On the day this article is posted, I will be about 300 miles into a 380 mile bike ride across Indiana. The reason I am on this bike ride is because almost fifty years ago Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda, decided to take the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man seriously. They chose to give up the wealth they had earned at a fairly young age and use their gifts to help better the lives of the poor. Along the way, they stopped off in Americus, Georgia and forged a partnership with Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farms. From there, Millard and Linda headed to Mbandaka, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Africa. There Miller headed up “The Block and Sand Project” which led to the first housing project that has morphed into the worldwide movement known as Habitat for Humanity. If you are unfamiliar with it, the goal of Habitat for Humanity is to eradicate substandard housing and homelessness by providing simple, decent and affordable housing for people in need. Homes are not just given away. Selected families are asked to partner with Habitat and pay an interest free mortgage covering the actual cost of materials (the majority of labor is donated). That money is then put into building other homes. It is estimated that over the last forty years, Habitat affiliates in 70 nations have built more than 800,000 homes that provide housing for close to 4 million people.
That is why I, along with 115 other people, am riding my bike this week across the state of Indiana, to raise awareness of and funds for Habitat. Our local affiliate, Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County, Indiana, is presently building its 43rd home. It is a “Teen Build.” This means that much of the volunteer labor is from high school kids who work under the supervision of experienced volunteers.
I have been involved with Habitat for close to twenty years, volunteering on sites, serving lunches, being on committees, and serving as the board president. Now, I ride my bike in the Cover Indiana Habitat for Humanity Bike Ride. This is my fourth year to ride. I have been joined the last couple of years by some other folks from my congregation. Other riders are from all over Indiana and from some other states as well. Last year, we had a rider from Haiti with us.
I have many stories that I could tell from my two decades of involvement with Habitat. One of the reasons I have stayed involved this long is because I have seen the great good Habitat can do in the lives of both partner families and volunteers. Not every story is a success, but more are than aren’t. But I’ll save my stories for another time.
What I am thinking about this week is how the decision made half a century ago by Millard and Linda Fuller to heed the message found in the story of Jesus and the rich young man has affected so many lives. Because of the choice they made, people who may never had a home now have one. Children, who never had a backyard to play in, now have one with a swing-set. The no-interest mortgages have allowed folks to invest some of their income into education or technical training which leads to better job opportunities. Habitat helps people learn that we need to work together to solve issues. Habitat’s philosophy is that we work with people of all faiths and no faith. We do this precisely because we are a Christian ministry who believes God’s love embraces all.
I find it deeply amazing, even miraculous, that a story told two thousand years ago, and a couple’s decision to heed that story’s message, can have such a powerful impact on the lives of so many people. It matters that we continue to take the sacred stories seriously. (By no means, however, does that mean that every story is to be taken literally.) It matters that we listen well to the words of our Lord Jesus and that we make decisions about how we live based upon what we hear. Because how we choose to live can affect the lives of others today and for years to come. It was my decision to pedal for Habitat. Because of that decision over the last four years through the Cover Indiana Bike Ride, almost $11,000 has been raised for our local affiliate. The decision to ride, and people’s decision to support me financially, has helped provide simple and decent housing for families in our community. We were given the opportunity to make those decisions because Jesus told a rich young man what it would take to inherit eternal life. Two millenniums later, the Fullers heard that story and said, “I think Jesus is talking to us.”
It’s the darndest thing if you really think about it. I’m riding my bike through the hills of southern Indiana because Jesus told a story in Israel 2,000 years ago. The Fullers heard that story and because of it, moved to Africa and started building homes. Habitat for Humanity had its beginning. And today, some young people in Morgan County, Indiana are building a home for someone in their own community. In 70 other countries around the world similar stories can be told. It really is the darndest thing . . . And it’s beautiful and it’s the good news of our Risen Christ whose words still matter.
*If you are interested in the early years of Habitat for Humanity's beginning, you can find the story in the book, "Bokotola."