The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | June/July 2003
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Building on Common Ground
Accessing a Better Life in Canada

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Habitat Faces Challenges in Eastern Europe

Raising Walls, Building Confidence


Faith Diversity Strengthens Habitat's Reach

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Building on Common Ground
By Shawn Reeves

"The affluent and the poor; high school students and the elderly; conservatives and liberals; Christians and non-Christians; and every racial, religious and ethnic group can drive nails side by side to build houses with those who need a simple, decent place to live."
--Millard Fuller in The Theology of the Hammer

The need for decent housing is not limited to a single region of the world, or to a particular race of people or to the beliefs of any group or individual. The plight of poverty housing reaches families indiscriminately around the globe.

Since its founding in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has upheld its own indiscriminate outreach: to build simple, decent houses with families who need them and to do so with anyone willing to help. It practices an open-door policy that welcomes everyone into its mission to eliminate poverty housing from the planet, regardless of race, creed, gender, age or nationality.

An organization that seeks to put faith and love into action and to demonstrate the teachings of Jesus Christ, Habitat for Humanity believes that God's love extends to all people; therefore, Habitat's concern is for all people, and so is the invitation to join its movement to eradicate substandard housing.

"The door is open to go beyond the Christian family," says Habitat for Humanity founder and president Millard Fuller, "because everyone is needed if we are to rid this world of shacks."

Fuller recognizes that people connect with Habitat for Humanity for different reasons and says they are welcome no matter their motivations. This notion of an "open door" is hardly new. Habitat's inclusiveness is a cornerstone whose history can be traced even to those days preceding the organization itself.
Volunteers, homeowners and celebrities unite to build in Wilmington, Calif., in 2000.
Habitat's concern is for all people, and so is the invitation to join its movement to eradicate substandard housing.

In 1942, across a red-clay landscape in southwest Georgia, theologian and farmer Clarence Jordan helped establish Koinonia Farm, a Christian farming community on the outskirts of Americus. Today Americus is home to Habitat for Humanity's international headquarters.

In the years following, which were ripe with social unrest in the United States, especially in the deep South, Jordan and others at Koinonia adhered to the notion of putting God's love into action by welcoming everyone--by living peacefully among different races, and among those of diverse economic means, opinions, talents and abilities.

It was at Koinonia where Fuller met Jordan and began exploring the concept of partnership housing: to build simple, decent houses with local sharecroppers, who would--as Habitat homeowners do today--buy them through no-profit, zero-interest loans.

After further testing this concept in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Africa, Millard and Linda Fuller returned with their family to Georgia to launch Habitat for Humanity. It was founded as and remains an organization committed to demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by building decent housing with families who need it. These families are never required to subscribe to any particular doctrine, only to meet three basic criteria: They must be living in inadequate housing before partnering with Habitat; they must contribute hundreds of "sweat-equity" hours toward the construction of their house and others'; and they must be able to repay a no-profit, zero-interest mortgage.

More than a quarter-century after its founding, Habitat for Humanity has extended its commitment to thousands of communities around the world, empowering low-income families as they improve their lives with an adequate place to sleep. Having built more than 125,000 houses, Habitat continues to reach people in need and to do so with no restrictions placed on what they should believe or how they should look.

At the core of Habitat's identity is its identification with the love of Jesus Christ, which by its nature leads the organization to embrace families in need, no matter their race, creed, gender or nationality.

According to Habitat for Humanity's "method of operation," the organization "acknowledges the priceless worth of all human beings, and seeks to express God's love to all, regardless of economic station, religion or race. ... Because Habitat is a Christian organization, it welcomes involvement and support from all people of good will, compassion and love as long as they understand, support and commit to the mission and purposes of Habitat for Humanity."

Habitat's intent is never to alienate those who follow a different faith--or who follow no faith--but rather to embrace everyone, to exercise unity in diversity as a positive force in its approach to overcoming poverty housing in the world.

And the strength of diversity should never be underestimated. It can be a powerful means of identifying with a common experience, says Anne Townsend, project director for the Volunteer Center at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

"A value in diversity," Townsend says, "is that it's one more way for people to make connections with one another. It enriches discussions and brings depth and new experiences to the objective at hand. In the case of the Volunteer Center, diversity creates a population of students that can challenge each other in very positive ways."

She believes those positives extend beyond a university setting and link individuals in other environments, not the least of which is a Habitat for Humanity build site. Coincidentally, Townsend serves as volunteer adviser for the school's Habitat campus chapter and also as board member for her local affiliate, Racquette Valley Habitat for Humanity in Norfolk, N.Y.

When volunteers from diverse backgrounds gather, Townsend says the entire group is often reminded of the common experience the individuals share, that while individuals hold different opinions or adhere to different belief systems or doctrines, there are certain universals they share simply because they share the same gift of life.

She relays one comment from a student who, after helping winterize the home for a woman of a different culture, identified with the person she was helping: "She's just like my grandmother."


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