As a Christian housing ministry, it seems fitting that The Fuller Center for Housing’s most productive international partner is in Armenia, a country of deep faith and the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity in 301 A.D.
The Fuller Center for Housing of Armenia formed five years ago when leaders of the country’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate balked at new mortgage policies that would have resulted in the charging of interest — violating one of Clarence Jordan and Millard Fuller’s core principles of not charging interest to the poor as is written in the Bible (Exodus 20:25).
The Armenian group contacted The Fuller Center about the situation, and The Fuller Center dispatched David Snell to meet with them about the possibility of becoming a Fuller Center covenant partner, which they did.
Since then, The Fuller Center of Armenia has helped more than 220 families get into safe and decent housing — by partnering with families to build new homes or often helping them complete building projects they had started but were unable to finish.
Snell is now the president of The Fuller Center for Housing and will return to Armenia this week to help the covenant partner celebrate its fifth anniversary. Before leaving, Snell sat down for a brief question-and-answer session about The Fuller Center’s work in Armenia.
Why is The Fuller Center for Housing of Armenia so successful and productive?
Armenia is successful because they have tremendous support from the United States, in terms of donations and Global Builders teams. The Armenian people are an ethnocentric bunch, and the American Armenians are very supportive of the homeland. Many of the American Armenians were actually refugees here. They came during the Armenian genocide. As a group, they’re a very canny business people and as a group have been very successful here. They send a lot of money, a lot of work teams and provide a lot of support.
Additionally, the local group there has been very successful at getting local donations. They work with local foundations within Armenia to secure funding for their work. So it’s a combination of three things. It’s a great organization and very sophisticated. They’re very business-like in the way they go about their work. They have huge support from the United States. And they’ve been able to tap into local fundraising.
Everybody has homelands. Why is there such a tie between American Armenians and their homeland?
Armenia has a huge history. It’s biblical. Noah settled the ark in what was Armenia at Mount Ararat, which is now just across the border with Turkey. The Armenian people claim descendancy from Noah’s great-great-grandson Hayk. And they were the first country to adopt Christianity as a nation in 301 A.D. At the time they did that, they didn’t really have an alphabet, so they commissioned someone to write an alphabet, who also translated the Bible into the Armenian alphabet. So Armenia has a very distinct language.
And they have a very tight cultural heritage. They claim this huge, huge history. But in the entire history of Armenia, there have been very few times when they were actually an independent nation as they’ve now been since 1990. They’d always been part of somebody else — the Soviet Union most recently, but also the Assyrians, the Romans, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire.
You’ve been to Armenia before. For those who haven’t, what’s it like?
It’s not a large country. It’s landlocked. It’s surrounded by tough forces. Iran is a border country. Azerbaijan, with whom they’ve been enemies forever, is also a border country, along with Turkey and Georgia. They get along well with the Georgians, and they get along OK with the Iranians. It’s mountainous and fairly dry. Yerevan is the capital city and a nice city, but there aren’t a lot of cities in Armenia or a lot of people in Armenia (3.3 million).
It’s not a developing country, but it’s not a fully developed country. It’s kind of between its past and its future. Its past there is significant. They build out of stone, and these old churches have real interesting architecture. It’s a vertical architecture. These churches are not big, but they go up and they’re old, going back to the ninth century.
And it’s a good bunch of people. They’re hard-working and very industrious. They’ve had a tough history. In 1988, they had a devastating earthquake. They were part of the Soviet Union, which started bringing in relief shelter for them, which were essentially shipping containers called domiks. They brought in thousands of these things as temporary shelter, and as temporary shelter often goes, they became permanent shelter. I’ve visited a couple of them, and they’re pretty bleak. One of the goals of The Fuller Center there is to get rid of the domiks.
Fuller Center-Armenia has served more than 220 families through repairs or new builds over these five years. What’s their potential for the future?
I think they could double their output in the next five years. It all depends on how they’re able to develop funds. The Fuller Center of Armenia is increasingly recognized as the place for housing dollars to be spent in Armenia.
They’ve returned to the church after the atheist years of communism. The church is very influential. And the Catholicos of All Armenians (His Holiness Karekin II) is supportive of The Fuller Center, so that is helpful.