A House

Imagine first of all a house — the house that you grew up in. Here in PNG it will be in a village or a town, or perhaps in a homestead near a village. For me it will be a large farm house in the country, in Pennsylvania, USA. For all of us there will be a certain type of dwelling that we can see in our mind’s eye. It will be the structure that we have lived in. It will be some kind of a building.

Houses are different all around the world: they are made of wood, stone, brick, clay, mud, even skin in the case of the tents that the desert people have in the Middle East. Also associated with the house, in my case, are a number of other buildings: we had a barn for cattle, hay and corn. At one time my great-grandfather had many horses as well. There were also, in various stages of disrepair, a wagon shed, tool shed, coal shed, chicken and rabbit coops, a shingle mill and a blacksmith shop. Nearby was what we called the “old house” where my GF lived before he had built the present farmhouse.

We are told in Mt. 7.24 that the wise man built his house on rock instead of sand so that it would stand up to the storms. This speaks to the foundation on which the house rests. Quite recently there was a very bad earthquake in California and there was a lot of destruction. But many of the very high buildings had no damage, despite the fact that they swayed up to 10 meters during the quake. Not far away there were many buildings that had been built on landfill. All of them were destroyed because they had no foundation.

In Mat. 19.29 Jesus spoke to Peter, who had complained about leaving everything to follow Him. He was bragging on behalf of the disciples who had just listened to Jesus tell a rich young man to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus told Peter that everyone who had left family and houses for His sake would receive a hundred times more and eternal life as well. Often people literally leave their houses to follow Christ. Of course some people do not have houses of their own. Jesus said that foxes had holes and birds had nests but he did not have a place to lay his head. This was during the time of his ministry. And yet he promised in John 14 that there were many rooms in his Father’s house and that he would prepare a place for us.

Houses also have rooms: my country house had a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a funeral room — later called a study, four bedrooms, a bathroom (initially one was outdoors), several closets, an “out kitchen”, a cellar and an attic, as well as two porches.

The stuff

Stuff can refer to scattered objects (Pick that stuff up off the floor), a consumed object (He used to drink but now he is off the stuff), subject matter (The teacher really knows her stuff), idle talk (Don’t give me any of that stuff), to o73 even what a baseball pitcher does (He has a lot of good stuff on the ball). We can make stuff into a verb as well: Stuff someone’s head with facts, stuff something into a bag or even have a stuffed up nose.

Inside of every house there is a lot of stuff. This includes the Kewa people of the SHP because I have been inside of many houses and seen it.

What is stuff? Stuff is hard to describe, but you know when you have it. In fact many people spend all of their lives trying to get more stuff. And they store their stuff.

Missionaries and like people store their stuff in barrels, drums, crates, and store sheds. You hear them saying things like:

  • Where can I keep/ put/ store my stuff?
  • We have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. Other words are: amassed, collected, gathered, piled up, stored, or even hoarded.
  • We are unpacking/ uncrating our stuff.
  • We have got to get rid of some of our stuff.

Have you ever had to clean up someone else’s stuff? In 1983 we had to “break up” the house where Joice’s mother lived for over 50 years. There was a lot of stuff in it.

In English there are words like ity-bity, topsy-turvy, higgledy- piggledy, tiny-winy, wishy-washy, fiddle-diddle, and fudy-dudy. When words like this are used things are not so clear cut: they mean that you can’t quite describe clearly what someone or something is really like. It is slippery and moves around. So Charlie Brown of the comics is wishy-washy, because you can’t depend on him.

In Kewa the word for things or stuff is olemole or oyaeyae, or similar words. It is all the stuff that people have or all of the stuff that they would like to have.

Now once people have a lot of stuff they need to protect it and store it and look after it. We get very attached to our stuff. In Mt. 6.25ff Jesus said that we should not be worried about food and drink and clothes, i.e. about stuff. He also said that the seeds sown among thorns were like the worries about life and riches and other kinds of desires that crowd into our lives and choke out the message. He warned us in Mt. 6.19 not to store up riches for ourselves and be like the rich fool who had so much stuff (grain and other goods) that he decided to build bigger storage places so that he could store up all of his things, his stuff.

Over the years anthropologists and missionaries in particular have observed and written about the cargo cults in PNG and other places. The cargo was the goods carried by ship, aircraft, or vehicles and was anything that could be imagined. Sometimes it was called a millennium mentality: all of things were to come from o73 the outside, they usually could be gotten by some special relationship with departed ancestors, ritual language, such as spells, magic and prayers would help the cargo come, and charismatic leaders would work the miracles to get the stuff. People had to obey the rules, follow the rituals and learn the secret.

I would like to suggest that we all have a cargo mentality at times about our belongings, bits and pieces, gear, equipment, materials, possessions, baggage and junk.

