Gift Ideas that Make a Difference

‘Tis the season of giving! My awesome wife is already done with our family’s Christmas shopping except for the intra-family gifts that we’ll do later. She LOVES Christmas shopping. The challenge and thrill of picking the right present for so many people are one of her favorite parts of the season. Not so for me. It’s not that I don’t like spreading joy to my loved ones with gifts. It’s that I’m not a creative gift-giver, so the prospect of picking just the right gift for lots of people sends my stress level skyward. Will they like what I chose for them? Will they be disappointed if I get them the same thing as last year that they seemed to enjoy? Or is that a cop-out? So I am eternally grateful that my wife loves to shop, which is reason #128,105 that I married the right woman, but I digress…

The one type of shopping that doesn’t stress me out is buying gifts for complete strangers who are in need. Those kind of presents seem to fit the season even better than the other kind. Don’t get me wrong – I love getting presents and giving them to my people, but it just feels right to give good things to those who might not have them otherwise. Every single thing on my Christmas list is a want. Many others list actual needs, needs that you and I can help meet this Christmas.

Borrowing the idea from Rachel Held Evans’ excellent post, here are some gift ideas that will make a huge difference in the life of someone you’ll probably never meet, but who will be extremely grateful.

Quality Coffee to Fund an International Adoption

Quentin and Jessica live in New York and are trying to adopt a little girl from South Africa. The adoption costs around $20,000. They have teamed up with a great little Internet coffee company called Just Love Coffee to raise money for their adoption while hooking you up with tasty java. They sell a wide variety of coffee from numerous countries, including several organic and/or fair trade choices. I just ordered some of the African Skies blend and the Rwandan Coopac. For every bag you order, Just Love donates $5 to help Quentin and Jessica bring their little girl home.

Clean Water for South Sudan

My biggest water is that sometimes I tilt the cup too high and spill something on my shirt. For a huge number of people in South Sudan, the biggest problem is finding clean water. For some, the only available water is muddy and tainted with disease, parasites, and animal waste. For others, clean water is available, but only after hiking several miles carrying a heavy five-gallon jug.

Water is Basic is changing that. By drilling over 400 clean water wells so far, it has provided a new life for hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese. You can help.

Salvation Army Angels

Although I don’t agree with all of its positions, the Salvation Army helps a huge number of people in need every year. One of the biggest way they help at Christmastime is the Angel Trees, a simple plan that matches a child or adult in need (the angel) with someone who can help by buying them clothing, toys, and other items and then delivering them to a local drop-off center. Each year we “adopt” two boys about Brenden and Jonathan’s age and let them help us decide what to get them. It’s one way we’re trying to help the boys focus on giving rather than getting this season.

World Vision Microloans and Gift Catalog

Many of you already know I’m a big fan of World Vision’s Gift Catalog, which lets you purchase unusual but helpful things for people in need such as goats, cows, school fees, and seeds. This year, World Vision has set up a new option as well – a Kiva-style microloan program. You can search for individual entrepreneurs who want to borrow small amounts of money to expand their businesses and raise their quality of life. Many are farmers who want to buy seeds or fertilizer or another animal. Instead of paying you back, the money goes back to World Vision and is loaned out again to another small business owner. Both the gift catalog and the microloan program are great ways to help people climb out of poverty one step at a time.

Water is Life

For years now, Jenny and I have supported Water Is Basic, an organization that drills clean water wells in South Sudan. WIB is an interesting partnership that is making a huge difference there. It’s primarily a South Sudanese organization. They identified clean water as one of their greatest needs. They site, plan, and drill the wells. They use the water. The US partners simply provide most of the funding and some of the leadership. WIB hopes to be self-sufficient within a couple of years. The model works so well, and at such a low cost, that people in other countries see the model’s success and want to replicate it to meet some of their own greatest needs.

To help spread the word about the amazing work of Water is Basic, some supporters produced a 20-minute documentary film called Ru: Water is Life. Jenny and I attended the world premiere Sunday night at Irving Bible Church. Next the producers are entering the film in various film festivals and already got accepted in Florida. The cinematographer was our awesome and talented friend Joel Smith, and the camera work shows his distinctive touch.

