Here we are, August already and the summer’s activities are in full swing. The Bicycle Adventurers are nearing the end of their third and final run, folks are hard at work in La Florida, Peru, and McDonough, Ga., getting ready for the Millard Fuller Legacy Build, and I’m sure this will find you heartily engaged in making decent shelter a reality for God’s people in your corner of the vineyard.
In the midst of all this activity I’ve been taking a step back to consider yet again what it is we’re all about. Every now and again I like to take a minute to remind myself of the magnitude of this ministry, not just in terms of houses built and volunteer hours contributed, but in the philosophical underpinnings that make The Fuller Center significant.
In the earliest days, when Millard and Clarence were pondering the flaws in our economic system that left too many of the poor without means and too many of the rich without virtue, they came to the idea of partnering with God’s people in need in ways that would bring together the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Out of this came "partnership farming", "partnership industries" and, so important to us, "partnership housing".
Clarence wrote, “What the poor need is not charity but capital, not caseworkers but co-workers. And what the rich need is a wise, honorable and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.” What an elegant response to serving the needs of the poor and of the rich, one that creates relationships, retains dignity and has a tangible outcome.
Partnership Housing was built around the concepts of providing the capital resources to build simple, decent houses with, not for, families in need and selling those houses to the families on terms they could afford with no interest charged or profit made. That last part, selling the house, was critical for a number of reasons — it assured a true sense of ownership by the partner family, it retained the family’s dignity as equal participants in the transaction, and it provided a measure of sustainability to the Fund for Humanity.
The Fund for Humanity was central to the Partnership Housing concept and should be central to our work as well. Millard defined it as a local, revolving fund, consisting of house payments, contributions and other income. Money in the fund is recycled promptly to build and renovate more homes. In short, the Fund for Humanity is pretty much a covenant partner’s bank account. It was always intended that a significant part of the fund would be proceeds from house payments.
I mention this because as The Fuller Center grows into new ways of providing shelter we must not forget our foundational principles. The Greater Blessings program, for example, is a great initiative, but in too many cases the Fund for Humanity gets short changed. We don’t impose a legal requirement on Greater Blessings partners, but we shouldn’t be shy about imposing a moral one. If the blessed family isn’t repaying the costs, they’re not in line for the "greater’ blessing." On top of that they are, once again, simply recipients of a handout and not helping their neighbors with a hand up.
We need to be cautious as well of charitable gifts that limit our ability to secure repayment. Government and Federal Home Loan grants may well be parts of an overall funding plan, but if those grants overwhelm the revenue side of the ledger we could find ourselves unable to generate house payments, once again shortchanging the Fund for Humanity and robbing the recipients of a measure of dignity.
So as we make plans for the new year we need to remember the basics. We build and renovate simple, decent houses with God’s people in need, the costs for which are repaid to the Fund for Humanity so that the dollars we receive can be multiplied. It’s a loaves and fishes thing.
God bless us all as we go about this important work. We are engaged together in something truly remarkable.