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Gift-giving in the spirit of Christmas


October 19, 2005
-by Leona Dueck Penner
From Canadian Mennonite, Volume 8, No. 20
October 18, 2004 , used by permission


This trinket box and rag doll from Colombia were surprise Christmas gifts to a couple that chooses to donate to others instead of exchanging gifts.


Winnipeg, Man. - A modest and lively older couple, Jake and Katherine Smith (a pseudonym), have developed a Christmas gift exchange with an unusual twist. Instead of buying each other things they don’t really need, they donate money to a project identified by Mennonite Church Canada.

In return, they receive a small mystery gift, which includes information and stories from the project area.

At their Christmas family gathering with children and grandchildren, they especially enjoy the sense of surprise as they open a gift with no idea what’s inside until they read the letter.

The idea began a few years back in a conversation Jake had with Jake Harms, then general secretary of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. He asked what gift Harms suggested for a wife who says, “I only have one neck and don’t need more necklaces.” Harms suggested several areas of need to which they could contribute instead of giving each other gifts.

For four or five years, their gifts to each other were contributions towards the publication of the J.J. Thiessen biography to which they had personal connections.

After that, Jake asked Jack Suderman of MC Canada Witness about contributing on a more significant scale. Suderman suggested a bursary program at the Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Colombia in Bogota, Colombia.

That Christmas, in response to their donation, they received their first surprise gift—a beautifully crafted trinket box made in Colombia.

There was a Spanish letter inside from the director of the seminary, Alix Lozano, along with an English translation. The letter told how their gift made a difference for one bursary recipient, a married woman who works with people displaced by war and violence in Colombia.

“I don’t know where the money is coming from that allows me to continue to study,” the woman said in the letter. “But I know that these must be persons that love the Lord a lot and they must love the church too…. I have learned so many good things in this year of studying at the seminary, and now I feel much better equipped to serve. I thank God for these persons.”

Lozano concluded, “I trust that the Spirit of Christmas allows us all to remember that God became human, and comes to live among even poor people like us and lives in solidarity with us all. I wish to extend a warm embrace to you both.”

“That was worth a lot more than opening up knick knacks!” says Jake.

“Or receiving another necktie!” chimes in Katherine.

“We can give more this way,” says Jake, “since you get half of it back through income tax receipts!”

Last year, Jake and Katherine’s MC Canada donation went to development projects sponsored by the Colombian Mennonite Church. Families are finding employment through small businesses, such as marketing crafts. Their surprise gift last year included a rag doll from one of these communities.

This year, they are contributing to a church planting project in Macau.

Jake notes that this style of gift-giving gives them more interest in the regions where MC Canada is working, and it allows them to pray with greater awareness for the people involved.


Thanks to the generosity and creativity of people like Jake and Katherine, Mennonite Church Canada has developed a new way for people in the pews to share God’s love with sisters and brothers around the world at Christmas time.

“Christmas with a Difference” is a giving alternative for people who challenge themselves to shift their perspective from their own needs and onto those who get by on significantly less. Families, groups of friends, and congregations are encouraged to join together in making a gift of $1500 or more. In return, MC Canada will send a gift from the context of the recipient’s country and culture. A brochure reads, “While the gift is a token of appreciation, it will be packaged with the most valuable of items: a story of how God’s healing and hope is making in difference in someone’s life.”

The gifts can designated to ministries in one of two possible locations: Macau and Colombia. In Macau, a city state of China renowned for its gambling and prostitution, the gift will be used in church planting. Workers there continue to send stories about lives changed and finding healing and hope in unexpected places. They wish they could do more.

In Colombia, the gifts will be used to help support Colombian Mennonite seminary teachers who enthusiastically and tirelessly work at the task of church leadership development in a country torn apart by 50 years of ongoing civil war.

“Our workers in Macau and our brothers and sisters in Colombia are prayerfully seeking and discerning God’s plan for their people,” said Al Rempel, director for resource development for Mennonite Church Canada. “I invite us, here in Canada, to challenge ourselves to be a part of God’s answer to these prayers.” Interested readers can call Karen Peters for more information (1-866-888-6785) or visit Christmas with a Difference!