Disaster ReBuilders bring many new friends for Harvey victim in Friendswood, Texas

Disaster ReBuilders bring many new friends for Harvey victim in Friendswood, Texas

(Photo: Lou Ellen Hatchett, seated, was joyful during the recent dedication of her restored home.)

Lou Ellen Hatchett has a crystal-clear message for all those folks — often dirty and sweaty — who kept marching in and out of her house earlier this year while she just wanted to return to the Friendswood, Texas, home that had been flooded by Hurricane Harvey last summer:

Please come back to see me!

Her home has been restored thanks to the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders and dozens of good-hearted volunteers who came to East Texas to help their fellow Americans get back into their homes.

Hatchett’s home sits several miles east of downtown Houston and just a few miles west of Galveston Bay. Nearby Clear Creek was one of many calm waterways in the area that became watery monsters after Harvey dumped rains measured in feet instead of inches in late August and early September. This is the area that is now flooded with good-hearted volunteers instead of rain, thanks to the work of groups like the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders. Still, reminders of the summer disaster abound.

“Here I am, sharing many blessings, while so so sad so many still hurt so deeply, hoping I’m able in some way to help them,” she wrote to the Disaster ReBuilders during a recent sleepless night when thoughts of the disaster and the recovery were spinning through her mind. She recalled how rising Clear Creek, “caused so many homes totally covered with water only two blocks from my home, from this biblical Harvey non-ending hurricane disaster that still looks just as it did when it first happened — so many neighbors who will never be able to move back into their homes.”

Many, though, are being helped by team after team of volunteers working through the Disaster ReBuilders. Hatchett is thankful for each one who came to help her. She called the volunteers who came from across the nation, “my new families — forever welcome to come again soon and be part of my life in my home as lifelong family and friends. … I wouldn’t have a home if it hadn’t been for them.”

“I don’t want to live alone anymore,” she added, “so I must reach out to my new friends and assure them of a genuine welcome to my home at any time. Just come see me — as real friends and neighbors.”

volunteer with or support the disaster rebuilders at this link

 

 

Pennsylvania church sees September project resurrected at groundbreaking in Louisiana

Pennsylvania church sees September project resurrected at groundbreaking in Louisiana

Many Fuller Center for Housing new home builds have gotten a huge head start thanks to CrossRoads Missions and enthusiastic volunteers from churches across the nation.

CrossRoads sends lumber packages to churches, who often put dozens of volunteers to work on their grounds assembling walls that will be stood up and placed in the shape of a house. The entire process usually takes a day or two and makes for a tangible way for church members to put faith into action over a weekend.

Volunteers often inscribe CrossRoads walls with inspirational messages and Bible verses.

The walls are then trucked to Fuller Center covenant partner sites to be raised at new home builds. It not only reduces the cost of a new home build — thus lowering the homeowner partner’s zero-percent-interest, no-profit-made mortgage payments — but it also speeds up the process of building new homes. Unfortunately, these church members rarely see the walls reassembled on the first day of the actual build.

However, a team from St. Luke Lutheran Church of Cabot, Pennsylvania, did get to see the resurrection of their CrossRoads Missions project today at the groundbreaking for a new home in Hammond, Louisiana — more than 900 miles away and nearly six months later. They just happened to be on a mission trip only 40 miles away and were able to attend the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing’s groundbreaking today for a home that will be owned by Chanta Bryant, who has two sons, one a senior in high school who will begin studying pre-med at Millsaps College in the fall and the other a fifth-grader.

“This was the first time we have ever had representatives from all the volunteer components together for a groundbreaking ceremony,” said Tamara Danel, Ginger Ford Northshore’s Executive Director. “Who would have ever thought that the volunteers from Pennsylvania who built the frame in their church parking lot would get to meet the family who will live in it and the volunteers who will complete it?” 

Quad Area Youth Build students and staff will complete the construction of the house.

Below are some scenes from St. Luke’s September CrossRoads Missions wall package assembly:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Why would an atheist support this Christian ministry? Volunteer is happy to explain

Why would an atheist support this Christian ministry? Volunteer is happy to explain

The Fuller Center for Housing is an unashamedly and enthusiastically ecumenical Christian housing ministry. Our Mission Statement clearly states that we are “faith-based and Christ-centered.”

However, we do not use the term Christian as a restrictive limitation of our approach. It is, in fact, just the opposite. Our supporters and volunteers do not have to be Christians, nor do our homeowner partners. We’ve built with Jewish and Muslim families in the United States, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Nepal and nonbelievers, too. Founder Millard Fuller believed that is how Jesus would have us preach the Gospel — through actions that show love for all of God’s people. We believe Christianity is about opening windows instead of closing doors.

