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Ashley Willis and son Cooper at Casa Shalom orphanage in Guatemala

It is more blessed to give than to receive.” –Jesus (Acts 20:35)

My wife Ashley and I, along with our twelve-year-old son, Cooper, and a team of a dozen others from our church, just returned from a life-changing trip to serve the children at Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala. The orphanage provides food, shelter, education and LOVE to around one hundred kids who have nowhere else to go. These kids stories are heartbreaking, but their resilience is inspiring. These kids are also the most generous and sharing people I’ve ever been around.

I’ve been to Casa Shalom four times over the past five years, and each time I leave, I feel like my life has been altered in a new way. I always go hoping to impact the kids in some small way, but I always leave having been impacted by them MUCH more than any impact I might have had. On this trip, the most prominent takeaway was in how these kids share with each other.

One night, we threw the a pizza party and you would have thought they had each won the lottery. They celebrated and danced and feasted like it was the happiest day of their lives. One little boy grabbed a few slices of pizza and took off running out of their humble cafeteria towards the house where the other boys his age slept. I wondered why he would leave the party, so I asked and one of the older kids told me, “There’s another boy back in his house who got in trouble and wasn’t allowed to come to the party. His friend didn’t want him to miss out on the pizza, so he ran back to make sure his friend in ‘time out’ got to taste it while it was still warm.” 

pizza party casa shalom orphanage in Guatemala

Sharing might not sound like a profound concept, but sadly, in our modern world, it has become so rare that when you see it happening, it stands out. You might assume that the people with the most would be the ones most likely to share, but the kids at Casa Shalom have taught me that the amount of your possessions doesn’t impact your aptitude for sharing; it comes through a sense of commitment to others and choosing to value people over possessions. 

The kids at the orphanage have so little. Receiving a piece of candy or a small toy that would be a freebie in a Happy Meal would be enough to make these kids light up with joy. If you hand them a bunch of candy, they are much more likely to share it than to hoard it for themselves. Sharing just seemed to be in the cultural DNA of the entire orphanage. I wanted to figure out HOW this happened, because I haven’t experienced anything like it in the USA (even though we have such an abundance of material possessions and comforts compared to what they have).

My wife Ashley gave a small stuffed dog to a little girl named Maria. She squealed with delight with the excitement and high-pitched frequency that only young girls can muster up. She treasured that dog like it was a brick of gold, but a few minutes later, we saw a little boy carrying around the same dog and playing with it. It was the boy’s birthday, and we realized that Maria had given her prized little stuffed animal as a birthday gift. The only thing she wanted more than her toy was the ability to give a special gift to a friend on his birthday. Wow.

Casa Shalom orphanage in Guatemala

I could rattle off stories like this all day, but I’ll share just one more (along with a picture). Ashley and I really connected with a nine-year-old boy named Luis. She gave him her hat and he didn’t take it off the whole time we were there. He insisted on giving us a gift too, so he brought us one of his favorite books. He was so proud to give it to us and we were so humbled to receive it. Here’s a picture…

Dave and Ashley Willis with Luis at Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala

I entitled this blog, “The Key to Raising Generous Kids in a Selfish World,” and perhaps that title was misleading, because I have so much more to learn on this than I have to teach. What I saw displayed in the everyday interactions of these precious orphans was a gratefulness and desire to share more than I’ve been (so far) able to instill in my own children. Still, I think I learned the “key” from watching these kids teach me a master class on sharing.

I believe the key is NOT giving kids more so they will have an abundance to share. More stuff tends to create more greed more often than it creates more sharing. The key is simply to teach kids to value people over possessions. It’s showing them that love lasts longer than trinkets. It’s teaching them that generosity creates joy and misers end up miserable. It’s basically just teaching them to believe what the Bible teaches about loving others and then allowing them to experience the joy that comes when we actually put it into action for ourselves. 

I’m so thankful for the life-changing work happening at Casa Shalom. If you’d be interested in learning more about their ministry and how you can get involved, please visit their site at CasaShalom.net and/or plan a visit to the beautiful country of Guatemala for yourself. Like everyone on our team can attest, it will be a life-changing experience for you!

Dave and Ashley Willis with team from Stevens Creek Church Casa Shalom Orphanage Antigua Guatemala

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