Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Millard Fuller and what's real

I just heard about the passing of Millard Fuller. It was even mentioned in the front bottom of the New York Times (directing us to the obits). Fuller was founder and for three decades the leader of Habitat for Humanity. To me, that's worth a lot of attention.

Habitat was one of those strange groups. It was formed at first with a bunch of Christians in Americus GA in 1976, and was based among the Christian community at Koinonia Farms there. (This base had already built their first home in 1969, and in 1973 in the Congo.) The vision went way beyond Americus, or even America, that home ownership (and the related pride, security, and asset value) would not be outside the reach of the poor. One of the elements of genius is how they get people from the community involved in building the houses -- many who got involved that way caught what Fuller called "Habititis", getting deeper into the cause.

Americus had some notoriety already, through Clarence Jordan's popular Cotton Patch Gospel. Indeed, in many ways Jordan's work led to Habitat. But just as important was the ties that Fuller and Habitat made with its neighbors. That included a peanut farmer from nearby Plains, who became President, Jimmy Carter. Carter's continued support gave a solid platform to expand Habitat. And a lot of people heard Fuller share his vision. And Habitat continued to be blessed, growing to the point where its impact was no longer small.

I heard that vision, too. I met Fuller when the Christian Community Development Association had its annual conference in Baltimore. Fuller led a tour of the community of Sandtown, where Habitat has a major housing rehab project. Back at the conference, Fuller spoke with clarity and straightforward faith about what he termed the economics of Jesus. When we extend ourselves to strengthen others, especially those in poverty, God will provide, we can trust in that. I can't argue with him on that, because God has sure provided for Habitat and its cause. When I spoke with him briefly before he left the conference, he was clearly energized to meet so many CCDA people who were totally sold on Christ as found in Scripture -- just like him -- be so actively involved with the poor in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the nation.

Millard Fuller had a passion that ignited a movement. It will -- it must -- now continue without him. But let's stop for a moment to thank God for having gifted him so strongly. And to pass it on to others.

Check here for Habitat's page on Fuller.