Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrave have taken hospitality to a whole new level. Founding Rutba House, they have ingrained themselves in Walltown, a Durham, NC, neighborhood, where they take in homeless men and women so that they can land safely and try to take control of their lives. Their book, Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests, will challenge what you think you know about homelessness, and hospitality, begging you to consider how you might get involved.
Last month, I finished Tattoos on the Heart, an exploration of a Catholic priest’s efforts to integrate his ministry in the community with reforming gang members. Reading Strangers at My Door, I find the same sense of wide-open, mind-blowing love that looks a lot like the Jesus of the Gospels who cared for murderers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the demon-possessed, without judgment or finger pointing. It truly is inspirational, and moving, as Wilson-Hartgrove recounts story after story.
Noticeably, the homeless people, drug addicts, and criminals who are mentioned here all have names. It seems so basic, right? But the truth is that the love they receive through Rutba House humanizes them in a way that years of branding, recrimination, and the downward spiral of what’s expected of them has hammered them even lower. There are expectations for how they need to interact and participate in the house, but this is a communal, democratic negotiation.
I love reading stories like these because they challenge me to be more gracious and more openhearted. But the historical ramifications of Durham, of the Civil War, and of homelessness in general are additional attributes that make this more than just a memoir. Additionally, Wilson-Hartgrave’s experience and knowledge of the prison system, the death penalty, and the social service problems in Durham make it a significantly deeper (and complex) book than it might have been otherwise.
For anyone seeking to make a difference, or looking to be inspired, Strangers at My Door has what it takes to be a life-changing read, and an entrée into a world of faith that many of us have never known.