John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

(Photo: Millard Fuller’s early work in Africa inspired the Rev. John J. Staton, who continues to support The Fuller Center for Housing’s work decades later.)


 

Editor’s note: We published this story on May 17, 2017. The Rev. Staton died on April 14 of this year, and we are re-running this story about a man who was a wonderful friend to the Fullers and a dedicated supporter of our affordable housing ministry through the years. The Rev. Staton’s obituary asks for memorial contributions to be made to The Fuller Center for Housing, which you can do in the Rev. Staton’s memory at this link.


 

When Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005, retired pastor John J. Staton was among the earliest supporters. Of course, when the Fullers went to Africa in the early 1970s to test the concept of partnership housing, he supported them then.

Today, at age 88, he continues to give every month. He is especially proud to support a ministry that gave Millard Fuller some of the happiest years of his life as The Fuller Center gave him an opportunity to return and recommit to the grass-roots, Christian principles that he and Linda began with decades ago.

“It’s incredible what The Fuller center has done and accomplished since 2005, and I’m glad I’ve been able to play a role” Staton says from his home in Carmel, Indiana. “I get a real sense of joy every time I write a check to The Fuller Center, and it will always be so. I’ll continue to give to The Fuller Center as long as I live.”

“What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.” — John J. Staton

Staton, who grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, was Ivy League-educated at Dartmouth College, where he planned to become a doctor before going into ministry and attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was that faith journey that would acquaint him with a young Millard Fuller, who also had experienced an abrupt change of direction in his life after giving up his millionaire lifestyle to serve others.

“He was deeply inspired by Clarence Jordan,” Staton says of Fuller’s relationship with mentor theologian Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm. “I used to correspond with him even though I’d never met him, and I gave him some money for the work in Africa. That was long before they’d started Habitat or anything else.”

After the Fullers returned to the United States in 1976 and founded Habitat for Humanity, Staton’s correspondence with Millard continued. Eventually, Staton would bring Millard to speak at churches in Central Indiana and hosted the Fullers at the home he shared with wife Shirley. (Shirley Staton passed away in 2001.) After retiring from the pulpit, the Statons even came to Americus, Georgia, to volunteer with Habitat — John in development and Shirley as a guide at the Global Village and Discovery Center.

“The more I got to know Millard and Linda during those three months with Habitat, the more I admired what they were doing,” Staton says. Though he was frustrated by the Fullers’ dismissal by Habitat, he was eager to support them in their return to grass-roots, Christian principles with The Fuller Center.

“A lot of my connections to The Fuller Center are built on top of a friendship with him,” Staton says. “I believed in his mission. What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.”

While spreading the Gospel through Millard’s “Theology of the Hammer” and by putting faith into action are what most appeals to him in supporting The Fuller Center, he also knows the importance of growing up in a decent home. He grew up in a solid middle-class home during the Great Depression, a home his parents purchased with a $10,000 inheritance from his great-grandmother.

“That was the only home I knew until I was out of college,” Staton says. “It’s still in good condition, although that lawn seemed to be huge when I had to mow it as a child. Now it looks like a postage stamp.

“But I have nothing but happy memories of that home,” he adds. “I fell in love as a senior in high school with a girl who lived just six blocks from me. I got to know every pebble in the street riding my bike back and forth between our two houses. I married that girl (Shirley, to whom he was married for 50 years) after college. I had a very happy childhood living in that house.”

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Dreams of Christian leaders Dr. King, Millard Fuller intersect in visible ways

Dreams of Christian leaders Dr. King, Millard Fuller intersect in visible ways

There is an intersection of two main roads on the south side of Americus, Georgia, this small town where the world’s affordable housing movement began and where The Fuller Center for Housing is headquartered. The streets at the intersection bear the names of two great Christian leaders — Martin Luther King Jr. and Millard Fuller.

The Fuller Center’s simple offices are housed at 701 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, about a mile from the intersection. It was 50 years ago today that we lost Dr. King to an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, our address here on the highway named after a man who dedicated his life to righting injustices and empowering change through determined nonviolent activism is particularly significant.

