I’ve Been Thinking … A Lesson in Faith

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I’ve Been Thinking … A Lesson in Faith

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I have met many famous people of deep religious faith, including Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, and Billy Graham, some of whom have had a direct and beneficial effect on my life. There is another kind of faith, perhaps more difficult to sustain: having a firm belief in yourself and in other people, or in a seemingly impossible dream. Most often, but not always, these people also have deep faith in a religious cause. …

Millard and Linda Fuller

For the past thirty-five years, Rosalynn and I have spent at least one week each year building homes for poor people in need. Habitat for Humanity is “seeking to put God’s love into action, bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope,” and it was founded by Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda. As students at the University of Alabama, Millard and a partner, Morris Dees (later founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center), started several innovative ventures. One was the publication of cookbooks featuring the best recipes from the mothers of other students, and another was delivering cakes or flowers to students on birthdays or other special occasions after their parents had been contacted by Fuller and Dees. After graduation, Millard married Linda and began to practice law, but he had so much money coming in from his other business ventures that he gave up his law practice One day, much to Millard’s shock, Linda told him that she was leaving him and going to New York for marriage counseling because he was neglecting his family and seemed interested only in getting rich. Millard followed her, begged her to come back to him, and finally agreed to give away all his money and join Linda in any work they could share.

Millard kept his promise, and the couple soon settled on the biracial Koinonia Farm, just a few miles south of Plains, Georgia, and began building houses for destitute black families. Then they and their three children spent three years in Zaire as missionaries supported by some Christian groups, and they developed the idea of organizing Habitat for Humanity, using the “technology of the hammer” or the “economics of Jesus.” This was a dream that few people believed could be realized, but working with volunteers and homeowners, Habitat has now built or renovated more than 2.5 million homes in a total of seventy countries. One of the Habitat staff members told me, “Millard has the dreams, and then we inherit the nightmare of fulfilling his vision.”

Volunteers work side by side with families who have been living in subhuman dwellings. The future homeowners are chosen and most other decisions are made by committees formed within the local community. There is no charity involved, if “free handouts” is the meaning of “charity.” The homeowners must contribute about five hundred hours of work on their own and neighbors’ houses, and repay the full price of their homes, to which they have clear title. This can be done because the houses built by Habitat are relatively inexpensive, much of the construction work is done by volunteers, and Habitat’s policy is not to charge interest. These conditions make monthly payments possible from a low income, or even a monthly welfare check. It is difficult to describe the emotions of our Habitat workdays, where we see extraordinary commitments and lives changed among formerly forgotten people. The deep Christian faith, vision, and dedication of Millard and Linda Fuller have also helped to change our lives.

From FAITH by Jimmy Carter. Copyright © 2018 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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