Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thinking Outside the Basket

Reading mail at the post office

A couple of months ago, I received a message that brought up an interesting topic: gift baskets for missionaries on deputation and furlough. The writer wanted to know what I suggested to put in the basket. Great question!

Instead of just answering the question myself, I put the question to an amazing group of missionary women. Boy, oh boy! Did they ever come up with some fabulous ideas from practical experience!
Let me share...


First of all, one thing they all agreed on was

"Ditch the basket..."

Literally... the basket itself (not the contents) is a problem.

Picture this: A missionary family gets all packed in their minivan. The kids are surrounded by luggage, homeschool books, toys, musical instruments, a stroller, display items for their table, etc. There is often barely enough room to wiggle a big toe, but they all successfully pile in and head out on the road. They arrive at their destination to a wonderful gift basket. They are very thankful for the basket, but in the back of their minds they are thinking, "The gifts are great, but where are we going to put that basket? There is no room!"

Ditching the Basket

These ladies had great ideas that were more practical than a basket.
  • travel collapsable laundry basket
  • plastic stackable container
  • gift bags
  • collapsable car organizers
  • reusable shopping bags
  • 31 bag
  • upside-down umbrella (This was a huge hit! Very useful and took up very little space)
  • small, soft cooler

So now you have chosen a container. But what do you fill it with? The answers varied on this, but one thing every single missionary said...

"Gift cards."
     "Gift cards."
          "Gift cards."

(Did we mention gift cards?)

I know they seem impersonal, but they are so practical for life on the road. Why gift cards?

  • They take up no space.
  • They can be used as needed.
  • They can be used for very specific needs.

So gift cards are a favorite. Here are some ideas of different gift cards:

  • Gas (I don't even have to explain how important this one is!)
  • Restaurant (Cracker Barrel was mentioned several times)
  • Amazon
  • Re-loadable MasterCard/Visa
  • iTunes
  • Starbucks
  • And the ever-beloved Walmart

Filling It Up

What else can go in your non-basket gift basket?
Please do not feel like you have to get everything on this list. Sometimes less really is more. You don't have to help them get all the way to the end of deputation. You just want to help the missionary get a little farther down the road. Just remember, space in the vehicle is usually a huge issue.
  • Gum
  • Mints
  • Homemade items
  • Cookies
  • Microwave hot pack for muscle aches
  • Quarters for laundromats
  • Starbucks Via packets
  • Laundry detergents (the pods are a huge hit, unscented for allergies)
  • USB essential oil diffuser
  • Travel sewing kit
  • Postage stamps
  • Greeting cards and thank-you cards
  • Healthy snacks (this was strongly encouraged by many who struggle keeping their family healthy while travelling)
  • Emergen-C
  • Airborne
  • Essential oil shower bombs
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Fruit or perishables in moderation (get too much and they go bad before they get a chance to eat them... especially if your church is feeding them for every meal.)
  • Books
  • Travel size toiletries
  • Flavored drink mix singles
  • Music CDs (Some discouraged this because of differing music standards)
  • Pain meds
  • Cold meds
  • Activated charcoal
  • Lamplighter audio books
  • Nail polish
  • Yankee Candle car scents
  • Small candles/matches for hotels
  • Tie
  • Cuff links
  • Water bottles
  • Bottled water
  • Travel games
  • Bath and Body works
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand creams and Sugar scrubs
  • Lip balm
  • Scarf
  • Pen and notepad
  • Cough drops
  • Money (Seriously... the most practical item!)
  • Travel tissues
  • Popcorn
  • Pens
  • Hair supplies
  • Disposable razors
  • Stain remover products
  • Wrinkle release spray

Remember the Whole Family

Several mentioned how much it meant to them when the church put something special in the basket for the kids and teens:
  • Activity pads
  • Build-A-Bear gift cards
  • Coloring books
  • Crayons
  • Stickers
  • Baby snacks
  • Small, age appropriate toys
Favorite nail polish I received in the most amazing
Pumpkin/Fall themed basket

Ask, Ask, Ask

Many of the ladies mentioned that some of the best gift baskets/bags they received were the product of the church sending them a questionnaire beforehand. The baskets/bags were tailored to the family's likes and needs. The questionnaire helped the church to take into consideration allergies as well as specific eating needs like a desire to eat healthy and not give the kids so much candy.

Something Different

So what if you want to do something other than a basket?
  • Gift cards in a creative display or bouquet. One missionary said she received a gift card tree! It was during the fall season and the tree had a fall feel to it. It was small and beautifully done. And practical!
  • Fill the gas tank
  • Encourage members to offer their services or skills. At the very last church we visited while on furlough, one member offered her amazing talents of giving facials, manicures, and pedicures. It meant so much to my daughter and me! In a third-world country, our feet often take serious abuse. It was nice to arrive on the field a couple of weeks later with pretty, pampered toes! Have a mechanic in the church? A beautician? A seamstress? Someone who enjoys washing vehicles? Encourage them to offer to minister to missionaries using the talents God has given them. Also remind them that if the missionary turns down their services, it isn't personal. It may be that the missionary just had a haircut and doesn't need another one.

In the Closet

Many churches have opted to host a missions closet so that the missionary can simply go in and choose things that they need. If your church chooses to host a missions closet instead of gift baskets or bags, here are a few tips:
  1. Keep it well stocked and well organized with a variety of items.
  2. Have grocery bags or gift bags ready for the missionary to fill.
  3. Keep items small and travel friendly.
  4. Don't be offended if the missionary doesn't need anything at the time. Praise the Lord that their need has been supplied, and that you can help the next missionary family. If the missionary turns you down for the offer, it means they are being a good steward with the things God has provided in your missions closet.
  5. Don't keep prodding the missionary to get more. Ask, "Did you get everything you needed?" and leave it at that.
  6. Be sure to keep up with expiration dates on snacks and medicines.
  7. Give the missionary privacy as they choose items. It makes many of them uncomfortable to have someone staring over their shoulder just like it would make you uncomfortable if someone watched over your shoulder while you shopped.
  8. Your closet can be stocked with personal items, household items, and school items you typically wouldn't put in a gift basket.
Whether your church chooses gift bags, giving services, or a missions closet, please know that we are thankful beyond measure for your compassion and obedience to the Lord to help us along the journey. The journey is difficult, and we need you.

Pray and seek the Lord's guidance on which form of ministry He would have your church to provide. If you follow His lead, you will be able to touch the lives of missionaries going all over the world, and then through them reach the multitudes.


Lou Ann Keiser said...

Very good! I'm sharing!

Clarinda Halk said...

Love!! Very well done.

Sarah McKendree said...

Wonderful! One church we were at had asked us for needs/wants before we arrived. They used tote bags/backpacks/duffle bags to fill with our needs. Each member of our family had their own bag - the kids bags were stuffed! One of the church ladies had sewn aprons for my girls and me! We were so humbled and grateful! AND we think of that church every time we use those bags - an excellent prayer reminder!

Shellee Wilhite said...

Great ideas! We had a church call a mutual friend and find out our favorite restaurants and shopping areas. It was the beginning of December and each of the kids got a Walmart gift card of their own and then they gave us a poinsettia with flower picks holding oodles of gift cards! We felt spoiled and very loved and cared for! I love the collapsible laundry basket idea!

Anonymous said...

Cracker Barrel gift cards? #bradswifematters