty of space? Or will you be out of town and could let them stay in your home? Do you have a spare vehicle? Or perhaps you have connections through work and could offer a free meal, movie tickets, or theme park or zoo tickets.

If they’ll be sharing about their ministry, offer to host a presentation in your home for your small group, friends, or family. Or, offer to help coordinate an event at your church.

Your children could help you host a missionary family for dinner – a great chance to practice hosting manners! (We are still working on this in our house, as usually having people over results in my daughter hoarding all her toys in the closet so she doesn’t have to share, haha.)

Simply attending a missionary’s event, like a church presentation, would be a great encouragement and something you could do with your children.

If you are able, consider a special “love gift” donation straight to the family to use for something fun or for a special furlough need. (Sometimes a gift through the organization cannot be used for these special needs, but is instead designated for basic living expenses… so give cash or ask the family how to make sure it gets straight to them.)

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**What are some ways you encourage and bless missionaries? Leave a comment below.

Support a Christian Missionary

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

Today we’ll be talking about how to financially support Christian missionaries. Tomorrow we’ll be talking about other ways to help missionaries, like praying, sending letters and care packages, and encouraging them.

It feels a little funny to talk a lot about how we shouldn’t put overseas missionaries on a pedestal and how you don’t need to be a missionary to do global missions… and then tell you to go support a missionary! 😉

But, I stilbelieve it is important to support missionaries – though I’ll confess I’m biased since I am a “missionary” myself! (Our family lives in Southern California right now as we handle some medical treatment for our daughter, but we currently work for a missions organization and plan to move overseas as soon as she is done with her treatment.)

As a “missionary,” I want to share with you first-hand what a tremendous blessing it is to receive financial support from a wonderful team of family members, friends, churches, and even some strangers.

Every month we take a day to write thank yous, look at financial gifts from the past month, and communicate with our ministry partners, and seriously, that day is always emotional for me because I am so moved by the sacrificial and kind partnership of these people.

It is such a joy and a true blessing to partner in ministry and know we’re not doing this alone. (And if you’re one of our ministry partners and you’re reading this post – thank you, thank you, thank you!)

support a Christian missionary

Why Support a Christian Missionary?

Missionaries need your support.

You may not be aware that most overseas missionaries raise their own support through personal connections with friends and family members.

While a few missionaries are funded solely through other means (like their individual congregation, denomination, or direct donations to their organization), the vast majority have to do support-raising (often called “deputation”) prior to departing for the mission field.

Missionary support provides a great connection for your family to global missions.

Most missionaries send out prayer newsletters via email or regular mail to share about their ministry. They may post photos on facebook, blogs, or other social media showing their work, asking for prayer, or simply sharing about life overseas.

These missionaries on the field can provide a first-hand resource as you seek to teach your children about the world and teach them about mission work.

If you can’t go yourself, you can send others.

There are many people who would love to serve as overseas missionaries, but can’t. Supporting a missionary provides a way to still be “in the game.”

As our own family currently is in the United States temporarily, unable to serve overseas for medical reasons, we are so grateful that we’re able to support some other missionaries and have a hand in God’s work overseas through them.

Our organization calls our financial and prayer supporters our “ministry partners,” and we truly consider them our partners, standing side by side with us serving together all over the world.

Global missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ cross-culturally through words and actions, so that people from all nations will believe and follow Him.

How to Find a Missionary to Support

If you don’t already support a missionary, here are some ways to find one. 🙂

Consider your own friends and family members.

Do you know any friends or family members serving as missionaries? Ask them for more information about their ministry and find out if they need financial support. Don’t worry about bothering them.

I can’t imagine any missionary would be unhappy to receive an email, phone call, or facebook message saying, “I’m interested in financially supporting a missionary. Do you need financial support? Could you give me some more information about your ministry?”

Check if your church supports any missionaries or has connections with any missionaries.

Contact your pastor or missions pastor to see if your church supports any missionaries.

Even if there are no missionaries currently supported by your church’s budget, they may be able to recommend someone who has previously made a presentation at your church, or is a “friend” of your congregation.

Contact an organization you support and ask if they have any missionaries in need.

Do you already have connections with a mission organization?

Call the organization and see if they have any missionaries currently beginning their support-raising or who are under-supported. The organization can provide a recent newsletter or contact information for the missionary.

Look online at mission organizations web sites.

If all else fails, you can just go on the web site for a mission organization and look at their list of missionaries.

We’ve done this a couple times before, when we wanted to support a particular organization but didn’t know any missionaries who worked with them. It was fun to know we were blessing a totally random family (and the family reached out to us and is now our facebook friend.)

Here are a few organizations you could check out:


Think outside the box.

Did you know that other countries send missionaries, too? Here’s an interesting article (a little outdated) that shares about some of the countries that send the most missionaries, including Brazil, South Korea, India, South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, China, Colombia, and Nigeria.

You’ll notice many of these countries battle extreme poverty, and I’m sure their churches lack much funding to send missionaries… but they do it anyway!

For years, there have been missionaries to China, India, and parts of Africa… wouldn’t it be so neat to support someone from one of those countries serving as a missionary himself?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to put you in touch with a missionary sent from another country, but supporting one of these missionaries from another country is certainly something to consider.

Perhaps if you know someone serving internationally, you could see if they could put you in touch with a local missionary who needs support.

thank you

What Missionaries Want You to Know

Based on my experiences and from conversations with other missionaries, here are a few things we want you to know:

Please start giving or make a commitment to donate even before the missionary moves overseas.

We have been so blessed by people who faithfully donated to our family’s ministry while we were actively support raising, and continue to donate even though we’re not overseas yet (we are actively involved in full-time ministry here in the U.S.)

Don’t feel like you need to wait till they actually go. If you know someone who is support-raising, ask if you can start donating right away, or at least offer a commitment to donate as soon as they move overseas.

By starting your donation now, you’re helping the missionary as they make final preparations to move overseas… a time typically filled with lots of extra expenses and stresses.