The Fuller Center’s ecumenical nature not only brings together people from all corners of the spiritual world but also people from across philosophical and political spectra. Work sites often have extreme liberals working alongside staunch conservatives and Christians teaming up with nonbelievers, all in perfect harmony. Many become friends for life. It’s rather refreshing to see folks with such different perspectives rallying together these days.

The question is why are people who come from so many different points of view so comfortable under The Fuller Center for Housing’s very big tent? As the Director of Communications for The Fuller Center, I’ve come to the conclusion time and time again that the answer is because no one is against helping people help themselves — and that hand-up-instead-of-a-handout philosophy is at the very heart of how The Fuller Center helps families have simple, decent places to live.

No one is against helping people help themselves — and that hand-up-instead-of-a-handout philosophy is at the very heart of how The Fuller Center helps families have simple, decent places to live.

Still, I’ve sought out other philosophies on why The Fuller Center is able to bring so many people together. I’ve received many responses to our recent Faith in Action survey from Christians explaining how working with The Fuller Center has enhanced or restored their faith. We also got one from a Jewish woman praising the work of Christians at the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis. One of our latest responses comes from a man who considers himself an atheist — although, as he puts it, “but not in the militant sense. I respect others’ beliefs and enjoy discussing all forms of spirituality and faith.”

Matt Wicks of Pennsylvania got acquainted with The Fuller Center when his cousin told him how wonderful an international home build could be. He then signed up for a Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Peru that was led by Sarah Bond-Yancey last year.

This was Matt’s original response to our survey: “Regardless of religious affiliation or faith-system, I strongly believe that there is a fundamental right for all people to have a safe, clean, decent place to live, raise their families; a space they can claim as their own. Our world is becoming increasingly smaller and our exposure to different cultures and peoples requires a broader sense of the global village. It is our responsibility to help our fellow man and raise the standard of housing and life for all peoples of the world.”

Matt struck me as the insightful and reflective sort, so I asked if he would mind chatting further about his experience with The Fuller Center for Housing. He generously agreed to a question-and-answer session. As you can read in the following Q&A, I was right — his responses are indeed insightful and reflective:

Q: What did you feel like was the biggest thing you gained personally out of this experience?
A: Having had some previous experience with international travel, I knew I wanted to share in the opportunity to learn more about the people and culture of Peru first-hand. What surprised me was that in addition to gaining that insight and thoroughly enjoying the experience was the deep effect that the build, the charitable aspects and being able to see first-hand all the things we as Americans take for granted on a daily basis. It sounds trite, but what I gained most of all is perspective.

How would you describe yourself spiritually and does it fit into common labels we like to slap on folks, such as “Christian” or “atheist”, etc.?
I have never really thought of myself in spiritual terms, but frankly this experience allowed me to spend time with people of various spiritual backgrounds and viewpoints and what I learned was that I am probably far more spiritual than I have allowed myself to believe. I don’t know that there is a proper label, but the trip reaffirmed my sense of connectivity between all people, that we are all connected be it in spirit, in nature, in shared origin, the commonalities far outweigh the differences. I would likely say the term atheist applies to me, but not in the militant sense. I respect others’ beliefs and enjoy discussing all forms of spirituality and faith.

A  lot of folks who aren’t fans of religion often say they see it as anti-this and anti-that and full of condemnation. What do you think religious groups could do to enhance their image or promote positivity? (For instance, Millard Fuller preached what he called the “Theology of the Hammer,” because he believed that actions speak louder than words.)
Many of those that I traveled with identified strongly as Christians, which normally would have been an immediate turnoff for me, but I found them very open and inclusive, non-judgmental. This initial approach provided me a sense of comfort in expressing myself, and I felt as though my opinions, although different, were heard and valued. It’s hard to identify Christians vs. non-Christians when everyone is working hard, covered in dirt and feeling good about the cause and the effort. Actions not only speak louder than words, but a shared goal, regardless of the motivation for attaining it is an equalizer that brings people together.

What do you like most about The Fuller Center for Housing and how it works?
I was very thankful for our group leaders (Sarah and Sean). I felt as they represented The Fuller Center extremely well both from a welcoming and organizational view. Our local host (Zenon Colque) was obviously well-experienced in the builds and dealing with a variety of people. He certainly represented the group well also. I think the premise of simply going to a place to work directly with the people is far and away the thing I enjoyed the most. It was not disconnected, and I felt like I was really contributing to the local group in a meaningful way instead of from afar as many charities seem to feel.


 

Thanks again to Matt Wicks for sharing his thoughts. If you would like to talk about your Fuller Center-related faith experiences, from whatever perspective you might have, please click here and take our survey.

My chat with Peru’s Zenon Colque, who visited Fuller Center headquarters in Americus, Georgia, last month:

FAITH IN ACTION: UCC church members from Elkhurst, Illinois, put faith in motion

FAITH IN ACTION: UCC church members from Elkhurst, Illinois, put faith in motion

(This is the latest installment of our “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story of how involvement with The Fuller Center has impacted your faith, please let us know at this link.)

The youth of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ of Elkhurst, Illinois, go on a mission trip every summer, but the adult members of the church are not about to let the kids have all the joy and the Greater Blessing that comes with putting faith into action.

According to church member Scott Ahlgrim, the adults have been going on mission trips of their own for at least 12 years. For the past three years, they have worked with The Fuller Center for Housing in Macon, Georgia, turning vacant eyesores of properties into beautiful, like-new homes for families in need.

“It is something that really has been evolving lately with our church” Ahlgrim said on Friday as he and 26 fellow church members were wrapping up a busy week of renovating properties in the Napier Heights neighborhood. “Instead of being a church that just talks about mission or writing a check for a mission project, we really encourage the membership to get involved and do hands-on work. … Instead of just a church that just sits and talks and writes checks, it’s a church that is actually putting faith into action.”

It is no wonder then that members of St. Peter’s chose to put their faith into action with The Fuller Center. After all, that’s what founder Millard Fuller preached — the Theology of the Hammer. As he liked to paraphrase from the Bible, “Faith without works is as dead as a doornail!”

Not only do members take mission trips like the one last week to Macon, but they also help a local food bank and an agency to help support the homeless, among other outreach programs. Their faith-in-action philosophy has gained so much traction that even church members who have left the area still join in mission trips. In fact, last week’s service work in Macon included two former members now living in Tennessee and one from South Carolina.

“On one hand, it’s a privilege to actually do work,” Ahlgrim said. “Not everyone can do work, but for those of us who can and are in a position where we can take a week off of work to serve, it’s what we’re called to do — to serve, in any way that you can.”

Ahlgrim says it is particularly rewarding to look into the faces of those he is helping and seeing their gratitude and hope. This home in Macon will be going to a very appreciative, hard-working mother of four — Demetrice Howard.

“It’s not just that we’re doing some good somewhere,” he said. “You can actually point to a specific family and say, ‘I’m actually helping these people.’ To know that we can help this very specific family is very rewarding. It makes the hard work and whatever sacrifice we make feel very worth it. I don’t think anyone feels like spending a week here is sacrifice at all.”

They did have to go without one thing last week, though — Chicago-area winter weather and chilly temperatures. It was sunny with afternoon highs topping out in the low 80s throughout the week in Macon.

“This has been wonderful,” Ahlgrim said while admiring the blue sky. “That’s been an extra blessing being down here.”

Click here to see a photo gallery of St. Peter’s UCC’s work in Macon.

FAITH IN ACTION: Jewish documentarian inspired by Christian charity

FAITH IN ACTION: Jewish documentarian inspired by Christian charity

(This is the latest installment of our “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story of how involvement with The Fuller Center has impacted your faith, please let us know at this link.)

There were many common sights at the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis back in June.

You could not open your eyes in the Tuxedo Park area that week without seeing hard hats, mud, sawhorses, pickup trucks, tool trailers … and Jan Rosenberg with her large camera.

Jan Rosenberg

The founder of Heritage Education Resources, now based in Bloomington, Indiana, is passionate about history and preservation. The idea of a build to rejuvenate a once-thriving, historic area of Indianapolis was intriguing, and she spent the entire week documenting the project in photos and through countless interviews with volunteers and local residents.

Also, as a Jewish woman, she was interested to see the Christian nonprofit Fuller Center for Housing in action.

“I am Jewish — a believer in the Deuteronomy edict, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,'” Rosenberg said. “With that in mind, my internal question was: How do people express their love of God through their acknowledgement of John 3:16 and how was this done by building houses that became homes?”

“The answer, for this group of volunteers, was plain and powerful,” she added. “Love, strength, skill, and the willingness to put all of that into a structure was all so present, not only with the builders, but with the families who I interviewed. It all didn’t change my spiritual relations as a Jew, but it did provide me with the belief that (1) God is love, and (2) that there are so many ways of expressing that.”

The five new homes built during that week were the historic neighborhood’s first new home builds in decades. It reminded long-time residents of its thriving past and encouraged others to spruce up their properties. While most people hailed the build as a starting point for a brighter future, Rosenberg is now focused on Tuxedo Park’s past.