RU is a beautiful film that tells the story of a twelve-year-old South Sudanese girl who is the primary caretaker for her family. Three times a day she walks two miles round trip to a muddy, disease-ridden puddle to gather water for her family. She uses a five-gallon jug called a jerrycan that weighs about 40 pounds when full. She must structure her day around these water trips and then hope the water doesn’t make her sick when she drinks it. Despite her difficult situation, she has learned a remarkable resourcefulness that allows her to survive with practically nothing. Even more impressive, she is filled with a remarkable joy that shines through in her beautiful smile. My favorite image waits at the end of the film when the drilling team finally breaks through to the clean water deep beneath the dry Sudanese brush. Like oil from a new well in Texas, the water gushes out at the surface and begins to flow downhill toward the viewer. Nearby villagers watch in wonder. Hope flows like wine at a wedding feast, and a new life begins for thousands.

In addition to the film festival campaign for Ru, the producers and president are also setting up private screenings for individuals, churches, and any other group that wants to learn more about Water is Basic and how they can help change lives in South Sudan. If you or your organization is looking for a way to make a huge impact by providing jobs and clean water for thousands of people half a world away, please visit

Random Thoughts

I’m interested in lots of things today, so fire up your randommeter.

  • End of Iraq War – Obama announced today that virtually all U.S. troops will return from Iraq by year’s end. I didn’t like this war when it began. I voted for Kerry and Obama largely because they promised to end it. And now it’s almost over. Is Iraq better off? In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. Is our country safer? I doubt it. Was our “victory” worth over 4000 American lives, countless Iraqi lives, $750 billion, and the huge strain it placed on our military and military families? I don’t think so. I’m not a fan of everything Obama has done (and left undone), but he delivered on this one. Now, if we could do the same with Afghanistan…
  • 33 Years – My birthday is tomorrow. I’ll be 33 years old. Supposedly that’s how old Jesus was upon his death. And He didn’t really start his ministry until age 30. So he changed the world in just 3 years. I’ll try to remember that next time I start feeling like the big kahuna.
  • Quit Sending Your Leftovers to Foreign Countries – Few things opened my eyes as much this week as Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt. It describes how well-meaning Westerners destroy local economies in foreign countries by flooding their markets with unwanted goods. Free or super-cheap Western goods undercut the local merchants, growers, and manufacturers and make it much harder for them to make a living. You know how Americans are complaining about being unable to compete with the low pay and poor working conditions in foreign countries? This is a similar situation, only reversed. According to this article, the best way to help struggling people in other countries is to pump money into their economies rather than goods. Why? They can spend that money and move it around, where it works like rising water in a dry marina, raising all boats together.
  • Just Let It Go – I’m fighting the temptation to own and solve other people’s problems. From what I’ve seen and heard, other people struggle with that, too. Perhaps you’ve might have noticed that I can be a bit opinionated? It’s not necessarily bad to be opinionated, but it does give me the tendency to want to jump in with solutions when other people might not want my help. People don’t usually like that. It also stresses me out because I get frustrated if they don’t follow my wonderful advice. It’s so easy to forget that there’s only one person I can control – not my coworkers, not my wife, not my children, not my friends or family, just ME. And I don’t always do even that little job all that well. So I’m trying to stop getting so worked up about what other people do, say, and think.
  • Rangers – Nolan predicted Rangers in 6. Who am I to argue with that? So as of now, that means we take two of three in Arlington and then wrap it up Wednesday night back in St. Louis. But for the sake of the fans, I hope we win in five so it’ll happen at home. Imagine the wild rumpus at Rangers Stadium Monday night if we can pull that off.

Family Promise 5k and Fun Run

I have found my next race! Irving Bible Church is hosting the Family Promise 5k and Fun Run to help launch Family Promise, a faith-based organization that will help homeless families in Irving. The race is scheduled for Saturday morning, May 21 – 8am for the 5k and 9am for the 1-mile fun run. I signed up for the 5k and hope to run the whole thing in my Vibrams, but it’ll depend on how well my transition goes. Looking forward to a race always helps me stay focused and motivated. Plus this one is for a cause that I’m passionate about. Please spread the word! You can register here:

Registration for Family Promise 5k and Fun Run

Link Between Poverty and Childhood Obesity

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram posted an interesting article about childhood obesity. I’ve thought for years that fat children were generally fat because they ate too much and/or didn’t exercise enough, just like fat adults. This study found that children who were both fat AND poor generally don’t consume enough calories, which surprised me. The problem is that the food they do eat has such low nutritional value that they aren’t getting enough nutrients for their metabolism to work correctly.