Please donate to missionaries who are doing ministry in the United States, too.

Though we do hope to serve overseas soon, we know so many missionaries who permanently work here in the U.S.

They are doing such valuable work planting churches in multicultural communities, working with international college students, aiding refugees, or serving in support roles for organizations that serve overseas.

Yet it can be so difficult for them to raise support since they don’t live the “glamorous” life of a missionary serving in an exotic location overseas!

Please consider supporting a “state-side” missionary (or a missionary in your own country, wherever you live).

Please tell the missionary when you first make a donation. Even better, ask if there is a preferred way to donate.

If this is your first time donating, or if you’re giving a special gift, it’s a great idea to send an email or facebook message to the missionary to give them a heads up.

That way, they can send a thank you note promptly, and they can make sure it goes through properly for their support.

(If you give a monthly/recurring donation, it’s not necessary to communicate this every time).

Likewise, if you need to stop a regularly donation, tell them that too! It might seem awkward, but this enables the missionary to thank you for your past gifts and to be sure you really intended to stop giving, rather than wondering whether you forgot or just changed credit cards.

Missionaries are so grateful for your financial support and couldn’t do it without you! Thanks for your faithful giving! Truly, every missionary I’ve ever talked to is grateful for the support of our ministry partners. Sometimes life gets busy, or we just can’t come up with the words to adequately convey that thankfulness. So if you are someone who supports an overseas missionary, please let me say “thank you” on their behalf!!

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Do you support any missionaries? Leave a comment below to share your experience.

A Fair Trade Holiday Gift Guide

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

“A present? For me?”

These are some of my daughter’s favorite words, and I would imagine that’s true for the children in your life, too.

As I consider what presents I’d like to give my children for birthdays or holidays, and what gifts I’d like to purchase with them for our other friends and family, I’d love to try to give fair trade gifts as much as possible.

While I’m not sure that buying fair trade qualifies as actual “global mission work,” as I envision children participating in loving God’s whole world, buying and receiving fair trade gifts seems to fit in hand-in-hand. It’s hard to love His world when our purchases our causing people to work in terrible conditions.


lots of fair trade gift ideas for this holiday season

Why Fair Trade?

My heart breaks when I realize that the cheap toy or inexpensive t-shirt I buy for my daughters might have a dark past.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many of the products we purchase, particularly those sold at a low price (my favorite!), are produced in horrible working conditions where workers, sometimes children, are treated poorly and paid extremely low wages for very long hours.

So while the product may have a low financial cost for me as the consumer, the workers who produced the item paid a high cost by suffering through its production.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of fair trade, you can visit some of these helpful posts to learn more:

Companies that produce fair-trade products have committed to avoiding these horrible working conditions by providing fair wages, offering an acceptable working environment, and caring for their employees.

Many of the companies I’ll share today have gone a step further to provide not just acceptable but wonderful working environments, intentionally partnering with their workers.

A Caution: How to Avoid Burnout

I’m excited to share some fair trade gift ideas with you, along with some ways to talk about fair-trade with your children. But, here’s my caution: don’t go crazy trying to buy fair-trade everything all at once… especially if you are new to “fair-trade.”

A few years ago, I heard about fair-trade products for the first time. I learned the reasons why they’re necessary, and I was crushed to realize the horrible working conditions some people experience.

I went ALL out. I started buying only fair-trade clothing. I took my copy of The Better World Shopping Guide with us on vacation, and my husband and I tried to only do fair-trade sanctioned things… like eating copious amounts of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (But only if the carton was labeled fair-trade, of course!) We bought all our Christmas gifts that year from Ten Thousand Villages.

Then I got burnt out. After our daughter was born, I quit working outside the home, so our budget decreased. It was trickier to spend money on slightly more expensive fair trade items.

But even more than that, I just got tired of it. I like going to Target and picking up random items off the shelf without worrying about whether it’s fair trade or not. I like the taste of the non-fair-trade coffee available at the coffee shop around the corner.

So I quit hunting for fair-trade items, and returned to my old spending habits.

Rather than going “all out” with passion for shopping fair trade, I encourage you to find a middle ground and gradually ease your way into fair trade shopping.

Eventually, I began shopping fair trade again, this time, a little bit at a time. We have some local coffee shops we like to frequent that support fair trade coffee. This year, our Christmas gifts will be about half fair-trade items. I’ve found some favorite beauty products that are fair-trade, and try to select these ones when I need to make a new purchase.

Plus, I’ve also tried to incorporate some other ideas for avoiding “sweatshop” items, but without having to shop for truly fair-trade stuff… you can see these ideas below. This has made it easier to shop ethically and in a way that supports a love for all nations… without burning out.

Fair Trade Christmas Gift Ideas

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking one of the links, I may receive a small commission to help support this site, at no additional cost to you.

As Christmas approaches, I wanted to provide a resource for some fair-trade gift ideas.

Some of these are gifts to give to your children, and some are gifts you and your children could select for your loved ones (like grandparents or other adults).

The Mercy House and Fair Trade Friday

The Mercy House Shop offers lovely jewelry and household items that support women’s maternity homes in Kenya. They also have a program called Fair Trade Friday which is “a monthly membership club that delivers high quality fair traded items to your door. The items in the box are fairly traded and provide employment to women all over the world. Plus, they are really cute! … “100% of the proceeds from each product go toward the empowerment of impoverished women as an avenue to introduce them to the Gospel.” (from Fair Trade Friday web site). They have a new box for kids, and young women might especially enjoy the earring of the month club.

hats from Krochet Kids

Krochet Kids offers stylish, trendy hats, bags, and other accessories made in Uganda and Peru. I love these animal hats for kids. I’ve long followed the story of a family who served with Krochet Kids in Peru, and I love their business model and how they’re partnering with women there to create cute hats and provide jobs, education, and community for their workers.

subscription boxes and yummy treats from Trade as One

lots of delicious edible treats from Trade As One. If you are looking for a healthy, clutter-free gift, these are pricey but practical, as everything would be consumed. Every time I look at the Trade as One site, I get hungry 🙂

comfortable “punjammies” pants

Comfy pants and cute tee shirts for kids and adults from Punjammies. 

Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages has a wide assortment of fair trade items from all over the world. I’ve purchased Christmas gifts from them in the past and have been pleased by their unique, well-priced items. They also have some physical storefronts.

If you’ve found some of the other Fair Trade companies listed here to be too expensive, Ten Thousand Villages is a good option, as some of their products are just a few dollars each, like Christmas ornaments, small toys.

I also like that Ten Thousand Villages carries a large variety of different items… so if you’re trying to do all your Christmas shopping in one place, this is your best bet to find something for everyone on your list.

NoonDay Collection

Jewelry from Noonday Collection. They have stylish, beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and other accessories.

Fair Indigo

Toys and Clothes from Fair Indigo. I purchased clothes from them a few years ago, and they were very good quality and reasonably priced. I don’t recommend drying in the dryer – my clothes did shrink.

Timbali Crafts

Cute handbags, doll clothes, girls’ aprons, home decor, and apparel from Timbali crafts

I was impressed by the good prices and unique items available from Timbali!

Equal Exchange chocolates

chocolate and sweets from Equal Exchange or the Christmas treats from Sjaaks Chocolate. The organic dark chocolate caramel crunch with sea salt from Equal Exchange sounds delicious!!

Gadanke Christmas card journal set

handmade journals from Gadanke. I love the Christmas card holder journal! Gadanke’s journals are all customizable, as you can see in the photo above, so you can add or remove pages as desired.

She has such creative ideas, like a mother-daughter journal, lots of baby book ideas, and guides for recording family recipes. (These aren’t specifically “fair trade,” but are handmade in Montana by a lovely lady.)

Wild Dill

Wild Dill offers a variety of fair trade children’s products, especially cute dolls. I just stumbled upon their site this week, and they seem like cute options for kids! The little donuts pictured above are baby rattles! So cute.

Still looking for more? Here are a few compilations of other fair-trade companies:

Fair Trade Alternatives

Want to avoid supporting harmful working conditions, but can’t find a reasonable fair trade option? Here are some other Ideas:

  • Shop second-hand. When you purchase items at a thrift store, garage sale, or on Craigslist, you are not perpetuation any poor labor conditions – this item was created long ago and your purchase isn’t stimulating any new production of items. You can even buy online through a second-hand shop like ThredUp or through ebay or Etsy.
  • Make something. Consider creating a craft or baking a food item as a gift. (Though, of course, you’ll still want to consider your materials. You could use repurposed goods, or purchase organic/fair trade ingredients, as possible.)
  • Buy organic. If you can’t find a food item with a fair-trade label, try to buy organic, if possible. Fair trade and organic certification are two different things, but they are usually mutually beneficial – fair trade practices help the environment, and organic conditions usually help the workers (since they’re not breathing in pesticides and work conditions are more strictly regulated).
  • Give an experience. Tickets to a baseball game, a theater production, or a children’s museum would be fun, clutter-free, and “fair trade.”
  • Shop locally. Often, independent/local shops will have first-hand control of their own products. For example, we frequent several coffee shops where they know the growers of their coffee beans and roast their own beans. Generally speaking, working conditions in the U.S. are better than overseas (though of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes materials are coming from overseas.)
  • Give an intangible gift by donating in honor of the recipient. Organizations like Compassion and Samaritan’s Purse offer the chance to select an item to donate to someone in need, on behalf of your loved one. They will usually provide a decorative card to wrap up explaining the impact of the donations. In the past we’ve given pigs, malaria nets, and beekeeping kits as a gift. Ann Voskamp has a lovely post here with links to non-profit organizations that offer Christmas gift catalogs.

How to Talk about Fair-Trade with Your Children

  • Show photos of people who produce fair trade items. You can check out @Fair_Trade_Friday on instagram or visit the “Meet the Ladies” page on the Krochet Kids web site. Talk about these people: what is her name? where does she live? what does she do? what is her life like?
  • Get two examples of the same product – one that is fair trade, and one that isn’t. A chocolate bar is a pretty inexpensive (and fun!) example. Show them to your kids, and talk about how they may taste the same (go ahead, offer a sample of each!), but they were produced very differently.
  • Personally, I don’t recommend showing photos or videos of sweatshops and poor working conditions until your children are 10 or older. Instead, I would focus on talking about good practices from companies that are doing the right thing, like some of the ones listed above.

Other Resources:

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**What other fair trade companies do you recommend? How do you talk about fair trade with your kids? Leave a comment below.

Writing to Your Sponsored Child (with free letter-writing template!)

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here.

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Yesterday we talked about sponsoring a child, and how to involve your child in the sponsorship process.

However, I left out talking much about one of the best ways – writing to your sponsored child – because I want to spend a whole post sharing some ideas and resources.

Writing to Your Sponsored Child

I want to begin with an embarassing confession.

We sponsor two children through Compassion. A few others through some other organizations.

Truthfully, we rarely write to them.

You see, I’m quite a perfectionist. So, I’m always convinced that there will be a perfect moment when I’ll write personal, lengthy letters to each of them, and I’ll talk with my kids about our sponsored kids, and we’ll pray for them, and draw pictures for them, and include a family photo…

And the reality, of course, is that “perfect moment” never occurs.

Instead, I receive a letter from the child, read it, throw it on my ever-growing “papers to deal with” pile, and it sits there until the next letter arrives.

It’s embarrassing to share that, really, especially since Compassion does such a good job of sending stationery to make it easy, and because I know that these letters are so valued by the children receiving themwriting to our sponsored kids is probably one of the very most important ways I could use my time each month.

So, I’m pledging to do a better job of writing to our sponsored kids each month. Anyone want to join me?

