President's Blog

Nepal: A fascinating, mystical place

By David Snell,
President, The Fuller Center for Housing

I first traveled to Nepal in September of 2005.  This was one of the two places that set The Fuller Center for Housing on the path to becoming a worldwide housing ministry.  (The other was post-Katrina Shreveport.)  I had been fascinated by that part of the world from my earliest memories, and visiting Kathmandu was a dream come true.

Nepal is a mystical place.  From the moment you land, with Pampas grass fronds waving their greeting, you know that adventure awaits.  Kathmandu is an ancient city with Hindu temples and shrines at every corner.  The Chinese destruction of Tibet has brought many Buddhists into the country, bringing their temples and customs as well.  Visiting Nepal is like stepping back in time.   Way back.

Nepal has changed since my first visit there.  Just ten years ago the civil war with the Maoists was taking lives, the king was on his throne, and any Nepali who converted to Christianity was in violation of constitutional prohibitions.  Today the war is over, the king has been deposed, and new laws allow for religious freedom.  Nepal is a country with one foot in the Middle Ages and the other cautiously stepping into the 21st century.

It is one of the world’s poorest countries.  In the midst of ancient splendor can be found some of the worst housing conditions I’ve encountered.  A quarter of the population lives below the poverty line and the need for decent housing was great before the earthquake struck.  Samuel Tamang, our man on the ground there, reports that up to 90% of the houses in the central hill country have been destroyed.  Trishuli, where we are working now and which was going to be the site of our 1,000th international house next month, is in the heart of the hill country or, as they call it there, the ‘hilly’ country.

A very simple Easter message

By David Snell,
President

It’s springtime in South Georgia.  The flowering trees are bursting with color and everywhere you look it’s green or greening.  Millard used to say that the Northeast has its colorful autumn and California has nice weather almost anytime, but here in Americus we have April.  And it is magnificent.  Once again we’re awed by the earth’s great cycle of rebirth.

There’s eloquence in the fact that Easter comes during this season of new beginnings.   Easter marks the celebration that defines Christianity.  While many religions teach kindness and call on their believers to care for one another, only Christianity can claim the redemption that comes through Jesus' death and the promise of salvation that comes through His resurrection.

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

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.  When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Faith takes flight!

By David Snell,
President

My plan for today was to catch a flight to Nicaragua.  The weather and Delta conspired against me, so I find myself with time I didn’t expect to have — seems like a good opportunity for a blog post.
 
The Fuller Center for Housing is going through a growth spurt.  We have new covenant partners formed or forming in Perry, Ga.; Sarasota, Fla.; Spokane, Wash.; Nashville, Tenn.; and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  These are great developments and, as U.S. covenant partners raise their own funds, they don’t create financial obligations for us here in Americus.

It’s different overseas where local fundraising is very difficult and support comes from generous donors here in North America.  Some time ago we put a cap on new overseas partners, arguing that we needed to get our fundraising to the point that we could adequately provide for those we already had before we took on new ones.  An interesting thing happened along the way — we didn’t see much growth in our fundraising efforts.  Looking back, I can see that we put ourselves in a sort of anti-faith limbo.  We were scarcity thinkers, so scarcity became our reality.

I think that the good Lord got tired of our faithlessness because we suddenly find ourselves in discussions with a number of countries with such compelling programs that we have had to lift our self-imposed ceiling and welcome them in.  We have new partners in Thailand (where the first house is already being built), Cameroon (which just completed their first house) and Bolivia.  We are in active discussions with Ethiopia, Albania and Papua New Guinea.

Staying true to Millard Fuller's vision as we head into our 10th year

By David Snell,
Fuller Center President

Every now and again someone comes along with enough vision, energy, charisma, focus and faith to make a significant difference in the lives of many. Just such a man was born 80 years ago in a humble mill town in west Alabama. Today, January 3, we celebrate the birth of Millard Fuller, a man who spent his life dreaming big and in the process lifted millions out of poverty housing.

