by Erin MacKenzie
A fellow missionary burst out laughing as she walked into my house the other day, and immediately pulled out her phone to snap a photo.
I guess I can understand why she laughed. The first thing you see when you enter my home is a crucifix hanging on the wall. The second thing you see is that this crucifix is surrounded by seven sets of keys, also hanging on the wall.
Allow me to explain. Before I moved in three weeks ago, the prior occupants, another missionary family, had in their entryway a feature wall of crosses they’d collected over the years. Only the nails now remain as a last vestige of their decor. The center nail bears my crucifix, and the rest, my keys (at least until I find a suitable wall-mounted key rack).
Each set of keys is painstakingly grouped with others that fall into a similar category and labeled as such: the ones I take whenever I leave the house, my office keys, a spare set for occasional houseguests, etc.
Why so many, you ask? There are 12 padlocks around my house (not counting the ones that serve no apparent purpose!). Twelve. Beautiful ironwork gates are not uncommon in the neighborhood where the Dominican Republic-based missionary team lives and works, but my house has taken security to a new extreme. From the sliding portón in front of the driveway to the cage around the backup battery for my generator to the door leading outside from the laundry room, each barred entry is secured by a lock, and each is accessible only by its corresponding key.
It may sound like I live in a fortress meant to impose limits, to restrict entry, to maintain careful distance. Anyone who doesn’t have the keys to the various points of entry around my house can’t, well, enter.
Yet these locks are also freeing. They give me the autonomy to choose who and what comes in and out — to unbar the gates at my discretion and show hospitality by welcoming others into my humble abode.
Such is the missionary life, isn’t it? We operate in spheres where the precious Gospel is shrouded by hearts locked to its saving message, chained in sin and unbelief. Enter the evangelistic task, that is entrusted both to missionaries and to the Church at large. In the Table of Duties, Luther cites Romans 13:9 under the “TO EVERYONE” header: “The commandments…are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” No exceptions. I’m called to love, and so are you — to love those yet outside the gates by pointing them to the cross and letting the Holy Spirit take it from there.
As we go about that task, thanks be to God that “the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). The Good News transcends cultural peculiarities, linguistic barriers and even physical obstructions. The risen Lord Himself appeared to the disciples behind locked doors eight days after the resurrection. “Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you,’” John tells us (20:21). For you see, Christ is the Key. The great Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” summons the “Key of David” to come “and open wide our heav’nly home” (LSB 357:5). And indeed He has. We hear from John again: “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7). The event depicted on the crucifix in my entryway is the greatest act of love ever known. By His death and resurrection, Jesus locked up sin, death and Satan forever and threw away the key; by it He also flung open heaven, unlocking paradise for all who would believe.
I’m reminded of that every time I open my front door. Yes, they look silly, but the keys that adorn the crucifix do more than bring comic relief. They remind me of the duty, the privilege, I have to love my neighbors by leading them toward the beckoning heavenly gates, so that with hearts unfettered by the Holy Spirit’s working, they might someday enjoy eternal life.
Erin Mackenzie is a career missionary in the Dominican Republic.When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program — too often according to her cat, Freddy — Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble.