By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It wasn’t just a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, with a full basement and attached one-car garage.
To the inner-city neighborhood around it at 25th Street and Bellefontaine Ave., the house — and a twin Habitat for Humanity house under construction right next door — is a symbol of hope in an area where new homes aren’t built very often.
To local leaders of the three great Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — it is a symbol of great possibility when deep principles held in common trump differences.
But to Sharon Johnson and her two sons, the house is even more than a home. It is a symbol that with God, nothing is ever impossible.
Barely able to speak as Habitat for Humanity joined Jewish, Islamic and Christian leaders to bless her and her new home Feb. 19, Johnson fought through tears and gathered herself enough to thank the crowd of more than 100 for celebrating with her “on the most joyous day of my life.”
And she thanked God — the one God of all three religions who came together to provide the money and the volunteer manpower to build the Johnson family home.
“I thank God,” she said, “that I am able to get a home for the first time in my life.”
The consortium of religious communities that built the Habitat for Humanity home calls itself the House of Abraham Committee.
It includes Visitation and St. Francis Xavier Catholic parishes in Kansas City, as well as Congregation Ohev Shalom, the Islamic Center of Johnson County, Crescent Peace Society Universal, Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and St. Ann, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Paul Episcopal churches.
St. Paul pastor, the Rev. Stan Runnels, said the House of Abraham Committee was formed in 2006, near the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“We thought, ‘Is there another response?’” to the terrorist attacks that would unite, rather than divide, the people of the three great monotheistic traditions that all claim Abraham as their father, he said.
It didn’t take long for all searching for unity under one God to realize that service to the poor stood at the center of all three traditions, he said.
“The idea was to provide a home to those who need a home,” Rev. Runnels said.
“We all recognized the value and dignity of people who work hard, but are always a bit behind in achieving a dream of owning a home that others can achieve,” he said. “Out of all our traditions, there is a similar focus on justice in the human community. That is what drives us forward.”
The Johnson home is the second “House of Abraham.” Father Patrick Rush, pastor of Visitation Parish, said it is the third Habitat for Humanity home that Visitation and St. Francis Xavier Parish have worked on together.
But this one, he said, is a special symbol of God working through his people.
“It is divine providence that brings these Abraham houses out of the tragedy of 9/11,” he said.
Indeed, the House of Abraham Committee specifically chose last Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, to break ground on the Johnson home.
Though much work remains to be done before the Johnsons can move in, it is expected to be finished by mid-March.
Shakil Haider, chairman of the Midland Islamic Council, told Johnson that the honor belonged to the people whom she allowed to work alongside her across religious lines as she saw her dream come true.
“God has brought humanity into the hearts of humans through you,” Haider said. “The tragedy of Sept. 11 has now become a symbol of unity for the volunteers who worked here. They became committed, and they were dedicated.”
Brother Lavance Anderson, pastor of the Downtown Church of Christ where the Johnson family worships, also called the home a symbol of the power of God and his people.
“It’s amazing that when we put our minds, our hearts and our hands together, we can do so much more together than we can apart,” he said.
“I know that God is going to bless every corner of this home,” Brother Anderson said. “We just pray that it is used for the edification and glory of God.”