Making a Difference This Christmas

Christmas is almost here and if you have found hope through Jesus Christ, you probably want to wade through the commercialism and celebrate the true meaning of the season.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, 
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 
who is Christ the Lord."
Luke 2:10-11

It is hard to fathom that the God of the universe would send His Son to the world to save mankind, who were lost in their sin, from an eternity in Hell. What a gift! 

You don't have to be a Christian to see that Christmas is very comercialized. This Christmas many families are wanting to do more. Instead of giving tons of gifts to their children and relatives, who already have everything they need, they desire to use their finances to help someone who does not have everything they need. 

Those who want to make a Christmas donation to a cause overseas usually talk about donating towards a humanitarian project, like a water well, or picking up a child sponsorship through Compassion or World Vision. These are noble intentions, but because people typically donate towards widely advertised organizations, others that are actually more in need are overlooked. Additionally, when an organization is so large, there is not as much "bang for your buck" when giving, due to high overhead costs. Finally, if you don't know people personally who are working with these large organizations, it's very difficult to be sure they are really doing what they're promising to do with the money you're lovingly donating. (For example, a missionary family I know who is working in Ecuador was very unimpressed with the World Vision projects in their community.)

Have you ever heard of someone offering gifts and monthly support to missionaries who live overseas long-term in honor of Christmas? Why is this not more popular? Missionaries are more in need of financial donations than these huge organizations. Child sponsorship, water wells, and other popular humanitarian programs, if run by a credible organization, can indeed make a difference. But as great as they are, we as believers cannot overlook the importance of supporting long-term missionaries. The Biblical model is that missionaries and the needs close to us should be our first area of focus when giving.

My dad, missionary Mark Sheppard, preaching at a conference in Liberia.
"And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, 
when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving,
except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God." Philippians 4:15-18

For further reading on why believers should prioritize the financial support of missionaries, see these two articles and the following Bible verses: Who Should Support Missionaries?, The Biblical Model for Funding Missionary WorkMatthew 6:19, 2 Corinthians 8:1-14, 2 Corinthians 11:9Galatians 6:6, Philippians 1:5.

Missionary Mark Sheppard at a baptism in Liberia.
Photo credit Heidi Sheppard.
Most missionaries may not have the ability or desire to present their ministries in popular ways (especially on a large scale), like showing pictures of needy children and explaining  how much difference your donation will make. But the truth is, it is the long-term missionaries overseas who are indeed making the greatest difference in the communities, homes, families, men, women and children living in spiritually and physically impoverished countries. 

Some missionaries do community development, like building schools and clinics, digging water wells, or training nationals to grow food to feed their families. Others are doctors, nurses or midwives, demonstrating the love of Jesus through compassionate medical care. These missionaries incorporate the Gospel into their training, often holding Bible studies and becoming involved in the local churches. 

Other missionaries focus on Bible training or church planting. By changing the hearts of the nationals with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, families are strengthened as people learn to honor the Lord with Godly actions, like loving their wives and working hard to provide for their families. It is a common misconception that missionaries who are "just" doing Bible training do not pay enough attention to the physical needs of the nationals with whom they are working. This couldn't be farther from the truth. In my upbringing in Africa and the years I lived there as an adult I never once saw this happen. From feeding the widows and mentally disabled  to fostering orphans, missionaries are always helping those in need. Sometimes it's something simple, like giving a bag of rice, other times it's their time, energy, and sleep as they care for a baby who is in need, then get up the next day to be involved in Bible training and whatever their "day jobs" may entail. Those who truly love people with Christ's love could never separate the ministry of Bible training with that of meeting the physical needs of those with whom they are working.

With that I want to encourage you to look into donating towards one of these missionaries or small organizations founded and run by missionaries that I can personally vouch for. They are my family, they are my friends, and with God's help they are changing the world. Why not partner with them and share in their ministry efforts this holiday season?

Mark and Nancy with their 3 youngest children.

Mark and Nancy are my parents and they began their ministry in Liberia in 1986. Their main focus is biblical training and discipleship which involves a Bible school and conferences, and one-on-one counseling and training. With God's guidance and their many years in Liberia, Mark and Nancy are able to address the many issues that are unique to the spiritual condition of the Liberian people, including witchcraft, immorality, and the prevalence of the health and wealth gospel.

In addition to their "day jobs", the Sheppards are constantly being made aware of various humanitarian needs which are funded from their own resources unless they receive special donations. (This is often the case with missionaries.) Over the years they have done foster care of orphans and special needs children, supplied food and clothing for widows and families in need, organized special medical care for pastors with chronic illness, provided formula for families raising orphaned children, assisted in small business endeavors, and have been involved in many other ministry opportunities as they've arisen.

Mark and Nancy are always in need of financial donations for their many ministries opportunities, as well as people who want to partner with them on a monthly basis.

Click here to go to Mark and Nancy's personal blog and to learn how you can be involved in their ministry.

John-Mark interact with Liberian men.

