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.
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.
- Serve in your local community as a family.
- Encourage your children to write to your sponsored child.
- Eat like your sponsored child for a week to join in solidarity with those in need.
- Visit The Compassion Experience in a city near you.
- Take a trip to visit the child you sponsor.
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.
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.
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.