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For some people, giving gifts of peace, water, food and livelihoods to people around the world through MCC’s Christmas Giving program is part of the way they express their faith at Christmas. (MCC Design/Fred Yocum)

For some people, giving gifts of peace, water, food and livelihoods to people around the world through MCC’s Christmas Giving program is part of the way they express their faith at Christmas. (MCC Design/Fred Yocum)

Giving gifts that last

Melanie Hess
November 26, 2013


AKRON, Pa. – Rosalie and Ted Nickel didn’t quite know what to get their teenage grandsons for Christmas. The two boys seemed to have everything they could want and, even if the Nickels had picked something out, they weren’t sure it would be exactly right.

But the Nickels, who attend Butler Mennonite Brethren Church in Fresno, Calif., and have connections with MCC as far back as the 1950s, received Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) “Christmas Giving 2012” booklet last fall, and that sparked an idea.

“We were thinking about what the boys really needed versus the people in that catalog and the many things they needed,” Rosalie Nickel said.

The booklet offers a chance to give gifts to MCC programs on behalf of family and friends. Some examples in the 2013 edition include the gift of water (projects like those that help provide access to clean water), health (projects like helping hospitals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and peace (projects like training peacebuilders in Uganda).

So the Nickels gave gifts to MCC in their grandsons’ names, printed out a certificate of their donations on paper, rolled it up and presented it to the boys for Christmas last year.

“I think they thought it was quite special,” Nickel said. “This was an idea to get the boys interested in giving and to be an example to them, too.”

The Nickels also gave their daughter and her husband a gift from the booklet because their daughter had worked in Germany with MCC.

The uniqueness of the gift offerings caught the eye of Melissa Sternhagen, an educator at Clemson (S.C.) University.

“MCC has projects that are harder to find – things like a ‘gift of creation care’ and helping people plant trees,” she said. “As an educator, I value that they try to teach people that God made the world and show them how to care for it.”

She also appreciates the simplicity.

“It’s a good gift for people who don’t need anything,” she said, “and since Christmas is a busy time of year for me, I give gift cards that I can carry on the plane when I travel to see my family.”

Sternhagen, who attends a Baptist church, gives money to MCC for the kind of projects she has a passion for, and she also gives on behalf of others. She said she became a Christian because of a Mennonite professor at University of Wisconsin-Plateville. He and his wife introduced her to MCC and the Christmas giving booklet.

“If there’s a ‘gift of education’ or a ‘gift of peace,’ I’ll give that in their names,” she said, “since I know they’ll appreciate it.”

Jan and Terry Catlin of Upland, Calif., give their children a specific amount of money with which to choose gifts from MCC’s Christmas booklet. They attend Hillside Community Church, Cucamonga, Calif.

“I’ll have my kids pick out their items. I’ll cut out the item they select, and I put them in cards,” Jan Catlin said. “The cards go in their stockings, and when they open them, we read the cards aloud and pray for the people who will be receiving the gift.”

Last year Catlin’s sister requested that a gift be given in her name to a charity, so Catlin used the Christmas booklet.

“I think people feel honored that they’ve contributed in a practical and tangible way, even if they’re not ‘the hands,’” Catlin said. “It’s a really simple way that we can be examples of Christ’s love through these existing organizations. And for our family, it’s helped to take the focus off of ourselves and think of what we can do beyond the catalog.”

MCC’s 2013 Christmas giving booklet is available online at donate.mcc.org. To order booklets, call 1-888-563-4676.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