Setting a Solid Foundation: Our Christian Identity
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian ministry that is organized and operated by local groups in communities around the world. Each of these groups signs a covenant agreement acknowledging that one of Habitat’s purposes is to build modest but adequate houses in order to demonstrate the love and teachings of Jesus Christ. The first part of this document examines four basic concepts that help shape Habitat as a Christian ministry:
- Faith in action
- Kingdom building
- The economics of Jesus
- A Spirit of Unity
Faith in Action
Habitat for Humanity builds homes with people in need in response to God’s love. Filled with God’s love and mercy, we seek ways to share God’s love with others in practical and concrete ways. We intentionally serve—to model the life and teachings of Jesus by partnering with local and global communities and empowering people to love and serve as neighbors, and hence help in the transformation of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities. The Bible teaches us that love must be sincere and practical. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:16-18).
We find the same message in another Biblical passage in James 2:14-26 which mandates that we live out our faith. Our loving service is our response to God’s love and compassion for the world. This call to action—to care for every person created in the image of God—cannot be ignored. We are to become partners with one another, treating each other with dignity and empowering one another. Clarence Jordan, founder of the Christian community of Koinonia Farm, where the housing ministry of what would later become Habitat for Humanity had its beginnings, was adamant about this fact. Jordan believed that we cannot have any dealings with God unless we care for one another.
Jesus spoke many times about the kingdom of God to describe God’s will. Following the example of Jesus by selflessly and lovingly serving one another, we further the kingdom of God by obeying and fulfilling God’s will on earth. By caring and serving all people, especially people who are poor, we actively participate in fulfilling God’s will and building up the kingdom and influence of God in the world.
Many people feel called to the work of Habitat for Humanity as a response of faith. Habitat provides numerous opportunities and partnerships with diverse people, communities, and agencies all over the world to take action when God has stirred within them a desire to respond to their brothers and sisters in need. Together, we determined that it is unacceptable for families to struggle amid the hardships that poverty imposes, and that it just won’t do for people to live in dignity under leaky roofs or amid rodent infestation or with no water or sanitary facilities.
While Habitat for Humanity alone is not the manifestation of the kingdom of God, by serving those in need as Jesus commanded, we further the kingdom and are enriched by it. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and by scripture as we follow Christ in his revolutionary practices of love.
The Economics of Jesus
Habitat for Humanity uses the term “the economics of Jesus” to describe attitudes about money and resources that Jesus initiated. The economics of Jesus teaches us to incorporate scriptural wisdom to guide our work.
1. God blesses what we offer and turns it into the miraculous.
Just as Jesus fed thousands with the loaves and fish packed for a little boy’s meal (John 6:1-14), hence, God blesses our limited resources and meets the enormous need when we step out in faith and serve with love and compassion.
The late Tom Hall, a former associate director of HFHI, reflected on God’s miraculous acts. “Rather than complaining about the meagerness of the resources, Jesus took what was at hand, thanked God for it and put it to work. Wonder of wonders, there was more than enough! I do not know just what happened on that Galilean hillside. I do know that when we take what is given and go to work with it to do God’s will, the job can be accomplished.” 1
Skepticism and the human desire to be in control often stand in the way of our expecting great things, but Habitat for Humanity supporters can tell countless stories of times when God has blessed them in ways far greater than they ever could have imagined.
2. God expects us to share our resources.
Acts 20:35 reminds us of Jesus’ words that it is more blessed to give than to receive. The early Christian community modeled this lifestyle when members sold their possessions and used the proceeds to care for one another. Though it might be difficult to think about giving up our possessions, Tom Hall challenged us that to live by the economics of Jesus, we must become a sharing people. The result of living this way is amazing, he said.
The key is to create a balance. God does not mean for us to go hungry or to do without adequate clothing and shelter. John the Baptist clearly explained how we bridge the gap between poverty and affluence: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
We have to examine our needs and our wants and rethink what we do with our treasure. In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus offered a specific explanation: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Habitat for Humanity continues this cycle of sharing through the concept of the tithe. Around the world, when people make a gift to a Habitat project, they begin a process that keeps on giving. In accordance with the Old Testament model of tithing, each Habitat project is asked to give a 10-percent tithe on the money raised locally to help build homes in another location.
3. Our work is a response to God’s love.
Habitat for Humanity homes are built on the concept of partnership. Just as Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” as a way for Peter to show his love for Jesus, we build houses as a response to Christ’s love with no expectation of financial gain. Habitat’s mission is to provide simple, decent, affordable homes through non-profit loans with affordable payments that do not burden the poor.
4. Grace and love abound for all, equally.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who paid laborers in his field the same wage no matter how many hours they worked during the day. The metaphor of wages teaches us about something that has nothing to do with money. Jesus used this opportunity to proclaim that no person is of greater value than another. God’s grace is a gift that is not deserved but is given freely to all.
A Spirit of Unity
Many places in the book of Ephesians, the writer speaks of oneness and unity. Referring to Jesus as the cornerstone in Ephesians 2:20, the writer says, “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (2:21-22).
This ability to bring together a wide diversity of people, churches and other organizations to build houses and establish viable communities is one of the great benefits of Habitat for Humanity. Supporters acknowledge that differences of opinion exist on numerous subjects—political, philosophical and theological—but that we can find common ground in the physical act of building a house to manifest God’s love.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah also describes this spirit of cooperation: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
When we respond to God’s call to help our neighbors, it is amazing how easily we forget our differences. As we focus on working together to build a house, we realize that the things that make us the same become more important than the things that keep us apart. Emphasizing a spirit of unity builds community and glorifies God.
The kingdom concepts outlined in this section are the reasons that Habitat for Humanity works. The world tells us these ideas are foolish, but we know differently. We continue to reap God’s blessings through obedience to the Lord’s call for acceptance, selflessness and service.
1Tom Hall, “The Economics of Jesus,” Kingdom Building: Essays from the Grassroots of Habitat, edited by David Johnson Rowe and Robert William Stevens (Copyright ©1984 by Habitat for Humanity, Inc.), p. 49.