I stopped by the grocery store today and saw my first Salvation Army bell ringer of the season. I told myself, “I don’t have time or any cash. I need to get home.”

“Sir, I hope you having a good day.” I was a little surprised at his address since I had not made eye contact. The joy in his voice touched me so I walked over to him. I responded “Sir, you’re out here in the cold helping others but who is willing to help you?” Smiling, he said, “I don’t want anyone to help me. I just want to help others.” I told him I wanted to change that and after a little banter he eventually gave in. “If you must,” he said, “a cup of coffee would be great.”

On my way out he met me with a joyful grin and expressed his gratitude for the coffee. He gave me a big bear hug and asked if he could tell me a quick story. Rushing home no longer mattered. I found myself captivated — eager to hear what he had to say.

He said he’d been lying in his bed at The Salvation Army the night before, reading the Bible, when he felt led to write down three specific verses. The next morning, he was convinced he would meet three specific people to whom he was supposed to give the verses. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. “I already gave out the other two verses and this is the only one I have left,” he said. “But I believe you are meant to get it. Can I read it to you?”

It was Hebrews 6:10, and he read it aloud: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

I was stunned. The encounter could have so easily been missed. I hugged him and expressed my thanks, though my words didn’t seem capable of conveying the desired depth. My first response to the bell ringer had been to see him as a person in need. I intended to bless him and discovered I was the one receiving the real gift.

The next time you walk past a bell ringer I challenge you to offer a hug, maybe a hot cup of coffee or at least a word of encouragement along with some change! Often, some of life’s best lessons come through unfamiliar teachers who are unsuspecting people of greatness. In giving, we receive. In forgiving, we are forgiven. In rescuing, we are rescued.

Jay Lowder/Harvest Ministries