Recent news about the battle for control of the north Ethiopian state of Tigray has filled me with deep sadness because Ethiopia is very dear to my heart. Since 2005 Habitat for Humanity has developed a special partnership that has resulted in the building of many houses for poor families across the country. During our first Habitat for Humanity trip to Dessie in Ethiopia we met a little girl called Ephata, a name taken from the Hebrew word which translated means ‘Be Opened’. Jesus used that word when he cured the man who couldn’t hear or talk. Since meeting Ephata, I’ve often reflected upon how Habitat for Humanity has opened not just ears and mouths but hearts and homes to so many families in need. This is still so crucial as we face the worst refugee crisis in Europe since WWII and in a world where 1.6 billion people still don’t have a proper place to call home.
Opening doors is what Habitat is all about – not just doors of houses but doors of opportunity, love and mercy. Doors are hugely symbolic – we couldn’t do without them. Physical doors close to bring protection and security – they mark the place we call home and give us a safe space to live and raise our families. But often the most important doors are the invisible ones – in our minds and hearts. If they remain shut they can exclude and separate us from each other and God.
It’s always humbling to see the impact of Habitat for Humanity’s work. But it’s even more important to cross new thresholds of hope into a world where everyone has a proper place to live. That’s our dream! As we reflect on the world we live in and the world we’d like to see what doors need to be opened to make our dream a reality? Over the past 16 years so many doors have been opened not just for Habitat homeowners in Ethiopia but also for our students, young people and volunteers. For some their involvement with Habitat has steered them into the world of International Development. For others the way they have been openly welcomed by the people of Ethiopia has opened their hearts and minds to a new way of seeing how the world works. Doors help us to meet and share, to break bread and find new life.
That little girl Ephata from Dessie in Ethiopia challenges all of us to open the doors of our hearts and discover the light that shows us the way forward into the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is a place where there is room for everyone and nobody need feel left outside. As we pray for a resolution to the conflict in Tigray, we also pray that Habitat for Humanity will continue to open many more doors of hope, to new homes and opportunities. As a simple chant from the Taize community in France puts it: The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come Lord and open in us the gates of your Kingdom.
Fr Raymond McCullagh is Chaplain to Ulster University, Coleraine Campus and Habitat for Humanity Ireland Volunteer.
Photo from 2005 Habitat Student Build Project to Ethiopia. Our team member Paula holds Ephata in her arms outside a new Habitat house in Dessie, Northern Ethiopia.