The oft-repeated adage “we give a hand up, not a handout” is used by many charities and nonprofit organizations — and with some of them, it actually is true.
At The Fuller Center for Housing, it’s not just true; it is the very essence of its partnership housing approach. Fuller Center homeowners are full partners in the building process as they contribute sweat equity and make zero-percent-interest, affordable mortgage payments into a Fund for Humanity to help others become homeowner partners. Handouts could never produce such a never-ending and always expanding circle of giving.
Bishop Louis Green entered South Africa’s Parliament in 1994 during the sweeping changes that also saw Nelson Mandela become president of the country. For 15 years, Green represented parts of Western Cape and saw the good that government could do but also the dependency it could create — especially in the area of housing. And that’s what drew the now-retired Green to start a Fuller Center for Housing covenant partner in Western Cape after a friend gave him a copy of Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller’s book “The Theology of the Hammer.”
“This is something that could greatly change the mind-set of South Africans and the church as a whole in South Africa,” said Green, who retired from politics in 2009. “Our government has had the approach of handing out empty houses, and the only work the person does is to receive the key when the ribbon is being cut.”
He said that The Fuller Center’s requirement of full participation from its homeowner partners empowers communities in ways that such handouts cannot. He also said the church can be a more effective partner in the housing effort than can government.
“The churches in Cape Town do not have the understanding that housing can be a ministry,” he said. “Housing has always been thought of as the work of government — local, regional, national. But now we have learned through The Fuller Center that housing can actually be an extended ministry of the church.”
He knows, however, that the ministry must be demonstrated rather than merely talked about for it to take root in South Africa.
“I think it’s going to take a bit of hard work and take a bit of convincing for us to show the church that it is a worthwhile ministry,” he said. “We must set the example first. If we build our first houses in 2014 and we show them how we built and what we achieved … I think the mind-sets of many churches will start to change in South Africa.”
Fuller Center Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola has been impressed with the determination of Green and the dedicated team surrounding him. After contacting The Fuller Center this past summer, Green wasted no time registering as a recognized nonprofit in South Africa and recruiting partners in the effort to help South African families, 2.1 million of whom have inadequate housing.
“The timing of this new effort in South Africa seems fitting,” Iafigliola said. “After so recently mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, it is time for a new generation of leaders to bring about a better tomorrow. This is a very promising and diverse group that would make Mandela proud, so we are all excited to see what lies in store for this newest seedling of The Fuller Center for Housing.”
For Fuller Center President David Snell, seeing South Africa join The Fuller Center ranks has added significance.
“At the first Habitat event I attended 27 years ago, we welcomed South Africa as a new affiliate,” Snell said. “We’ve come full circle and are proud to welcome South Africa as our newest covenant partner. What a joy to welcome these good folks to the family!”
In this video, Bishop Louis Green explains why The Fuller Center is a good fit for South Africa: