A Conversation with Linda Fuller
come at the topic of simple living from a spiritual standpoint.
Christianity almost mandates it. Jesus talked a lot about
living simply. In fact, there's a conflict between money
and God; you have to choose either to follow God or money.
They are hard teachings, often overlooked by the organized
When I began dating Millard,
he was so poor he was known for his beatup shoes and for
the fact that he didn't have a jacket. He ran everywhere
so he could stay warm and get more done. He wanted to
be a big success; his goal was to become a millionaire
by age 30. That was appealing to me. By the time I finished
college, I had my own bank account, I was driving a luxury
car, and we were making plans to build a huge mansion
on choice land. We had become rich monetarily, but our
personal lives were falling apart.
I was so lonely and miserable
and only 24. I thought, "If this is what making money
is all about, maybe this is wrong." I left Millard
and counseled with a minister every day for two weeks.
Millard didn't want to lose his family, so we reconciled.
Out of that crisis, we felt God calling us to give everything
away and be of service to humanity. The moment we made
that decision in a taxicab in Manhattan, things started to change.
From that moment on, tremendous joy started coming into
Millard never went back
to the office. With our two kids, then ages five and three,
we took off to Florida. Millard's business partner
bought our half of the business for a million dollars,
which we gave away over a ten-year period. We visited
friends who had moved to an intentional Christian community
in southwest Georgia*. Our friends and relatives
thought we were crazy, giving away all this stuff. The
people of that community were the first ones to say, "This
is great. This is what Jesus called us to do." And
we didn't even give them money. Their affirmation as fellow
Christians was very important to us.
We decided to live there.
It was during our five years there and then three in Africa
that the idea for Habitat for Humanity developed. We officially
started Habitat in 1976 and will celebrate its 25th anniversary
this year. We have a hectic travel schedule, which is
not very simple! This year we were in South America to
celebrate Habitat's 35,000th house on that continent and
in Africa to celebrate the 20,000th house there. We usually
go to milestone events like that. We're one of those couples
who really enjoy working together. I guess we've traveled
to 60 or 70 different countries.
We've never regretted our
decision to give away everything. It was just a has- sle
to have all that stuff. For instance, we had a cabin on
a lake. First we got a speedboat so we could water ski.
Then we started taking our friends. Soon our friends were
taking up all the boat time, which meant that Millard
and I didn't get to ski. So we had to get another boat.
Then we had to take care of two boats and a cabin on the
lake! Now, we try not to clutter up our lives with anything
that gets in the way of doing what we really want to do.
We live on four acres, mostly woods. We keep our possessions
at a minimum. We have no pets. We eat fairly simply.
Millard and I felt called
to give away our fortune and free ourselves to do something
different with our lives, but not everyone is cut out
for that. The important thing is that people with wealth
share a significant part of it. So many people buy into
the myth that money brings happiness. Maybe it does, short-term,
but it also has the potential for bringing a lot of misery,
as it did in our situation.
I would like to see people
explore their values and what's really important to them.
If they're not happy, I'd like them to look at alternatives,
to know that it's not mandatory for them to keep being
miserable. It's frightening for some people to think about
giving up some of their wealth, but once they try it,
they find out what a joy it is to give. Scripture rings
true: It's more blessed to give than to receive.
-Based on an interview
with Pamela Gerloff
* The community, known as
Koinonia Farm, was founded by Dr. Clarence Jordan. Koinonia
is a Greek word meaning "church gathered."
Linda Fuller co-founded
Habitat for Humanity International
with her husband Millard. HFHI is a nonprofit,
nondenominational, Christian organization whose mission
is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness. Volunteers
of all backgrounds, races, and religions have built more
than 100,000 houses worldwide, providing more than 500,000
people with safe and affordable shelter.
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