JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Speaking on the Jacksonville, Fla., site where 101 Habitat for Humanity homes were being built in 17 days, Millard Fuller offered a plea for more Baptist involvement in the organization he founded. He spoke as he and his wife, Linda, and fellow church members Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter worked alongside 1,600 volunteers to build homes for Jacksonville’s needy families.
“Habitat needs the Baptists,” Fuller said in mid-September. “We want a stronger Christian influence at the center of what we do.” He added that keeping that focus is “not by accident.”
The Fullers are members of Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., where the former president is their Sunday school teacher. “The four top people with Habitat are Baptists,” Fuller noted, naming himself, his wife and the Carters.
“People are coming to know Christ through this ministry,” he asserted.
Noting that the 10,000 Habitat worldwide volunteers are not all Christians, Fuller said they hear of Christ by working alongside Christians. “It’s in private conversation as you hammer a nail or pick up a wall.”
The 1,600 volunteers building homes on the HabiJax worksite represented a cross-section of the city’s community working there in a spirit of volunteerism and civic pride. But while they worked, an atmosphere of Christian love and faith prevailed.
The volunteers heard clear expressions of faith from Carter and Fuller as they addressed volunteers over a loudspeaker. Prayers were offered for the work, for the new homeowners and for the food. An interview in the Jacksonville Times-Union also reported Carter’s Christian testimony.
“Some Baptists want to know, ‘What does this have to do with evangelism?'” Fuller said. “Jesus said first to love your God and to love your neighbors as much as yourself. This is loving your neighbors. This is a practical touch of your love in the name of Jesus.”
At the end of every Habitat project, homeowners are given a Bible and the home is dedicated to God. “People know that this is a Lord-built house,” Fuller said.
HabiJax is Habitat’s most active affiliate in the United States, building more than 500 homes since 1989. A strong core of 13 Baptist churches in the city make up the Baptist coalition within HabiJax, which will be involved in starting 30 churches this fall. These homes will be dedicated during the Jacksonville Billy Graham Crusade, Nov. 2-5.
“We have a strong base in Jacksonville,” said Ron Henson, associate pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, who leads the church and Baptist coalitions for HabiJax, “but we have over 100 churches, so we are right at 10 percent involvement. We need more.”
Participation in the emphasis, Henson said, “helps build community within the church, helps churches feel they are fulfilling their mission to minister to people in need and allows a certain number of members in church to find a ministry outlet for their talents and skills.”
Another aspect of involvement is finding corporate sponsors. Grant money and tax incentives are available from the state of Florida for “C-type corporations” which build low-income housing. “We’re finding Baptist laymen in our churches who are involved in C-type corporations, have vast resources and are willing to commit to the endeavor,” Henson noted.
“They are doing the funding, we’re doing the building. The potential is there. The only thing that is stopping us is our willingness to put this all together.”
The Carters came to Jacksonville as part of the 17th annual Jimmy Carter Work Project, where they spent a week building homes for Habitat. Earlier in the week in Harlem, N.Y, they dedicated the 100,000th home built by Habitat in its 25-year history. From Jacksonville, they traveled to Plains, where they were to build and dedicate the 100,001 home, Habitat officials said.
The organization now includes 2,500 affiliates around the world in 68 countries. Linda Fuller predicted Habitat will complete the next 100,000 homes in five years. She added that their goal is to “completely eliminate substandard housing in the world.”
“God has really blessed this ministry. We knew there was a great need for affordable housing and when the Carters become involved there was an explosion of growth. It made news around the world,” she said.