Interview: Rick Beech of Habitat for Humanity International

( [email protected] ) Aug 23, 2004 08:42 PM EDT

Every year in mid September, thousands of Christians around the world gather under the Habitat for Humanity banner to implement the love of Christ with prayer, praise, hammers and nails. This year, over 1,500 church communities will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Habitat's “Building on Faith” initiative with special programs, such as the ecumenical “disciples build” and the ambitious “Blitz build.”

The weeklong "Building on Faith" campaign, which begins on September 12, will conclude on Sept 19 – the Day of Prayer and Action for Human Habitat.

On August 23, the Rev. Rick Beech, the founding director of Church Relations in Habitat, shared his views on why Christian groups should get involved with the ministry, and what Churches can also receive in return.

Please explain briefly what “Building on Faith” is about.

All Habitat work is done through “affiliates”, and Christian ministries and churches have been a foundation of this organization. “Building on Faith” week sets aside a date to call attention to this fact that Churches are a cornerstone of our ministry.

We’ve had an international day of prayer for over twenty years, and just ten years ago, “Building on Faith” was added to the calendar. The day of prayer is on every third Sunday on September, and the “Building on Faith” week begins one week prior to that Sunday. During this week, churches are encouraged to join together with affiliates in running special campaigns and programs to build houses. Faith-groups are encouraged to carry out the programs throughout the year, but this week captures the celebration.

What are some of these “special campaigns and programs” run by churches?

One example is called the “Blitz build.” Our affiliate in St. Louis is planning an accelerated week of building 20 houses in just 8 days. Eight of those houses will be fully funded by churches. What I mean is that while churches will be working on all 20 houses, eight of those will be exclusively provided for by local churches. The money for the houses, the labor; together, that’s about half a million dollars.

In Lincoln Nebraska, churches are working with affiliates to build four houses during the week, under a campaign called “Apostles Build.” This campaign is covered all across the country, especially in rural areas where single churches are not big enough to raise the $60,000 needed to build a house. In Apostles Build, many communities and many churches divide the cost of building one house into many churches. They break down the cost of the house into 1/12 and provided the money and the labor. This is the campaign that we encourage especially in rural areas, where it may take all they can muster to build just one house together. Sometimes, churches like to take part in “apostles build” by denominations. More often than not, these are ecumenical churches. However, we encourage all affiliates to try it out.

Does Habitat have any denominational affiliates? Do any denominations work specifically with Habitat throughout this week and also throughout the year?

Habitat is a grassroots oriented organization, so most of the works done with churches are made at local levels. At times, when denominations gather for the conventions – which happens mostly during the summertime – we have special Habitat events in the local community. However, from what I know, we do not have any affiliations with headquarters. It’s mostly grassroots and at the local level.

Do the churches choose whom they will be supporting beforehand?

All our affiliates are anonymous, and there is a non-discriminatory process in selecting the families who will own the house. The committees who choose these families follow specific criteria that have three parts.

The first criterion is the family must have housing needs. Second, the family must have enough income to pay for the house. Habitat offers the house at no interest and at a low rate, but the family must have some income to pay for the home. Third, the families must be willing to help with the construction of their home. Even if the recipients are handicapped, they can help with the process in building their house.

The committees select these families in advance, and we encourage local churches to be a part of these committees.

Also, we encourage the churches to provide on-going support to the families. Many times, these families have never owned a house, and they will be assigned a budget counseling support committee and other support groups.

We encourage churches to be connected with the family and to have an ongoing relationship with them, even after the “Building on Faith” week is over.

Why should Churches, specifically, get involved with Habitat?

The churches have been the bread and butter of Habitat ever since the ministry began from building one house in rural Georgia. We are now building lots of houses all over the world, and still, the church is a key reason why Habitat is experiencing this phenomenal growth.

Our mission is to have everyone with need have a house, and this means building lots of houses. So all the churches need to get involved. Also, while some Evangelical and Pentecostal groups work alongside us, it is mostly the mainline churches that typically come to us to work together. But there is such a critical need, and we need all denominations and all churches to get involved in becoming a full body of Christ.

The work of Habitat is complex: we are building realtors, we are house sponsors, we are support groups, and more. There are a lot of work done behind the scene to let Habitat work, and more than often, parishioners are doing that. It is important for Christians to get involved, so we can build more houses together.

What do the churches get in return?

Churches, especially large churches, can receive a multitude of blessings from the experience. Building Habitat homes provide a way for folks to get to know one another and even for folks who already knew one another, the experience brings them closer. There’s nothing like fellowship with a hammer and a nail that brings people together.

Especially through “Apostles Build,” people from theologically different backgrounds will have a chance to set aside differences and enjoy each other’s company in representing Christ’s love in a big sense. It also builds interfaith partnerships and gets the whole community together.

Additionally, “Building on Faith” can be an evangelistic opportunity. Habitat Homes are open to all people, and the recipients don’t have to be Christian. We take them wherever they are, and hopefully show Christ’s love every step of the way. Therefore, there are times nonbelievers are chosen for the houses built by churches, and these families can be moved by the experiences; they never understood Christians, and seeing how the churches freely offer their time and financial support, they think, “These people are here doing this for me?” This shakes them to the core, and they change.

Rick Beech is an ordained minister who has spent his life in service to churches and Christian organizations, including 15 years with Habitat for Humanity. As founding director of Church Relations, Beech works with churches and faith-based organizations to enhance Habitat’s Christian focus, while also recruiting the faith community to help build simple, decent homes with families in need. Beech’s time with Habitat also includes working as director of its Central Atlantic Region and serving as founding executive director of Wake County, N.C., Habitat for Humanity – one of the largest affiliates in the United States today.

Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide and to making adequate, affordable shelter a matter of conscience and action. Habitat is founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a simple, decent, affordable place to live in dignity and safety.