Education for $50

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 21, 2004

This will be my last post for about a week.  My wife (Amy) and are going out of town for a few days to celebrate Christmas with her parents.  Since it my last post for a little while, I want to make it count…here goes…

Often, when I am talking to someone about materialism or consumerism or why our present celebration of Christmas must change, I get a sort of frustrated and confused stare in response.  People don’t "get" it.  They think I’m being naive or extreme.  I assure you, I am not some spunky idealistic pup who likes to rage against the machine.  I am a chubby, entertainment-addicted, American who deeply desires to become more like Jesus Christ.

A week ago, my wife and I were talking about how we ought to do Christmas this year.  We agreed that it would be too abrupt and awkward to just not buy presents for people.  Instead, we are trying to limit our spending and begin to prepare people for a non-consumerist Christmas next year.  But I felt that this wasn’t enough–we must do more.  So, though we cannot afford it, we decided that for every dollar we spend on presents, we would give to the global poor.  Not much, but a good start. 

I went to the World Vision website (which is a highly reputable organization).  They have a donation catalog on their site.  The online catalog presents some of the best arguments for why we ought to reconsider our relationship with money. 

We take our money for granted.  We spend thousands of dollars a year on entertainment, travel, recreational eating, and technological gagetry.  And when someone comes along and challenges us to give more to the poor or to spend less money on ourselves, we get upset.  Part of us feels guilty, the other feels angry.  We want to say "bless you for challenging me in this area" while at the same time shouting "damn you for making me feel bad."  But the simple reality seen on World Vision’s Catalog leaves us without a defense. 

For $75–what many people pay for a week’s worth of groceries–you can buy a family a goat, which can provide them with a good supply of milk, or more goats.

For $50–what you might expect to pay for a text book or a handful of mainstream books at Barnes and Noble–you can send a child to school for a year.

For $1850–what you might pay for new laptop–you can provide drinking water by paying for a shallow well.

For $25–the price I pay for a new pair of jeans–you can buy clothing for 5 homeless American kids.

You get the picture.  I don’t want you to feel bad.  I want you to give.  Start giving out of what you can give, even if it is a pathetic amount…and start giving more and more as you re-orient yourlife to maximize the amount of love you share, rather than the amount of fun you can experience.  Merry Christmas.

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4 Responses to “Education for $50”

  1. ToddH on December 22nd, 2004 4:29 pm

    Mark - Thank you for sharing that. I think it is a great challenge and a great place to start. It certainly makes me think. God bless, and merry Christmas.

  2. jeremy on December 28th, 2004 10:57 am


    My wife and I decided several years ago to make (rather than purchase) the majority of our Christmas gifts. Each year we have tackled another handicraft from paper-making to knitting to mosaics. This years was pottery. We like this for several reasons: 1)we spend much less money than we would buying gifts, 2)we learn a skill, 3) we work on them togither, 3) because it is so time consuming, we are limited to giving people one gift, 4) we never set foot in a mall, but rather invest our Christmas $ in things that we want to support, e.g., this year all our $ was invested in a local Christian-run, inner-city art studio where we took our pottery class.

    Our families continue to buy us gifts, but no one has ever expressed offense or disappointment at our modus operandi.

    We also support World Vision and receive the catalogue you mention here. We have considered buying things from this catalogue “in the name of” folks as a gift to them, but think this might come off as pretentious or self-righteous. What do you think?


  3. Brett on December 29th, 2004 1:06 pm

    I don’t feel bad. I think your challenge is a good one. We all need to be challenged to examine our lives to make sure we are being faithful to God’s commands. I think that we need to be careful though that we don’t replace spiritual motives with political ones.

  4. Van S on December 30th, 2004 2:46 am

    Fair enough, Brett. You seem to be working with the assumption that I have a polical axe to grind. I do not. I am not involved in politics. I am not a liberal. In fact, up until I started abstaining from voting, I mostly voted republican.

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