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Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests Paperback – November 5, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Convergent Books (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307731952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307731951
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door

Q) Jonathan, you and your wife opened Rutba House, a Christian community that welcomes visitors, guests, neighbors, and strangers, 10 years ago. Tell us about what inspired the concept and the name of this idea.

A) In the spring of 2003, we were in Baghdad with a Christian peacemaker delegation. Our country was bombing Iraq, but we were overwhelmed by the hospitality they showed us. Outside of a town called Rutba, a car in our caravan hit a piece of shrapnel in the road, blew its tire, and careened into the side ditch. Three of our friends split their heads open. When they stumbled out of the ditch to the roadside, they didn’t know what to do. But some Iraqis stopped, took them into their car, and drove them to a doctor in Rutba. This doctor said, “Three days ago your country bombed our hospital, but we will take care of you.” He saved our friends’ lives.

We came back to the US in 2003 telling that story, and the more I told it, the more I realized that it was the Good Samaritan story. The people who were supposed to be our enemies had stopped by the roadside to save our friends’ lives. They were the Good Iraqis, the Good Muslims. We moved to Durham, NC, that summer and started Rutba House as a house of hospitality to put into practice the welcome we’d received in Rutba.

Q) You recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Rutba House. What’s changed in the decade you’ve been part of this experience? What do you have for the next 10 years?

A) Looking back, we didn’t know what we were doing when we started here. The gift of our first decade has been friends—the people who’ve welcomed us and helped us figure out what we’re doing. When we started we were three outsiders—re-locators to the neighborhood. People were naturally suspicious. The guys on the street said we were a "police house." But we welcomed a brother who was coming home from prison, and he ended up being our host in the neighborhood, introducing us to half of the people we know.

Ten years ago, we put a lot of energy into connecting. We sat on front porches talking to neighbors, and we invited people over for big potluck dinners four nights a week. We had to work to establish rhythms that are sustainable for everyone. We had to die and get resurrected a few times. But as I think about the next ten years here, I think we have a lot of work to do for justice. We want to stand with these beautiful people who’ve shared their lives with us. And many of them face huge challenges—criminal convictions that keep them from getting a job, the stigma of a story they want to change. We still get to know new people every week, but a lot of our energies these days are spent keeping up with the extended family of Rutba House and learning with and from them what kind of world we need to work for.

Q) Can you share a story or two about some of your first visitors? Are any of them still involved with Rutba House today?

A)The brother I mentioned who came home from prison and welcomed us to the neighborhood—he rents the apartment next door to our first house, owns his own cab company, and stops by for dinner (and to do his laundry) every few days. So, yes, several folks are still around. Not all of these are "success stories." One dear brother who lived with us for a year was stabbed on the street just a few weeks ago. We met him when we first came to the neighborhood, and he’s taught me so much about what it means to learn to trust someone across the lines that so often divide us. But, wow, I was angry when I heard that he got in another fight and was nearly killed.

Life in a hospitality house is messy. Or maybe life here is just a little more honest, and all of us are a mess in one way or another. We’ve learned that there are lots of things we can’t fix, but there’s not anyone we can’t love. And, as Dorothy Day used to say, "love is the measure by which we’ll be judged."

Q) What have you learned from the people you’ve welcomed in the name of Jesus?

A) Little by little, I think I’m learning what it means to be human. The strangers who’ve showed up at my door and walked into our life have helped me to see that my fears do me a great disservice. They often separate me from the very people I need to help me find my way. I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Sometimes I think about the difference between me and most of our guests is the difference between people in the ER and people on the cancer ward at a hospital. You know, if you come in with a flesh wound, everybody knows you’re messed up. But if you have cancer it’s a hidden wound. Something has to reveal the problem if you’re going to have any hope of healing.

People who become homeless have flesh wounds that everyone can see. Most of them don’t try to hide their junk. Sharing life with them, I’ve learned to be more honest about my own hang-ups. They’ve forced me to. Without these friends, I might have easily wrecked my marriage on the shores of ambition. But the Jesus at our door is always reminding me that what I’m about in the world is bigger than me. We need one another to survive and we stay together by grace.


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

More About the Author

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a celebrated spiritual author and sought-after speaker. A native of North Carolina, he is a graduate of Eastern University and Duke Divinity School.

In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together. Jonathan directs the School for Conversion, an organization that has grown out of the life of Rutba House to pursue beloved community with kids in their neighborhood, through classes in North Carolina prisons, and in community-based education around the country. He is also an Associate Minister at the historically black St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church.

Jonathan is a co-complier of the celebrated Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and is the author of several books on Christian spirituality, including The Awakening of Hope, The Wisdom of Stability, and The New Monasticism.

An evangelical Christian who connects with the broad spiritual tradition and its monastic witnesses, Jonathan is a leader in the New Monasticism movement. He speaks often about emerging Christianity to churches and conferences across the denominational spectrum and has given lectures at dozens of universities, including Calvin College, Bethel University, Duke University, Swarthmore College, St. John's University, DePaul University, and Baylor University.

