Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Millard Fuller, RIP

Today's news brings tidings of the sudden passing of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. I was a HFH volunteer in the mid-80s, and met him frequently. His faith and enthusiasm were inspiring, as the growth of Habitat over the years attests.

The special thing about Habitat was that its mission appealed to just about anyone. Fundamentalists? Chapter and verse can be cited about helping the poor. Conservatives? No involvement from the government, at least before the "faith-based initiave" era. Libertarians? Habitat was self-help in the best sense, as the houses were paid for by the homeowners (it's just that no interest is charged on the loan). Liberals? The volunteers are a rainbow of ordinary people doing extraordinary things: church groups, students, retirees, various questers at loose ends. Secularists? Come on aboard; we won't bite you!

And most importantly, Habitat works. The default rate is very low, and for years was non-existence. The recipients are invested in results. "Sweat equity" truly gives people a hand up, not a hand out.

For a while I worked in a warehouse, where donated plumbing supplies were stored. It was good quality stuff, and I still smile to think: the owner of a Habitat house in that area probably had better bathroom fixtures than their former slumlord did. I still smile to think how perfectly my spell with Habitat intersected my life. I was young and open-hearted, the perfect age and attitude to reap the blessings that giving brings, that being part of a wonderful cause greater than oneself brings. It's been a long road since then, but the inevitable shimmer of nostalgia adds nothing to the genuine benefit I received from my time there. And it was because of one man and his "theology of the hammer."

Without vision the people perish


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