President's Blog

Simple counsel from Jesus' last hours

By David Snell,

President

As I write this we have just celebrated the greatest of Christian holidays, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What an opportunity this provides for us to consider where we are in life, what we’ve given to get here, and how we can resurrect the innocence of childhood into our frenetic adult lives.  In those last hours of Jesus’ life when He was visiting with His closest friends, He gave us a way to do that.  His counsel was simple — love one another. 

We just spent a week in Louisville with a fine group of partners and friends doing just that.  We were rehabilitating six houses that will soon become homes to families with no other way of having a decent place to live.  These are families who just need a leg up, the loan of some interest-free capital, and a group of friends to help get the work done.  There are families like this around the world who, for whatever reason, don’t have the resources to have a decent place of their own.  It is the mission of The Fuller Center for Housing to reach out to as many of those families as we can with an offer of hope.

What made the Millard Fuller Legacy Build such a great success was not simply that a good deal of work was getting done, but the dedication and goodwill of the volunteers who gave of their time and resources to spend a week of hard work, reaching out in love to people in need.  It isn’t enough to tell people that we love them — we need to show them that love.  That’s the Gospel in action.
These events are like family reunions with old-timers reuniting and newcomers making new friends.  There’s even a funny uncle or two to add some spice.  Events like these remind me of the tremendous power of this great ministry.

From Americus to the world

By David Snell,
President

Last week the Americus City Council voted to rename Spring Street to Millard Fuller Boulevard in recognition to Millard’s many contributions to the city and the world.  (You can read all about it by clicking here.) This is an ideal street to carry Millard’s name as it goes right by the Clarence Jordan Center, Habitat’s old headquarters and, more significantly, the Global Village and Discovery Center.  This is a great place that takes visitors through a typical third world slum and opens onto a panorama of the simple, decent houses Millard championed around the world.

Speaking of around the world, it’s an exciting time for our international work.  Allen Slabaugh just came back from Nicaragua where he helped coordinate the largest Global Builders team in our history — 68 hardy souls from Countryside Mennonite Fellowship in Hawkesville, Ontario (See more about this here.).  Ryan Iafigliola is in in Haiti as I write this visiting our two sites there — Lambi and Croix-des-Bouquets.   And I’m taking off next week for a few restful days in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I’ll be mostly in Mbandaka, celebrating 40 Years in Africa.  It was forty years ago last July that Linda and Millard landed there and started in earnest what would later become Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing.  It was forty years ago this month that first house was dedicated, so we’re going to rededicate it and celebrate our history.

On other international fronts we just had a Global Builders team return from Sri Lanka where they worked on two houses.  Our partners in Nigeria are kicking off a 25 unit project in Luvu, just outside of Abuja.  We have teams on tap for Peru and El Salvador.  Our partners in Armenia just announced that they will begin work in the Republic of Artsakh, a semi-autonomous, predominantly Armenian region between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Our new covenant partner in South Africa is busy raising funds and with our new covenant partners in Australia we can say that the sun never sets on the Fuller Center.

Launching pad for a good life

By David Snell,
President, Fuller Center for Housing

I spent a few days last week with 100 or so of my best friends.  We had our annual Fuller Center for Housing Covenant Partner and Global Builders Conference along with a board meeting in Indianapolis.  It was an outstanding series of events.  What made it especially significant is that almost everyone there are volunteers, people who are giving of their time and resources to move this ministry forward.  These are people who could have spent the weekend in any number of ways but chose instead to come together and talk about how we can better serve God’s people in need.  I am amazed and humbled by their dedication and zeal.

The Fuller Center for Housing is committed to a single notion:  We want to demonstrate our faith by following Christ’s command that we reach out to those in need, and we focus our energy on working to assure that every child has a decent place to call home.  We’ve started a project with some eminent researchers to document the effects that housing has on such things as academic performance and childhood health and obesity.  It is demonstrable that children who live in a decent house have a tremendous advantage.  The home is the launching pad for a good life.

We had some inspiring participants in this year’s conference, among them the first Fuller Center homeowner from Philadelphia, Miguel Diaz.  We welcomed Louis Green and Hilton Dennis from Cape Town, South Africa, our newest Covenant Partner, and signed the covenant with the whole crowd cheering us on.  Sandra Gourdet, the Africa Executive for the Disciples of Christ/UCC Global Ministries program, stopped by.  This was especially meaningful as it was as Disciples missionaries that Millard and Linda traveled to Zaire forty years ago.

Jesus' family sets the example

By David Snell,
President

The basic building block of society is the family. Life begins in a family, and it is in the embrace of a family that children learn and grow. Throughout time the family has been the molder of lives for those who come forward to enhance the culture. The family of the child whose birth we just celebrated offers a model for us all. Mary and Joseph were specially chosen to provide the Christ child with a family. We don’t know much about His early years, but His wandering off to visit with the elders at the temple tells us that He was probably quite the handful. He was devoted to His family and His family to Him, although they weren’t quite sure what He was up to when He started His ministry. One of His last acts, as He was dying on the cross, was to entrust His mother’s care to a disciple.

Because of the importance of the family to society, the most important structures in any community are the houses in which families make their homes. Raising children is a daunting task in the best of circumstances. Children require a great deal of care if they are to grow into all that they can be. This is a challenge for those who live comfortably in houses that keep them warm and safe. For those who live in meager circumstances or who find themselves homeless, the challenge becomes overwhelming. It’s estimated that over a billion people around the world live in poverty, in environments that make it exceptionally difficult for children to prosper.

The essence of Jesus’ message is that we love one another, that we care for one another, and that we reach out to those in need. What more significant demonstration of this love can there be than to help a family to have a decent house in which to make a home.

Anything we can do to strengthen the family will strengthen society, and one place to begin is with the home. That’s what The Fuller Center is all about. We’re dedicated to the notion that every child ought to have a decent house in which to grow up. The house itself won’t make all the difference — families do the heavy lifting, learning to love and affirm one another and to help each other grow. But if they have a decent house to do that in it’s so much easier.

Dateline Greenwood, Mississippi, mile post 415, July 6

By David Snell,
Fuller Center for Housing President

Sheilla and I are on a grand tour of covenant partners. Our first stop was Greenwood, Mississippi, the little CP that could.

The driving forces here are Rocky and Pann Powers, eighty-something dynamos who could tire this relative youngster right out. They’ve been building houses here for years, starting with Habitat in 1984 and with The Fuller Center in 2008. They’ve built 30 new houses and renovated many more. They’ll be having a paint-out later this summer and will refurbish another 10, and soon will begin a 10-unit Katrina cottage project that will create a new neighborhood of these small, functional homes.

Most of their work is in Baptist Town, an area of Greenwood that, like so many of the neighborhoods we work in, has been left behind. Their work there is revitalizing the area and, as so often happens, other homeowners are fixing up as well.

Easter message: Jesus' message was a simple one

By David Snell,
President, Fuller Center for Housing

Easter is coming early this year and winter is staying late.  Makes it hard to feel springlike when the folks up north are still shoveling snow!  Down here in South Georgia, the trees are starting to bud and some are in flower, so there's hope.

The good news is that the weather doesn't have much effect on the miracle of Easter, the one holiday that truly defines Christianity.  Many religions teach kindness and call on their believers to care for one another. Only one, though, can claim the redemption that comes through Jesus' death and the promise of salvation that comes through his resurrection.  In three short days, Christ fundamentally defined the relationship between God and humankind.

Those two miraculous events, while they define our belief system, we will most appreciate when we come to the end of this life.  It's what He taught during the three years before His death and resurrection that should guide how we behave before we get to there.

His message was a simple one — love one another. He walked us through a number of ways of doing that, but the basic message was always the same — love one another.  He gave special attention to the poor and the oppressed and He was always more interested in the lost sheep than in the righteous.  That could be due to the fact that lost sheep are generally more interesting than the ones who stay closer to the flock.  At least that's been my experience.

Isaiah 58:12

By David Snell,
President

“You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”  Isaiah 58:12

We like to look in the Bible for scriptures that speak to the work we do, building and restoring houses.  This verse from Isaiah seems to be a call to the people to repair the walls and restore the city.  Actually it’s a promise to the people of what they can achieve if they will do the Lord’s will.  It comes at the end of a chapter where the people are being chastised for their false fasting.  Apparently they felt that God wasn’t giving them enough credit for their fasting and general righteousness.  The response is quick and clear.  “I haven’t recognized your fasting,” He says, “because it’s false”.

