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If you like Millard Fuller's story, you might also like:
Norman Borlaug,
Jimmy Carter,
Paul Farmer,
John Hume,
Wendy Kopp,
Greg Mortenson,
Ralph Nader and
Robert Schuller

Related Links:
Habitat for Humanity
Fuller Center for Housing
Koinonia Farm

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Millard Fuller
Millard Fuller
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Millard Fuller Interview

Founder, Habitat for Humanity International

May 23, 1998
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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  Millard Fuller

You were a very successful young couple when you decided to give up your possessions and seek a more spiritually centered way of life. You eventually settled in a Christian community in Georgia. How did you find it? Millard, did your business experience play a role in your later work?

Millard Fuller: The experiences that I had had in business had a very definite impact on what we ended up doing later. We actually, on the way back from Florida, stopped in a little Southern town of Albany, Georgia, to have breakfast, and remembered a friend from Alabama who had moved to a small Christian community called Koinonia Farm, and we knew so little about it. We couldn't remember where it was. So I called on the telephone, and eventually was able to discover that it was in Americus, Georgia, a town about 40 miles north of Albany. We got our friend on the phone and told him that we were on our way back to Montgomery, and we would like to come by and visit for maybe a couple of hours. So we headed up there, and it was clear between the two of us that we would go visit our friends for two hours and then would go back to Montgomery. When we got there, we met the man who had founded Koinonia, Clarence Jordan, with his wife, Florence. Never heard of them in our lives, but as we were having lunch with them -- they insisted we stay for lunch -- and as we were having lunch with them, we were so totally captivated by this man, and by the other people we met there, that we felt very strongly that God had led us to that place. And we stayed a month. We had gone there for two hours and stayed a month.

Tell us more about Clarence Jordan. Would you consider him your mentor?

Millard Fuller: He was definitely our spiritual mentor.

Somebody once said, "When the student is ready to learn, the teacher appears," and we were ready to learn and our teacher appeared. Clarence Jordan was a Greek scholar. He had been raised in Georgia. He came from a very prominent family. He'd gone to Southern Seminary, Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and while he had been in seminary, he became -- and I don't know any other way to put it, but he just became totally devoted to Jesus and decided to pattern his life after Jesus. And one of the things that he and a couple of fellow students decided to do was to find a farm somewhere in the rural South -- and he ended up finding it in Americus, Georgia -- and build a community and live like the early Christians. The early Christians in Acts 2 and 4, shared all things in common. There was nobody in need. They all lived together and shared things in common. Clarence Jordan was a person who, being totally devoted to Jesus, he wanted to know what Jesus' opinion would be, or the way he would see a particular subject. He cared nothing about culture, so he concluded that the Jesus way in the Deep South would be that whites and blacks should be working together and living together and sharing together. In 1942 that was revolutionary. So he began to bring in the local black people and have dinner with them and work with them and so forth, and that caused the white power structure to just come down on them like a ton of bricks. I mean, they started bombing them and dynamiting them and shooting them and beating them up in town, and they had a horrendous time there.

Millard Fuller Interview Photo
Millard Fuller Interview Photo

Was that still going on when you got there?

Millard Fuller: It had diminished somewhat by the time we arrived there, but they had gone through a bath of fire, and most of the people that had lived at the community had been driven away by the violence, but there was a remnant left. And they weren't sure about their future. They didn't know what they were going to do. They had gone through such a terrible, terrible time.

Living with Clarence Jordan, you began to think about this idea of "the economics of Jesus." If you're loaning money to poor people, you don't charge interest, but the people who receive the money are expected to repay through service to the community. Was this something you learned from Clarence Jordan?

Millard Fuller: Linda and I both gained so many new insights. Both of us were professing Christians, but we gained many, many new insights from talking to Clarence Jordan, and one of the insights was the insight about economics. You know, most Americans are religious people, but very few are really serious about trying to discover what the way of Jesus is and following it. It's sort of like we admire Jesus, but he's for church and Sunday school. But in the real world, we do things the way that the culture does it. And what we learned from Clarence Jordan was that if you are going to be serious in your faith, it's an all-the-time, every-day-of-the-week proposition, and that includes how you relate to your poor neighbors. You can't sit in affluence and live in a great big house and be driving around in big cars, and your neighbors are living in abject poverty, and you are going to church every Sunday saying, "I'm a good Christian," and these poor neighbors are of no concern to you. So what we gained from him was that true religion is involved in how you relate to your neighbors. Not just how you relate to the church you belong to, but how you relate to your neighbors. And he did give us the keen insight into how we ought to see our neighbors as people who are equally loved by God. And if they happened to be in a bad economic situation, then if you are able to be of help to them, you have a heaven-ordained mandate to do something.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Millard, you had a well-developed business acumen that you contributed to your work at Koinonia. Was this something you were able to do right away?

Millard Fuller: Actually, we were there for a month and left, and we came back a couple of years later. We actually moved back in the summer of 1968, and I became the director of the farm. Clarence Jordan was a tremendous Bible scholar, but he was not much of a businessman. And I became the business leader of the farm, and put it back on a more sound economic footing. And then he and I began to work together, and Linda and others there, to do various things to be of help to our neighbors, one of which was housing for the poor.

Was that a sudden realization, like a light bulb going off?

Millard Fuller: No. We called together a group of people, and we had sessions. And we prayed about it and we talked about it, and we came up with a program which was called Koinonia Partners. That was the name of our first ministry, "Partners," because we saw ourselves as in partnership with God, and in partnership with one another, partnership with the poor, and we had partnership industries, partnership housing, partnership farming. And the partnership industries, Linda got involved in that, making tie-dyed T-shirts and dashikis and all kinds of other clothing items. We started a little factory there to make women's pants, and we hired a bunch of local poor people to make those clothing items. And we started a worm farm, and we grew peanuts and cotton -- not cotton -- peanuts and corn and soybeans, and we bought cattle. And then we began to build houses. We actually began to build one house for one needy family. That was our partnership housing program, and while that house was under construction -- we had the walls up -- on October 29, 1969, Clarence Jordan died suddenly of a heart attack. He was in his study writing a sermon to be delivered at nearby Mercer University, and he just leaned his head against the wall and died very suddenly, just like my mother had died many years earlier. And there we were with this dream and this vision underway -- with partnership farming, partnership industries, partnership housing -- and Clarence Jordan was dead.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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