Our Fuller Center kids are growing up — and that’s what it’s all about

Our Fuller Center kids are growing up — and that’s what it’s all about

(Photo: We met Cindy and Manuel, above, during our first exploratory visit to Nicaragua. They captured our hearts, and their family would become the first to move from a shack to a new Fuller Center home in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua.)

Often when we think of a house, we picture walls, a roof, windows, doors and floors. But when you fill those walls with families trying to build a better life for themselves and their children, that house becomes a home. And home is the foundation, the basic building block for healthy families and successful children.

Studies have repeatedly shown what common sense already tells us — that children who grow up in a decent home are more likely to be happier, healthier and do better in school than those who do not. Sometimes, though, we need a reminder of that. Sometimes, we need to put a face with that statistic. And here’s a face we fell in love with way back in 2012 … Read More »

National Spelling Bee winning word an easy one for us: k-o-i-n-o-n-i-a

National Spelling Bee winning word an easy one for us: k-o-i-n-o-n-i-a

I’ve always been a decent speller and utterly dominated our weekly class spelling bees in fifth grade. The reward for winning was five lollipops, which meant I made friends very easily back then. Hey, if you can can’t win friends with personality, just bribe them with candy.

But the kids who compete in the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee are incredible. I’m not even sure most of these are real words they have to spell — more like somebody spilled their Scrabble tiles on the floor … all of the tiles.

Amazingly enough, last night’s winning word was a piece of cake for me. I’ve seen it over and over and over for the past seven years. It was “koinonia” — a word of Greek origin that means “Christian fellowship or communion, with God or, more commonly, with fellow Christians.” I know that word because Millard and Linda Fuller started the world’s affordable housing movement a few miles from here at Koinonia Farm, an intentional Christian community founded by theologian Clarence Jordan. And Spelling Bee champ Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, had no problem spelling the word, either.

Granted, I might not have had much luck in the other rounds of the bee, including trying to spell the word — “Bewusstseinslage” (again, clearly a Scrabble accident) — that knocked out the runner-up. As soon as the pronouncer gave me the word, I’d probably just say “gesundheit” and walk off the stage.

Anyway, check out this fun little 2-minute clip from ESPN, which airs the Bee, including the moment when Nemmani correctly spelled the winning word:

National Day of Prayer 2018: Unity is something we must make happen, David Snell says

National Day of Prayer 2018: Unity is something we must make happen, David Snell says

(Photos: Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell gives the keynote address at Thursday’s 2018 National Day of Prayer event in Americus, Georgia.)

The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is “Unity.” If you look around at all the divisiveness in America today — much of it bitter and hateful — unity sounds like a mighty tall order for a theme.

Yet, that was the theme Mr. David Snell was tasked with addressing as the keynote speaker at Thursday’s National Day of Prayer service right here in Americus, Georgia, home of The Fuller Center for Housing and the city where Millard and Linda Fuller launched the world’s affordable housing movement decades ago.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that David is not just the president of The Fuller Center for Housing. He also has a much tougher job — being my boss. That’s a job with the difficulty level only a handful of folks can understand (likely after years of therapy!).

“Unity isn’t something that just happens. It is the result of good-hearted people doing good things, coming together to make the world better for all of God’s children.” — David Snell, President, The Fuller Center for Housing

When it comes to issues like politics, sports or even whether it’s better to vacation in the mountains or at the beach, David and I don’t agree on much. But we do work well together in pursuing one passion — helping families have simple, decent places to live. On that issue, in this pursuit, we have unity. In fact, I believe diversity of thought in such pursuits is an asset, not an obstacle.

Too often in today’s America people let their differences on unrelated issues prevent them from working together for good. In the nearly seven years I’ve served with The Fuller Center, it still amazes me that so many people — left, right and center; religious and not; northerners and southerners — come together under this big umbrella pitched by The Fuller Center. It’s not only because folks from all backgrounds want families and children to have simple, decent places to live, but it’s also because no one is against helping people help themselves, and that’s exactly how The Fuller Center works.

