More Than Money
Issue #27

Lifestyles of the Rich and Simple

Table of Contents

“Change of Course - One Moment of Decision”

A Conversation with Linda Fuller

I 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 church.

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 our lives.

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 (HFHI) 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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