Jesse Klaasen is a big-hearted western Michigan teen who saved up his treasures for another in need thousands of miles away.
For three years, Jesse, 16, worked on a cattle farm in western Michigan and saved his paychecks — totaling $4,500 — to pay for a home for a struggling mother and her children through World Vision’s Gift Catalog.
He sacrificed himself through physical labor and resisted the temptation to spend his hard-earned money so a family he doesn’t even know could have a better life.
Jesse loves to give through the Gift Catalog, donating funds for animals and other gifts for the past five years as part of his commitment to tithing at least 10% of his income. Whenever his family receives the Gift Catalog in the mail, Jesse carefully studies it to determine what he wants to give.
It’s pretty straightforward: “I love Jesus, and I want to act like him and be like him; I want to help others,” Jesse says.
Back in winter 2015, he had set the goal to gift one of the big-ticket items in the catalog. “I was just flipping through and was like, ‘I wanna get that one,’” Jesse says.
He made a point not to tell anyone he was saving for it. Every time he got a paycheck, he would take a portion out and add it to the growing pile of money inside a hollowed-out book on his bedroom shelf. Right before his 16th birthday in January 2018, Jesse gathered his pile of bills worth $4,500, singled out one of the most expensive items — the house — and donated the money to World Vision to provide a house for someone in need.
“I was really excited,” Jesse says. “Holding that much money was just crazy. It was a stack.”
Jesse’s mom, Carrie Klaasen, says she found out he was saving for a big Gift Catalog purchase about a year before it happened — almost two years after he set out to do it.
“When he commits to something, he’s going to do it,” Carrie says. “He’s got a compassionate heart.”
Jesse acknowledged he could have used the money to buy a much nicer vehicle or phone. His noisy 2001 Chevrolet Blazer could have benefited from a new muffler. He stuck with his aging flip phone until he got a smartphone as a gift. And he says he was tempted numerous times to pull out a few $20 bills from that book on his shelf and go spend it. But his resolve to love God and love people helped him resist.
“I was just ready to do this,” he says.
That heart full of compassion has always been there, Carrie says. Jesse started sponsoring two children when he was 11 — one in Honduras and one in Ethiopia. But his sense of compassion deepened after his parents brought his first sister home from Ethiopia that same year.
“I was just so excited and so happy,” he says. “They came home, and I held her on the couch. I was crying and was just so happy to have her here.”
And then he visited Ethiopia in 2015 when the family adopted his two other sisters. It opened his eyes to a different culture, to poverty, and got the then-13-year-old asking profound questions.
Seeing his siblings’ home country for the first time was overwhelming for him, Carrie remembers. She sensed something change inside Jesse.
“I remember him just taking it all in and thinking, ‘Why isn’t this me? I could be going through this, and I’m not,’” she says.
That experience is part of what motivates him. Even after he sent in his big donation, Jesse says he remains committed to the unknown family who will receive his gift. “I pray for them every day,” Jesse says. “I’ve been praying that the right family gets it — that they can just praise God for it and give him thanks for it.”