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I recently started volunteering at a local food and clothing pantry and thrift store. I grew up serving in some capacity to help others in need. Every holiday our family would deliver food, serve hot meals to the homeless, or deliver items needed for the elderly. You would think I would be accustomed to the tragic stories of need I hear weekly. Thankfully, my heart hasn’t hardened to people’s needs.

I’m reminded of another story … my own.  In 2009, our church choir and orchestra volunteered to help Operation Care International at the Dallas Convention Center for their Christmas program. Operation Care assists the homeless in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (and now internationally). They estimated over 10,000 people to show up to receive much-needed clothes and services that day. There must have been more.

Volunteers were allowed to choose how they wanted to serve that Saturday … delivering clothing, providing shoes, serving meals, one-to-one counseling, or footwashing. I was in line to give out shoes (so I thought), but I didn’t read the sign correctly and I ended up in the footwashing line, and that was NOT where I wanted to be. Although I didn’t want to serve in this way, God kept saying “just do it … you’ll see.”

Since medical personnel actually did the footwashing, I was there to assist with supplies. I guarantee this was a very humbling experience. My eyes were opened wide to the plight of the homeless. Each guest received medical attention and a new pair of shoes and socks (an absolute must for someone walking 20+ miles a day). Though I was smiling on the outside, I held back tears welling up inside my heart.

At the conclusion of my 6-hour time stint, I exited the Convention Center. There was still a very long line of people waiting to come in to register for services. As I passed the line headed to my car, I looked to my left and saw a man I recognized. We had worked together at a downtown law firm years before. He was an attorney then, and was now apparently homeless. I don’t think he recognized me, but it didn’t matter. I recognized him and realized the lesson God was teaching me that day … there but for the grace of God go I.

The origin of this saying is unknown, but it has been in use since at least the 1700s. However expressed, there but for the grace of God go I is a statement of humility and gratitude that acknowledged my sinful ways and the need for God’s grace. In a way I was thinking, “That could have been me but for God’s grace.”

In 1 Corinthians 15:9–10, Paul wrote: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

The plight of the homeless is not restricted to large metropolitan areas. Rural areas have an ever-increasing homeless population. I encourage everyone to seek out a local ministry that serves the needs of the homeless. By serving those in need, you help us all. You won’t regret it.

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