Mary Jo Leddy, The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2011).
Reviewed by Ashely Cole
“If you looked me in the eyes and challenged us both about our impossible dreams for justice and peace, I would say yes dream on for there is a little street called Wanda Road where strangers sometimes become neighbors.”
-Mary Jo Leddy
Every year the Canadian population increases by 250,000 people. Many of those newcomers arrive as refugees and spend the next year to three years navigating the sometimes treacherous seas of immigration. More often than not, the faces we see on the bus and in the work force look less and less like us. Immigration is becoming the face of Canada, and how we deal with and understand Canadian immigration is to, in essence, understand a part of Canadian identity.
If one of these newcomers showed up on your front step with nothing but their suitcase and their child, what would you do? Call the police? Send them somewhere else? Or would you open your door and invite them in? Well this is exactly what Mary Jo Leddy did twenty years ago when she began what has become known as Romero House, a transitional housing and settlement office located in the west bend of Toronto. Not only did she open her door, she began a movement, modeled after this practice of creating space to allow a stranger to become a good neighbor.
The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls us Home, Mary Jo Leddy’s most recent in a long line of quality books, brings us the tales of her adventures living in this quiet little community that strives to bring peace to those who pass through its doors. Grounded in experience The Other Face of God is a compilation of stories, thoughts, and reflections that have been honed over twenty years of experience living and working with people known as refugees. In her own words the stories contained within these pages are “reflective ripples out from the foundational experience”. Leddy describes her interactions with these newcomers as “the blessing of newness, a new way of seeing the culture…and a new way of being in the church.” She calls this “the other face of God” and challenges us to see this ‘other face of God’ in those we first know as strangers, but who can become good neighbors.
In a rather prophetic voice, Leddy takes a sampling of experiences and expresses them as stories, in so doing allows us, “in the midst of the fragmentation of the clutter and fragmentation of the times”, to view, “the witness of lives that are concentrated and whole.” She weaves personal narrative into a contemporary stance and summons the reader toward deeper perception and a greater theological, social and political action that is rooted in the “particular suffering of our time and place”. She writes, “this is to live joyfully…and it is always the surest sign of the gospel- it is pervasive, it makes sense.”
Last year I had the privilege of living and working with Mary Jo, and the people we had the fortune to call ‘good neighbors’. One of my first memories of Romero House was Mary Jo reading the introduction of this book to us- a new group of interns- at our orientation. Each of us sat silently, stunned by the prose and perception of the woman in front of us. At the time I had little sense of what it all meant, but as I began to live out my life at Romero House, the names in this book became faces and personalities that I was fortunate enough to encounter and was summoned very much in the same way Mary Jo describes in this book. It was opening myself up to this experience and these people that my own identity as a Christian and as a Canadian was challenged- summoned- to a newness, a new way of being and moving in this world.
It is this interweaving of cultural understanding, political leanings, and the kaleidoscope of languages and faces that has begun to define Canada. Multiculturalism is a gift, given us in part by those who flee their home and in time merge into an ever growing Canadian identity. They become active and creative members of society; bringing with them their own sense of knowledge, wisdom, family, and tradition. As a church and as a country we have the opportunity to stand beside and amongst the new face of Canada and the other face of God. After all, as Mary Jo writes, “becoming a neighbor allows for a difference without indifference.”
Ashley Cole holds a degree in International Development Studies from Canadian Mennonite University. She has recently completed an eleven month internship at Romero House. One of her favorite past times was rescuing old lady sweaters from the donation bins.