Here are some ideas I’ve been compiling to make writing to our sponsored children a doable part of my life:

  • Use a printable worksheet so my daughter can participate in writing the letter with me. See below for a free download of the worksheet!
  • Set an alarm on my phone/calendar as a reminder to write to sponsored kids. My sister sets a reminder for every two weeks, so that she’ll actually do it at least once a month. It’s a system that works well for her, as she writes to her kids nearly every single month!
  • Designate a space (basket, box, folder, etc.) for gathering our letters from the sponsored kids, along with the handy envelope/stationery they send along with it.
  • Record the ID numbers for my sponsored child and me, along with the address for where to send your letter. This way if you want to write before I’ve received a new envelope or letter from your child, I’ll have all that info.
  • Bookmark the “write to your child online” page on the Compassion web site.
  • Mark my calendar for the 2nd Friday of each month – Compassion has a “2nd Friday Writing Club” and offers a theme each month for what to write about.

Compassion has some wonderful ideas on their web site with letter-writing prompts and a list of gifts that can be sent in the mail (puzzles! band-aids! baseball cards! paper dolls! laminated flowers!)

Compassion also has a great Pinterest account which is worth perusing and following with some fun ideas, too.

write to your sponsored child with free letter

Disclosure: Compassion provided a copy of their Step Into My Shoes curriculum at my request so I could check it out, since it fit so perfectly with the focus of my blog and this Global Missions with Kids series. I’ll be sharing more about Step into My Shoes soon! 

How to Involve Your Kids in Writing to Your Sponsored Child:

  1. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend going through the Step into My Shoes family toolkit together (available to purchase from Compassion). If your child has a better grasp on poverty and understanding the life of your sponsored child, it will make the letter writing experience so much more meaningful!
  2. Print off the worksheet below and have your children help you complete it.
  3. Here are ideas for additional age-appropriate participation:
    • Toddlers can:
      • scribble a picture to include in the letter
      • place stickers on the letter
      • lick the envelope, place the stamp
      • walk with you to the mailbox to drop off the letter
      • listen to your prayer for your sponsored child as you send the letter.
    • Preschoolers can do the above, plus:
      • select a small flat gift at the store to send
      • draw a picture or complete an art project to include in the letter
      • say a “repeat after me” prayer for your sponsored child as you send the letter.
    • Younger elementary school-age children can do the above, plus:
      • write answers to fill in the blanks on a letter template worksheet
      • lead a prayer for your sponsored child as you send the letter.
    • Older elementary school-age children can do the above, plus:
      • write or type a complete letter.
    • Teenagers can do the above, plus:
      • log into your Compassion account and send a letter via the internet.

printable fill in the blank letter

Printable Fill-in-the-Blank Worksheet to Complete Together

Finally, here’s one resource I’m making for myself that I want to share with you: a free printable write-to-your-sponsored-child worksheet.

You see, I want my kids to be able to be involved, so I don’t want to just write my own letter, or type it up on the internet every time. But, they are young, so they aren’t in a position to write or type a letter themselves.

Plus, we have more than one sponsored child. And while I’d love to write them a personalized letter, I also want to be able to write to them all.

So, I’m putting together some worksheets that we can send each month. Honestly, I was inspired by the letters we receive from our sponsored children.

The worksheets have some fill-in-the-blank areas where we can write, and some spaces for scribbling coloring a little picture.

Here’s why I like using a worksheet:

  • it is faster than writing a complete note all by myself
  • I don’t have to think of what to say
  • I can ask my daughter for help answering some of the questions, like “what are the names of the people in our family?”

Thanks to this worksheet, I wrote to our sponsored kids yesterday for the first time in over a year. I just printed off the pages, filled them out with my daughter – simple, because they’re just fill-in-the-blank. We wrote a personalized note at the bottom of each one, and then we colored and mailed to our kids.

That’s it! It was simple and easy, and I hope this might be a resource for you, too!

If you are someone who already sends letters to your sponsored kid every month… please don’t use these worksheets. I don’t think they’re as good as a personalized, handwritten letter! (Or at the very least, write your letter as usual and add this to it).

But for those of us who have struggled to write at all, hopefully this is a good “middle ground” between sending nothing and sending a fully handwritten letter.

Click here to download the first letter-to-your-sponsored-child worksheet.

While you’re at it, it would be fun to print a coloring sheet for your sponsored child to color. Crayola has lots of free printable pages – you could choose one appropriate for your child’s gender/age.

I plan to share one new worksheet each month with email subscribers, so if you’re interested in receiving future worksheets, sign up here.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Do you write to your sponsored kids? What suggestions do you have? Leave a comment below.

How to Sponsor a Child

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

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Would you like to form a friendship with a young person halfway around the world?

Would you like for your own children to have a first-hand connection with a child in another country?

Would you like to make a difference for a family living in poverty in another country?

Sponsor a child!

how to sponsor a child

A few months ago, my family visited the Compassion Experience, a touring exhibit that was visiting our community.

Though we’ve sponsored children for many years, viewing the exhibits and listening to children’s stories was eye-opening as I considered the existence of so many children around the world.

My own children experience a life filled with rich educational opportunities,  safety and security, fun, and the love of adults like their parents, grandparents, and other family and friends. They’ve never worried about where their next meal was coming from or whether their basic needs would be taken care of.

It’s heart-breaking to realize this isn’t the case for many children around the world… but exciting to remember there are organizations like Compassion International that are working through local churches to “release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

At the Compassion Experience, we learned about Compassion’s community centers where children can come after school for help with homework, hygiene and health care, food, and a safe place to play. They receive training, discipleship, and mentorship.

Disclosure: I am signed up as a Compassion blogger, because I love their ministry so much. If you sign up to sponsor a child through the links on this page, then my own sponsored child will receive a small gift on my behalf. Compassion provided a copy of their Step Into My Shoes curriculum at my request so I could check it out, since it fit so perfectly with the focus of my blog and this Global Missions with Kids series. I’ll be sharing more about Step into My Shoes soon! 

Reasons to Sponsor a Child

I’m going to share about Compassion International, because our family has the most experience with them. See below for some other organizations that also offer a child sponsorship program.

According to Compassion’s web site, sponsorship means a child can receive…

  • the opportunity to receive an education. Though free public education is available in most countries, many times, there are additional school fees, uniforms, or the need for school supplies. Consider how many expenses your children have at the beginning of each school year! Then imagine trying to provide these while living in extreme poverty. By sponsoring a child, you can help with these fees. Sometimes children also receive tutoring, help with homework, encouragement, and possibly participation in an outside-the-classroom literacy program.
  • the opportunity to be healthy. Children’s health is monitored and care is provided as needed. Children receive education and hygiene and caring for themselves. At the Compassion Experience, we saw that most community centers provide toothbrushes for each child to use at the center. Many Compassion children receive supplementary food, as needed.
  • the opportunity to develop self-confidence and social skills. Children take part in a church-based program where they receive the mentorship of Christian adults who offer love, guidance, personal attention, guided recreation, and safety.
  • the opportunity to hear the gospel and learn about Jesus. Children receive regular Bible training and encouragement through a local church.

Compassion’s goal is “to take a child from the brink of survival to abundant life as a disciple of Jesus Christ,” serving in the following countries:

  • Africa: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.
  • Central America and the Caribbean: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.
  • South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
  • Asia: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Compassion stewards their money well.

From the survey I conducted last month, it sounds like sponsoring a child overseas is one of the primary ways Faith Passed Down readers are involved in global missions… and that’s great!  If you already sponsor a child, check out this post about writing letters to your sponsored child.

How to Sponsor a Child

Pray about it. Sponsoring a child is a commitment! I encourage you to pray and thoughtfully consider how the Lord is leading your family.

Consider your budget. Child sponsorships are usually around $40 a month. Take a look at your budget and evaluate what you can afford.

Depending on your financial situation, this may take some sacrifice – is there a way you can cut out some meals out, snacks, reduce your cable or data plan, or cut a Netflix subscription? I want to encourage you as you consider modifying your budget to make this work – way to go! (I need that encouragement myself! We are wanting to sponsor a child on behalf of our daughter, but writing this is reminding me that we’re going to need to look at our budget too!)

On the other hand, you might be in a position where you’d be able to sponsor several children, or could offer some extra assistance through your sponsorship (for example, Compassion International offers an extra $7 a month sponsorship for children affected by AIDS, and all children are able to receive an extra monetary gift twice a year).

Choose an organization.

I highly recommend Compassion International. We sponsor children through a few different organizations, and Compassion always impresses me with their good communication with us and quality ministry internationally.

They do tremendous ministry in the local communities where they work – this isn’t just some “great American saviors” swooping in, but rather local churches ministering to the children around them, with the benefit of Compassion’s resources.

Some other possibilities are:

Choose a child and set up the sponsorship.

You can view children in need of a sponsor on the Compassion web site.

I like to pray that God would connect me to just the right child. In the past, we’ve chosen a child born on each of our birthdays. You can also look by age, country, gender, or circumstance… even by name!

Typically, you’ll want to set up a recurring credit card or bank transaction.

How to Involve Your Children in Sponsoring a Child

  • Pray for your sponsored child regularly, like during your family’s mealtime or bedtime prayers. If you have several people to remember in prayer, here are some ideas for “popsicle stick prayers” or a prayer book that might help – you could choose a different person to pray for each night.
  • Post your sponsored child’s photo somewhere prominent… perhaps on a map prayer garland? 🙂
  • Talk about your sponsored child the way you would discuss a friend or loved one.
  • Write to your sponsored child as a family. Tomorrow we’ll be talking much more about Writing to Your Sponsored Child.
  • Use the new Step Into My Shoes curriculum from Compassion International. I’ll be sharing at length about Step Into My Shoes next week in our discussion on teaching poverty to kids… it is wonderful.
  • Visit the Compassion Experience when it visits your area.
  • Consider a trip to meet your sponsored child. Compassion does offer trips overseas to meet your sponsored children. Obviously, this would require some time and financial investment, but what a neat opportunity!
  • Read through Compassion Magazine together (or other literature from your sponsorship organization).
  • Together with your child, host Compassion Sunday at your church. Your child could help you set up and man a booth at your church (or another special event).

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever sponsored a child? Leave a comment below.

Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

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Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking one of the links, I may receive a small commission to help support this site, at no additional cost to you.

So far in the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series, we’ve set a foundation, and we’ve covered some basic ways to begin developing a love for God’s whole world within our children. For the remainder of the series, we’ll be talking about several different ideas for action steps for global missions you can take with the children and teenagers in your life.

As you read these posts in the days to come, please do not try to tackle all these ideas! Instead, prayerfully consider which one or two areas of global missions you are being called to. Click here for a free printable to guide you through this process.

Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

One of the easiest, simplest, most hands-on ways you can be involved in Global Missions with Kids is putting together Operation Christmas Child boxes… and now is the perfect time to do it, since shoebox collection week happens in mid-November!!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, demonstrates God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, shares the Good News of Jesus Christ. They collect and send simple shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items to children affected by war, poverty, disaster, famine, and disease. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 124 million children in more than 150 countries and territories.

One thing I love about Operation Christmas Child is that many children who receive boxes participate in a 12 week discipleship course through a local church called The Greatest Journey. So, they’re not just receiving a lovely gift in a box but are also receiving the gift of a closer walk with Jesus!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Why pack a shoe box?

I have been involved in Operation Christmas Child for many years, packing my first box when I was a high school student. Since then, I have packed dozens of shoeboxes, hosted a collection at our church, and volunteered at the OCC processing center. Currently, my family works for an organization that helps fly the boxes to their destinations around the world, so we have met coworkers who have been involved in the distribution of boxes firsthand.

In all my interactions with Operation Christmas Child, they have been top-notch, doing valuable ministry and coordinating the distribution of shoeboxes in a way that benefits and encourages everyone involved.

