I was there from the very beginning, even before there was a Habitat for Humanity. I was just 19 years old, a neighborhood big brother/pied piper of sorts, living amongst a great group of kids in the slums of Americus, Ga. when Millard Fuller moved into town.
He had a vision to create a global housing program as a witness to the world. I also had a vision to get every youngster a library card and a break from the heart wrenching poverty that surrounded them. He funded his vision by opening a law practice and by asking a few people for donations. I funded mine by flipping hamburgers at Hardee's on weekends. When we met, we both shared the burden God had given us and formed a bond of mutual respect.
Like the kids, I had very little. I lived in a $20 a month shack and ate one meal a day. I didn't have a radio or television, not even running water, just a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and nightly freight trains that literally passed within 20 feet of my door. Millard wanted to help. He let me have the back two rooms of his law office in exchange for painting his house.
Habitat wasn't much in the beginning. It was just Millard, his wife, Linda, and Gail, his secretary, when he wasn't practicing law. I can still remember hearing the sound of his voice through our shared kitchen door when I dashed for refreshments between stories of Noah's Ark and Peter Cottontail. He was always dictating letters, usually to churches about the urgent need for decent housing or a word of thanks to some dear person who sent in $5 to support the effort.
Oh, how the years have flown by. I went off to college and eventually became a pastor, then a hospice chaplain. Habitat for Humanity went from three people to a massive charity, a global behemoth, one of the most recognizable brand names in the world, complete with corporate sponsorships and legal challenges to copyright infringement. Yet, Millard Fuller, the man who started it all, never really changed.
I got a letter in the mail the other day. It had a clipping about a near fatal car accident the Fullers were in. The car rolled three times but fortunately neither Millard nor his wife, Linda, was injured. As I read through it, I could not help but chuckle. For what was he doing at the time it occurred? He was in the passenger seat doing what I might have expected. He was dictating letters, telling about his new venture to reclaim the personal touch of neighbor helping neighbor.
In a world where charities become so large that they often lose touch and seem more corporate than charitable, it is refreshing to know that Millard Fuller's vision has never dulled. He still believes in the ultimate grass roots movement and works with a passion that humbles even the most earnest amongst us.
Drop him a line. Let him tell you about the need for affordable housing still confronting a staggering number of God's children. I'll wager you'll get a reply. Yet, in fairness, I must warn you to be prepared to be caught up in the whirlwind that is Millard Fuller. If you are at all like me, he just might persuade you to pick up a hammer and join him.