One of my favorite humanitarian organizations is Habitat for Humanity. I am impressed by its stated raison d’etre: “Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide and to making adequate, affordable shelter a matter of conscience and action. Habitat is founded on the conviction that every man, woman, and child should have a simple, decent affordable place to live in dignity and safety.”
A decent home for everyone the world over. What a vision! When Clarence Jordan, the fund raiser, and Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat, first had this dream back in 1970 they may have thought, “We can build at least one home for a poor family, then perhaps another, and then another, depending on how it goes.” Now, since 1976, Habitat has built 800,000 homes for over 4 million people, many of them in the poorest areas of the world.
And I like their method. They do not build a house and give it to some family, making the family an object of charity. A local Habitat chapter selects the family. Local supporters build the house, designed by Habitat. Many local churches have cooperated with others in building several houses here in the greater Huntington area. The family helps build the house, and they contract to pay Habitat for the cost at a low rate of interest. Habitat uses that money to build more houses. The builders of course give their time, and local suppliers sometimes donate materials or sell at reduced prices. So the family, never able to own a home of their own, gets a big bargain.
A friend of mine told me he was present on one occasion when a house had been completed for a Hispanic family with several children. The builders, friends, neighbors, family kin were all on the porch. They all applauded when the Habitat chair ceremoniously gave the keys to the house to the parents. The family’s first home of their own ever! It warmed the heart he said.
I viewed the Habitat for Humanity Calendar for 2010 which tells similar stories, along with pictures, one for every month of the year, from all around the world – Bolivia, Ivory Coast, China, Mozambique, Brazil, Cambodia, Alaska, Sri Lanka, Chile, Krygystan, Canada, U.S.A. All the pictures are of non-whites except one. One of my favorite pictures is of a little girl sweeping the floor with the caption reading Room of my own. It was not a dirt floor as she had before.
But two stories I specially want to share with you comes from still another Habitat publication called Habitat World. The first is the story of Ron Terwilliger, a Dallas builder, giving $100 million to Habitat. I see that as gloriously novel for a man who became wealthy building dwellings for the rich giving his money for the building homes for the poor. He said in reference to his gift: “In my professional life, I’ve seen housing strengthen health, education, families, communities and economics. Since housing is such a special focus of mine and it is so fundamentally important to human beings and families, I thought that is where I would leave the balance of my wealth.”
The other story is about David Rubel, a noted author, who has written a book about Habitat titled If I Had a Hammer, for middle scholars. He tells the kids stories about how cool it is when one of their own has a clean, decent home after living in a shack all his life. When he was asked what he hoped for the book, he said, “It will be a reward enough if someday a young man shows up at a Habitat building site with a hammer and is asked why he had come, and he says, “When I was ten years old I read this that . . .”
The author said something else that provides the title of this blog. When asked what preparations he had made for writing the book, he replied that he had read everything he could find about Habitat, along with interviewing lots of people. Then he said that along the way one thing began to surface, You get more than you give.
How true that it is of all of Life! Whether it’s the money we give, or time, or effort, or kindly words and deeds, we get more than we give. It is God’s law of reciprocity. We cannot give without receiving, and often in abundance.
Our Lord stated this truth in extravagant detail: “Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
But is this to be the motive for our giving, rewards? While our Lord emphasized “…and great will be your reward in heaven” he himself did not suffer and die for what he might get out of it. Doing good for the sake of heaven could be a selfish thing. We are to give because it is the right thing to do, and because the need is there, and not to get. When one is motivated by love, rewards or no, he has the heart of God.
Our Lord drew a distinction between those who followed him for the loaves and fishes, and those who followed for higher motives. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” is a glorious truth, “but is also true that we are to give whether blessed or not.
It is an important lesson to learn. Yes, we get more than we give, but that is not to be the reason to give."