by Brian Kaylor
(photo by Bill Webb/Word&Way)
Speaker and author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brought the keynote message at Churchnet’s 2014 Annual Gathering. He started his message by recalling hearing bombs falling in Baghdad. Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, joined other Christians in traveling to Iraq just as the U.S. government launched its 2003 “shockand- awe” military campaign. Recounting some of the stories from that experience, including seeing Iraqi Muslims live out the role of the ‘Good Samaritan’ to some of his wounded colleagues, Wilson-Hartgrove shared that he learned about hope from that experience.
Pointing to Psalm 130, from which the theme passage for the weekend gathering came, Wilson-Hartgrove noted that “the psalmist begins in the depths.” He pointed out that the psalmist cried out from the depths but then spoke of finding hope in the Lord.
“There’s something about genuine hope that has to begin in the depths,” Wilson-Hartgrove added. “In the depths that we would so often rather ignore. In the depths that if our money and our so-called privilege can allow us to we would rather stay away from. Yet, it’s in the depths I’ve found Christian hope.”
After returning from Iraq, Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife started an intentional Christian community they named “Rutba House” (after the city of Rutba in Iraq). He describes Rutba House as “a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together.” His most recent book, Strangers at My Door , includes many stories about life at Rutba House.
“I’ve begun to learn what Christian hope means,” he said. “The gift of life in community there at Rutba House to me has been learning the authentic hope that grows up out of the depths of the worst that our world can offer.”
Wilson-Hartgrove noted that one “Baptist hero” he continues to “lean on quite a bit” is Clarence Jordan. In 1942, Jordan co-founded Koinonia Farm in southwestern Georgia as a multi-racial Christian farming community. Despite violent attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and a devastating economic boycott from the local community, Jordan and the community persevered. Jordan later wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel and played a pivotal role in the creation of Habitat for Humanity.
Wilson-Hartgrove shared a quotation from Jordan that he finds helpful: “The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.”
“That’s the resurrection,” Wilson-Hartgrove added. “Jesus is alive and a new community is possible in the world.”
He added that he remains hopeful as he visits other Christians taking seriously this idea of living out the resurrection hope.