True Faith at Work

Jesse and Dora Garcia know what it's like to be homeless. For years, they and their five children lived in a tent. They had no furniture, no bathroom. During every South Dakota wind storm, their patched-up tent nearly blew away. Then the Garcias heard about Habitat for Humanity. Today the Garcias are sheltered from the wind in a sturdy four-bedroom home. And they're living proof of how Christians can transform a culture by living out the Gospel. Habitat for Humanity was the brainchild of Millard Fuller. Twenty-four years ago, building homes for the poor was the last thing on Fuller's mind. A millionaire by the time he was 29, Fuller thought he had it all: a successful law practice, a beautiful home, and a luxurious lifestyle. But his personal life was crumbling. During this time of crisis, with his marriage collapsing, Fuller accepted Christ. And then he began searching for a way to put his newfound faith into practice. That's when he became aware of the tremendous need for decent housing for the poor. Soon, Habitat for Humanity was born. Fuller's ministry brings together churches, businesses, and local governments to provide money, land, and lumber. They mobilize volunteers from local churches to do the actual building. And when a home is finished, it's sold at a modest price to a carefully chosen needy recipient. The new homeowners have to put in hundreds of hours of what Fuller calls "sweat equity": they swing a hammer or a paintbrush alongside the Habitat volunteers. This remarkable ministry has earned kudos from liberals and conservatives alike. And over the years volunteers have built some 90,000 homes around the world, including 30,000 across America. Habitat is the tenth largest home builder in America, and my friend Jack Kemp has taken a great leadership role. And I've personally witnessed what Habitat calls the "theology of the hammer." Fourteen years ago I worked on a Habitat project on the west side of Chicago. About a hundred other volunteers, including men furloughed from prison, were there. So was former president Jimmy Carter. Together, we sawed boards, nailed studs, and put up drywall. We also prayed together and had devotions twice a day. Habitat for Humanity illustrates the way faith in Christ leads to the right ordering of civil society. All too often, Christians are told to keep their faith private, out of the public realm. But Millard Fuller's example shows what happens when a man takes his faith into the street: Things happen. Poor people get decent homes. Habitat for Humanity helps us understand the value of what British statesman Edmund Burke called "the little platoons" of society. Burke taught that social groupings, like family, church, and neighborhood associations, are the "little platoons" of society. And each platoon has its own distinctive, God-given tasks that no other group can do. Burke's ideas are anathema to those who view the state as the only instrument for meeting human needs. But government housing programs have largely been a disaster. As the presidential campaign heats up, we're going to hear a lot about faith-based solutions to social problems. If you hear others saying it won't work, tell them about Habitat for Humanity. This is faith in action. And remind them that without the theology of the cross, there would be no theology of the hammer.


Chuck Colson


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