Financial support generated by Habitat’s tithe program creates connections around the world.
To understand the special hearts of Jean Claude Ntimpirangeza and Judith Uwizeyimana, it’s best to start their story in the middle.
In 2009, Jean Claude, Judith and their seven children arrived in Jefferson City, Missouri, from a refugee camp in Tanzania. They could afford only a run-down apartment in a dangerous public housing project.
“They have such a heart to reach out to people,” says the Rev. Lisa Deutsch, pastor at Jefferson City Assembly of God Church, which assisted the family. “They cooked food, carried it around to all their neighbors, introduced themselves, said ‘good to meet you.’ I don’t think the neighbors were overly friendly. It was such an idealistic view of America.”
Their idealism was validated when the family moved into a house built with River City Habitat, the Jefferson City affiliate. “God showed me a miracle,” Jean Claude says.
That miracle continues, thanks to Habitat for Humanity’s tithe program, in which Habitat affiliates are encouraged to donate 10 percent of all unrestricted cash donations to further the organization’s work in other countries. When River City executive director Kelly Smith wanted to tithe in Judith and Jean Claude’s honor, the affiliate sent $8,000 to help build new houses in Habitat Uganda and Habitat Kenya, the two countries where Habitat builds that are closest to the couple’s home countries of Rwanda and Burundi.
River City’s tithe is one small strand in a vast web that joins the nearly 80 countries where Habitat works, the tithes that bind one to all. “It shows the full-circle aspect of Habitat’s ministry,” Smith says. “It just shows that it doesn’t stop with handing someone the keys. It grows, and continues to grow, in our community and in other lands as well.”
The roots of tithing
Tithing is as old as God’s covenant with the Israelites. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house,” says Malachi 3:10. “Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Tithing in Habitat is as old as the organization itself. “This goes back to the Christian foundations of Habitat,” says Doug Murrell, Habitat for Humanity International’s director of faith engagement, “the whole concept that I have only a little in my hand, but when I release it and give it to Him, He does something miraculous. In Habitat, people have a little, but when they put it together, miracles happen.”
When Habitat founders Millard and Linda Fuller revisited Zaire in 1979 after first applying the “partnership housing” concept there in 1973, the tithe cycle began. At a home dedication ceremony, Sam Mompongo — an educator and leader who, with the Fullers’ blessing, had expanded the model of enlisting volunteers to help families build houses to his own village — took up a collection and presented Millard Fuller with half of it: $200. Fuller used the money to help start a new Habitat affiliate in Aguacatan, Guatemala.
From that $200 donation, the entire Habitat tithe program grew. In fiscal year 2011, Habitat organizations around the world tithed more than $13 million to one another, connecting people who would otherwise never be connected and sending a message that no one is alone. A neighbor, however far away, is always there to help.
“We wanted to show that distance does not play any role when we want to achieve the common goal of eliminating housing poverty.”—Marat Jidebaev, Habitat Kyrgyzstan
Back to Africa
River City’s tithe to Africa was used just north of Judith and Jean Claude’s original homes, where Habitat Uganda helped 52-year-old Imalingat Loy, a mother of six, build a home.
“I feel like a thorn just got removed from my leg,” Loy says of her new home.
Her family lived in a mud and wattle hut, battling termites that ate the support poles. As subsistence farmers, they grew corn, sweet potatoes and cassava, selling a portion for money that went mostly to medication and school materials for the children.
The family’s health has improved since moving out of the hut. “We now sleep in a clean house, and all of us look a lot better and healthier now,” Loy says. “We now have good storage space for our food, enough sleeping room for the children where they can read, and we don’t have to struggle to get thatch grass for roofing.
“God should bless the people who helped us and keep them for many years.”
Even as Habitat Uganda was getting Loy and her family settled, violence erupted in Cote d’Ivoire, as a disputed election escalated into a brutal armed conflict. When Habitat Uganda heard about the situation, it tithed $5,000 to help families in the western African country.
‘A magic happened in our life one day’
In 2009, Habitat Kyrgyzstan sent a $2,200 tithe from its local fundraising to Habitat Guatemala.
“From our colleague who had been there we heard about this culturally beautiful country and its big housing need,” says Marat Jidebaev, Habitat’s executive director in the formerly Soviet country. “We found out that with this amount we can build a whole house there. We also wanted to show that distance does not play any role when we want to achieve the common goal of eliminating housing poverty.”
In the same time period, Guatemala tithed $20,000 to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor to the south in Central Asia. As in many countries in the region, safe drinking water is a critical issue; only about 58 percent of the population has regular access to safe water. Water-borne illnesses such as typhoid and dysentery are a serious problem.
Habitat Tajikistan used Guatemala’s tithe to build three community reservoirs, provide 150 families with new water filters and mount a water-hygiene education program.
