Stories invite risk
I was sitting in a local coffee shop when a friend stopped by my table to ask me what I was reading. I showed him Strangers at My Door and he asked, “Oh is that his new book where he tells a bunch of stories?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. Yes, stories are one of the book’s strengths, but to describe it as simply a collection of stories is to miss the point. Stanley Hauerwas describes it best in his printed endorsement: “With elegant prose honed by brutal honesty, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove provides a theological account of what it means to welcome the stranger.” Strangers at my Door is one of the best books about Christian hospitality I have ever read.
It’s a book of stories, a book of history, and a deeply theological book, but it is also an invitation. It’s an invitation to see your neighbours the way Jesus sees them or – more to the point – to see Jesus in your neighbours.
“Jesus told us where to find Him,” book’s tagline sums it up; “Just look for an outcast.” As a man who has dedicated his life to seeing Jesus in people most of us would consider outcasts, Jonathan here invites us to see how it has saved his life.
Having been inspired by Jonathan and the Rutba community for many years, I found the book answered a lot of my questions about what their daily life looks like. In the stories of the friends they’ve made along the way, I hear echoes of some of my own friendships. Woven through it all, I hear the unmistakable call from Jesus to take a risk and follow him.
If you’re looking for a manual to help you start a hospitality house, you won’t find a step-by-step process or an appendix filled with helpful documents like community covenants. This may frustrate some readers, but I’m not sure a how-to manual would be helpful. Hospitality is a one-size-fits one-lifestyle that is deeply impacted by geography.
Jonathan writes from his lived experience in a particular American neighbourhood with its own particular history. Part of developing your own practice of loving the stranger is to learn the story of your own neighbourhood and your own neighbours.
If Jonathan and his wife Leah started their hospitality house (called Rutba House) to save anyone, it was themselves. Although their choice to live in a low income-neighbourhood where they are a racial minority and to invite strangers to become friends by welcoming them into their home may seem radical to many, to Jonathan it is the most obvious way to obey Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home” (NLT).
Many of those strangers, like a man named Mac, became friends and eventually family for the people who choose to call Rutba their home. That process involves taking the time to get to know each other by listening to each other’s stories in the course of sharing life together. When you choose to see Jesus in the person standing next to you washing dishes, you will find him. When you choose to see Jesus in someone who has spent time living on the streets, Jesus will teach you some important lessons.
Jonathan also learns lessons about how well-intentional Christians sometimes hurt the people they are trying to help. For example, when Mac was living at a homeless shelter, his request to leave after curfew to attend his church was denied because it wasn’t on the list of churches approved by the shelter. “After listening to stories such as Mac’s and letting the stories get down in your bones,” Jonathan writes, “you know with everything in you that Jesus is the answer. And you know, just as surely, that Jesus is calling you deeper into God’s politics of justice and peace.”
Strangers at My Door will provide you with a theological framework and a real sense of the joys and struggles inherent in living a life where strangers become beloved friends.
Read the book, let it touch your heart, and then the next time Jesus knocks on the door, let him in. You’ll be glad you did.
—Rachel Twigg Boyce is director of House Blend Ministries, a community that, like Rutba House, seeks to see the face of Jesus in their neighbours.