“I took over 500 photographs and have written a small book on the Legacy Build in Indianapolis,” she said. ” am now designing and implementing an archive, research facility, and an oral history project for the neighborhood church, Tuxedo Park Baptist Church on North Grant. This is one place where I can do my bit in service to God and community.”

 

 

Church group from Illinois again helping families have decent homes in Macon, Georgia

Church group from Illinois again helping families have decent homes in Macon, Georgia

A group of 27 volunteers from St. Peter’s United Church of Christ of Elmhurst, Illinois, is spending this week in much warmer Macon, Georgia. But they’re not lounging in the sun; they’re working up a sweat as they restore a once-vacant home to like-new condition for a hard-working mother of four. Volunteer Scott Ahlgrim says it’s important to him and his fellow church members to put faith into action in this tangible way.

“You know, it’s easy to sit in church and say, ‘We should do this,’ or, ‘We should do that,’ but it means a lot more to get some place and actually do God’s work,” he tells WMAZ-TV in a report that you can view by clicking the link below.

WMAZ-TV of Macon’s complete report

 

 

FAITH IN ACTION: Building with Armenian families strengthens ties to homeland

FAITH IN ACTION: Building with Armenian families strengthens ties to homeland

(This is the latest installment of our “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story of how involvement with The Fuller Center has impacted your faith, please let us know at this link.)

As an Armenian-American, Barbara Hovsepian has always felt a strong connection to her family’s homeland. Eleven trips to Armenia to help build decent homes for families in need have strengthened those ties even more.

She returned to Fuller Center Global Builders team leadership last year and is planning to lead another team in July. Leading home builds in Armenia is becoming an annual tradition once again after missing seven years in a battle with breast cancer. It’s a refreshing return to action for the 74-year-old whose first build trip to Armenia was in 2002.

“Every evening when I say my prayers, I thank God for the multitude of blessings He has given me — including a secure home for all my 74 years,” she said. “When I can help provide that for a family in Armenia I feel I am paying it forward. I chose Armenia because I am Armenian-American and grew up in the Armenian Church. I have faith in God, love of my heritage, and charity through The Fuller Center.”

That heritage truly came alive in 1971, when she joined her father and grandmother on a trip to then-Soviet Armenia to visit her grandmother’s brother.

“My father and I walked across a bridge over the river there, and he pointed and said, ‘I used to play down there,'” she recalled. Later, when she made her first service trip to Armenia with her daughter in 2002, they walked across that same bridge. “I pointed it out to my daughter and said, ‘Your grandfather used to play right there.’ I have that strong attachment.”

In the years to come, she has seen many parents share bonding experiences with their children during build weeks in Armenia.

“They love the parent-child experience,” she said. “They love showing their children who have been raised in the comfort of this country what their homeland is experiencing. They can see away from the big city of Yerevan how people live in the villages and how, with so little, they have as happy and loving a home life as we have here. It’s our similarities, not our disparities, that draw us to each other.”

Mostly, though, it is the Armenian people who keep Hovsepian coming back to serve.

“I like the idea of working directly with the people you’re helping,” she said. “So many times, especially in the Armenian community, people are very doubtful whether their donations go where they are supposed to go. I knew that I would be seeing the people that my money was helping. You work alongside the people who are benefiting from this, and it’s very rewarding. It’s always been a happy experience. We all come away feeling that it was a good day’s work. You come home exhausted but exhilarated.”

It’s not just the Armenian homeowners that keep Hovsepian coming back. It’s also The Fuller Center of Armenia’s leadership team, led by President Ashot Yeghiazaryan.

“The Fuller Center staff are the same basic group of people that I know, love and thoroughly trust,” she said. “They make it so easy for me to be a team leader. They really go out of their way to help me. My daughter has said, ‘Why don’t we try a different country this year?’ But I just can’t abandon Fuller Center in Armenia.”

Barbara Hovsepian is raising money
to build another home in Armenia.
Click here if you would like to donate to her fundraiser!

 

FAITH IN ACTION: Marine went from leading troops to leading home-building efforts in Louisiana

FAITH IN ACTION: Marine went from leading troops to leading home-building efforts in Louisiana

(This is the latest installment of our “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story of how involvement with The Fuller Center has impacted your faith, please let us know at this link.)

Lee Jeter grew up economically disadvantaged in Bossier City, Louisiana, but he was fortunate to grow up in a home that was rich with love — thanks to his single mother who worked two jobs while raising seven children and two nieces.

She instilled in son Lee the values of hard work, faith and determination — values that served him well during 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. Today, he puts those values to work as executive director of The Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana in Shreveport and Bossier City — one of the international nonprofit’s most productive covenant partners.

KTBS-TV featured Lee’s story in a series called “Hometown Patriot,” which you can view below: