FARMINGTON, Mo. — Author and speaker Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Durham, N.C., recalls falling sound asleep when he and his wife and a group arrived at their Bagdad hotel after being awake traveling for most of two days.
He recounted his experience during the Churchnet Annual Gathering April 11-12 at First Baptist Church, Farmington.
It was 2003, and U.S. bombs were starting up for the night about a week after the U.S. military launched its “Shock and Awe” attacks. Their group had trouble sleeping, of course.
As they walked around town in the morning among people trying to clean up from the night’s bombing damage, they encountered a man whose daughter had perished in the attack. “If this is democracy, we don’t want it,” the distraught father told the minister.
After about a week, for their own safety, the group was taken out of the country in three vehicles traveling together. The third one struck a piece of shrapnel along the road near the desert village of Rutba, blew a tire and overturned, he said. Three passengers were injured and needed medical care.
The first two cars turned back to help, but some Iraqis arrived first and took the travelers to a medical center that had been damaged by bombing.
Wilson-Hartgrove listened as medical personnel pointed out what they had lost in facilities due to bombing, anticipating doctors might decline to help the injured Americans.
To his surprise, they turned their attention to the injured and began to tend to them. When other team members asked them why they were helping, they simply replied, “Because this is what we do.”
Soon, the injured had received treatment and were on their way again.
The Iraqi benevolence was not lost on the young minister. “It was the story of the Good Samaritan,” he marveled. “These Muslims and Iraqis were God’s” caregivers to unlikely visitors in their village.
“We came back to the United States in 2003 and told that story everywhere,” he said.
Shortly after that, he and his family moved to Durham, N.C. “We wanted to practice the hospitality we had experienced,” he explained.
They opened a ministry called Rutba House, named after the town where they had been helped. The ministry has operated for 11 years. He describes it as a place where the formerly homeless find shelter and acceptance.
Wilson-Hartgrove acknowledges he has been influenced by the late Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm, which Jordan opened in 1942, to show that blacks and whites could live and work together amicably.
Alluding to Easter and the resurrection, he said that Jesus is alive “and he is likely to show up at the door and bring his hungry friends with him.”
The Rutba House ministry is not unusual, the minister suggested. “There are thousands of little groups that are living it out in the concrete way of Jesus,” he said.