Sydney, Australia

Fancy a ‘cow bank’ for Christmas? Maybe a ‘secret believer’ instead of a 'secret Santa' is more your thing? Could 1,000 pencils bring your loved ones joy?

Forget the socks, jocks and chocs this year, Christian and other social justice charities have launched their annual ‘alternative’ gift catalogues in time for Christmas, to support their work throughout the world in areas of need, and to break the cycle of poverty and injustice.

Christmas Gifts 2020 Open Doors

A card from Open Doors connected to its 'cow bank' gift. PICTURE: Courtesy of Open Doors.


“In a village where, perhaps, a Christian family is being discriminated against because of their faith in Jesus - they’re not able to get jobs, or send their children to school - we provide them with the cow. It’s basically giving them a way of being self-sustainable."

- Bethany Westwood, content creator at Open Doors.

The organisations seek to impact the lives of the poor and oppressed by offering gifts that are bought on behalf of others, including sanitation and clean water, education, seeds and livestock, or health services, that help communities build their own livelihoods.

The gifts - priced from as little as $A5 to those in their thousands - are given to individuals and communities in dozens of poor nations to help empower them to become independent, while the “giver” receives a card or a toy informing them of a gift provided on their behalf.

Content creator and producer of the Open Doors Live podcast, Bethany Westwood, says each year gifts from their catalogue support persecuted Christians and churches in around 70 nations.

“It’s quite specific in the sense that it’s for people experiencing persecution for their faith in Jesus all over the world. I think that’s one thing that really makes our 'Gifts of Hope' stand apart, because you’re actually strengthening the them the resources and the tools that they need to continue following Jesus in some of the most dangerous places around the world.”

This year, Open Doors is offering a ‘Send a Cow’ in its catalogue, a simple, but effective way to perpetuate support and income for several families.

Australian sponsors spend $30, which is used as a micro loan in the form of a cow for a family which has little means of supporting itself while suffering duress and persecution for their faith.

Once the cow gives birth, the calf is returned to the “cow bank” for another family to benefit from, while the family keeps the mother for farming and breeding.

“In a village where, perhaps, a Christian family is being discriminated against because of their faith in Jesus - they’re not able to get jobs, or send their children to school - we provide them with the cow. It’s basically giving them a way of being self-sustainable,” Westwood said.

Another of Open Doors’ unusual gift ideas for Australia and New Zealand is its ‘Secret believers’ package, which provides support for persecuted Christians in the top 10 most dangerous countries to follow Jesus, including North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

Westwood says those who choose to support this project will be providing emergency relief in the form of food, shelter, water, medicine and clothing for people fleeing from violent persecution.


Sight has listed some links to Christian organisations (and others) which have catalogues for alternative Christmas gifts this year, to help spread the love of God and the gift of Jesus to those less fortunate...

Christmas gifts 2021 Uniting World

MISSION - UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia which collaborates with communities to work for a world where lives are whole and hopeful, free from poverty and injustice. 

GIFTS:  From chilli paste for $A15, to supporting women leaders ($A75) and disability support ($A100), or $A1000 for clean water for a community.

MISSION - Partners with local and international Christian agencies to develop long-term holistic transformation for communities facing poverty and injustice around the world and in Australia.

GIFTS - From $A5 for a chicken, healthcare or early learning; business kick-starter $A60; a village well for $A1900 or a 'village package' for $A5000.


MISSION - To strengthen and prepare Christians living in persecution, and to mobilise the Australian church to identify with the global body of Christ.

GIFTS - From $A7 for a children’s ministry Bible; $A30 for a ‘cow bank’ (a family keeps the cow and returns the calf for another family to benefit from); or $A1000 ‘secret believers’ package (supporting projects for persecuted Christians from the top 10 most dangerous countries to follow Jesus, including North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran)


MISSION - international aid organisation that works around the globe to save lives and defeat poverty.

GIFTS - From $A10 for drought-resistant seeds; $A50 to train a village health volunteer; $A65 for a family veggie patch; or $A1000 to rebuild after disaster.


MISSION - a Christian international holistic child development organisation that facilitates an end to poverty through its child sponsorship program.

GIFTS - From $A5 for fruit and veggie seeds or $A45 for a goat; $A48 for care for a waiting child; $A500 for vocational training and $A6500 for safe housing.


MISSION - a Christian organisation that works with children, families and communities around the world to overcome poverty and injustice.

GIFTS - From $A30 for childhood immunisations or. Fish farm; $A1450 for clean water for a community; or $A3000 for a year of curriculum for 55 school children.


MISSION - the United Nations Children’s Fund, a global humanitarian and development agency that works to uphold the rights of every child. 

GIFTS - From $A42 for 1000 pencils or $A75 for play and learning packs for remote Indigenous children; $A85 for 260 vaccines and $A525 for a water pump.

“There’s also the ability to disciple those believers and provide Bibles to them.”

Two other gifts include a $A50 survival pack which helps North Korean Christians who often get sent to concentration camps if discovered, and the $A80 “knot forgotten” toy with both the recipient and giver receiving the same crocheted toy.

In this year’s 'Everything in Common' catalogue being offered by UnitingWorld, people can buy the usual range of gifts, as well as the unusual, including chilli paste and disability support.

National Director of UnitingWorld, Dr Sureka Goringe, says the organisation, established by the Uniting Church in Australia, operates as an accredited aid agency through Asia and some parts of Africa, and connects Christians in Australia to what God is doing overseas through its partnership with local churches.

“The catalogue tries to make concrete for our supporters here [in Australia] some of the work [that] we are doing in really tangible, quirky, interesting ways,” Goringe said.

Their most popular item each year is the $A10 chicken, but Goringe said they also looked to promote complex community development programs that had many different aspects, and “tended to be holistic” and “don’t just do one thing”.

“They address a community’s needs in multiple, different ways,” she said.

As an organisation, Goringe said they also had a responsibility to “inspire and educate” their supporters, which was why they offered a range of gift options from the simple, to more complex offerings, such as supporting women leaders in areas where women don’t have a lot of empowerment.

“Sometimes our preconceptions of how you help people can be quite limited to ‘We need to give them things’, but a lot of the time, giving them things is the least effective way of doing something,” she said. “Giving them training, or education or changing the way a village works, for example, might be a lot more meaningful.”

One such project is based around the production and sale of chilli paste in West Timor, one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, whereby individuals operate through a cooperative system that also guarantees each other’s business in times of financial hardship.

“The work we support includes - this aspect of the project - which is growing chilli and making chilli-based products to take to market as a way of families earning a living and being able to pay for their schools and children’s education and what-not.”

Another project - its disability support program - targets some of the most marginalised people within poor communities and nations, providing livelihood support for people with disabilities to earn their own living and be independent.

“In Sri Lanka...that project is entirely focused on people with disability; we partner with an organisation that provides vocational training and educational opportunities for people with disabilities, starting from little kids, all the way through to adults,” Goringe said.

Tearfund works in partnership with local Christian agencies around the world to end poverty, challenge inequality and build sustainable communities.

Its 'Useful Gifts' catalogue also offers sponsors an opportunity to support people with disability for $A30, while $A15 helps support community development initiatives led by and in partnership with First Peoples of Australia. This provides a platform for the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners to be heard by the wider Australian community.

But Ant Clark, head of fundraising, said that with the escalating impact of climate change and the issue “front and centre in the media and in our global conversations”, their ‘Climate Resilience’ gift is possibly among the most important this year.

Clark said the gift acts in two ways to respond to the threat on the wellbeing and livelihoods of people living in some of the world’s hardest places.

Tearfund chickens

Chickens feature in a number of gift options including in Tearfund's 'Useful Gifts' catalogue. PICTURE: COurtesy of Tearfund Australia.

“The poorest people on Earth contribute the least to climate change – and yet they are often hardest hit by its consequences,” Clark said. “This gift supports Tearfund’s partners who work with vulnerable communities as they adapt and build resilience to a changing climate. It also contributes to Tearfund's advocacy work with the church in Australia, empowering people to speak out, live differently and be leaders in the movement towards a more just and sustainable world.”

Like UnitingWorld, Tearfund’s most popular gift each year is the chicken, which helps families facing poverty with the daily challenge of putting food on the table.

“Tearfund’s ‘chickens’ gift provides training and supplies for a family to raise chickens, giving them nutritious eggs to eat and a source of income too. It really is a gift that keeps on giving!” Clark said.

Meanwhile, among its 57 gift ideas this year, World Vision is offering $A20 solar lanterns, which provide refugees and others in disaster zones with light, as well as reducing kerosene consumption. And UNICEF has the gift of 1,000 pencils for $A42 among its gift list options.