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:
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