I have volunteered twice at a OCC box processing center and I want to make sure you know that: the items you pack in your box will stay in your box (as long as they meet the rules.)

Before I volunteered, I wasn’t sure about this. As I painstakingly selected the perfect items to place in my shoebox, I wondered if at the processing center, they just got dumped into a pile or if boxes with more items were shared with boxes with less items. This is not the case!

The packing center emphasizes maintaining “the integrity of the box.”

Your box is opened and inspected for any items not permitted (like chocolate, army figurines, etc.) Those items are removed, along with any money placed in the box as a donation to Samaritan’s Purse. Then the box is sealed up securely with tape, placed on a wooden pallet, and shipped overseas.

So, if you selected a Barbie doll with a matching tee shirt for the girl who opens it… she’ll receive that gift. As you pray and pack, your box is being prepared for a child somewhere around the world who will open it soon!

How to Pack an Operation Christmas Child Box

how to pack a shoebox for OCC

1. Choose a gender and age range for your box(es). This year, we chose to do four boxes, each corresponding to the age/gender of a member of our family. So, my husband put together a box for a 10-14 year old boy, I did one for a 10-14 year old girl, and then our two young daughters did two boxes for 2-4 year old girls.

2. Get a box. A cardboard shoebox works! Your local Chick Fil A or Family Christian Stores may have some special red and green OCC boxes. My personal favorite is the plastic shoeboxes made by Sterilite that are available for about $1 at Target or Wal Mart. This way the child can use the plastic box for awhile.

3. Choose one big toy.

Something new this year is that Operation Christmas Child is emphasizing packing a bigger, fun gift in each box: a beautiful doll, plush stuffed animal, deflated soccer ball + pump, etc.

I am speculating that perhaps too many of us were being practical “fuddy-duddies” in our gift-giving, including lots of little helpful things without including a fun toy… the “Grandma gives us underwear every year for Christmas” syndrome.

4. Add in smaller toys, school supplies, and hygiene items.

Here’s a guide to what kind of items to pack.

5. Include a personal note and family photo.

You can just write a normal letter or card. I like this printable coloring page as a guide for what to say.

Occasionally you will hear back from the person who receives your box, if you include your address.

Typically, we haven’t heard anything, but one year we did, and we’ve actually formed a nice friendship with a young man in the Philippines, and have been able to help him with his education and correspond over the years.

6. Donate $7 for box to cover shipping.

Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box.

In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.

7. Drop off your box. Your church may collect OCC boxes. If not, click here to find a drop-off location near you.

how to pack four operation Christmas child boxes for under 50 dollars

Packing an Operation Christmas Child Box on a Budget

Packing shoe boxes can be expensive. There have been years when I had the money to easily pack a dozen boxes, filling them with lovely things.

This year, we didn’t set aside that kind of money in our budget, so I aimed to pack four boxes for about $50 (not including the $7 per box donation or a few items I purchased earlier this summer).

You can see the contents of our four boxes in the photo above… I think I did pretty well for $12.50 a box!

Here are some tips for being able to afford to donate:

look at what you already have for OCC boxes

  • Look around your home for any new items you can include in a box. Do you have a stash of spare toothbrushes or a box of markers leftover from school supply shopping? These would all be excellent items to include… just make sure they are new. The photo above shows a bunch of stuff I found just by looking around our house… extra toiletry items, stickers and postcards, even a 3T shirt with tags still attached that my daughter never wore!
  • Check consignment shops or thrift shops for new items. Please do not include used items! But, if you find a brand-new item, tags still attached, at one of these shops? Go for it!
  • Ask for donations. Would your dentist be willing to donate some toothbrushes? Would a friend from church like to offer some art supplies? Perhaps a friend doesn’t have time to shop for items, but would be happy to provide $10 for the cause. At the very least, shoe stores are usually happy to give a spare shoebox or two so you don’t have to purchase a plastic box.
  • If you want to do multiple boxes, consider dividing up packages in half. For example, tubes of toothpaste may be cheaper if bought in a pack of two, or a large box of crayons can be divided into two smaller ones.
  • Consider making items for your OCC box. Operation Christmas Child has a well-maintained Pinterest account with lots of ideas for crafts to include in your box.
  • As time permits, purchase items ahead of time. I bought school supplies in August when they were on sale and set them aside for our shoeboxes. Not only were the items cheaper, but I was able to split up the cost over a few months. (I did not include these school supplies in the $50 total, since I had purchased them two months ago).
  • Devote a chunk of money to one “big” gift. As I mentioned above, this year OCC is encouraging packers to include a bigger gift like a stuffed animal, soccer ball and pump, or a beautiful doll. I chose to spend $7ish each on a stuffed animal for each of our boxes, then supplementing with more economical items for everything else. Even if you purchase all your other items at the dollar store, you may want to purchase a nicer “big” gift for each box.

Here are some additional ideas for OCC boxes on a budget.

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

How to Involve Your Children and Make It Meaningful

  • Talk about Operation Christmas Child before you begin shopping or packing boxes. Explain that you’ll be putting boxes together to send around the world. Pull out a globe or world map and point out some possible places. You could get out a little toy airplane or a wooden block (to symbolize a shoebox) and “fly” it from your home to another continent.
  • View videos or read stories on the Operation Christmas Child web site. This morning my little girl snuggled up with me while we watched this “God Made Me Walk” video about an impressive young lady who donated many shoeboxes. Here’s a lengthier video overview of Operation Christmas Child, and here’s a whole channel of videos so you can choose one that you want to watch.
  • Take your child shopping with you. As you select items, talk about how you’re putting them in a shoebox to send to other kids.
  • Invite your child to purchase an item for the shoeboxes with his own money. My daughter is still at the innocent age where she was thrilled to take some of her allowance money to buy a puzzle at Target’s Dollar Spot. I expect in a few years she might not be quite so eager, once she understands money better! 🙂 In any case, offer your child the chance to purchase something. Alternatively, you could give your child a designated sum of money (perhaps $5 or $10?) and have them select and purchase an item for the box using that money.
  • Print out this coloring page and have your child color it to include in a box. It’s so cute and has a place to share info about your child, even drawing a picture of where you live and what your home looks like.
  • Include your child in packing the items into the box and dropping off at a drop-off site. Collection week is November 16 – 23, 2015.
  • Find out where your box goes. Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box. In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.
  • Consider hosting (or attending) an Operation Christmas Child packing party. This is a fun, memorable way to pack boxes. Each person brings different items to pack (say, toothbrushes) and then together, you set up an assembly line and fill boxes. It’s also a chance to get out Christmas decor, movies, and treats and have a fun time together. Here are all sorts of resources from the OCC web site, and also  some ideas from Oh Amanda for a packing party.
  • Take your older children/teenagers to volunteer at an OCC processing center. Volunteer slots fill up fast, so I’m sure they’re already full this year, but mark it on your calendar for the future! I’ve gone to the Southern California center a few times, and it’s always a memorable experience and a fun way to serve.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever packed an Operation Christmas Child box? What tips do you have? Leave a comment below.

