Last week my children and I were visiting the doctor in a questionable part of town. (This doctor believes in caring for inner-city kids, which I love!) We were in a small strip mall, and I’d just loaded up all the kids when my 3-year-old daughter, Alyssa, noticed a man in a wheelchair approaching us. He was an older, African American man with only one leg. He was thin, but he had kind eyes. He motioned to me, and instead of starting my engine I rolled down the window.

“Ma’am, do you happen to have a few dollars for food? I’m so hungry.”

Personally, I don’t believe in giving out money. I’ve seen what it’s used for by those whose addictions have a hold of them, but I will—when it is possible—help with food.

“Sir, I don’t have cash to give you, but I have some food here.” And I did! It “just so happened” that after Bible study that morning, my leader gave me a sack lunch because she knew I couldn’t stay for fellowship. I handed over the sandwich and cinnamon rolls.

I also had donuts. You see, it also “just so happened” that I’d found a Mexican bakery that morning and had bought some special treats for my grandma. After handing over the lunch, I pulled the largest donut from the box and handed that over, too.

“Ma’am?” the man asked, his eyes bright. “Is this cream-filled?”

“I’m not sure, sir.”

He didn’t wait to check. He stuck his finger into the donut and a smile lit his face. “It is!” He thanked me, and then he rolled out of the way of the car and started eating that donut with gusto.

My children had been quiet during the whole exchange. But as soon as we pulled out, Alyssa piped up, “Mom, we need to pray for that man!” And then, without hesitation, all three children began praying for him, out loud. It was like a mini tent revival happening in the backseat!

We’d driven just a few blocks away, when Bella, age 6, piped up next. “Mom, does that man have a home?”

I told her I didn’t know.

“Mom, we have to go back. We have to put him in our car!” Tears filled her eyes. “He can live with us, Mom. We have an extra bed!”

Tears filled my eyes, too, at her compassion. Yes, we did have an extra bed—the bottom bunk in her room. No, I wasn’t going to go get the man and have him sleep there, but we talked then about keeping extra snacks in the car for situations just like this.

As a mom, there are many things that are important. I want my kids to know how to cook and how to clean. I want them to be well-educated and respectful. I want them to love God and others, but I don’t simply want love to be by words alone, but by deeds.

With my three older children, there were days I felt very guilty because I “dragged them along” as I served at our local crisis pregnancy center. They also helped me watch kids of teen moms. They folded baby clothes. And they served in children’s church.

Looking back now, teaching my kids to serve (which was what I was doing) has turned out to be one of the greatest benefits of their lives. Cory (24) serves his wife and children. Leslie (21) is serving as a missionary in Europe. Nathan (19) often gives rides to blind members of our church congregation. Service isn’t something they do to earn brownie points but something that took root deep within them. How? By seeing me reaching out to the person God has put before me, offering what I have, and urging my children to do the same.

Service doesn’t mean you help everyone. It instead means there is one person who God’s going to bring into your path. You show the love of Jesus when you see that person not as a bother, but as someone who needs a glimpse of Jesus’ love that day. What could be greater than teaching our children that?