Dr. King knew that the Civil Rights Movement at its core was a grass-roots movement and was the first to credit the men and women of all races and backgrounds for making change possible. We, too, are building a better world by putting faith into action with grass-roots principles and dedicated supporters who give their time, money and passion to this ministry. These foot soldiers make change possible.

As a wealthy white businessman hailing from Lanett, Alabama, at the time of Dr. King’s seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, Millard Fuller may have seemed an unlikely man to someday be honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, an award that would be bestowed upon him by Georgia Gov. Zell Miller in 1992 at the State Capitol in Atlanta — the city where Dr. King’s body, but not his dream, was laid to rest. In the second half of the 1960s, though, Dr. King and Millard Fuller were pursuing the same dream — ending poverty.

Millard and his wife Linda gave away their fortune to serve God. They did not know at the time exactly how they would serve God, but they would soon discover their path at Koinonia Farm, an intentional Christian farming community just south of Americus. It was at this racially integrated farm — a radical concept in these parts back then — that they would learn from theologian Clarence Jordan that “What the poor need isn’t charity, but capital; not case workers, but co-workers.” The Fullers saw the light.

In 1968 — the same year Dr. King was assassinated — they launched Koinonia Partnership Housing and the Fund for Humanity. That was the origin of Habitat for Humanity and later The Fuller Center for Housing, the two affordable housing ministries founded by Millard and Linda.

Dr. King, meanwhile, launched the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967, leading a new war on poverty. Both King and the Fullers worked tirelessly to lift families out of economic despair. They provided hope to individuals and communities. They inspired generations. At times, they grew frustrated and impatient while pursuing their dream. Yet, they knew that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 26:11 that the poor would always be with us was not an excuse to quit trying to help them. In fact, it was one of Jesus’ most frequent counsels.

Dr. King worked to lift the poor right up until the day an assassin’s bullet struck him down on April 4, 1968. Millard Fuller worked toward a similar dream right up until the day he died from an aortic aneurysm on February 3, 2009. Had it not been for that bullet in Memphis, there is little doubt that the paths of these two great Christian leaders and tireless servants of God — one a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and one a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient — would have crossed, likely often. We can only imagine what it would have been like to hear two of America’s greatest and most inspirational orators share a pulpit or a stage. They both could command an audience, and they both inspired generations to seek peaceful change and build a better world — especially for the poor among us.

Their lives may have never intersected, but their dreams most certainly did. We see it every day through the efforts of everyone involved in this grass-roots ministry across this great country and around the world. The poor are still among us, and we are still called to help them. Should we ever need to be reminded, there are a couple of roads joined together here in Americus — the only place in the world where such named thoroughfares intersect — that offer us direction unlike any other.

VIDEO: Millard Fuller speaks after being presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award in 1992

Millard Fuller Legacy Build, annual conference both coming to Americus in April

Millard Fuller Legacy Build, annual conference both coming to Americus in April

(Photo: First United Methodist Church of Americus)

For the first time, The Fuller Center for Housing’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build will be held in Americus, Georgia. The build, featuring new home builds and rehab projects is the week of April 15-20, 2018. The Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing will be coordinating the build.

But that’s not the only first coming to Americus in April: The Legacy Build will conclude as The Fuller Center’s Annual Conference begins — with the two events merging for the first time on Friday, April 20. On that day, the annual conference will begin at 1 p.m. at host First United Methodist Church before attendees join Legacy Build volunteers for house dedications in the afternoon. That evening, both Legacy Build volunteers and conference attendees — including some people involved in both events — will join together again for a 5 p.m. social hour and a 6 p.m. dinner at historic Koinonia Farm.

“Millard used to say that while the Northeast has beautiful fall foliage and the West Coast has sunny skies and beaches, Americus has April,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “It’s a glorious month, and it will be even more glorious with the two great events that will be hosted here. It will be one great family reunion! Start making plans now to join us for either or both — the Legacy Build, April 15-20, the Conference on the 20th and 21st. I’ll look forward to seeing you here!”

Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson added that the idea of joining the two events was spurred by a four-day build that preceded The Fuller Center’s Annual Conference in Hammond, Louisiana, in April of 2017.

“Our partners there had a very successful Higher Ground on the Bayou flood repair blitz over the four days before the conference, and it provided a lot of enthusiasm and momentum heading into the sessions,” Johnson said. “It also put the learning of the conference into a very tangible context for those who attended both. We expect the same to happen in Americus, and we expect plenty of folks will want to be part of both events.”

conference — Register or learn more

LEGACY BUILD — register or learn more

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

(Photo: Group shot from the first day of the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis.)

This is the fourth 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. On Sunday, we’ll wrap up this series with a look at the meaning of “faith-based.”


 

Whom do you see in this group photo from June’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis? If you’re well-acquainted and heavily involved with The Fuller Center for Housing, you can probably list a whole bunch of familiar names you see — David and Sheilla Snell, Chuck and Joyce Vogt, Jeff Cardwell, LeRoy Troyer, Chuck Lee, Bob Pack, Mary Lou Bowman, Doug Miller, and … well, if I listed every name I see in this picture I wouldn’t be able to write about today’s topic — “partnership.”

For those of you who might be less familiar with The Fuller Center, let me give you a general overview of who’s in that picture — a neighborhood association president, homeowners, volunteers, house captains, nonprofit executives, political leaders, city representatives, church members and youth from the Church of the Nazarene, whose General Assembly coincided with our Legacy Build.

All of these good folks came together in partnership to help five families have simple, decent places to live in the neighborhood of Tuxedo Park, a blitz build that marked a turning point for a once-thriving east Indy area that had been on the decline for decades. No more.

You can’t build five homes in a week without a lot of partners. You can’t build 200 homes in Haiti, El Salvador and Nigeria without partners. You can’t build and repair hundreds of homes in Louisiana, Kentucky and Georgia without partners. Building a single home takes partners.

The Fuller Center’s affordable housing ministry sprung from theologian Clarence Jordan’s teachings at Koinonia Farm in the 1960s, where his final days were spent sharpening the concepts of partnership economics, including partnership housing. One particular line from his writings is oft-cited by The Fuller Center:

Clarence Jordan

What the poor need is not charity, but capital; not case workers but co-workers.”

That directly explains our partnership with homeowners. They are not charity cases. They work alongside our volunteers and repay the costs of materials on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged or profit made. Their payments go to help others in their community get the same hand-up, and in the process they become givers themselves.

But we have a multitude of partners beyond homeowners. Because we do not accept government funds (and the strings attached) for building, we rely on the generous partnership of our donors. We partner with skilled and unskilled-but-willing volunteers to build and repair homes, thus keeping the costs as manageable as possible. We partner with like-minded organizations such as People Helping People in El Salvador and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Texas. The local groups who do our work in the field in the United States and abroad are not called affiliates or chapters but are referred to as covenant partners. We do not dictate to them how to do their work. We see ourselves as partners with the same mission — to help families in need have simple, decent places to live.

Perhaps our most important partnership is with the church. The Fuller Center is not a church but is a servant of the church. We provide a vehicle for churches to put faith into action in a real, tangible, difference-making way. Churches also host teams of Fuller Center volunteers, host our fundraising Bicycle Adventure cyclists across the nation, send team on U.S. and Global Builders trips and often help feed our volunteers. We appreciate every way churches partner with us.

Church attendance and affiliation has been steadily declining in the United States for decades. We could debate ad infinitum the reasons for the decline. But at The Fuller Center we have seen time and time again a church become enthused and reinvigorated after tackling a Fuller Center project. Maybe it’s because Jesus was a carpenter, but there’s just something about swinging a hammer and pounding a nail that drives home the importance of loving thy neighbor. At the end of the day, you can look at the structure and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. More importantly, you can look on the faces of people to whom you’ve extended God’s love. That feeling is hard to beat, and it’s something you want to experience time and time again.

We are always seeking new partners who want to express God’s love by helping families have simple, decent places to live. If you want to know more about how you can partner with The Fuller Center for Housing, be sure to email us or call 229-924-2900.