Praying for All Nations


Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

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praying for the whole world with kids

The Reason for Prayer


It can be so discouraging to hear the news from around our globe. The troubles seem never ending: a refugee crisis in the Middle East. Earthquakes and natural disasters. Violence and civil war. Billions of people don’t know or follow the one true God. It certainly feels like something needs to change.

Taking a look at the sin, disaster, and unbelief in the world around us is a reminder that as followers of Christ, we are at war! Through the Holy Spirit, we battle sin, death, and the power of the devil:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

I appreciated these words from John Piper’s excellent message Prayer: The Work of Missions:


“Very few people think that we are now in a war greater than World War II, and greater than any imaginable nuclear World War III. Or that Satan is a much worse enemy than Communism or militant Islam. Or that the conflict is not restricted to any one global theater, but is in every town and city in the world. Or that the casualties do not merely lose an arm or an eye or an earthly life, but lose everything, even their own soul and enter a hell of everlasting torment (Revelation 14:9-11).

Until people believe this, they will not pray as they ought. They will not even know what prayer is.

In Ephesians 6:17-18 Paul-makes the connection for us:  “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication, Praying on every occasion in the Spirit, and keeping awake for this with all perseverance.”

Prayer is the communication by which the weapons of warfare are deployed according to the will of God. Prayer is for war.” (I recommend reading or listening to Piper’s entire message here).


So, we gear up with the armor of God, and we as we participate in this global spiritual battle, we pray. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always put this into practice. It’s easy for me to consider prayer as a last resort rather than a first priority, both in reference to my own life and to the needs of our world as a whole.

But, I know prayer is so critical to God’s mission to redeem the whole world!

So I thought through some practical ideas to actually make prayer happen, especially prayer for the whole world.

operation world


Operation World & The Joshua Project: 2 Resources for Regular Prayer for the World

There are two wonderful resources for family prayer for all nations:

First, Operation World is a book and web site that highlights every country on earth with basic information about the country and specific ways to pray.

We own the book and like having it sitting on the kitchen table as a physical reminder. The book has a schedule so you can pray for every nation over the course of the year. Or, you can just start with A and work your way through the book.

You can also sign up for free daily prayer emails, which would be a simple way to be reminded of it every single day.

Second, the Joshua Project is a partner site with Operation World, specifically focusing on prayer for unreached people groups.

An unreached or least-reached people group is “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group” (from the Joshua Project web site). Typically this means there are 2% or less evangelical Christians and 5% or less professing Christians among the people group.

The Joshua Project highlights an “unreached people group of the day” on their web site and also has a free app highlighting an unreached people group of the day with simple information, a photo, and ways to pray.

I encourage you to consider checking out Operation World and the Joshua Project, and choose one resource to use in the days to come… order the book, download the app, sign up for emails, or whatever works best for you.

So you’ve gotten the resource… now what?

  • Choose a time and place for daily prayer for all nations. At the breakfast table after you’ve eaten? In bed before your kids fall asleep? In the car on the way to school? Having a regular time and place will help make this a habit.
  • Have a world map or globe accessible so you can find today’s location.
  • Don’t feel like you need to read all the information provided, especially if you have young children involved. Just share a fact or two, determine a specific prayer need, and then pray together.
  • Lead your children in prayer, allowing them to pray if desired. Again, don’t feel like this needs to last forever! Just a minute or so (or even less!) is fine! I would aim for making this a habit of praying briefly every day, rather than a lengthy prayer only every once and a while.

More Ideas for Global Missions Prayers

Choose one nation or people group and pray for it for a week, month, or year. The resources above will guide you through praying for many countries or people groups. Alternatively, you could just choose one area to focus on for an extended period of time.

I know there are people who choose a “word” to focus on each year. Why not a people group, too? This would give you a chance to really get to know this particular culture, looking up information on the internet or in books, praying for ongoing needs, and focusing on this people.

If you choose a small nation, can you believe that your family or group might be the only people in the whole world praying consistently for that nation? What an honor!!

Read the world news and pray about it together. Older children and teenagers can read and discuss world events with you. As you hear about natural disasters, political events, wars and violence… look up the location on the map, talk about the situation, and pray for the people affected.

Unfortunately, our American media doesn’t typically devote much coverage to world events, so the BBC World News is probably the best resource for finding accurate global news coverage.

Alternatively, theSkimm provides a fun daily news email for adults and typically includes some news beyond our own country. (I’ll warn you, though, that sometimes they’re a little inappropriate, and I don’t always love their “slant” on the news… but it is a simple, entertaining way to get the news straight to your email inbox. I’d recommend this just for yourself to read the news and summarize for your kids – not something to share with them directly).

Eat and pray together. At the end of the month, I’ll be sharing a new resource in the Faith Passed Down shop called Around the World from Your Living Room. It will provide a simple outline for five different times of prayer for a different nation. First you’ll share a meal together with food from that country, then do a craft or game together, then pray together for that particular nation.

