Living with an open door policy means a whole lot more to me than it used to. It used to be just a saying, a phrase that meant “come on over whenever you like”, and it does mean that.
But here in Africa, I really do have an open door policy. Mainly because I just usually leave the door to my house literally open.
I’m not sure when exactly this became my normal, but if I’m home, then I open the door and I leave it that way. It allows the fresh rainy season breeze to blow through; it lights up the living room with natural sunlight. It makes the porch feel like an extra room instead of a thing attached to the outside.
A lot of people in Africa don’t even have doors. (On a side note, it makes me laugh how many patients and family members come to the hospital and don’t know how to open the door in the maternity because it has a handle.) They just hang curtains in the doorway. If your curtain is closed, it either means you are out or you are sleeping. If it is open, it means come on in. I think the open door policy was invented in west Africa because it’s the default setting of life in general.
Living with the door open means “welcomed intruders” nearly all day long, whether it’s the neighbor or a curious little boy or the occasional chicken. One time, I was cooking in the kitchen when I heard someone talking in the living room, and I looked up to see that it was a lady selling bananas who stuck her head (piled high with bananas) right through the doorway and was calling out to me.
Another day, I was sitting at the kitchen table writing verses onto colorful paper to give a missionary kid on her ninth birthday. I heard steps on the terrace and soon enough, a young teenage girl stuck her head – all wrapped in Muslim attire – in the door and then walked on in. I invited her to sit down at the table with me, and after a few greetings I learned that she was a part of the Muslim family that we live with, a cousin or something, and that she was just visiting. She was in the seventh grade, which is when they start learning English as a subject. I asked her to read what I was writing, which happened to be from Psalm 139 that says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” She did a beautiful job, and I praised her for her reading skills and then asked if she understood what she had read. When she shook her head no, I passed her my french Bible, and together we looked it up and she read more of the passage. After finishing she asked, “Is this the Bible?” and I wondered if this was the first exposure she has ever had.
I explained what I was doing and what the verses mean to me, and then I told her that it is true for her, too. That God formed her in her mother’s womb. That she is fearfully and wonderfully made. That God knows the number of her days and has written them in his book. That he knows her and is not far off from her.
I wondered what these words meant to a Muslim girl, who has grown up knowing about a God who is distant and uninvolved, but not knowing him as a Father or a friend who knows her and thinks she is lovely. She has to cover her head and completely hide her beauty because her femininity is a seduction that must be covered and controlled.
She listened and seemed to ponder with her beautiful eyes. I picked up my pen again and a clean sheet of patterned paper to write one last verse, but this one I didn’t pick for the nine year old’s birthday. This one I picked for her, she who sat across the table from me, who came waltzing into my house uninvited because I live with a literal open door policy, and who just happened to come in when I was writing these verses from an open bible on the table right in front of where she sat down.
I thumbed through my Bible and saw Isaiah 42:6 underlined, and it seemed to jump off the page, so I passed it to her to read as I wrote slowly, explaining each word and phrase. It was the hand holding part I wanted her to hear, and I’m not even sure why, except that I wanted to share something more personal and intimate about God than what Muslim culture offers. I even took her hand in mine as I explained how God is faithful to hold our hands even in difficult times when we place our trust in him. Her eyes locked into mine and she smiled. Maybe God knew that she needed that today.
We didn’t talk about Jesus. Maybe next time. What counts today is that the door was open, she ventured in, and she opened a Bible and received truth from God’s Word for what could have been the first time. That’s how seeds are planted, I suppose.
And that’s why I’ll leave the door open as long as I’m home.
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