JOHNS ISLAND — The Lowcountry was visited March 15 by Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity. Fuller was in town to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sea Island Habitat for Humanity. The affiliate is among 2,000 worldwide.
In 1977, one year after Fuller started Habitat, the people of John’s Island applied for affiliate status. In 1978, they became the third international affiliate. Twenty-five years and 135 homes later, the community is celebrating their ever-growing success. Over the years, they have created five neighborhoods of Habitat homes on John’s Island.
During his stay, Fuller visited home sites and worked alongside volunteers. He met with homeowners and dedicated five homes in a special ceremony at the newest Habitat neighborhood, Sea Island Place.
That night, the Sea Island affiliates organized a “Habitation” celebration at Church of Our Savior. Local music groups performed; Fuller gave an address; homeowners gave testimonies, and one college student shared his experience working with Habitat for Humanity.
Nathan Walsh is a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and is spending his second spring break along with classmates on John’s Island. They join 19 other colleges coming to work with Sea Island Habitat this spring. Locally, the College of Charleston students regularly get involved with home building, and the Medical University of South Carolina School of Dental Medicine recently added their name to the list of whole house donors.
Walsh gave a brief testimony to the rewards of this alternative spring break. He described the work as “the gift that keeps on giving.”
“Together we can change the world one family at a time,” said the senior.
Local churches and individals also get involved. Gene and Prudence Yost, parishioners of Holy Spirit Church, have been involved with Habitat for 10 years and recently donated funds for an entire house.
Fuller acknowledged the hard work and dedication of college students. He said of the 30,000 students opting for an alternative spring break this year, one-third of those are working with Habitat.
He shared stories about his longtime friend President Jimmy Carter, a man many think founded the home-building movement. He said he’s asked time and again how he feels when people think Carter founded Habitat.
He replied simply, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish in life if you don’t worry about who gets the credit.”
Since 1984, Carter and his wife have helped build houses each year. Last year, they and the Fullers and 4,300 volunteers in South Africa built 100 houses in five days. This land, where they plan to build 200 more homes, has been vacant for 40 years, when the apartheid regime tore down the homes and displaced the hundreds of people of mixed races who were living there in Cato Manor.
Habitat has renamed the neighborhood Place of Hope.
“We are in the hope building, dream building business,” said Fuller.
He described situations in which Habitat has brought people together, such as in Belfast, Northern Ireland, were Protestants and Catholics are building together.
“You don’t have to hate someone just because they believe differently than you,” said the Habitat founder. “Increasingly, Habitat for Humanity should be a part of the reconciliation process.”
Carter recently told him that the greatest discrimination is economic. To that Fuller said we should count our blessings and remember our neighbor who may not have a bed to sleep in or a roof over their head.
He also said to continue in the direction of peace.
“Jesus promoted a love that knew no boundaries, to love even your enemies,” said Fuller. “We want to tear that page out of the bible when someone’s wronged us.”
The hundred or so people gathered on that rainy night on John’s Island have all been working toward peace through Habitat with a hammer and paint and many prayers.
Fuller told the diverse crowd at Church of Our Savior, “God has used you in a wonderful way, but he’s not through with you yet.”