Go on a prayer walk. Do you have a multi-ethnic neighborhood in your community? Or perhaps a city park that features a giant globe or map? Maybe your city has an annual international food fest, with booths representing many different countries?

Use this as a chance to pray for the world. With your children, walk around this area, and as you walk, pray aloud. This may feel super awkward at first. Just pray as though you’re talking – in fact, someone looking at you wouldn’t realize you are praying… you would just look like you’re having a conversation.

Pray for the people you see. Pray for the countries represented by each of the booths at the food fest, or gather at a giant map and pray for a few minutes for the countries you notice.

Of course, make this a fun experience for your kids! After a few minutes of prayer, play at the park or stop for a treat on the way home, or get a snack at the food fest.

Gather missionary prayer cards, cards from your sponsored kids, or even just cards highlighting countries in the world. Tuck them into a small 4 x 6 photo album (often available at the dollar store), turn them into a heart garland, hole punch the corner and tie with a ribbon, or just throw them in a basket. Each day, choose one and pray. This would be fun for even young children to feel like they are involved, since they could select who to pray for.

You could simply spin a globe and put your finger down, and pray for the closest country. It’s not very systematic, but would be fun! 🙂 (Look up the country in Operation World for a more “informed” prayer.)

A few more resources…

Always, grace.

Daily prayer for the nations is wonderful. Vital. 100% necessary.

But, you will fail.

In fact, you will fail because it is so necessary.

In our family, we notice that whenever we set forth to do something significant for God’s kingdom, like prayer for the nations, that is the very moment when we encounter spiritual resistance. We’re tired. Our kids misbehave. My husband and I argue. We get sick. And so we set aside the prayer guide and give up and forget about this significant, honorable task God has given us.

When that happens, be encouraged. Don’t give up! Remember the grace of Christ as you seek to follow Him. He’s not condemning you for missing a day week month of prayer for all nations… He’s delighted that you are beginning the task anew!

I believe that His words to Paul are true for all of us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So keep going! Rely on His perfect power to keep going even in weakness. Let’s join our kids in the vital work of prayer for all nations.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**What ideas or questions do you have for praying for all nations? Leave a comment below.

Raising World Christians

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

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world christians

We know it’s important to involve children and teenagers in global missions. We’ve talked about developing global awareness, but there’s another part of the “foundational stage” that I want to discuss before we move on into specific ways to serve in global missions with kids: raising “World Christians.”

When we talked about developing global awareness, that was mostly in the sense of teaching geography and learning about other countries – something both Christian and non-Christian families might like to do.

When we talk about raising World Christians, we’re specifically talking about Christian families developing an attitude where we want to advance His kingdom reign throughout the globe.

I first heard the term “World Christians” through an article by Noel Piper. I also like the term “kingdom kids!” (But didn’t want to include teenagers from this important concept.)

Here are ideas for raising World Christians with the young people in your life:

  • Teach Bible verses about God’s heart for all nations.
  • Go through a missions devotional curriculum like the Perspectives Family Journey and Compassion’s Step into My Shoes programs together.
  • Read missionary biographies and talk about stories of modern-day missionaries.
  • Talk about the persecuted church (more on this next week!)
  • Listento music with a kingdom mindset. Here’s my Global Missions with Kids playlist and my (short) Cross-cultural Music playlist on Spotify.
  • Visit or join a multi-ethnic church. Look in your community (or just type in your city name + “church” on Google and see what comes up.) Many ethnic groups have churches with services in their language – Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc. Take a day to visit one of these churches. Prepare your children ahead of time that they may not understand. Also, some ethnic groups have a different view of time than you may have…  you might want to be prepared for the service to start late. Check out some general tips for surviving worship services with your kids here – these would be especially helpful in a new setting.
  • Serve in global missions together.  Starting this week, we’ll begin to look at specific, practical ways to serve in global missions together with your kids, like prayer, packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, sponsoring a child, purchasing fair trade gifts, supporting overseas missionaries, blessing refugees and international students, starting a backyard Bible club, helping people in poverty and pregnant women, supporting the persecuted church, and doing missions overseas, whether on a short-term trip or as a career.
  • Teach an overarching view of Scripture as a story that points to Jesus and His love for all nations, rather than just a series of disjointed stories. Sometimes we have a tendency to just pick and choose stories from the Bible, teaching Noah one week and David the next, without explaining the connection points between them. There are some excellent resources for teaching the Bible as one big story, including The Story initiative or the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  • Gently encourage participation in “world Christian” activities, but don’t force them into it.
  • Offer exposure at an appropriate level, and don’t dismiss your child’s fears and uncertainty. It can be scary to talk to someone in another language or someone who is poor or who smells bad. So don’t force too much. One of my favorite bloggers, Crystal from MoneySavingMom, recently took her kids to South Africa on a mission trip, and I was surprised to hear how her kids were freaked out about the lengthy plane flight, because I love long plane flights! It was a good reminder that kids may be concerned about something that doesn’t even cross our minds.
  • Teach – and model – a mindset that other cultures are equal to your own. Be careful to avoid an attitude that “we” are better than “them.” Another culture is not worse because they are different. They are not worse because they are poor or have less resources available. As your child processes learning about another people group, share gentle reminders of the value of those other cultures: “Did you know that Mr. Jose was a lawyer in his home country?” or “Let’s look at pictures on the internet of this famous landmark from our new friend’s home.”
  • Make your global missions efforts fun, but avoid teaching self-centeredness. Remember, the purpose of missions is glory to God and Christ made known… not me feeling all happy inside. Let your kids know that you’re proud of them for serving the Lord and serving others… but you don’t need to go on and on, putting them on a pedestal. You don’t need to emphasize the warm fuzzy feelings after we serve someone. Instead, you can emphasize continued prayer to the people you served.

For additional ideas on raising world Christians, check out this excellent article on Home-Grown World Christians by Noel Piper.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you done any of these things with the young people in your life? Do you have any additional ideas? Leave a comment below.