This is never more visible than when dozens of Fuller Center volunteers come together at a single site for a build — something we witnessed just a couple of weeks ago right here in Americus at the weeklong Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

“I know that these folks hold a great variety of political and religious beliefs and we could have had some vibrant debate over whose were the right ones,” David said to the crowd Thursday. “But we didn’t. All of that was put aside in order to get the houses built. When you have a Baptist and a Lutheran shingling a roof on a 90-degree day they aren’t likely to spend time arguing the merits of dunking over sprinkling. They are united in their mission just as we were as we came together to get some houses built. That’s the kind of people you want to spend time with.”

It may not get much attention on the television news shows — or the punditry panels that have taken the place of news — but folks of different backgrounds and political persuasions unite quite often. I see it all the time at The Fuller Center, and I know volunteers work together every day to support the good work of other nonprofits.

“Unity isn’t something that just happens,” David noted. “It is the result of good-hearted people doing good things, coming together to make the world better for all of God’s children. We see this happen so touchingly after a natural disaster, when people rush to the aid of those in need. We need to commit ourselves to being this supportive when there isn’t a disaster to deal with. We need to do it every day, and encourage our friends, our families and our churches to join in. Together there is nothing that we can’t do. Divided there is little that we can.”

While the theme of National Day of Prayer might be unity, none of the prayers I heard specifically asked for unity. Maybe that’s because we’ve already been given the tools and instruction to achieve it. It reminds of this old adage: If you ask God to move mountains, don’t be surprised if He hands you a shovel.

“As we leave this place of prayer today may we carry in our hearts to do as Jesus commanded, to love God and love one another,” David said in closing. “Jesus promised joy to those who do so, and there’s no better weapon against fear and division than a joyful heart. May God bless us all and may He continue to bless America.”

You want unity? So do I. So does virtually everyone in this great country. I pray that every American gets to work on it, with work being the key word there. Unity begins with you, and it begins with me. But it requires work for it to take shape.

So, care for those in need, Show love to everyone, whether you agree with them on other issues or not. If all else fails, grab a shovel. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

We’ve got everything we need to achieve unity. Pray that everyone sees the light.


 

Scenes from the National Day of Prayer in Americus:

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EASTER MESSAGE: In this modern age, we must demonstrate the power of the Gospel even more

EASTER MESSAGE: In this modern age, we must demonstrate the power of the Gospel even more

On Sunday we celebrate the most significant, the most miraculous event in human history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians everywhere this is the celebration that truly identifies us. While many religions teach such basic tenets as caring for the poor and loving one another, only Christianity offers the hope of redemption and salvation that the resurrection so dramatically provides. Through Christ’s death we have the promise of forgiveness and through his resurrection we have the promise of eternal life.

You’d think that with such a powerful message Christianity would attract the devotion of people everywhere and, for much of its history, it has. More recently, though, Christianity has gone through tumultuous times, especially in the United States and other more developed countries. It’s hard to fathom how this might be, but apparently the great message of the Gospel is not getting through. This is surely due in part to the many distractions—and temptations—of the modern age. It’s a tragedy, as the pleasures of the world can’t compare to the joy of the Gospel, and too many people have traded the one for the other or have no real understanding of the Gospel message at all.

This change can be seen in the decline in church attendance. A generation or two ago going to church was a simple fact of life. Most everyone spent part of their Sundays at worship. Now there are entire generations being raised with no connection to the church at all. There are those who discount the value of church attendance, but the fact is that going to church at least keeps people connected to the faith. And that’s important.

So how do we encourage people to retain their faith even in the absence of church involvement? How do we honor the Great Commission: that we make disciples of all nations—including our own? New times call for new approaches, but none can match the old-fashioned notion of showing the power of the gospel through the lives that we lead.

Clarence Jordan’s goal in establishing Koinonia Farm was to create a demonstration plot of the Kingdom of God. What a great concept, and one that we can all carry into our own lives. We should all have the goal of making our lives a demonstration of the power of the Gospel and the joy that comes with it.

We are blessed with the knowledge that our sins are forgiven and we have the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That alone should impel us to share the gospel with all, through our words, our actions and the lives we lead. We are blessed beyond measure and called to share that blessing with all. May this Easter season inspire us to reach out to God’s people, to those in need and to the poor in spirit.

President Snell’s Christmas message: Joy that lasts forever

President Snell’s Christmas message: Joy that lasts forever

(Photo: Fuller Center homeowner children in Armenia.)

This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full.” — Jesus

It’s Christmastime, the season of joy. We’re surrounded by joyful images—the face of a child on Christmas morning, the carols and cookies and the traditions of the season. These are the things that make it the most wonderful time of the year. I have memories that I cherish of Christmases past. It is truly a season of joy.

And yet, I’m not sure that this is the joy that Jesus promises to those who keep His commandment that we love one another. His is the more profound joy born of righteousness, of loving one another. And he gives us ideas of how that love can be expressed. He tells us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the poor (that last one is from The Fuller Center translation). It’s not enough to simply say, ‘I love you,’ although we could do a lot more of that. The love we show is love in action, in small acts of kindness, in putting aside our hurts and anger, in reaching out to those in need. In all these things we demonstrate the love that Jesus would have us show one another.

K’Hairi

We had a touching example of love in action with our little friend K’Hairi. K’Hairi is eight years old and lives in the Chattahoochee Valley, near where Millard was born and raised. Every year, when it was his turn to sit on Santa’s lap, he asked for a nice house for his mother. This year a horde of Santas made that dream come true and now K’Hairi and his mother have a decent place to call home. But that’s not the end of the story. This year K’Hairi was free to ask for anything he wanted—his previous requests had been met. So what did he ask for? That every child might have a decent home.

Fuller Center volunteers and donors are working hard to make K’Hairi’s latest wish come true. They are demonstrating love every day of the year all around the world by their sacrifices of time and treasure. And the results are profound. Thousands of children will wake up this Christmas morning in houses that are decent and secure because of the gifts that have been given. Hundreds of families now have a home that’s solid and clean and protects them from the elements, a place where they can raise their children in dignity. It’s a tremendous blessing.

It’s also a blessing for those whose gifts of labor and funds make the houses possible. By following Jesus’ commandment that we love one another, our volunteers and donors are entitled to that special kind of joy. I’m forever grateful to these kind souls and my prayer this Christmas is that His joy remains in them and that their joy is full.

Click to support The Fuller Center’s
2017 year-end
campaign and help make
K’Hairi’s new wish come true!

 

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “faith-based”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “faith-based”

(Photo: Volunteers pray with Mark and Kendra Singleton at the dedication of their home at the 2014 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Louisville, Kentucky.)

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live.


 

The Bible is a pretty thick book. It has multiple gospels and thousands of verses. So, what exactly does it mean to be a “faith-based” nonprofit housing ministry?

It means different things to different people, obviously. No two people’s faith journey is identical. People read scripture and walk away with differing opinions. Biblical scholars debate the meanings, context and nuances of the words.

Many Christians point to Matthew 22:35-40 when a lawyer tests Jesus by asking what is the greatest commandment. In the King James Version, Jesus is quoted as saying: “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 neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This harkens back to earlier in Matthew where we find The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12): “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

As many have said of the Bible, “It boils down to ‘do unto others.’ All the rest is commentary.” There are about a gazillion versions of that statement, but the gist of it is that if we show love for our neighbor, we are on the right track.

All the rest may be commentary, but there’s some good commentary in there. Perhaps the commentary that most relates to The Fuller Center for Housing is James 2:14-26, which asks what good is having faith if there are no works  Millard Fuller’s take on it, delivered with his trademark Alabama southern drawl, was: “Faith without works is as dead as a doornail.”

