Thursday, April 27, 2006

Habitat For Humanity Relocating Administration To Atlanta

[Herewith is a painstaking though disappointingly maudlin recreation of a spontaneous, heartfelt post that I composed earlier, and that Blogger promptly erased. Grrr. ]

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due places. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives alien among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search of something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
-- W. Somerset Maughham, in The Moon and Sixpence

Looks like the transition of HFH from a founder and his mission into a big, anonymous NGO is proceeding apace. Habitat For Humanity will move their front offices to Atlanta, to be nearer the rest of the world than they had been in Americus. It's been mulled for years now, but now they're going to do it. Click the link back there, to see why it matters.

The most spiritually enriching passage of my young adulthood, apart from some stretches in college, was the 18 months, cumulatively, that I spent as a live-in volunteer in Americus, Georgia, working for Habitat For Humanity. There I was, young, open-hearted, half-formed, not a clue as to where in life I would go, but still most impressionable. Not to sound saccharine, but I loved everyone I met there. The wonderful retirees, motorhoming around the country as itinerant do-gooders, or preparing to go overseas for two years and work. The wonderful widows and divorcees, newly cut loose and making for unknown shores. The wonderful Mennonite volunteers, doing their service obligations through their church's mission bureau. And the wonderful small city of Americus, not so very different from the one I grew up in.

At the time I was there, Habitat was beginning to break out into worldwide prominence. But the facilities were still quite humble. The offices were just a row of houses converted into offices, festooned with lengths of data cable strung in between. The warehouse and media center were in an old tumble-down auto repair shop, which it was one of my first jobs to paint with an airless paintsprayer. The site where apartments for volunteers would later go up was the truckyard of a peanut drying barn. And every morning before work there would be devotions and a pep talk delivered by the founder, Millard Fuller. A strong sense of "we merry few", a strong sense of mission and purpose, pervaded the days.

But no organization can be up-and-coming forever. As Habitat grew and succeeded, inevitably professional managers were brought in. These were good people, as inspired by Millard Fuller's vision as we volunteer laborers were. But the necessity of dealing with growth, and the simple tick of time, gradually changed Habitat's character. HFH always stayed on message--affordable housing for the poor--but the time finally came that the founder decamped back to Koinonia Farms, where it had all started years ago, and formed a new housing ministry. And Habitat's administration is moving to Atlanta, coming to a glass tower near you. And best of luck to the both of them.

As the years roll on, my time at HFH increases in spiritual significance for me. It's become a touchstone, by which I measure my current spiritual...whatever a touchstone is supposed to measure! Authenticity, I suppose. Worth. True-ness.

The work will go on, though we'll none of us be that young again. But lordy, what memories...

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

1 comment:

  1. Interesting news, yes, sometimes in reading blogs, I glean news stories, that I would otherwise not find out about. I also did some volunteer work for this organization back during college. I helped install sheetrock in a home built near Greenville, SC. Habitat has definitely had its ups and downs over time. I think such non-profits should assist the poor and ***not government*** (at any level). All the more reason I support organizations such as Habitat. I actually thought it was kinda cool that Habitat for Humanity was based in a quaint small town such as Americus.

    Millard Fuller gave the commencement speech at my college when I received my BA back in the early 90s.


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