As the commercialization of Christmas continues to dwarf the spiritual aspects of the holiday, many Christian families are seeking ways to bring the giving spirit back to the holiday.
More and more families are opting to forgo the traditional "I want" lists for charitable giving opportunities, which have now become as diverse as the people seeking them.
Here is just a sampling of some of the alternative and unique programs available for online charitable giving that can make a difference in someone's life.
Military BibleStick Outreach, a project of Faith Comes by Hearing, the BibleStick is a digital audio New Testament provided to the military. The slim audio player, pre-loaded with a dramatized version of the New Testament, is the size of a pack of gum.
Because of the ongoing campaign to America's military, chaplains from every branch routinely seek the Bibles, with more than 143,000 of the devices in the field. In all, more than 800 chaplains use Military BibleSticks in pre-deployment briefings, counseling sessions, Bible studies, weekly chapels and other spiritual services.
For $25, a Military BibleStick, which includes an MP3 disc of the entire New Testament along with a response card for service members to have New Testaments and KIDZ Bibles sent to their families, civilians can purchase a BibleStick for the military. For information, log on to www.faithcomesbyhearing.com.
Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit program of the Mennonite Central Committee, creates opportunities for artisans around the globe to earn a fair wage. A self-described fair-trade retailer, Ten Thousand Villages offers artisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories and gift items from across the globe. Their inventory includes products from more than 130 artisan groups in 38 countries. In addition, the group has a network of more than 390 retail outlets throughout the United States.
Artisans use the income to pay for food, education, healthcare and housing for themselves and their families.
For information, log on to www.tenthousandvillages.com.
Holiday Village Market Gift Catalog is an online shopping guide for people wishing to support the work of Plant With Purpose. The organization works to curb deforestation in an effort to help the rural poor use the land for sustenance and commerce. Since its 1984 founding, the group has helped the residents in nearly 250 villages lift themselves out of poverty through its holistic approach to sustainable development.
The shop features 15 poverty-fighting gifts ranging in price from $1 to plant a tree to $1,000 to build a cistern. Other life-sustaining gifts include a brood of 10 chicks for $20 to provide eggs for a family to eat or sell in the marketplace, a fuel-efficient stove for $30 to improve a family's health or a garden for $50 to provide nutritious food for a family.
Scott Sabin, executive director of Plant With Purpose, said their goal is to raise $10,000 by Dec. 31, up from $8,000 last year.
For information, log on to www.plantwithpurpose.org/gifts.
Alternative Gifts International was founded in 1980 by Harriet Prichard, then-director of children's ministries at Pasadena Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, Calif., in an effort to model a noncommercial way to give authentic gifts at Christmas. They created an alternative gift market in which children and adults sold relief and self-development goods and animals for persons in need in the Third World. Cards were inscribed with the gifts purchased and sent to friends and relatives to inform them that an alternative gift was given in their honor.
By 2004 there were 325 markets in 43 states. Alternative Gift Markets have also been organized in England, Holland, Japan and Korea. In the course of 20 seasons more than $17 million has been raised for people in crisis around the world.
For information, log on to www.altgifts.org.
Akerfa provides bicycles, appropriate technologies, consultancy and capital in Zambia. The ministry was launched in 2004 by Vaughn Spethmann and Dustin McBride after a missions trip to Zambia. Most of the population in Zambia suffers from the country's 50 percent to 80 percent unemployment status. Those who have jobs earn about $2 a day. The bicycles help the locals overcome the barriers of rural living with basic necessities of transportation: getting to work, medical appointments, markets and schools. For information, log on to www.akerfa.org.
Restore Internationalfounded by Bob Goff, an adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene Universityoffers products ranging from 30-cent bricks to a $3,300 Restore Vision Trip, where work is done on building projects and maintenance, well drilling, special programs and outreach.
Restore's focus is on combating human rights violations, including forced prostitution and slave labor.
For information, log on to www.restoreinternational.org.
Maya Mesoamerica Mission, founded in 2000, operates an English-speaking church in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and recently launched Denims for Guatemala, a micro business endeavor. The ministry's store offers a six-note card set featuring artwork from Mayan children for $12.
The cards were designed using original artwork created by children involved with the community of Xolcaja, an outreach of Maya Mesoamerica Mission. The back of each card includes Spanish translations and information about the Maya Mission. Shipping is free.
For information, log on to www.mayamission.org/cards.html.
NightLight is an international organization committed to addressing the complex issues surrounding trafficking and prostitution by catalyzing individual and community transformation. NightLight's vision is to offer intervention to sexually exploited women and children, to enable them to discover their dignity and to provide a program of holistic transformation, empowering them to live and work in their community.
The cost of the project is offset by an online jewelry store that also includes such accessories as charms and lanyards. Products are available in a wide range of prices, styles and materials.
For information, log on to www.nightlightinternational.com.
World Visionthe Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injusticealso has its own market.
It's online market is easy to search by category or price and includes such gifts as animals, clean water, clothing and shelter, education, emergency aid, gifts that multiply, meeting needs for girls and women, food, help for kids in the United States, maximum impact, medical care, monthly giving and support orphans and widows.
The ministry offers non-specified gifts for as low as $10 or two soccer balls for $16. More expensive options include an animal-of-the-month program, deep water wells, small business loans for women, $22,000 to build a school and $39,000 for a health clinic.
For information, log on to www.worldvision.org.