Thursday, November 6, 2008

An Evening with Millard Fuller

This evening our intern group had the privilege of meeting with Millard Fuller, the second leader of Koinonia. Millard, who is better known as the founder of Habitat for Humanity, shared his story and perspectives on life in general.

Millard was born in Lanett, Alabama, near the Georgia border, in 1935. He grew up poor and milked cows to earn money for his schooling. Millard graduated with a degree in economics, followed by a law degree. He founded a marketing firm with one of his college friends and by 29 he had made his first million. He married Linda Caldwell in 1959 - and according to Millard - he brought her home and ensconced her in a big, beautiful, but empty house. He was so busy working that he was never home.

Within a few years their marriage was on the rocks. Linda had left to live in New York and Millard went after her. They decided their life was not making sense, so they sold everything they had and gave the money to the poor. Then they dedicated their lives to serving Jesus.

They came to Koinonia for the first time in 1965. They came to visit friends, who were living here, on their way back from a family vacation in Florida. Their intention was to stay for one hour, but during lunch Millard had the opportunity to talk with Clarence Jordan and they ended up staying for a month. Millard’s experience milking cows turned out to be very valuable because he could volunteer to help Clarence milk the cow two times each day. These are the times when Millard would sit and talk theology with Clarence. To this day, Millard tells people that he is a graduate of the Cow Seminary.

Life took them different directions but they came back to Koinonia in 1968. By that time, Koinonia was almost finished. Clarence related that Koinonia was already in trouble in the 50s due to internal bickering. The KKK shootings and bombings had forced the community back together in the face of a common enemy. Once that threat was gone, the community began to dissolve. Only the Jordans and Whittkampers remained on the farm. According to Millard, these were four of the most Godly people he ever met and yet their relationships had deteriorated so badly that they would not talk to each other without a tape recorder running. That way they could insure they wouldn’t be misquoted.

Shortly after Millard and Linda returned to Koinonia they began working with Clarence on a project called the Fund for Humanity. They surveyed out some lots on the North end of Koinonia Farm and began partnering with black sharecropper families to help them build their own home. This was the beginning of Habitat for Humanity.

Unfortunately, Clarence Jordan died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 29, 1969. The first house was not yet completed. Most people credit Millard with taking over leadership of Koinonia after Clarence died, but he shared with us that Clarence asked him to lead the community shortly after he arrived. Clarence was a theologian at heart and in Millard he recognized someone who was born with the gift of leadership.

Millard shared his unhappiness about the direction that Habitat for Humanity has taken. In the beginning, he and Linda founded the organization on the same principles as Koinonia. In fact, they had the organizational meeting in an abandoned barn here on the farm. In the early days people were paid according to their needs, not their position in the organization. For example, a janitor with a larger family made more money than a director with a smaller one. Today Habitat is a darling of Corporate America. The director now makes an impressive salary and a large percentage of the income goes to salaries and overheads. Disagreements between the Fullers and the Habitat board led to their dismissal in 2005.

Shortly after this, Millard and Linda founded the Fuller Center for Housing. In their new capacity they are responsible for building affordable houses in countries as diverse as North Korea, the Congo, El Salvador and Armenia. In August 2009, the Fullers are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Fuller Center is celebrating by coordinating a build of 100 houses, 50 for Millard and 50 for Linda, in locations all around the world. What a way to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

At 72 years of age, Millard is vibrant and active. He attributes this to a belief that God calls us to wear out, not to rust out. He shared some other gems of wisdom.
1) Successful communities rely on two things- good leadership and Faith in God.
2) Legalism is an ever-present danger to authentic Christian Community.
3) People and Communities must have vision and direction. People need to feel that they are working towards something.
4) God made you the way you are - with all your personal strengths. When you dedicate your life to Christ, your personality really shouldn’t change - only your goals.

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