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Natalie Rangeloff, left, and Khloe Gange-Wisbey, both kindergarten students at Jeanette Myhre Elementary School in Bismarck, look over the tables filled with toys and household items as they walk back to their classroom carrying large bags filled with wrapped Christmas gifts after they participated in the school's annual Day of Giving on Friday. 

Christmas is a time to celebrate Jesus' birth, to be kind to one another and to live generously. Several local churches are collecting special offerings, providing gifts to the needy and finding unique ways to give back to the community, in honor of the Christ child.

Legacy United Methodist Church

For the past eight years, Legacy United Methodist Church members have been simplifying Christmas by giving away half of what they’d normally spend on gifts to worthy causes, such as the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House.

To date, the Bismarck congregation has donated more than $300,000 through their Half-a-Christmas Challenge offering.

“We like to say, around here, Christmas is not our birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday. We want to do something nice for him, and that’s taking care of those who are poor and in need,” said lead pastor Brandon Vetter.

In addition to Ruth Meiers, this year’s Christmas Eve offering will benefit Watford City’s Bakken Oil Rush Ministry. The congregation’s goal is $40,000.

There have been times, in Legacy’s history, where it would’ve been easy to discontinue the offering, such as the congregation's across-town move a few years back.

“What’s interesting, to me, is our congregation kept doing this in the midst of a move, when it would’ve been so easy to shift our focus,” Vetter said, noting the offering also could be used for programs within the church.

“We realize life isn’t just about what we do here, at Legacy, but what happens in the community,” he said.

Church of the Ascension

The Church of the Ascension is opening its doors Christmas Eve to minister to the homeless, and those otherwise celebrating Christ’s birth alone. The Bismarck church plans to serve 450 people in need at its 11th annual Christmas Eve Dinner.

“Our intent, of course, is to feed folks who are hungry, but it’s even more than that. It’s to bring them to, and welcome them to become a part of, our family at Ascension,” said event co-chair John Paul Martin. “We’re trying to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us.”

In addition to a warm meal, those in attendance will be gifted a couple hours of fellowship and good conversation. Wrapped presents will be provided to everyone — men, women and children.

Personal care items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and soap, will be available for those in need.

You need not be Catholic to attend. Everyone is welcome, Martin said.

“Many hands make light work” and many hands it takes to pull off the annual dinner.

“We’ve had such a tremendous response from people to volunteer,” Martin said, noting hundreds of people are needed to buy gifts, wrap presents, prepare the hall, cook and serve the meal and clean up.

“Without the goodwill of people, this would not be possible,” he said.

Dinner will be served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the church, located at 1825 S. Third St. Mass will take place at 4 and 10 p.m.

Martin, his wife and two children assist with the dinner every year.

“This has become a part of our Christmas tradition. What a good example for young people today to serve those in need,” he said. “There’s a selfish benefit in the feeling you get when helping someone in need. It’s tremendous.”

If you’re in need of transportation, arrangements can be made by calling the parish office at 701-223-3606.

Bismarck Community Church

The Bismarck Community Church’s “community” stretches across town and overseas.

On Friday, church volunteers were wrapping presents at a local elementary school. On Christmas Day, a team will fly to Ethiopia to interact with the children.

“I think it’s very important to be a part of something as a church,” said assistant pastor Jim Ellis. “We’re always looking for ways to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.”

Each year for the past five, Jeanette Myhre Elementary School has hosted an annual Day of Giving, in which students get to “shop” for presents for parents, siblings and grandparents. The suggested price for each gift is a quarter, but students with empty pockets are not turned away.

“Every child gets to shop for their family,” said Ashlee Veasley, director of children’s ministries.

The Bismarck Community Church assists the school in rounding up gently used gift items, then staffs the wrapping table at the event.

On Christmas, students present the gifts to their loved ones and experience the joy of giving.

“We're all about relationships,” said Veasley. “We don’t want people to sit in church and not talk to the people around them.”

The Bismarck Community Church partners with a small Christian community in Ethiopia, called Jemo. On Christmas Day, 11 congregation members will travel to Addis Ababa to spend time with the 220 children the church sponsors there.

For five years, the local church has worked with the Jemo community, assisting them with basic needs, such as food, education and medical care, and teaching them about Jesus. Self-sustaining practices are taught, to help the community thrive.

During the 10-day trip, the team will interact with the Ethiopian children and their families, and help them to complete small projects and activities. A building project is not out of the question, either.

“We'll get to hug the children we sponsor, and experience their home, their food and their culture,” said Ellis.

The group plans to bring Luci solar-powered lights with them, as many homes in Ethiopia do not have electricity.

Bismarck Community Church sponsors the 220 children at a cost of $38 per month, per child.

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General Assignment Reporter