John-Mark is my older brother and he and his wife are missionaries with SIM. They will be working with the Muslims of northern Liberia. John-Mark has a lot of experience working with Liberians from his upbringing in West Africa as a missionary kid, and then working several years in Liberia as a young adult. He is learning the Manya language of the people group they will be working with, has done translation work, and is gifted musically. They will be working to strengthen the Manya believers, assist in more translation ministries, and hope to start a Christian radio program in the Manya language.

John Mark and Sara, and my niece Audrey, will be flying to Liberia in January but are still in need of more financial support and donations towards their ministries.

Click here to go to John-Mark and Sara's personal blog and to find out how you can be more involved.

Josh and Abby are missionaries with Action International Ministries in Uganda. Josh is focused on Pastoral Leadership Development for needy pastors. He's also  the Gulu Field Director where he disciples the Ugandan ministry coordinators.  

The Rattins with their 5 children.

Abby is a family practice doctor and also has her Master's of Public Health. She specifically has a passion and training for helping children with various special needs. She is Medical Coordinator for ACTION Uganda as well as Communications Coordinator for ACTION Uganda.  

Josh and Abby are also very involved with the Home of Love children's home.

Click here to like their Facebook page, Rattins in Action and here to view their blog.

Jim and Terri will be working in the West Point slum of Liberia to bring the hope of Jesus Christ through community development. Their ministries will include training in health and sanitation, adult literacy, and Bible studies. They have years of experience as missionaries in Africa as well as pastoral leadership in the United States. The Cannons are still in need of monthly partners and donations towards their start-up costs.
Cannons their 3 youngest.

Click here to go to the Cannon's blog and to find out how you can be involved.

Paul and Callie work in the Northern desert of Kenya discipling national believers while doing community development. Just 15 years ago there was no evangelical presence in this area and the local tribes were at war with each other. Today, after the influence of the Gospel, there is a significant Christian presence and the tribes are living together in peace. There is now a church, a clinic, clean water system for the entire village, increased peace and stability, and many other improvements. 

Paul and Callie are with the Master's Mission, the same missionary organization we just joined. One day, Lord willing, Kevin and I hope to minister in this same region.

Click here to read Paul and Callie's updates and find out how you can be involved.

Orphan Relief and Rescue works with desperate orphans in Liberia and Benin that no one else will help. They deliver much-needed aid, construction, training and child development programs.

They are currently involved in a seasonal fundraising campaign:

"Help us launch our Partnership Campaign! By January 1st, we need to have 1,000 new monthly partners giving $25 a month, or 500 partners giving $50 a month, or 250 partners giving $100 a month. This would cover our annual operations budget and keep our programs running at full capacity. Please consider becoming a monthly partner with us if you're not already. Together we are a strong team. We are so grateful for YOU being a voice with action for orphans that no one else will help."

New Hope Uganda was started as an effort to rescue Uganda's many war orphans. Unlike a traditional orphanage the children at New Hope are raised in cottages with Ugandan parents. The children are loved, nurtured, educated, and then provided with skills training before they are launched as young adults. 

Today New Hope Uganda's ministry continues to rescue orphans but is now reaching out to the surrounding communities with a special needs ministry, small business initiatives, pastoral training, men and women's leadership programs, a radio ministry and a camp ministry. 

On their website you can find a page with a detailed list of donation opportunities, from little items, like a child's textbook, to big donations, like a clinic. Click here for the list of New Hope Uganda Needs.

Water of Life is a water well ministry that ties in the gospel with their efforts to provide clean water and mobile medical clinics to needy places around the world, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Gambia and India. They are connected with national believers in the countries in which they are working to plant churches and provide continued discipleship to the areas.

"We are providing a unique combination of humanitarian relief and the Gospel presentation. In Liberia, this is highly effective. We are relieving huge amounts of human suffering, particularly among the weak and vulnerable, children and the sick. Most importantly, we are partnering with people that are successfully spreading the Gospel message. This isn’t just counting noses at a revival. This is a true, indigenous church planting effort. We see people that were once dead and are now alive."

Click here to go to Water of Life and learn how you can be involved. 


My main purpose for this post is to challenge you to think differently about your charitable giving this season. You may not feel led to support one of the missionaries or organizations I mentioned above, but I encourage you to seek out ways to make a difference in your sphere of influence. Donate towards a missionary friend or someone your church supports, or give to a family you know who is doing foster care or in the process of adopting. Maybe you have a friend who was recently laid off but still has a family to feed. How about that single mom who lives next door? Give to them this season! With our media driven culture it is easy to believe that the popular organization doing so much for "just" X number of dollars is the best cause to donate towards. But don't overlook the unglamourous needs around you or the missionary who doesn't have time to blog about the amazing ways God is using them overseas. They are who we should be giving to first.

Putting together a shoebox for a child in need is a sweet gesture, but it probably won't change that child's life. But reaching out to your needy neighbor could be the beginning of her journey to finding   new life in Christ. And supporting one missionary who has the opportunity to daily influence the nationals with the hope of the Gospel and the comfort of physical aid can change hundreds of lives. I've seen it happen.

My mom, Nancy Sheppard, with one of their foster babies who they ended up adopting.

Alternate post title: Why you should use your finances to support missions as versus popular humanitarian organizations.