Habitat or Humanity by Michelle Jones

When I think of home...

Two weeks in Kyrgyzstan was going to be Heaven or Hell on earth.  I had to decide which.

The Kyrgyz people were visibly shocked at the sight of African American me.  They gawked, gasped, and pointed me out to their children.  Some of them stared until I passed and then laughed.  Long story short, I got more attention than the statue of Lenin being removed from the square at the center of the capital city (I know, I was there).

Whenever there are differences—between people, places, or things—it is the nature of humans to be distracted by them.  Inwardly we draw distinctions and make decisions based on whatever conclusions we’ve drawn.

The pretty people and their rich friends are given a pass.  Old white women clutch their purses as they walk past young men of color.  Students make fun of the new kid.  Married women are suspicious of the divorcee in their midst.  The articulate are listened to before the less literate.

In Kyrgyzstan, the dark woman with the round eyes was a distraction.  I don’t know if I was deemed better or worse, but clearly I was worthy of more notice than others.

I was certain they meant me no harm, but I can’t say I didn’t feel injured.

My discomfort had little to do with feelings of inferiority or rejection.  I was feeling what many people feel in schools, on jobs, at churches, in marriages and families—among “good people” every day.  I was feeling HOMELESS.

The people of Kyrgyzstan taught me something I could not have learned without some pain.  We have to be deliberate about creating a “home” for the people who encounter us.

Metaphorically, home is a place of welcome and belonging. It is designed to reflect care, decorated with a smile, warmth, or an understanding heart.  Its windows—our eyes—are made for seeing people, not just looking at them.

When we decide to make a person feel at home with us, we do more than just greet them or take note of them.  We notice them.  We are interested in what brought them to us, and concern ourselves with what will keep them safe and happy while they are with us.

Home is different from “housing.”  Anyone who is or has been in a loveless marriage will tell you that.  We build housing for people when we allow them to occupy our space without allowing them to make it their space too.

It is easy to think we have done right by people because we haven’t raised a hand against them or didn’t slander them to their face.  But is it enough that we have done no harm when we have done no good in its stead?  Can we call ourselves innocent because we didn’t inflict the pain we see in someone’s eyes if we close our own eyes to it?  Isn’t it easier to be hated by someone you’ve never met than be ignored by someone next to you?

If we only see a person for a moment, that moment should be infused with meaning.  Consider the world that God created before He created us.  There is water for drinking and sun for light and energy.  Plants give us what we need to breathe and eat.  Without words, we know that earth is our home.  Before we were created, we were welcome here.

What kind of home have you made ready for the people around you?  Is there a place for the hurting and the happy, the worker and the wounded, the curious, the committed and the confused?  Can Miss Fit and misfit alike find acceptance with you?

A few days before I left Kyrgyzstan, I attended services at a small Christian church.  As they sang worship songs, people were turning around to stare.  Before his sermon, the pastor asked if there was anyone in our group of visitors who wanted to say something.

I went to the front, not sure what to say, but knowing I should say something.  When I looked into their faces, I had an unexpected revelation.  They were looking at someone different from them…and so was I.

“These have been the two most uncomfortable weeks of my life,” I said, and I told them about being stared at and how it made me feel.  They listened without judgment, without defensiveness.  As the translator spoke for me, I saw a few heads nod and smiles make faces a little wider.

Then I opened myself up fully and invited them into my fragile, messy home.  They treated it like their own.  There was tenderness in the weathered faces.  I had had their attention for weeks, and now they finally had mine.

Kyrgyzstan is more than 99% Muslim.  It struck me suddenly that a Christian in that land is as uncommon as a dark woman with round eyes.  I talked about how it should be as difficult to walk away from Christ as it would be for me to come out of my skin.

“You are my brother,” I found myself saying to the man directly in front of me.  “And you’re my sister…”

I went on pointing out person after person in my newly discovered family.  The smiles were toothy grins now, and I heard “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” like popcorn all over the tiny room.  I was home.  We were home.

The moment took my breath away and these beautiful people changed me forever.

Earth is most like Hell when we are kept from and keep others from belonging.  It is most like Heaven when we make ourselves, and others, at home.

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2 Comments

  1. Victoria Oliver said,

    October 8, 2010 at 5:37 am

    Beautifully said. And such a good reminder. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Kimberly Mock said,

    February 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    My daughter and I were homeless while living in Los Angeles. Many let us come into their home but their home was never really given to us to come into. No one never really shared their “space” with us. No one, NEVER really shared their heart by loving us. WE were homeless.


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