let’s give our best, shall we?

brainflakesDECEMBER 16 UPDATE: We have all 97 item on the Wish List!! And 48 more items have been added. These can be sent to the Cable, OH address (Chris Yoder) when you check out. THANK YOU!!

Oh my gosh. The girls and I just had the BIGGEST BLAST of a day (three weeks ago now). We spent hours and hours surfing Amazon and creating a Wish List for the new Hard Places Community Center we’re helping start in Siem Reap in January.

(details about our big move here)

We have 97 items on the list. And a team from California, visiting HPC in January, has offered to collect all the goodies and deliver them to us here.

I invite you to check out the list (and maybe buy something on it!) in a minute, but first, I want to address a few questions I think may come up. Like this one:

worldpuzzleWouldn’t it make more sense (and save money) to donate our gently-used books, toys, and games, rather than buying all new items?

The short answer: Yes. And no.

The long answer: I think we need to be careful when we give to the poor or donate to charity. I don’t think there’s one simple answer to any/all questions we might have. But I have one really good way to help us decide if we’re doing this right. We ask ourselves one simple question:

asian familyAm I loving my neighbor as I love myself?

I have been in charge of many, many donations for folks (refugees, the homeless, kiddos in Cambodia, poor families in Columbus) over the years (and during a few of those years, we ourselves were recipients of such charity), and some of the things I’ve seen have broken my heart.

book1And some of them have made me very angry. Because they were insulting. Insulting to the receivers of the donations and insulting to me and my family, because we had to sort through all the worthless to find something worth giving.

(For awhile there, we referred to ourselves as “crap magnets.” Everywhere we turned, “Oh! You’re helping the homeless! I have some CRAP TO DROP OFF ON YOUR DOORSTEP. GOOD LUCK WITH IT! SO GLAD TO FINALLY GET IT OUT OF MY HOUSE!”)

I’ve gotten big boxes of random toy parts and game pieces and broken stuff, the unwanted, largely un-usable leftovers that didn’t survive the annual pre-Christmas toy room purge. (“For the kids in Cambodia!”)

playdohHalf-colored coloring books and cardboard Memory games with scribbles all over the pieces, books with ripped pages, huge Ziploc bags of crayon stubs, dried-out Play-Doh. (“For the refugee kids you’re tutoring!”)

Old ripped towels/washcloths and stained clothes. (“For your homeless friends!”)

A box of food from a food pantry where everything was either expired, stale, rotten, or all of the above. (This was actually a donation for us from a faith-based mission in our city. Thanks a lot for crappy food that will make me sick if I eat it.)

fruitI try to give these people the benefit of the doubt, try to believe that they really truly think they’re being charitable, generous. I try to trace back their probable line of thought…

The homeless have nothing, right?… so won’t they be happy with just about anything?… The kiddos in Cambodia are living in cardboard houses with a sheet of tin for a roof and dirt floors… are they really going to care if their crayons aren’t new or their coloring books have already been “loved”?… Beggars can’t be choosers… They should be thankful for what they’re getting…

babydollFriends, what does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves?

For those of you with kiddos, picture this scenario. Mom gathers kiddos into playroom. “Susie, Johnny, Mommy has a fun idea! You know those kids in India they were talking about in church. Well, guess what! We’re going to send them some of your toys and games! Oh, don’t worry! Not your favorite ones, not your good ones. Just the ones you don’t play with any more, the ones you don’t like, the old ones.

The kids over there have nothing. No toys, no shoes, hardly any food. They’ll be more than happy with your old toys. Sure, this game is missing all the pieces, but they can do something with the board, right? And look! The more you give them, the more room you’ll have for all the latest & greatest, newest & sparkliest toys that Santa is going to bring you for Christmas!

carsOld toys for them in their shacks. Nice toys for you in your house. It’s PERFECT!”

Now. Before you decide I’m heartless and unfair, hear me out.

There is absolutely a time and a place for your kiddos to share their old toys with kids in need. For sure. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s been a beautiful thing.

There is also a time and a place for buying things from the thrift store and donating them. I’ve done that many, many times.

flashcardsHere’s the catch, the barometer, the question of questions:


I know some amazing boys who once decided they didn’t need all their Star Wars figurines and wanted to share them with some boys who didn’t have any. They painstakingly chose a nice set of figurines (all in good condition) that would make another boy very very happy.

The same with a boy and his Legos. He carefully chose a nice variety of blocks (not just the little pieces he didn’t want) to gift to the Boys Center here in Cambodia when it first opened.