Millard didn’t set out to make decent housing a matter of conscience and action around the world. He set out to make a million dollars by the time he was 30 — and he did. In the process, he learned the hard lesson that money and happiness don’t always travel together as his family fell apart and his wife, Linda, left him. Things looked up, though, when they decided to try again, only this time they would get rid of their wealth and let God take a hand at guiding their lives — and what a ride He took them on!

When Millard met Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farm, his fate was probably sealed. The two of them formed a perfect team of philosophy and action or, as it turned out, philosophy in action. Clarence’s notion that what the poor needed was capital rather than charity and what the rich needed was a just and wise way of divesting themselves of their overabundance struck a mighty chord with Millard. Before long the notion was being tested with housebuilding projects at the Farm and in Americus. Millard and Linda took the idea to Zaire and everywhere it was tried it succeeded.

Seasons change, and the work keeps going

By David Snell,
President, Fuller Center for Housing

I’ve reached that point in life where time seems to pass faster and faster, losing its steady pace in an ever-accelerating spiral.  When I feel like it’s getting out of control, though, I just take a minute to look back and I’m always amazed at how much activity filled those fleeting days and weeks.  Summer is the high building season for many of our covenant partners here in the States, and what a summer it was!

Things got off to an early start with April’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Louisville.  Over a hundred volunteers spent a week rehabbing six houses there, a project that helped the Louisville team receive the Mayor’s Spirit of Louisville award just this month.   These events are just like family reunions (except everyone pretty much likes each other and there aren’t any crazy uncles).  We had a great time in Louisville.

In June we hosted the Toolie Build right here in Americus.  To celebrate her 50th birthday,  our friend and supporter Karen “Toolie” Warkentien raised the money and mobilized the volunteers to build a house with the Battle family.  Being on the hosting side of the event took Sheilla and me back to our earliest Habitat days, when we cut our teeth putting together the Jimmy Carter Work Projects.  It’s a lot of work!

The summer Bicycle Adventure took off from Atlantic City in June for their 3,600-mile jaunt across the country.  Their fundraising goal was to cross the million dollar mark and they made it!  We joined up with them on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, my old stomping grounds, and got to share in the spirit that makes this so much more than a cross-country bicycle ride, as if that weren’t enough — a great group of dedicated souls spreading the word about our work all across the country, and having a good time doing it.

Enlightented charity

By David Snell,
President, The Fuller Center for Housing

When Jesus counseled us to reach out to the poor, He probably didn’t mean for us to make them dependent, rob them of their self-esteem and take away their initiative. Unfortunately, that’s just the effect that much charitable giving has. The Fuller Center for Housing offers people of goodwill a more enlightened way of giving.

Our spiritual founder, Clarence Jordan, wrote that, “What the poor need isn’t charity but capital, not social workers but co-workers.” That simple sentence guided Millard Fuller’s housing ministries and guides The Fuller Center to this day.

We provide capital and construction help to those in need, allowing them to own a home. Partner families are selected on the basis of three criteria — need, willingness to partner and the ability to repay costs on terms they can afford, over time and with no interest charged or profit made. In most cases this means that a family can own a simple, decent home at a much lower monthly cost than they would pay in rent for a lesser dwelling.

On the road

By David Snell,
Fuller Center President

Sheilla and I are in Rapid City, South Dakota.  We're on a cross-country covenant partner tour and planned it to meet up with the Bicycle Adventurers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  I do believe that the adventure in the Adventure has taken on new meaning this year!  I spent a number of years building houses on Pine Ridge, so I wanted to be there for the riders.  It is a fascinating place to spend some time.  They had a work day there and were able to help a couple of families with much-needed repairs to their homes.

Life is hard in Indian Country.  Poverty is a fact of life on most reservations — only the ones that have oil or have struck it rich with a casino are free of the scourge.  The history of the relationship between the U.S. government and the tribes has been troubled from the earliest days and the efforts to make things better have pretty much made things worse.  Those who argue that too much government support robs people of dignity and initiative need only look to the reservation to find support for their case.

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.