Isaiah goes on to tell the people what true fasting means.  A sincere fast, he tells them, involves casting off wickedness, letting the oppressed go free, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.  Righteous fasting includes righteous behavior.

"Beside every successful man is a good woman"

By David Snell,
Fuller Center president

Some 55 years ago a young Southern belle, who only wanted to date a man who was tall enough so that she could wear heels, agreed to go out with an anonymous caller who told her he was 6’4” tall. Little did she know what adventures and challenges that meeting would bring her way.  That young lady was Linda Caldwell, and her gentleman caller was Millard Fuller. Together they would make a fortune, give away a fortune, raise four fine kids, and found two housing movements that would change the lives of millions and redefine charitable giving.

Today, Feb. 17, is Linda's birthday, and on behalf of all the children around the world who went to bed last night in a warm and safe home and the many donors and volunteers whose lives have been changed by her good work, let me say Happy Birthday!

Millard — an inspiration to us all

By David Snell,
Fuller Center President

On the fourth anniversary of his death, we should pause to celebrate the life and works of Millard Fuller. Humankind is blessed, from time to time, with individuals of great power and wisdom, people who can take a simple notion and turn it into a movement, who can inspire those around him to do things they never thought possible. Millard Fuller was such a man.

It was a short 44 years ago that the first family was blessed by the Partnership Housing idea that Millard and Clarence Jordan hammered out. This was a new kind of charity, charity that lifted up those that were on the receiving end of it and turned them into givers as well. It was a new kind of charity that engaged people of all backgrounds directly in the production side of the work, getting houses built. Since that day, 44 years ago, hundreds of thousands of houses have been built, fundamentally transforming the lives of the millions who live in them. Other millions have been just as blessed for the opportunity of helping pay for and build those houses.

Heading north

By David Snell
Fuller Center President

Sheilla and I left Lima at 1:00 Saturday morning. For some reason Lima is hard to get into and out of at a decent hour. We got back to Atlanta at about 8:30 and spent the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon wishing we could get into the hotel for a hot shower. The wait was worth it — it’s hard to appreciate a full and consistent spray of hot water cascading down your back until you’ve been without it for a week. This is true of so much that we take for granted in this truly blessed place we call home, things like cold milk, sidewalks and washing machines.

Things went well in Peru. We got almost all of our assignments done and dedicated all ten houses on Friday afternoon. It was quite the event. The district mayor, a friend I’ve known since my first trip to Peru, was there along with a loquacious congressman and a brass band. We paraded through town, stopping at each house for a little ceremony — each family got their Bible and we gave each house a dedicatory prayer. They have an interesting but messy custom there of hanging a bottle of champagne over the door which is ceremoniously broken to inaugurate the house. And inundate the poor soul who has the honor of wielding the hammer.

This was truly a work camp for the record books. We were a small band of volunteers — some 40 of us in all — but what a crew! Everyone worked hard, which is always the case, but everyone worked joyfully, as well. Zenon and his team did a remarkable job of getting things ready and keeping them moving. Hailey and Ryan from our office made sure that the volunteer logistics worked, and Frank Purvis and Bill Lifsey did an amazing job of keeping the construction timetable. The families we built with come from truly meager circumstances, and over and over I heard them say that this was a dream come true, a miracle.

In addition to dedicating the houses we also dedicated Millard Fuller Boulevard, which runs along the canal that brings water to the area, and Richard Semmler Avenue, named for a true friend of the Fuller Center who has contributed greatly to our work both in Peru and in Haiti. Richard is a college professor who lives humbly and donates everything he can to work like ours — a true saint.

One day, as Sheilla and I were making the climb to our house (which was set on a hillside about as far away from the others as possible while still being in town!) we were stopped by an elderly man who wanted us to visit his home. I don’t really know how old he and his wife are — anywhere from 60 to 80 — and they were a kind and gentle pair. They live in a one-room structure made of woven mats with dirt for a floor and a tarp for a roof. They told us how blessed they’d be if they just had a single room with a concrete floor and a solid roof. At one of the celebrations in town a woman came and sat next to me and asked for a moment of time. Her situation is the same as the elderly couple’s, and she repeated their plea, to simply have a safe and healthy room.