Sixty-year-old Saidahmad Obidov is an art teacher, and his wife Shahriniso is a custodian at the high school in their remote village. “Our water was dirty, and of bad quality,” he says. “Our community in Kumsangir doesn’t have good infrastructure and water supply system. The water we used was from contaminated irrigation fields.
“But then a magic happened in our life one day, when Habitat Tajikistan representatives met with our community.”
The Obidovs received a new locally made water filter, made possible by Habitat Guatemala’s tithe donation.
More than money
In 1988, Indiana’s Greater Muncie Habitat finished its first house and also sent its first tithe donation — $3,378 — to Habitat Bolivia. Over the next 23 years, Greater Muncie Habitat tithed more than $200,000 to Bolivia, helping serve at least 86 families there. One thing neither program managed, however, was a visit to see the other.
That changed last year, when Habitat Bolivia’s Javier Espada and Celinda Melgarejo spent 10 days in Muncie, attending dedication ceremonies, working at a Habitat ReStore, volunteering on a Women Build and attending fundraising events. Soon, Muncie’s Marty Kendrick traveled south to attend the blessing of Habitat Bolivia’s 10,000th home. This September, a larger Muncie delegation will visit Bolivia as part of a Global Village trip.
“From that first visit, it was evident there was deep understanding and new friendship,” says Lindsey Arthur, Greater Muncie Habitat CEO. “We talk regularly now, share ideas with each other and can better show our own supporters why this relationship matters.”
“We at Habitat Bolivia completely understand the investment it takes to create a working relationship between affiliates. It is so important that people realize who they are donating their funds to and how this will help the development of that specific region,” says Christopher Sheehan, affiliate relations manager for Habitat Bolivia.
“This is what growth is about, how change is made and how under one vision, both organizations can become one headed towards a common goal,” he adds. “It is a true honor to have [Habitat Greater Muncie] alongside us. We feel really blessed.”
‘God working through Habitat’
Sometimes a tithe goes halfway around the world. Sometimes it goes a few miles. Habitat El Salvador has recently completed a three-year tithe commitment to Nicaragua.
“We decided on Nicaragua because they were getting back on their feet and they were right next door, so there’s an opportunity for really helping our neighbor,” says Kendal Stewart, international donor relations coordinator for Habitat El Salvador.
“We have tried to cultivate the partnership on a personal level,” she continues. “When Nicaragua hired their new Global Village coordinator, they sent her to El Salvador to train with us for about 10 days.”
In the Nicaraguan community of Masachapa, Lucelia Calero, her fisherman husband Walter and their two children, 8-year-old Wendy and 3-year-old Osmany, were living in a one-room shelter with a dirt floor and walls made of old pieces of zinc.
Using the tithe money sent by Habitat El Salvador, the family began building a safe, decent home with Habitat Nicaragua earlier this year. As the house began to take shape, Lucie Calero reflected: “Habitat has done more in the last six months than what the other people that were helping us tried to do in the last three years. We are so grateful. This is God working through Habitat.”
To understand the full journey of Jean Claude Ntimpirangeza and Judith Uwizeyimana, it’s best to go back to the beginning, long before River City.
Judith was a teenager in Rwanda in 1994, living a normal, happy life and attending school when genocidal violence broke out, ultimately claiming 800,000 lives. She and her sister fled to the Congo and then to Tanzania, where she wound up in a refugee camp. She lived in a tent for 17 years, married, had two children and divorced.
Jean Claude fled similar violence between warring tribes in Burundi in 1993. When his wife died, he was left to raise four young children on his own, also in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Eventually, he found work there as a pastor and counselor.
On July 19, 2009 — Judith’s voice sparkles when she recites thedate — the two met and were soon married. They merged their two families and had a seventh child together, a baby named Shalom.
“I asked God for a miracle — to get a wife,” says Jean Claude. “And I got two miracles — a wife and to come to America.”
After immigrating to Jefferson City, Jean Claude worked two jobs, unloading trucks starting at 4 a.m., then working a full shift in the kitchen at a nursing home. Unable to afford a car, he rode his bike to both jobs. Judith, trained as a nurse’s aide in Tanzania, found a similar job here.
The family of nine moved into their Habitat house in December 2010. At the dedication, volunteers, church friends and Habitat staffers crowded into the house to present them with keys, a Bible and a decorated Christmas tree. Jean Claude spoke, with tears in his eyes, telling the gathering that he had never had his own home.
They were pleased when River City’s Smith explained that they would be connected forever to new homes built in Kenya and Uganda through Habitat’s tithe program.
“For us, it’s part of our Christian walk,” Smith says, “the understanding that our brothers and sisters are not just part of our community; they are people all over the world, to whom we are to give blessings.”
In fiscal year 2011, Habitat organizations tithed more than $13 million, connecting people who would otherwise never be connected and sending a message that no one is alone.