You can associate the word “faith” with many things — praying (in private and in public), worship, singing hymns, fellowship and studying the Bible. It can be all those things and more. It certainly was to Millard, but most important to him was to demonstrate his faith through action — doing unto others and loving his neighbors. He promoted the Theology of the Hammer and called on thousands to love their neighbor until millions had simple, decent places to live.

Now, putting faith into action and loving our neighbors around the world is in The Fuller Center’s DNA. Occasionally, we’ve had people ask us to take a stand on a controversial religious debate or to condemn this or that. Our business is putting God’s love into action and helping others put faith into action. That is our faith-based mission.

Millard Fuller speaks in 2007 about putting faith into action and letting your light shine!:

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

(Photo: Group shot from the first day of the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis.)

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Sunday, we’ll wrap up this series with a look at the meaning of “faith-based.”


 

Whom do you see in this group photo from June’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis? If you’re well-acquainted and heavily involved with The Fuller Center for Housing, you can probably list a whole bunch of familiar names you see — David and Sheilla Snell, Chuck and Joyce Vogt, Jeff Cardwell, LeRoy Troyer, Chuck Lee, Bob Pack, Mary Lou Bowman, Doug Miller, and … well, if I listed every name I see in this picture I wouldn’t be able to write about today’s topic — “partnership.”

For those of you who might be less familiar with The Fuller Center, let me give you a general overview of who’s in that picture — a neighborhood association president, homeowners, volunteers, house captains, nonprofit executives, political leaders, city representatives, church members and youth from the Church of the Nazarene, whose General Assembly coincided with our Legacy Build.

All of these good folks came together in partnership to help five families have simple, decent places to live in the neighborhood of Tuxedo Park, a blitz build that marked a turning point for a once-thriving east Indy area that had been on the decline for decades. No more.

You can’t build five homes in a week without a lot of partners. You can’t build 200 homes in Haiti, El Salvador and Nigeria without partners. You can’t build and repair hundreds of homes in Louisiana, Kentucky and Georgia without partners. Building a single home takes partners.

The Fuller Center’s affordable housing ministry sprung from theologian Clarence Jordan’s teachings at Koinonia Farm in the 1960s, where his final days were spent sharpening the concepts of partnership economics, including partnership housing. One particular line from his writings is oft-cited by The Fuller Center:

Clarence Jordan

What the poor need is not charity, but capital; not case workers but co-workers.”

That directly explains our partnership with homeowners. They are not charity cases. They work alongside our volunteers and repay the costs of materials on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged or profit made. Their payments go to help others in their community get the same hand-up, and in the process they become givers themselves.

But we have a multitude of partners beyond homeowners. Because we do not accept government funds (and the strings attached) for building, we rely on the generous partnership of our donors. We partner with skilled and unskilled-but-willing volunteers to build and repair homes, thus keeping the costs as manageable as possible. We partner with like-minded organizations such as People Helping People in El Salvador and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Texas. The local groups who do our work in the field in the United States and abroad are not called affiliates or chapters but are referred to as covenant partners. We do not dictate to them how to do their work. We see ourselves as partners with the same mission — to help families in need have simple, decent places to live.

Perhaps our most important partnership is with the church. The Fuller Center is not a church but is a servant of the church. We provide a vehicle for churches to put faith into action in a real, tangible, difference-making way. Churches also host teams of Fuller Center volunteers, host our fundraising Bicycle Adventure cyclists across the nation, send team on U.S. and Global Builders trips and often help feed our volunteers. We appreciate every way churches partner with us.

Church attendance and affiliation has been steadily declining in the United States for decades. We could debate ad infinitum the reasons for the decline. But at The Fuller Center we have seen time and time again a church become enthused and reinvigorated after tackling a Fuller Center project. Maybe it’s because Jesus was a carpenter, but there’s just something about swinging a hammer and pounding a nail that drives home the importance of loving thy neighbor. At the end of the day, you can look at the structure and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. More importantly, you can look on the faces of people to whom you’ve extended God’s love. That feeling is hard to beat, and it’s something you want to experience time and time again.

