Yesterday I received a letter from heaven, and while it certainly seemed odd, it was the news that an old friend had died that shocked and saddened me. I am grieving for the dear wife and family of a truly great man.
Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, died Feb. 3 at the age of 74. It appears it was a heart attack, which was a surprise for a razor thin man of drive and energy. I didn’t see any news stories on his passing; perhaps you didn’t either.
I had sent Millard a letter about the new ministry we’re involved in called Flourish, an effort to energize Christian churches around the right priorities of creation care. He received my letter on January 27 and dictated a gracious response (remember when people routinely exchanged letters; how quaint). His secretary transcribed the letter and mailed it to me on February 5, with the notation: “dictated by Mr. Fuller and transcribed after his death.”
Our firm, Rooftop MediaWorks, worked with Millard and Linda Fuller soon after a late-in-life crisis, when Millard was forced out of his position as the leader of Habitat, the organization he and Linda had begun, by the board he had chosen. [When you spend much of your life in the public relations business, as I have, you often meet people at times of crisis.]
It was an ugly parting, and I first talked with Millard about it when I wrote a news piece for Christianity Today on the separation. My research left me troubled by the board’s rough treatment of Millard, so when I saw that he and Linda were continuing the ministry of providing low cost housing through a new organization, the Fuller Center for Housing, we offered to provide public relations services—which we did for the next several months, introducing the new group to the world.
When I learned yesterday of Millard’s passing in this odd and unexpected way, my first thought was that when he was pushed out of Habitat at the age of 70 he should have stepped back and enjoyed his accomplishments and bounced some grandkids on his knee. Maybe that would have prolonged his life. But instead he chose to continue serving people who suffered because of substandard housing. He believed in serving his God and his neighbors in this way, which he called the Theology of the Hammer.”
So Millard died, figuratively, with a hammer in his hand, and although his life could have been longer, I doubt that it could have been much richer.
People like Millard Fuller are great not because they are flawless or all-wise. Great people like Millard Fuller do great things by challenging themselves to do ever more, by motivating everyone in their path, and by trusting in a Greater God.
We owe Millard much and we do well to emulate him. At very least, in his honor we should pick up a hammer this year and help some folks who cannot help themselves.