Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests

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Overview

Jesus Told Us Where to Find Him. Just Look for an Outcast.
 
His first followers knew that Jesus could be found with the fatherless, the widows, and the hungry and homeless. He said that he himself was a stranger, and commended those who welcomed him. If he really meant these things, what would happen if you opened your door to every person who came with a need?
 
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Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests

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Overview

Jesus Told Us Where to Find Him. Just Look for an Outcast.
 
His first followers knew that Jesus could be found with the fatherless, the widows, and the hungry and homeless. He said that he himself was a stranger, and commended those who welcomed him. If he really meant these things, what would happen if you opened your door to every person who came with a need?
 
Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove decided to find out. The author and his wife moved to the Walltown neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, where they have been answering the door to anyone who knocks. When they began,  they had little idea what might happen, but they counted on God to show up.
 
In Strangers at My Door, Wilson-Hartgrove tells of risks and occasional disappointments. But far more often there is joy, surprise, and excitement as strangers become friends, mentors, and helpers. Immerse yourself in these inspiring, eye-opening accounts of people who arrive with real needs, but ask only for an invitation to come in.

You will never view Jesus and the people he cares about the same way again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/23/2013
Wilson-Hartgrove (The New Monasticism) tells a story that deserves to be loved. He and his wife Leah founded Rutba House in Durham, N.C., a Christian community that over the years has opened its arms to the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the needy, and those paroled from prison. From such experience and relationships, Wilson-Hartgrove has learned to view the world through the eyes of the downtrodden. Yet though his heart is in the right place, sometimes his writing falls short. Is it the occasional cliché ("smiling from ear to ear"), clumsy diction ("swinging words like I wanted to swing my fist") or a certain sameness to the people he describes despite their different stories? The heartfelt message-–that the disadvantaged help Wilson-Hartgrove more than he helps them—becomes at times repetitive. Towards the end, however, Wilson-Hartgrove writes compellingly of a white woman who wants a neighborhood watch in a place where relations with the police are fractured. Here his anger proves that he can write powerfully and well. Agent: Greg Daniel, Daniel Literary Group. (Nov. 5)
From the Publisher
Praise for Strangers at My Door

Strangers at My Door is not only an invitation into the life of a hospitality house; it’s an invitation into real Christianity. By that I mean the radical inclusivity of Jesus that embraces and fights for the ones mainstream society shuns and abhors and terminates without batting an eye. It is, in short, an invitation for each of us to open our lives to the stranger and become more fully human.”
—Sister Helen Prejan, author of Dead Man Walking

“We Franciscans are always happy and impressed when other folks discover what we were supposed to be known for! The Franciscan ‘charism’ never dies and always re-emerges in fresh form—because it is the very ‘marrow of the Gospel’. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is teaching you how to live that Gospel in our time, and in such fresh and alive ways.”
—Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., academic dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation, Center for Action and Contemplation

“Fifty years ago, when the Civil Rights movement came to Mississippi, I saw the wisdom of the approach that says, ‘Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them.’ Those young people did what Jesus had done, and black folks from the South were able to change America and say, ‘We've done it ourselves.’ Jonathan and his friends at Rutba House have joined that same quiet revolution, and they are not alone. They give me hope that America may yet be born again.”
—John M. Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association

“With elegant prose honed by brutal honesty, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove provides a theological account of what it means to welcome the stranger—strangers who often turn out to lack any gratitude. Wilson-Hartgrove’s narrative gives one hope as he refuses to be defeated by ungratefulness.”
—Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Wilson-Hartgrove (The Awakening of Hope), a leader in the New Monasticism movement, and his wife, Leah, are the founders of Rutba House, a Christian community in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, NC. There, they practice radical hospitality, taking very seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew's gospel: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." This volume is a collection of stories and reflections on this shared life. What sets this ministry apart is the way in which the Wilson-Hartgroves actively shun the typical imperialistic narrative of the privileged who give food, money, and religion to the needy from a safe and comfortable distance. Here, it works in reverse. As the author and his wife immerse themselves in the life of the neighborhood and participate in the joys and sufferings of its people, they believe that Jesus shows up in the midst of them, frequently in the form of the homeless, addicted, and imprisoned. Throughout, the book allows room for complexity as it touches on race, class, poverty, addiction, criminal justice, and the history of place. VERDICT This is an honest and beautifully messy example of real people living out their faith rather than simply talking about it. Recommended for readers seeking pathways toward more genuine spirituality.—Brian Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307731951
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 410,333
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a popular speaker and well-known peace and social-justice activist. With Shane Claiborne he founded the New Monastic movement, which emphasizes an intentional life of prayer, seeking consensus, and engagement in the world. Jonathan and his wife, Leah, founded Rutba House, a Christian community that welcomes visitors, guests, neighbors, and strangers. In addition, he serves as an associate pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. The author of more than a dozen books, his writings include The Awakening of Hope and The New Monasticism.
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Read an Excerpt

Preface
Judgment Day

The house is cold at midnight, so I put on slippers before going downstairs. Everyone else has gone to bed, including my son, whose asthma was complicated tonight by a cold. I tiptoe across the hardwood floor, careful not to wake anyone, and take a drinking glass from the cabinet. But before I turn on the faucet, I hear the shuffle of feet at the door.

Knock, knock.

Whoever is standing outside, I know, can read the words of Jesus engraved on our door knocker: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The visitor who is knocking probably has heard the story about how my wife, Leah, and I were part of a peacemaker delegation in 2003. We visited Iraq at the time of America’s intensive bombing campaign. On a desolate desert road, our friends were nearly killed when their driver lost control after hitting a chunk of shrapnel in the road. But some locals picked them up and took them to the doctor in a town called Rutba.

“Three days ago,” the doctor said, “your country bombed our hospital. But we will take care of you.”

Literally by accident, we lived a modern-day Good Samaritan story. The Good Iraqi—the Good Muslim—showed us what God’s love looks like. When we heard Jesus say, “Go and do likewise” at the end of that gospel story, we knew it was an invitation to practice the love we had received. So we named this place Rutba House. We put a knocker by the front door that bears Jesus’s statement about being a welcomed Stranger. We invited folks who were homeless to consider this their home.

For a decade now, they have. They have come here after fleeing abusive partners, and they’ve come straight from prison—sometimes for a night, sometimes for life. They’ve shown up scared by the trauma of war abroad and haunted by the horrors of violence in homes that fell apart. They’ve been drug dealers who wanted a fresh start, lifelong addicts who needed a place to die, kids whose families had come undone, street workers who wanted to sit down and eat a sandwich. They’ve brought with them a universe that’s every bit as broken as that bombed-out highway in the Iraqi desert.

They come here with pressing needs, and they have taught me hope. I believe in the miracle of Rutba, and not just because I lived it in the desert of Iraq. I’ve seen the miracle repeated time and again, right here in my home. A knock comes at our door, and we are saved.

“This being human is a guest house,” wrote the Sufi poet Rumi. We are, each of us, a hospitality house of sorts. We go about our daily lives on busy streets, often strapped to a piece of steel moving at forty miles per hour. But even if it’s through a car window with the doors locked, our eyes connect with the stranger who stands on the corner of Fourth and Main, holding a cardboard sign. Whether we invite him to or not, this stranger comes knocking, asking to be heard, begging to be seen. So, what to do?

Be smart, our instincts tell us. Your spare change will not help the addict who’s only going to use those dollars to get another high, another drink. Better to send a check to the local homeless shelter. Maybe vote for someone who’ll mend our tattered social safety net. Besides, you can’t stop for everyone. Best to keep on going. If you’re honest—if you’ve ever stopped to have the conversation because your kid said, “Help him, Dad”—you know there’s more to this than smarts, more than a simple, rational response. That knot in your gut that makes you feel stuck—that sounds the alarm to say, Get out of here—is a weight you’ve felt before. You felt it every time you saw the bully on the playground in elementary school. You felt it when the doctor said, “I’m sorry. It’s cancer.” You felt it that time when you looked out over the kids playing in the swimming pool and couldn’t for the life of you spot your kid. That feeling, you know, is fear.

“Welcome everything,” Rumi wrote, because however frightening, however unwanted, the person who comes across our paths—the unexpected visitor—may be “a guide from beyond.” To leave the door locked—to close ourselves off from another person in fear—is to reduce our capacity to connect, to love, to be fully human. If, indeed, this being human is a guest house, then hope comes to us, as Mother Teresa often said, in the “distressing disguise of the poor.”

I am an eyewitness to all of this. But still I stop in my tracks at midnight, as I get a drink of water. I am tired from the day’s work and a host of concerns. I am worried about my sick kid. Yes, that could be Jesus out on the porch, knocking. But it also could be Greg, drunk off his tail, ready to tell me (way too loudly) about how he lost his cell phone for the fourth time this month. It could be Larry, nervous as a cornered cat, wondering if I’ll buy the brand-new toaster he just “found”—still in the box. Or it could be Patrice, out of her head again, wondering if she can sit and chill for a minute so she doesn’t go home and “kill that big mouth, Lamont.”

Over the years, I have seen a few folks get up from the dead. But I also have stared death in its ugly face, wondering if I would survive. Welcome everything, and you’ll witness miracles. Welcome everything, and life can get complicated. So, as much as I cling to Rumi’s wisdom and Jesus’s identity as a Stranger, I also appreciate the succinct honesty of William Stafford’s poem “Easter Morning.” Stafford knew the miracle that can happen when you open the door and welcome a gift from beyond. “You just shiver alive,” he wrote, “and are left standing / there suddenly brought to account: saved.” But Stafford also knew that sometimes the stranger who comes knocking wants to sell you the moon. Sometimes the slick voice at your door will try to sell you hell, “which is what you’re getting by listening.” I’ve been there too.

So, what to do? A decade of stories flash across my mind as I stand in our kitchen, silent, half praying that whoever is outside on the porch won’t knock again.

But they do.

Knock, knock.

Stafford wrote, “I’d say always go to the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then, / while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward / and say carefully, ‘Jesus?’”

Is this Jesus at the door, a guide from beyond come to save me, however inconvenient his timing may be? Or is it just the beginning of another long night in the ER?

I decide to see who’s there. I go for the same reason I came here to Walltown on the west side of Durham—for the same reason I’ve stayed. Because strangers and friends keep teaching me about realities that I’d often rather ignore. They keep inviting me to share their pain—to enter into their suffering, even. And there, in the damp, cold darkness, I learn to face myself.

I go to the door because I don’t know who I am without this community of the down-and-out who have trusted me when they had every reason not to. I go to see who’s there because the Jesus I want to know is the Jesus who comes knocking at midnight, bringing his tired and homeless friends with him.

Strangers at My Door is a book about the friends I’ve met over a decade of shared life in a house of hospitality. I wrote it because I believe these stories should be told. My aim is to hear the knock and to ask, “Who’s there?” in the most immediate sense. When we answer the knock at the door, we begin to answer the question “Who are the homeless?” In the wealthiest society to ever exist, hundreds of thousands of people live without the necessities, without a place where they belong. Homelessness has been explored as both a social problem and an issue in public-policy debates. But most of us have failed to seriously consider homelessness for what it is: the social cancer of an advanced capitalism in which people are reduced to autonomous individuals. The homeless, it may well be, are all of us, exposed.

My experience has been that we cannot face the reality of our homeless neighbors without also confronting the darkest fears and twisted desires within ourselves. So I wrote this book also as a confession of sorts. I am a “red-letter Christian” who has tried to take the words of Jesus seriously (his words were printed in red in the King James Version of the Bible that I grew up reading). While I’m not trying to make a case for Christianity and I don’t assume that you buy its claims (though you very well might), I believe this stuff. I see the world through Jesus-colored glasses.

But often I have found myself sorely disappointed, both by my own easy answers and by my fellow Christians, as I’ve tried to wrestle with the unspeakable reality that so many homeless friends face. This book is a confession that, at precisely the places where we should have been, people of faith have often been absent. What’s more, many homeless friends who have struggled in the darkness, lonely and losing hope, have prayed, “Who’s there?”—only to hear silence. These stories seek to honor their struggle with faith.

But this collection of stories also is an invitation to hope. Because, for all the messiness of our life at Rutba House—for all of my own shortcomings, for all of our doubts and disappointments—I’ve leaned into the darkness, my face pressed against the screen, and I’ve seen the Jesus who’s there—the Jesus who invites us to become a new kind of human community here and now.

This is a book about the hope that’s possible when we trust a grace that’s greater than ourselves and go to the door to see who’s there.

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  • Posted August 13, 2014

    What would happen if we took seriously the command of Jesus to w

    What would happen if we took seriously the command of Jesus to welcome the strangers who might come to our door? Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife decided to find out--and Strangers at My Door is their story.

    Their story begins with an experience they had in Baghdad in 2003 when they were there with a Christian peacemaker delegation. There was a severe car accident and three of their friends were badly injured. In a situation reminiscent of the story of the Good Samaritan, some Iraqis stopped and took them to a hospital where they were treated, despite the fact that the US had bombed the hospital three days earlier.

    As they returned to the United States and told their story, they realized they had been challenged to live out what they believed, and so they moved to Durham, North Carolina, and founded Rutba House, named after the town where the incident occurred. They said that they would welcome any and all who came to their door

    .Looking back, they acknowledge that they didn't really know what they were doing. They were a white family in a primarily black neighborhood, and there was a lot of learning and trust that had to develop on both sides.There are many success stories from Rutba House, but not everything was a success. However, they learned that while they couldn't fix everyone and everything, they could love everyone...see everyone as a human being.

    It's a terrifying concept, but it's also a challenge to live out what those of us who are Christian say we believe. It's not easy...but given the divide in our world today, it is a challenge that we desperately need to take.

    I received this book without charge from Multnomah Publishing in exchange for writing a review. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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