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.

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: Cameroon leader knows the Greater Blessing of serving others

FAITH IN ACTION: Cameroon leader knows the Greater Blessing of serving others

(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.)

Angu Andreas has always been a Christian and a man of faith. Becoming a man of faith in action, however, has invigorated his spirit like never before.

He says this spiritual uplifting began in January 2015 when he joined The Fuller Center for Housing of Cameroon, one of the ministry’s newer partners on the African continent. Today, he serves as the Country Director for Fuller Center of Cameroon.

“My life has never been the same since I joined this ministry,” said Andreas, who credits Fuller Center President David Snell and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola for mentorship and support as he got started. “Each time a house is completely built, there is a feeling of relief and joy on the face of the home beneficiary — such moments remain in my heart forever. I feel like someone’s life has completely changed.”

Andreas said that Christians in Africa are enthusiastic about their worship services, but he believes that only scratches the surface of understanding God. It was only when he began serving others through The Fuller Center that he felt not just a sense of accomplishment but also of enlightenment.

Angu Andreas

“In African regions, we often have the concept that it is when we attend a church service that we can learn how to put the words of God in practice or have a better understanding of the word of God,” he said. “Reversely, I would say I have a better understanding of putting God’s words in actions when we create impact on people’s lives through our actions and work. Working with the community to build decent and affordable homes where underprivileged children, orphans and widows can live happily has been my driving force and motivation.

“I do believe there is greater blessings and inner satisfaction to serve than to be served,” he added. “There is no other work or job which would give me inner satisfaction and motivation that only comes from serving families and transforming lives.”

FAITH IN ACTION: Managing ReUse Store provides spiritual lift, helps families

FAITH IN ACTION: Managing ReUse Store provides spiritual lift, helps families

(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.)

Kristen Rimmer already had five back surgeries under her belt by the age of 25 — all stemming from a car wreck that happened with her then-5-year-old child in the vehicle. The operations limited her physically as she sought to return to the workforce, but she wound up landing a part-time job with limitless opportunity for helping others.

In April of 2015, Rimmer began working for the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing‘s ReUse Store in Hammond, Louisiana. The store — along with its adjacent sister shops, The Fuller Shop and The Rabbit Hole — is one of the nonprofit’s leading sources of revenue. That revenue helps families make badly needed repairs to existing homes or partner with Ginger Ford Northshore to build new homes.

“From day one, I really enjoyed my job,” Rimmer says. “The enjoyment quickly grew to love. As I began to connect with our homeowners, establish a relationship with our regulars and, of course, build relationships with co-workers, that love grew to become a passion.”

Kristen Rimmer

Within five months, Rimmer advanced to a full-time position and she has since become the manager of the ReUse Store. Not only does the store raise money for Ginger Ford Northshore’s work, but it also provides amazing deals on many items and necessities — something especially important for people still recovering and making repairs from historic flooding less than two years ago.

“Seeing customers come in every day and hearing their stories of losing everything from our floods in 2016 was incredibly humbling,” she says. “You go home with a sense of ease knowing you were able to help these people in some way.”

Rimmer says that she tries to live every day by the biblical principle in Acts 20:25 — that it is better to give than to receive.

“I actually had it painted inside of my store,” she says of the Bible verse. “Working in a place where I can wake up and connect and minister to people who come through my store is an amazing feeling! It not only gives them the spiritual direction they desired but also gives me a spiritual fulfillment I could have only gotten by helping others.”

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:

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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 gallery from Jennifer Little’s trip to Haiti:

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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!: