FAITH IN ACTION: Manuelians’ work in Armenia comes full-circle with a big surprise

FAITH IN ACTION: Manuelians’ work in Armenia comes full-circle with a big surprise

(This is part of The Fuller Center’s new “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story to share for the series, please let us know at this link.)

Was it a case of providential confluence, divine intervention or pure coincidence? Leo Manuelian doesn’t know the answer to the question, but he is grateful for the surprise experience he had while leading a Fuller Center Global Builders project in Armenia this past summer — an event that revived memories of his first Armenian build.

Leo and his wife, Sona (pictured above), have been helping families have simple, decent places to live in Armenia since 2003. It has become a summer tradition for the couple, although Sona was unable to make the trip in 2017.

The Manuelians’ first experience in 2003 was helping a man whose family lived in a domik — a large metal shipping container in which the Soviet Union had intended as temporary housing for families affected by the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people. The Soviet Union soon collapsed, though, and Armenia was on its own. Three decades later, many families still live in those domiks.

The patriarch of the family was hopeful that the new house would encourage one of his sons who had fled to The Netherlands to come home. He also wanted his younger son to have a decent home into which he could bring a bride. It is Armenian tradition for the youngest son to stay in the family home to raise his own family and take care of his parents as they age. They then inherit the home. But that tradition is difficult to maintain when the family lives in a domik.

“His younger son was not going to get married because they lived in a steel container, and where’s he going to bring a wife to?” Manuelian recalled a day after shoveling heavy snow at his home in River Vale, New Jersey. “A steel container and take care of his parents from a steel container? If it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have had any grandchildren from that son, and there wouldn’t have been a family unit there. The work that we do there, it goes forth for generations. It truly does.”

This past summer, he saw that work go forth in a way he never expected. Late in the build week, volunteer coordinator Gohar Vardanyan told him that the young mother of three whose family was the homeowner partners this trip also worked on that first home in 2003. That home was for her uncle, and she was a 12-year-old girl who worked as hard as anyone on that site to help her extended family.

“It was just an incredibly gratifying moment,” Manuelian said. “We were eating lunch, and Gohar said ‘I have some good news for you.’ My face lit up. I couldn’t believe it — to help two generations of one family, that I’d been going there that long and that she remembered me from the age of 12. It was just an incredible feeling.”

It was no premeditated plan by The Fuller Center’s local team in Armenia to link the Manuelians’ first and most recent build experiences.

“The houses are selected by the Fuller people after they go through the vetting process, and it wasn’t until the third or fourth day that I was there that Gohar came to me and told me,” he said. “She didn’t know to begin with. So it wasn’t planned that way. It could have been coincidence or it could have been divine intervention — I have no idea.”

Manuelian was thrilled to see the mother of three have a decent home, just like her uncle, especially now that she has a fourth on the way. But he had to be coaxed into revisiting the home of her uncle, even after she invited him to visit Manuelian on the final day of her home build.

“He wanted to show me how happy he was in his home, but I didn’t want to go back,” he said. “I didn’t want him to remember what it was like before. I wanted him basically to forget about me.”

He relented, though, when Fuller Center Armenia President Ashot Yeghiazaryan pressed him.

“I sensed that I was putting Ashot in an awkward position because he had this weird look on his face when I said that I didn’t want to go back,” Manuelian said. “So I said OK.”

And he’s glad he did. He even saw the old steel container that had once been the family’s home. They sold it to a neighbor and could still see it from their Fuller Center home. Their neighbor uses it to store winter hay. Unfortunately, the son who left for The Netherlands never returned.

“We had a nice talk,” Manuelian said. “His children had married. He had five grandchildren around him and brought a couple with his wife to the dinner that the Fuller people prepared. We sat down, had a few drinks and reminisced. We’re both getting old. But it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Leo and Sona Manuelian will continue their annual tradition of helping Armenian families build homes June 11-18 of this year when they lead yet another Fuller Center Global Builders trip. If you’d like to join them, there are still slots available. Visit our Upcoming Global Builders Trips page to learn more.

Hear from Leo Manuelian and volunteers on the 2017 trip and see the family they helped in this video from Fuller Center Armenia:

 

Gallery featuring Leo and Sona Manuelian’s work in Armenia:

FAITH IN ACTION: Church’s service trip to Haiti brings a Little “gift from God”

FAITH IN ACTION: Church’s service trip to Haiti brings a Little “gift from God”

(This is part of The Fuller Center’s new “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story to share for the series, please let us know at this link.)

Reading, Pennsylvania’s Jennifer Little joined West Lawn United Methodist Church’s service trip to Pigñon, Haiti, to help a family build a simple, decent home through The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program. It was an opportunity to do some soul-bolstering manual labor and help people in a much different way than her usual job as a registered nurse with the Wilson School District.

