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May 4, 2000         GC-013

United Methodists most active in Habitat, founder says

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller praised United Methodists for their support of his organization’s effort to build houses for and with poor people around the world.

Speaking at the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s May 2-12 legislative gathering, Fuller thanked church members for their work in this ministry.

A few years ago, in a survey to determine who was involved in this effort, he said, “United Methodists stood No. 1.”

He praised United Methodists who have helped lead him and Habitat International into many areas of the world where they had not been. Among others, he mentioned Harry Haines of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, who set up a tour of Latin America for Fuller. Since that trip in the 1970s, 5,000 houses have been built in Guatemala alone, Fuller said.

Three houses are being built in Cleveland in conjunction with General Conference. They are sponsored by the church’s Cleveland District, which has already built seven other Habitat homes.

Fuller lauded the church for building the homes. He said he had visited one of the construction sites, then gone to the nearby dedication of a house that had been built jointly by Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Next door to that one, Baptist women were building another house.

Habitat’s work, he said, is “so enormous that it can’t be done just by one denomination.”

The Christian ministry welcomes all who want to work, he said. Many recipients of the homes are not Christian.

Habitat for Humanity practices “theology of the hammer,” Fuller said. It has brought together people who have not always agreed, he added, recalling seeing former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican leader, hammering on the same piece of drywall. In Selma, Ala., 46 churches have worked together to put up 20 homes, Fuller said. In Ireland, Protestants and Catholics have worked together.

In 1998, the United Methodist Church had 7,340 congregations involved in Habitat work, out of a total of 39,600 congregations of all types that support the ministry, according to a Habitat spokeswoman.

Habitat for Humanity was started in 1967 near Americus, Ga. With the completion of houses currently under construction, Fuller said, poverty housing will be eliminated in that county this year.

“By what date are you going to end poverty housing in your town, your country?” he said, challenging the General Conference delegates. Fuller described the account of a single mother in the Southwest, who marveled that she had seen President Carter’s sweat fall into the mortar he was mixing for her house.

 “Let us put our sweat into our work,” Fuller said, “and God will multiply it beyond our wildest dreams.”

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-- Joretta Purdue

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