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I guess I have knocked on more than my share of front doors. When I was a kid growing up in a small town in rural Missouri, I went door to door to earn a few dollars of spending money. In the fall, I carried a little suitcase of sample Christmas cards around our end of town, knocking on doors and selling a few boxes to kind folks who liked the idea of getting their Christmas cards from a little boy, Pastor Hill’s son.
Then, in the early spring I hit the doors of every house that had a garden around back, selling seeds, all kinds of vegetable and flower seeds. Not much margin in seeds, as I recall. I never made more than twenty-five bucks all spring, but that paid for a new baseball bat or whatever caught my eye.
It must have been good training because I’ve been knocking on doors my whole life, and not just in my old neighborhood. I've done all kinds of church outreach and mission projects all the way back to bus ministry and canvasing for VBS. And I’ve done it in all kinds of places. All around Kansas City, from affluent Johnson County to the rough neighborhoods east of Troost along Forrest Avenue and the Paseo. White, Black, Latino, Vietnamese, all kinds of folks.
Come to think of it, I’ve knocked on doors in the districts of Pretoria, South Africa, in the Dalit (Untouchable) villages of rural India, and all over Eastern Europe. One thing is abundantly clear to me. Most of the world, even the most impoverished, are far better at hospitality than we affluent Americans. Always a welcome, always generosity, always grace and kindness, a real lesson for me.
Imagine my horror when I heard the news of a black sixteen-year-old boy sent to pick up his little brothers, accidentally showing up on 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace, and ringing the doorbell. No words, no greeting, no questions, no conversation. Two shots, a bullet to the head and another to the arm, fired by an elderly white man who apparently believed the boy to be a threat.
The story gets worse. Wounded and bleeding, the boy, Ralph Yarl, sought aid from other houses on that same street, but no one opened their door. No one tried to help, until finally one neighbor called 911 and came to his aid, a mother caring for another mother’s son.
I can’t stop thinking about it, pondering all those porches and doorbells in my life, and what happened to young Ralph. And I can’t help wondering how many good church-going folks may live there on 115th Street. How many of us pay more attention to the color of a boy’s skin than our calling in Christ, to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger and recognize the image of God in all people?
I am haunted by the words of Jesus. “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me.... Behold, I stand at the door and knock ....”