And a girl who realized she never played with her Polly Pockets but knew another little girl would love them like crazy.

And a sweet family who went through their kiddos’ clothes they’d outgrown (and some they hadn’t) but were still in beautiful shape and lovingly picked out the cutest outfits for a special family in Kenya.

puzzleAnd the thrift store? Oh goodness. I miss our thrift store in Columbus like nobody’s business. Not only did I get all of our clothes there, but kitchen stuff, sheets for our beds, books, you name it.

And, before we stopped doing Christmas gifts as a family, I used to buy my girls’ Christmas presents there. You’d be surprised at the new stuff you can find still in the packaging (moleskine journals, awesome games, barely-cracked-open books).

suspendAnd, believe you me, when we visit the States next summer, I’ll be on the hunt for some thrift store awesomeness to bring back with us for the center.

But I won’t buy anything for these kids here that’s not good enough for me, for my kids. Do you see the difference?

What kind of message are we sending our kids when we say (out loud or through our actions), “Cast-offs for poor kids, new stuff for you!”

I think we can do better, friends. I think we can take Jesus seriously when he said LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF.

book2And so I’m asking you to consider buying a new book, toy, or game for this new center in Siem Reap. A center where kids will come to play, a place where they’ll be safe, a place where they’ll meet Jesus.

And, while we’re waiting to build trust with their families, we’ll go to them. To the streets, to the villages, to the temples. And we’ll take these lovingly-bought toys, games, and books in backpacks and get them out and play with these kids and watch their eyes light up in wonder at these beautiful things.

(Oh, I wish you could be there to see it.)

jengaHow did we choose what went on the list?

Well, for one thing, we asked you. I got lots of great suggestions on Facebook from many of you.

If you’d like to suggest a book, toy, or game, leave a comment, and I’ll add it to the Wish List.

And we’ve been carefully observing kiddos for the last three weeks at the Boys Center, the Girls Center, and the outreaches on the Riverfront, the temple, the train station, the market, to see what they play with the most. And those are the things we put on the list.

If we had to pick very-favorites, the boys like to build things and the girls love play food.

Here are the kinds of things (in categories) on the list:
learning English
playing house
therapy toys
books about sexual abuse (for the kids & for us)
educational toys
building sets
musical instruments

lincoln logsIf you have Amazon Prime, shipping is FREE. And, for most items, if you spend over $35, shipping is also FREE. If you’d like to get something smaller and don’t want to pay shipping, you can go in with friends (Bible study, MOPS group, neighbors).

Or you can paypal $ directly to us, and we’ll make a purchase once we get $35. (email me for instructions)

And we would love it if you got your kids involved. They can choose something from the list or let me know if they have a favorite toy/book/game they think the kiddos would love.

And when we visit the States next summer, I’ll be in touch about donations of gently-used stuff that I think would be a blessing to the center.

psalmsIn the meantime, you should give some of those nice (but not needed) toys & games to some kiddos where you live.

(And if you own one of the specific games/books/toys on the list–and it’s in really good condition, and you’re willing to part with it–let me know.)

One last giving option: we would like to buy a bunch of books in Khmer (a lot of Bible books and kids’ story books). They’re obviously not on Amazon.

And we can get pretty decent art supplies here too (markers, crayons, paper, glitter, glue, scissors, paint, etc).

If you’d like to donate toward Khmer books or art supplies, you can give a tax-deductible gift to The Hard Places Community online. Just click here, enter the donation amount, and you should see a blue line that says “Note to Hard Places Community.” Click it and write “Siem Reap Center.”

This was a reeeeeally long post. Bless you for making it to the end. Thanks for giving, friends! And spread the word! Merry Christmas!

(Here’s a link to the Amazon Wish List in case you missed it.)

8 thoughts on “let’s give our best, shall we?

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  4. Tiffany and Dustin Montgomery

    Marla! We always adopt a family every year to give to. This year, we couldn’t help but “adopt” all of the kids at the Hope Center. Together, we sat down and had a blast picking out toys and items the kids could use. We are so thankful for the opportunity to give. We are also very proud to call you friends. Have a blessed Christmas!!

  5. Windy

    It doesn’t look like it has the address stored to automatically send to that location when purchasing off of the wish list.

  6. Melinda Schmidt

    Loved this. I’ve started sometimes not returning purchases and giving the new items to the thrift store. Why not let purchasers buy new, quality items for a cheaper price? #weareprivileged
    I reposted this on FB and Twitter. Great stuff.

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