By Lesley Lowe
Columbia International University seminary student
As I step into the kitchen, I notice the dark stains smudged across the walls — whether from mildew, smoke or something else, I am unsure.
The floor is rotting, we are told, which is why a cabinet door has been removed and laid down over a hole in the floorboards — they don’t want us falling through. The counters, appliances and even the dishes are oily and sticky to the touch, covered with layers of grease due to cooking without proper ventilation. There is very little food in the kitchen, not nearly enough to adequately feed the seven people who live in this home. The homeowners seem embarrassed to let us see these things.
From the outside, this is a normal-looking home in what seems to be a typical American neighborhood. But once you take a look inside, you see that this is a family living in serious need — not only material need, but social and spiritual need, as well. How does a situation like this happen in America, the land of plenty?
Jesus said that the two most important things we can do with our lives are to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). He links these two commands together, as if to say that the way we love God is through loving our neighbors, wherever we find them. Somewhere along the way, we have stopped loving our neighbors as ourselves. This means that we have stopped truly loving God, and that is why a situation like this can happen in America.
I never met Millard Fuller, but I think he must have understood this inseparable link between loving God and serving people, because of the way he spent his life. I know that there are people within The Fuller Center for Housing today who understand this because I’ve been privileged in the last few months to serve with them. And as we’ve served Fuller Center families together, we have grown and learned and been blessed.
When we first entered that family’s kitchen, not only was the physical lack evident, but there was also a sense of shame and discouragement. This family was not proud of the state of their home, but they felt helpless to change things. This is where loving relationships can transform people and situations. It would have been easy to walk into this home thinking, “They must have done something to get themselves in this situation, so let them get themselves out!” Yet we chose not to go in judging, but instead to go in (hopefully) loving and accepting this family, affirming and encouraging them.
I watched my co-worker use her words to build up the family members — “These are two precious little boys you have!” “Your mother needs your help, and she’s given so much to you; I know you want to give back to her. She could really use you right now.” “You look like a strong young man; will you help me with this?” “I’m proud of you; you’re doing a great job!” As the family members received this encouragement, as they were assigned tasks to help clean up the home and began to see the fruit of their work, not only did the house begin to look better, but they began to look happier. Their smiles were brighter and they seemed to feel a little more pride over their family and their home.
People need to be valued. They need to know that they have dignity and that they have a God-given task to do, which is something only they can do. As we enter homes with the Fuller Center, let’s remember that. We are not repairing a home for a nameless, helpless person. We are working together with someone who is known and loved by God, to restore what may be broken in their lives, and to remind them of what is right and good in their lives. This is truly loving our neighbor, and truly loving God. “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for Me,” (Matthew 25:40).
About the author
Lesley Lowe was born and raised in Lafayette, Ala., near Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller’s hometown of Lanett, Ala. She studied community development at Vanderbilt University and spent several years in Khartoum, Sudan, as a missionary before returning to Lanett. She is currently taking seminary classes through Columbia International University. Lesley is thrilled to be interning with Kim Roberts at the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project and — as she says — intends to stay there for a long time if they will let her!