Connect with Jonathan at

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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This was probably one of my favorite recently read books.
Abdue Knox
It shows us what it means to live in the faith that the resurrected Jesus really has made a new way of life possible, and that he meets us in the stranger.
Roger Owens
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has written one of those true stories about his journey in his book, Strangers at my Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality.
Michael R. Deutsch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany Malloy on November 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
Every now and then I read a book that I can’t put down. The stories not only capture my full attention, but I’m left thinking about the characters long after the book is over. Strangers at my Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is a book that sucked me into the beautiful mess of living in a hospitality house.

For those unfamiliar with that term, hospitality houses are homes that always have open doors for whoever may need it. There are people in these homes who are long-term community members, but they also have people who come and go. The purpose of the hospitality house is to welcome the stranger, just as Jesus welcomed us. For many, this sounds like an awful, terrifying idea. It goes against everything we believe in- what about the issues of safety and privacy and nuclear family , etc etc? In this book, Jonathan talks about some of those through the stories of people and situations that he has experienced in the hospitality house that he started in Durham, North Carolina.

More than this, however, he tells the stories of the strangers who have taught him more about God than what he could have learned by sitting through a sermon or listening to a podcast of a great preacher. He tells stories of the strangers who have turned into close friends and second family. How does a Washington-bound twenty-something end up raising a small family in a house full of people who are very unlike him?

Jonathan also does a fantastic job of weaving the theological foundation of welcoming the stranger throughout this book. The book is more than stories in that way that it makes the reader confront his or her thoughts and feelings towards the type of hospitality that goes beyond the idea of inviting a new family in the neighborhood over for pot roast. It’s a challenging book in that way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Samuel H. Burr Jr. on May 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I think someone may have already described Jonathan's book as lived theology. It is a good description. These stories of people who have come through the door of their hospitality house help me to see lived out what it means to befriend the stranger and welcome her or him into a loving community. So this is what it looks like! There is nothing pollyanna in these stories. Not every story has a good ending. This road, this way of following Jesus is not portrayed as an easy way to live. It is a hard road Jonathan writes about here. But it is clearly portrayed as a journey of love where one can find Jesus and the soul rest he promised as well. Because I miss so much of the glory and wonders of each day, I pray often asking God to help me see outbreaks of God's love that I otherwise would miss. In these stories I find many moments of joy, awakenings of hope. I am grateful for what these stories have to teach me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kent Dunnington on May 4, 2014
Format: Paperback
I read this book over Easter weekend, and it was truly a gift. I needed to hear the stories that Jonathan told, to be reminded of my need for others, even and especially those who make me uncomfortable or angry. This book brought me condemnation and hope all at once, as salvation always does.

I especially loved the description of the "complicated dance" Jonathan engaged in with "Gary." It was a most helpful metaphor for me of the way in which the path to truth and beloved community is interspersed with moments of clumsiness and frustration along with grace and beauty.

The book was so beautifully written and so honest. It was food for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. Martindell on May 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
Heard Jonathan read excerpts from this book and was just spellbound. It captivated the audience -- the room fell silent as we were swept into each tale. I appreciated his honesty about trying to live out his faith by learning from the most unexpected, unconventional teachers. (As Henri Nouwen says: "Interruptions are occasions for conversions of the heart.") The characters in this book are real people with multi-layered stories, and they help us come to grips with our own complex stories. God is never finished with us, and I pray God will write my story similarly to how God is writing Jonathan's, Leah's, and all the members of their neighborhood.

Read this book if you're feeling a nudge...feeling on the cusp of something...feeling ready to open up to a challenge and go deeper.

I have also read his Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line, and The Wisdom of Stability.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Maria R. Kenney on May 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this book is its honesty. Our culture tends to applaud books, especially Christian books, that contain vignettes which display easy victories and the effortless nature of God's work in our lives. In contrast, the Rutba House stands as a testament to the slow, careful, often confusing work of the kingdom. Most poignant to me was the story of moving their friend and her many pets from place to place, struggling with their opinions on her health and well-being and yet allowing her to determine what made her own life happy and complete. Walking with the author (and the community) through their relationships with the community, watching strangers become friends, opens our eyes to the possibilities that surround us, should we be brave and faithful enough to welcome them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rcrevreview on April 30, 2014
Format: Paperback
There are a lot of ways to write a book about hospitality. In Strangers at My Door, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove combines many important ingredients to create a beautiful account of what Christian hospitality looks like. First of all, it's comes out of a real community - not just one person's life, but the life of a group of people who have been rooted in a place for the past ten years. Of all the books that come out, it's rare to find ones that tell of a place that has been lived in for more than a few years. Second, he tells this story with such grace and honesty that it's very engaging to read. He shows the weaknesses of himself, his community, and perhaps most difficultly, of the people he welcomes. And finally, what I'm most thankful for is the way that he helps us see Jesus. His story is deeply informed by the Good News of Jesus Christ, and readers are able to see how God's work in this world is alive today through the words and acts of communities like Rutba and their neighbors.
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