Seeking to put God’s love into action, Clarksdale Area Habitat for Humanity brings people together across generational, geographic, racial, and social class boundaries to build affordable homes, vibrant communities and transformational hope.
What has made Habitat historically different than, say, any government or privately funded program to provide low-income housing is this motivational, spiritual notion of putting “God’s love into action”—the Golden Rule, in other words. The idea is an amorphous proposition at best, given the wide variety of beliefs about the existence of God, and it is as bold as it is problematic. It presupposes, of course, the existence of a God Who actually cares about Creation and the individuals living in it, especially those who are struggling for one reason or another. Most obviously, CAHFH’s preoccupation in this regard are those who find themselves in economically difficult situations—the “poor”—whose circumstances are often caused by dynamics beyond their control and whose plight is often ignored by the world around them but not forgotten by this God. But the love of God, it turns out, requires the cooperation of people in order to be fully manifested in the world, and this notion of partnering—not just between God and humans, but also among people themselves—is at the heart of the Habitat vision and practice, even for those who do not share in this foundational proposition about the genesis of love.
We use the word “homes” to describe what we build rather than “houses” because the former hopefully involves fostering life-giving relationships beyond mere edifices. We certainly construct buildings, and solid ones at that, but we hope and oftentimes observe that the creation of Habitat homes brings advantages beyond housing, as significant as that is. Homeowners experience a sense of dignity and self-worth, families report better school performance from their children, and neighborhoods can reflect stability and general improvement from the addition of Habitat homes.
The genius of Habitat, however, goes beyond the buildings themselves. Habitat construction, dependent as it is on volunteer labor, brings together people who would ordinarily never interact. Habitat workers cross social class, racial, ethnic, and geographical boundaries in ways that create unexpected connections, encourage new perspectives, and open eyes to realities foreign to our normal experiences. In the process, disparate groups discover what unites them rather than what separates them, and many come away from their Habitat experiences with an appreciation for others that would simply otherwise never take place. The result, at its best, is the creation of communities bonded together by shared struggle and incarnated love. On occasion, these community connections prove to be literally life-changing, as volunteers and homeowners alike sometimes find direction and purpose well beyond the construction process.
Finally, hope lies at the heart of the Habitat vision and program. As it is all too obvious, partnering to build houses with those in need, as dynamically transformational as it can be, does not necessarily end all social ills. The roots of poverty for the materially poor run deep, as do, for the materially privileged at times, manifestations of meaninglessness, in systems that celebrate and reward only monetary gain, social celebrity, and political power. Habitat provides an environment that directly challenges those systems, and the results are oftentimes a sense of hopefulness that transcends expectation, inspires further social justice activism, and provides purpose and meaning to lives that lack both.
The Habitat vision is ambitious. It is a road map rather than a rule book, and the reality does not always live up to the vision. The road is full of potholes and we sometimes miss the directional signs. Habitat communities are still made up of people, not angels, and the manifestations of self-worship all too often rear their ugly heads, when we neglect the foundational admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves. But the vision is not merely theoretical or rhetorical—it has been practiced, experimented with, experienced, built upon, and borne good fruit, which is why CAHFH continues to exist and seeks to attract the support of any inclined to participate. And, at its best, it illustrates this idea of “God’s love in action,” as reflected in the perspectives and promises of Isaiah 58.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
This is the vision that motivates us to fulfill the mission we believe we have been called to serve.