A home

The difference between a house and a home is like the difference between a person and a friend. A home speaks of relationships, not simply boards or kunai. When something is homemade the idea of care and personality comes into it; our hometown is where we grew up and if we are homesick we would like to see our family, not our house. In fact if we were ‘housesick’ we would have to clean up later, like being carsick. Similarly it doesn’t sound quite right to say that some pie is ‘housemade’ or that we want to go back to our ‘housetown’ some day. A townhouse is simply an apartment to live in but a townhome would tell us that some loving care had gone into it. Other words in English likewise try to tell us something: a houseboat but a homebrew, a housecoat but homework. The doctor makes a ‘housecall’ (in the old days) because it is more formal, but our carrots are homegrown, and so on.

I have been talking about a house and the stuff that lies within it. I asked us to think about a house and the image which it conjures in our heads. For me the house in which I was raised is the large two storey structure with an attic and a cellar. But it only is a house in reference to other buildings and houses that I mentioned as well.

Associated with the buildings was the stuff that was in them: lumber, shingles, old horse shoes, tools, wagons and wagon wheels, apples and cider, canned goods of all kinds, animals, hay, corn, straw, manure, all kinds of things with all kinds of memories and smells.

As I said the house had rooms: the living room, dining room, kitchen, and funeral room — later the study, closets, bedrooms, the ‘out-kitchen’, the spare room or junk room, and so on. And in the rooms were books, magazines, tricks, clothes, but mainly just unclassified, unsorted stuff. The house would not have been that house without the stuff. Years later when I went back to visit it I no longer recognized it: beautifully painted, stylishly decorated, setting all by itself in the midst of a lawn. It was terribly out of place and looked forsaken — to me.

Now there are many rooms in our Father’s house, and our prayer is that they will not be full of stuff. Why prepare

In my home there was always a dog and usually a cat; there was a brother and sister and often many, many cousins. There were neighborhood kids and there was a father and mother. But both the father and mother worked and the father often stayed out late at night or worked the night shift. There were arguments and there were fights but there were also enormous meals and plenty of things to do. The stuff which was important to me were guns and baseballs, ice skates and pie to eat. The stuff I didn’t like was coal and water to carry, animals to feed, cows to milk. Milk had to be churned, vegetables picked, chores done.

My point is of course that a house becomes a home when we have certain associations that accompany it. Every place we have lived (dormitories, cabins, flats, bush huts and houses) have been home for us. A home is where you feel welcome, you can take off your shoes, relax, talk freely; there should be friendship, fellowship, peace and good feeling. That is what makes a home attractive and more than a house.

If it is a home we can pass on the love even when the stuff is inadequate (in our opinions) or when it is damaged, as often happens even in Bible city. It doesn’t become a home because of the stuff: the video, TV, third toilet, well equipped family room (which is seldom used by the family), etc. It becomes a home when the family and neighbor relationships are correct.

Now is our heart a house or a home? It is both: it is the dwell ing place for God but the reception which He gains there depends entirely upon our relationship to him there. Is he welcome? Does he give peace or perpetually worry over our stuff?

I once read a book by Paul Little called “How to give away your faith”. Let us propose another title: How to give away your stuff. Which is the more difficult? Do we give our faith only to those whom we like? Do we expect something in return? Further, and by analogy, do we store up our faith? Do we always keep some in reserve in case we may need it?

Sometimes when I walk by houses I have seen signs like “Keep off the premises”, “Beware of the dog” or “No trespassing”. Is our home like that? If so, it is simply a house, a sort of structure where someone is obviously living (see the telltale signs, the rubbish — a sociologists delight) there, but we are not welcome. In fact we are most unwelcome.

One of the things that makes us unwelcome is the stuff in the o73 house: it must be protected at all costs, if fact stickers in the window tell us that it is and signs on the street inform us about the neighborhood watch.

Are we as individuals like that? What kind of stuff do we have on the inside that we need protection from? People, like homes, are influenced by what has been kept in them. In the spring of the year, when kings go forth to war, there is (or used to be) housekeeping rites. Rugs were beaten, floors were swepten, windows were washen, and so on. In the south there are annual revivals when similar sorts of soul cleanings are supposed to take place. In either instance, the house or the soul, there is undoubtedly a need for getting rid of some of the stuff that is there, even if it has been around for a long time.


We are reminded in Heb. 3.6 that we are his house if we keep our courage.. God has extended the metaphor to tell us that we are man the dwelling place of God. He is to have his home within us.

Further we read in Ps 127.1-2 that “Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain”. God wants to have a part in building our lives and making them a place where he can dwell.

Finally, consider Deut. 8.11-12: Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands… Otherwise when you eat and are satisfied, when you build your houses and settle down, then your heard will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.

We can build for God a house or a shack, make him a home or a hostel, someplace where he is welcome or where he is not. He can be the master or he can be kept out. He stands at the door and knocks and wants to come in and have fellowship, to eat with us and to enjoy our company. Is he welcome to visit you any time or are you ashamed of what is in the house?

[From devotions given at an anthropology workshop in PNG, August, 2005)