by Mike Jeffries

I’m writing this post from the Latin American nation of Nicaragua where, over the past few days, we’ve had an interesting international experiment in global generosity from the perspective of five young children.

Three families decided one of the best Christmas gifts would be to take their kids to work among other children in the this second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. (The average income in Nicaragua is less than $200 a month.)

One of the dads is a cardiologist who brought his seven-year-old son. He met his wife here on a mission trip when he was in college, so he wanted to show young James where Mom and Dad met. Another one of the dads brought his seven-year-old daughter, Isabel. He’s a news photographer so he and his daughter stood side-by-side, each with their cameras capturing unbelievable images. The third dad has been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a pilot in the Air National Guard, but got a week off to spend with his wife and three kids — 10-year-old Jacob, nine-year-old Gabrianna and seven-year-old Zach — and they decided to spend their vacation here in Nicaragua.

Each one of these families had the same objective: make their own Christmas better by making Christmas better for someone else.

Five kids, and three of them only seven years old.

They walked from dirt-floor shack to dirt-floor shack, mostly giving the gift of friendship and just being there. Sometimes they gave away candy….it’s difficult to measure how much of a sacrifice it is for a seven-year-old to give away his last Snickers bar. At home in the U.S., they collected school supplies: simple calculators, rulers, notebooks. They had lots of toys to give away…..mostly Barbies from Isabel and Gabrianna, sports equipment and toy cars from Jake, James and Zach. But the kids got the greater gift: a new view of the world that will change everything they ever experience in their lives, every single day from this day forward.

I’ve been part of dozens of mission teams, with team members as diverse as highly specialized surgeons and high-placed politicians to hundreds of bouncing-off-the-grasshut-wall high school students. But I’ve never quite seen what I’ve seen this week: elementary-age children seeing first-hand what it means to give up something they want so that someone else can have something they need.

Parents who’ve been on an experience like this know how powerful it can be for their kids, whether that experience is in a local church’s soup kitchen or in another country’s barrios. It’s been especially easy to see the virtue of generosity here on these dusty roads. The five kids are truly living out our definition of generosity: Making someone’s day by giving something away. They’re giving away the most important gift of all: themselves.

Mike Jeffries works Orange publishing initiatives and creative strategies. He’s also serves as an associate pastor at a fast-growing multicultural church in South Florida, specializing in global missions and communications.