As I soon as I walked across the concrete courtyard and through a heavy metal door at the back of the building, I was hit with a strong and distinct smell – not bad, but certainly not pleasant. A strange combination of food, cleaning products, and humanity. My pre-teen mind was racing with questions. How does someone end up living at a homeless shelter? Will I talk with people or just serve them food? Will I know what to say?
My parents had determined that serving as a family was an important priority, so we committed to serving at a local homeless shelter once a month with a team of other families. I’m sure my discomfort was visible as I learned to love each individual that crossed my path.
Growing up as the child of a ministry-oriented family, I regularly wrestled with the reality of Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (ESV, emphasis mine).
Now, as I work full-time in ministry, I am deeply grateful for what my early exposure to serving taught me:
- Everyone has a story worth hearing. God has created each individual uniquely, and each person has different twists and turns along the path of life. Some stories have made me laugh and smile, many have brought tears to my eyes. But each person, young and old, has experiences that have defined them. Similarly, they have dreams for their future. Listening to someone else’s story tells them that you care about them, and ultimately that God cares about them.
- A smile speaks a thousand words. A gentle, genuine smile really can reach the toughest hearts – at least this has been my experience. Regardless of an individual’s abilities, disabilities, or station in life, everyone is worthy of respect. When I cross paths with someone who is different than me, I try to make it a habit to look them in the eyes and smile.
- Christ can bring hope into the most hopeless situations. I have had the privilege of meeting individuals whose lives could have been the cause of deep pity, but who exuded unparalleled joy and hope because of Christ. They were an inspiration to me and left a deep mark in my heart that has matured into the understanding that Jesus is truly more than enough.
My prayer is that however you are involved in ministry, you would be able to count others as more significant than yourself. I pray that, together, as we serve, we will be quick to listen, quick to smile, and quick to share the gospel.
Ali Howard is a Baylor University graduate who has engaged in full-time, nonprofit work since 2011. She joined the Joni and Friends team in January 2015, and serves as the Senior Coordinator of Volunteer Services. She also acts as the content editor for the Irresistible Church blog and books.