Before the week of work was over, however, she would put her nursing skills to use — to the tremendous appreciation of a mother whose child had been suffering for several weeks.

On the second-to-last day of West Lawn UMC’s build, Little learned that one of the homeowner partner’s children had been enduring extreme pain in his ear. When she examined the child, she saw that his ear was swollen and crusted on the outside.

“Her son had been experiencing ear pain for several weeks and was up crying at night,” Little said. “It just looked terribly infected.”

West Lawn’s team leader offered to pay for the medical care, but they needed to get the child to the nearest hospital. And that would require a trip by motorcycle — hardly Little’s preferred mode of transportation.

“I’ve never been on a motorcycle before, and I hate motorcycles,” she said. “Next thing I know, I’m on a motorcycle in Haiti taking a kid to the hospital. It was an adventure. I had to do it. I was the person who had to be there for this child.”

The family Jennifer Little was able to help in Pigñon, Haiti.

The boy was diagnosed with a severe ear infection, and the West Lawn team purchased Ibuprofen and antibiotics for treatment. When Little returned to the job site, she showed the mother how to correctly administer the medicine.

“As we were leaving that day, she gave me a huge hug and told me that I was ‘a gift from God,'” Little recalled. “I’ve never been told that before. It was just so cool.

“The build was great, and I loved doing the manual labor,” she added. “But, for me as a nurse, that was just awesome to be able to help someone. This boy probably was not going to get treated. It’s something I think about every day. I was just the right person in the right place, and we figured out a way to get him help.”

The experience has made her not only want to serve abroad again but also has bolstered her faith and made her appreciate home even more.

“This experience has had a life-long impact on me, something that I will never forget,”. she said. “It’s just kind of changed everything for me. I came home with a whole new appreciation for everything that we have and being able to provide a life and home for my kids. You just don’t take anything for granted when you come back.

“Taking this journey has strengthened my faith — in God and humankind,” she added. “I am excited for the next time I’m able to go on an adventure with The Fuller Center!”

Please enjoy this slideshow from Jennifer Little’s trip to Haiti:

 

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!:

This ministry is all about putting faith into action — and always will be

This ministry is all about putting faith into action — and always will be

(This is part of a regular series of blog posts related to The Fuller Center’s #MoreSmilesFewerShacks 2016 year-end campaign.)

I reread the Gospel of James from the Bible today, and, sure enough, it confirmed that I had correctly recalled the main message of the book — DO SOMETHING!

As Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller liked to paraphrase virtually all of chapter 2 from James, “Faith without works is as dead as a doornail.”

When I was a very young child, my father was an aspiring preacher. Yet, I hated going to church. Then he became a home builder. And I hated being on the construction site. Obviously, God has a sense of humor as He placed me in a Christian home building ministry.

It was also the right move as this ministry has revealed to me another side of Christianity — faith in action. What I disliked about church as a child was sitting. I sat there in Sunday School. I sat there in the main service. All kinds of folks sat around me … and then went home not to put faith into action, but to put it upon a shelf. That didn’t work for me.

As I’ve heard someone say, “If you’re really a Christian, you won’t have to tell anybody — they’ll see it.”

Christianity isn’t about sitting — it’s about action. It’s not about talking — it’s about doing. The Fuller Center is not a church, but it is a servant of the church. We provide an avenue for churches and church-goers longing to put their faith into action as the Gospel of James implores, repeatedly.

Saint Francis of Assisi is quoted by some as having said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Folks argue back and forth over whether that quote should be attributed to St. Francis. But the point of the quote is inarguable. I don’t care if it came from St. Francis or his tennis partner — it makes good sense. Let your actions do the talking. Or, as I’ve heard someone else say, “If you’re really a Christian, you won’t have to tell anybody — they’ll see it.”

At The Fuller Center, you can preach the Gospel through action, and your faith can become works. Faith comes alive. We take Millard’s admonition that faith without works is as dead as a doornail very seriously. And we remain true to his vision that The Fuller Center was founded as a Christian ministry and will always be a Christian ministry.

By the way, if you’re wondering what led my dad to leave preaching for house building, it was a cow. Yes, he was on his way to preach a trial sermon at a church in west Georgia and totaled his car on a cow standing in the middle of the road. He took it as a sign from God that he actually hadn’t been called to the pulpit. I suspect the cow took it as a sign from God not to play in the road. Dad’s also the person who told me that if you’re really a Christian, folks will see it through your works. He’s now retired from preaching and home building … and he leads a Fuller Center covenant partner in Perry, Ga. Guess we’ve come full-circle.

If your church or your church group would like to know more about how to put faith into action through The Fuller Center’s Christian ministry, browse our website, or give us a call at 229-924-2900.

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