One Thing Compassion’s President Has Learned as a Father

As a dad, granddad and president and CEO of Compassion International, one thing I’ve learned is how powerful extraordinary experiences are in a child’s life. It’s our privilege as parents, teachers, coaches and all people who love children to fill their lives with these types of experiences — experiences that will grow the heart and character of Jesus in them.

Extraordinary experiences have the power to open children’s eyes to the world around them. They teach them to lean into their calling as disciples of Jesus. They teach them to increasingly extend the love of Jesus to those in need. 

President Santiago Jimmy Mellado stands with his wife and daughter with their arms around a little girl in a red dress, standing in front of a church building.

My daughter, wife and me at a Compassion front-line church partner in El Salvador.

While day-to-day spiritual practices are such an important foundation for discipleship and development, experiences that take us out of our routines can have a profound impact on our lives. They especially impact our children as they grow up. How many of us have had camp experiences, mission trips or parent-child trips that became defining moments in our lives?

My wife, Leanne, and I knew this to be true in our lives and wanted to make sure we provided them for our children growing up.

How to Create Extraordinary Experiences for Your Children

Extraordinary experiences don’t have to cost much — or anything at all. The goal is to be intentional about creating experiences that will disrupt a child’s normal routine in unexpected ways. These are the life-changing moments they’ll never forget.

We took as many opportunities as we could to provide these experiences for our children growing up, especially exposing our children to the needs of the poor and to the global church. And through that, we’ve seen their lives changed for the good.

So, how do you create an experience that will help open your kids’ eyes and hearts to those living in extreme poverty around the globe? It will look different for each family and child, but here are a few ways to teach the children you love to care for the things Jesus cares for.

The Experiences That Transformed My Children’s Lives 

One of the most transformational experiences in my children’s lives was the opportunity to interact with children and families in need. In this excerpt from Small Matters: How Churches and Parents Can Raise Up World-Changing Children (Zondervan, 2016), I share the role extraordinary experiences have played in the lives of my own children.

… Children need far more than material assets. They need extraordinary experiences. This is how kingdom builders are developed.

In the Mellado household, we evaluated experiences and opportunities available to our children in various ways. For example, we had a category labeled “non-miss” opportunities. These included camps and retreats, but there were several other experiences we wanted for them as well.

A teenage boy kneels net to a boy as they hold a pillow with a star on it together. They are inside a dark home.

Our son Davy with a child we sponsor in Guatemala.

We wanted our children to see that the world around them is filled with people in need, with families and children living in poverty. And we wanted them to experience interacting with children and families in need.

My mother grew up in poverty, and even though she eventually escaped it, she made a point of keeping the plight of the poor before us, wherever we lived.

I remember how, as a child, I saw a homeless family preparing to sleep on the sidewalk or the man with no legs begging for money. At a young age, I understood that life was difficult and that most people were doing their best to survive day to day. I knew this was not how it was meant to be.

As I grew older, my parents taught us that being a follower of Jesus meant caring for the poor, reaching out and serving those in need. My wife and I knew that we wanted to teach our children this. But we weren’t sure how to do this, raising our kids in an environment like the United States.

We felt our lives in America were disconnected from how the majority of the world lived. In some ways, we were living in a bubble. Our well-resourced environment was a liability to engaging our kids in God’s kingdom work.

We looked for opportunities to give our children extraordinary experiences that would disrupt their normal routine in unexpected ways.

As our children were entering their teenage years, my dad was leading one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by the country of Bolivia. We took our kids to visit my father there. We visited the project where he was working and saw the community where I lived as a 6-year-old boy. Seeing what life was like in my old neighborhood in Bolivia helped our kids understand what I experienced as a child.

We visited a family that lived in a one-room adobe house. We asked God to give us eyes to see His work around us. Leanne and I were praying that God would use these experiences to disrupt our children’s lives, hoping that God would show up in circumstances that were foreign to them.

A girl sits in a circle of chairs, talking to children inside a church room.

Our daughter Ester with sponsored children in Guatemala.

Part of raising teens is teaching them the value of work and how to manage money. Our kids had many of the same experiences that other teens had. They worked summer jobs, learned to save and give, played sports and hung out with their friends.

But Leanne and I saved money to support them on trips to places like El Salvador and Zambia. We (and they) would say that their lives have been deeply affected.

These extraordinary experiences, exposing children to the needs of the poor and to the global church, can pay extraordinary returns that compound into eternity.

This excerpt is taken from Small Matters by Jimmy Mellado and Greg Nettle. Copyright © 2016 by Greg Nettle and Compassion International, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. 

What are some of the ways you have found to create extraordinary experiences in children’s lives?

3 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Gregory Julian July 10, 2021

    Gregory Julian

    Thank you so much for sharing you and your family’s experiences in serving and giving to the poor, homeless, and needy. The Lord has certainly led you into the area of missions and sharing the love of Jesus Christ with those from the vulnerable populations. Additionally, thank you for giving your children extraordinary experiences that began shaping their lives early on. Obviously, this has had a tremendous impact on them and your family’s lives. May the Lord continue to use you as a vessel to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be a blessing to those in need.

  2. Brandon Robertson June 19, 2019

    Thank you for this excellent post. I live my life to do what Jesus says everyday, to the measure of light I have. I remember one instance at Walmart where I saw a lady in a cart driving around and I had my two youngest children with me and I felt the prompting of the Lord to pray for the lady. My children and I, after some conversation, proceeded to pray for the woman in an isle in Walmart and when we were finished she got out of her cart and walked around the remainder of the time and thanked us for the prayer and praised the Lord. She was in pain before the prayer and after we prayed the pain in her body had left. Praise the Lord for his goodness. Obeying the Lord always creates supernatural moment’s in our lives. After reading this post, I like your intentionality in creating those extraordinary experiences. I will definitely look for ways to create those moments for my children in the future.

  3. David Lankoande June 14, 2019

    This message is very deep. We need ourselves to be deeply transformed by Jesus in order to see people as He sees them and help our children in this sense. Thank you very much for this sharing and may God bless you.

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