We are always seeking new partners who want to express God’s love by helping families have simple, decent places to live. If you want to know more about how you can partner with The Fuller Center for Housing, be sure to email us or call 229-924-2900.

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “ecumenical”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “ecumenical”

(Photo: Tamara Danel was one of dozens of volunteers who helped Lytonja Smith and her Muslim family build a home during the 2015 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Shreveport, Louisiana.)

This is the third in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Saturday, we’ll take a look at the meaning of “partnership.”


 

After founder Millard Fuller’s unexpected death in February of 2009, those closest to The Fuller Center for Housing’s affordable housing ministry and its leaders had a decision to make: Since this grass-roots, Christian ministry was so closely tied to Millard’s dynamic persona, should it end with his earthly end or was the work so important that the ministry should persevere?

Millard had set the moral compass in the right direction for his ministry for decades. If they chose to continue with the ministry — which they obviously did, for which thousands of families are now grateful — they had to stay pointed in the right direction and not drift away from those simple principles that Millard was so passionate about. So, they drafted a Statement of Foundational Principles that would guide them going forward. You can find them on our Mission Statement and FAQ page or read below:

We at the Fuller Center for Housing believe that:

  • We are part of a God movement, and movements don’t just stop.
  • We have been called to this housing ministry; we didn’t just stumble into it.
  • We are unashamedly Christian and enthusiastically ecumenical.
  • We aren’t a church, but we are a servant of the Church.
  • We are faith driven, knowing that after we’ve done all we can do the Lord will help finish the job — something that requires us to stretch beyond our rational reach.
  • We are a grass-roots ministry, recognizing that the real work happens on the ground in communities around the world through our covenant partners, so a large, overseeing bureaucracy isn’t needed.
  • We try to follow the teachings of the Bible and believe that it says that we shouldn’t charge interest of the poor, so we don’t.
  • Government has a role in our work in helping set the stage, but that we shouldn’t look to it as a means to fund the building of home.

Tucked away in there is an awfully key word — “ecumenical,” actually “enthusiastically ecumenical” to be exact. Most often, the word is used in the context of Christianity in the coming together of Christians and churches for a uniting purpose. But we take it a step further.

We believe that all of God’s people ought to have simple, decent places to live. And we are all God’s people.

We are a Christian ministry, but we preach the Gospel through action — the Theology of the Hammer. You do not have to be a Christian to partner with us to get a home or repairs, nor must you be Christian to work with us. We’ve worked with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and those who adhere to no religion or faith. We share God’s love without a litmus test.

We are ecumenical in another way, as well — one that has nothing to do with religion. We are politically ecumenical.

When I joined The Fuller Center in 2011, I was weary of the hyperpartisanship that had gripped America and has since only increased its stranglehold. Yet, in The Fuller Center’s ranks I’ve met and worked with an equal amount of liberals and conservatives and all kinds of folks in between. I remember President Carter speaking at a Fuller Center dinner five years ago in which he thanked The Fuller Center for being “a harmonious oasis” in polarizing times.

I knew what President Carter was saying was true, even though I’d been here only a few months at the time. I’ve since come to understand why it is true that those of all faiths and political persuasions unite at The Fuller Center oasis: It’s because no one is against helping people help themselves. Liberals and conservatives are all for it. The religious and non-religious are all for offering a hand-up. No one is against a hand-up. I’ve even seen Auburn and Alabama fans, Georgia and Georgia Tech fans unite under this umbrella — and that’s no small feat down here in this college football-mad land.

Being ecumenical in more ways than one allows us to pitch a mighty big tent and to welcome everyone who shares our simple belief that everyone ought to have a simple, decent place to call home. If you also believe that, then you’re in the right place.

Below, a handsome fellow talks briefly about this topic: