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Book Review: The House That Love Built by Bettie B. Youngs

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The House that Love Built tells a far-ranging story of love, adultery, hope, betrayal, charity, and legal action as it chronicles the lives of Millard and Linda Fuller, founders of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing.

As much as any one person can be credited with starting the worldwide movement that became a household word and built over 200,000 homes around the world, Millard Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity. In her book, Youngs shows how Millard started it all, developing his concept of “faith in action” over time as a result of his meetings with people like Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Bible, and his travels to poverty-stricken third world countries, like the six weeks spent visiting church representatives in Zaire. House tries to determine what drove him to community service, and what continues to keep him moving.

Born in Alabama in 1935, Millard Fuller worked hard to become a success at an early age. Meeting his business partner, Morris Dees, in college, Fuller had earned a law degree and accumulated assets worth more than $1 million by 1964. Along the way he fell in love with and married his wife, Linda. Youngs’ account of these early years shows the charisma that the young Fuller possessed, which pointed him towards becoming another Trump or Kiyosaki, primarily famous for making money. Instead, a combination of spirituality and adultery set his life on a dramatically different course.

The House that Love Built speaks frankly about the affair that turned Millard’s and Linda’s lives upside down. Tired and frustrated by Millard’s emotional distance, as well as his unending drive towards success that kept him away from home, Linda sought solace elsewhere. Conflicted and unable to admit the affair to her husband, Linda left to spend time in discussion with her pastor. The devastating impact on both their lives caused Millard and Linda to re-examine not only their relationship with each other, but their goals in life. After a frank and tearful discussion on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, they agreed to give up their worldly possessions and dedicate their lives to helping the unfortunate and spreading the word of god.

The book spends time describing the travels of the Fullers as they develop the key concepts behind their rapidly growing charity, but it really becomes fascinating once the Fullers have realized their dream of making a permanent change towards eliminating global poverty. The simplicity of the writing is almost at odds with the complexities of the larger tensions at work.

After making the transition from one man’s vision to a multi-million-dollar organization, do the efforts of Habitat for Humanity need to be refocused? Should Habitat for Humanity stick to its original model of spending every cent it receives in contributions, or does it now have a duty to preserve that money to ensure that it will be able to continue its ministry in the future?

With the addition of high-profile supporters like Jimmy Carter and the national recognition that follows, how aggressively does it need to protect its brand? Disagreements over the answers to these questions cause organizational discord within Habitat for Humanity as they try to decide on a course to set for the future. While the Fullers shift their attention from financial success to spiritual fulfillment, their organization appears to shift in the opposite direction, running less like a ministry and more like a Fortune 500 company.

Youngs avoids irresponsible speculation as she walks readers through the growth of the Fullers and their charity, which is understandable, but can be frustrating at times. While Millard Fuller was accused of sexual misconduct by female employees of Habitat for Humanity, the matter was settled out of court and none of the women involved are willing to talk about it. Unable to definitively state what did or did not happen to cause the allegations, the book can only offer Fuller’s side of the story.

Several people are willing to vouch for Millard’s character, and former Habitat for Humanity board members have made statements included in the book’s appendix that assert that the board should never have listened to Millard’s accusers, but the mere fact that those accusations were made presented a very real danger to his philanthropic legacy, and arguably caused Millard’s split with Habitat for Humanity’s executive committee.

Ultimately, The House that Love Built is a story of faith. Millard’s faith in himself that led him to take extraordinary financial risks that earned a fortune, both his and his wife’s faith that God will provide for them as they donate their money to charity, and their ultimately misplaced faith that in world of Fortune 500 CEO’s, multimillion-dollar law firms, and serious accusations, everyone can still resolve their differences to get things done together. Containing stories written by the Fullers themselves, a timeline of events for the Fuller family, and an appendix with letters from Millard, President Jimmy Carter, and other Habitat for Humanity board members, it’s interesting background reading for anyone interested in the Fullers, Habitat for Humanity, or how a dream can start with one person and end up changing the lives of millions.

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About Peter M. J. Gross

  • Victoria Cross

    The women who came forward about MF were never asked to speak on this subject.

    If that information came from the book, then you should know that we didn’t officially know about the book until after if was released. In an email, Bettie Youngs denied the existence of the book, stating that she was only working on an educational book for teachers.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/peter_m__j__gross Peter M.J. Gross

    I was going by the quote on page 235, stating that “she declined to comment when reached by a reporter from The NonProfit Times.”

    Thank you for your additional information.

  • Victoria Cross

    There was a huge gap in time from that article and this book. There were reasons for the “no comment” to the media and that was that we signed a confidentiality agreement that I held and they didn’t. I am a Chaplain’s wife, whose husband was 8000 miles away in Iraq at the time this bomb was dropped on me. I was fighting this battle completely alone. I don’t have high power friends with deep pockets and former presidents willing to “smooth things over” for me. Therefore, I simply tried to live; despite the name calling and the lies. There is so much more that is not being said….Yet.

  • Susan Rhema

    Mr Gross and Ms Youngs,

    I find the review (and therefore the book) very misleading. I have not read the book, and will not, as I have no interest in more fiction published on behalf of the Fullers.

    I am one of “the five women” from 1990, a small group (representing many more), who were willing to take the risk to speak out. You did not do your homework. If you had you would know that the Philadelphia Enquirer did an article in which we did speak out about Fuller’s history of sexual misconduct that precedes the formation of Habitat.

    If you did your homework, you would also discover that the theme of “betrayal” was the central issue faced by many decent hard working staff people who lost their homes, community and careers because they either spoke their truth or were willing to listen to others and had the gall to believe them.

    Unfortunately, anything related to the “church” world which includes the word sex becomes a tantalizing story and misses the basic point. Institutionally condoned abuse is still abuse. And the justification that because not everyone had these experiences makes all the other legitimate stories unreliable is just another layer of institutional abuse.

    We were not unwilling to speak, we were simply willing to walk away from an institution that valued one person’s dysfunctional contribution over that of many others. It was the saddest period of many people’s lives and many chose to leave rather than stay simply because of how it was handled. Fortunately most of those destroyed have had the internal value or support of loved ones to move on with their lives. I pray for those that still suffer because of it.

  • Lucy

    Finally, Victoria’s voice is being heard! Enough of hearsay and a couple of people’s views on the whole ordeal at HFHI. The book refers to “the accuser” as having been married previously and referring to Victoria as if “she needed psychological help and HFHI should have realized that sooner”. That’s a crock of crap. Get your facts correct.

    I happen to be the “good friend” who was called wanting me to contact Vicki on Easter “for an apology/forgiveness” as a call was once made to me at a difficult time in my life. What a selective memory! “What better time than Easter to ask for forgiveness”? Why wasn’t any of this mentioned in this book? Why was Victoria portrayed as the vixen and everything and everyone else were portrayed as innocent or just a simple misunderstanding?

    If you are painting a picture, do you not try and capture the whole image? If you are writing a book about someone, does the author not try and capture the whole story and not just bits and pieces of it? “I feel sorry for Vicki. Her voice is not being heard. This reminds me of Bill and Monica; Bill’s voice is heard and Monica’s isn’t. Why is she [Vicki], remaining silent?”

    Perhaps she isn’t. She is just waiting for the perfect time to paint her picture and write her book. And yes, I am sure this time the whole image will be captured and the whole truth will be printed.

  • Victoria Cross

    That would be Easter 2007 when Millard Fuller called my friend reminding her that he had also called her several years prior when her mother had died. What a strange memory for someone who doesn’t personally know her. He brought up the “issue” that had caused him problems, to which she replied, “you aren’t alone.” According to my friend, he said “What is a 69 year old man going to do in a car with a woman?” On this call, he asked if she would speak to his “co-writer” and then minutes later she called. They asked her if she was willing to be quoted as saying that “in this situation, a mountain was made out of a molehill” to which she refused. Bettie Youngs then stated that MF wanted to apologize to me and wanted my friend make the connection. She didn’t want to call me on Easter weekend with this news but when Youngs said that if she didn’t hear from me by a certain time it would be to late, we knew it meant there was a deadline for something.

  • Victoria Cross

    Lucy writes (words from Bettie Youngs as said on a phone conversation): “I feel sorry for Vicki. Her voice is not being heard. This reminds me of Bill and Monica; Bill’s voice is heard and Monica’s isn’t. Why is she [Vicki], remaining silent?”

    Ironically enough, Former President Bill Clinton was asked to write “a praise” for this book, which a partial quote shows up on the cover. I wonder if Youngs told him that she felt Monica’s voice should be heard as well? Very curious….

    Thank you for sharing Lucy!

  • Victoria Cross

    I have been blessed by many calls because of this blog site. Thank you.

    Here are a couple of quotes that a friend sent me that I thought appropriate for this blog site. Therefore, in honor of all women (mentioned and not) I say, together, we can make a difference for the meek and the vulnerable and for those who will never be allowed a voice. May God be with you.

    “Our lives begin to end when remain silent, about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” – C.S. Lewis

  • Smitha Day

    Vicki you have shown Godly character in remaining silent and keeping your word. While you have suffered immensely, God has brought you out of a world of deception. A world masked by outwardly Christian values. While you think you dont have friends in high places. You have a friend in the Highest place possible…(God). Now don’t be afraid to speak out for yourself and many others who have been abused at Habitat under Millard’s Leadership. Remember we dont earn our ticket to heaven with the number of ” good, social things” we do on earth. God is still waiting for Millard to surrender His heart/soul to him. We can only pray for that to happen.
    You continue to grow in God’s love/grace. Thank you for your friendship. And standing by me during my trials at HFH.

  • Smitha Day

    Incase my comments read as a personal attack on Millard, this wasnt meant to be that. I would never want to take a personal attack on dear friends. Just like I wouldn’t want either of my friends, the Fullers or Vickie to attack each other. I love my friend Vickie dearly and stand by her. I pray for healing and God to be held victorious in the end.

  • Lucy

    I’m somewhat guessing here about the statement above, ” Don’t be afraid to speak out for yourself” and then a retraction of sorts in the last entry. My guess is this person has received a phone call. Perhaps from someone she has not heard from in several years just as I received a phone call. Word of caution, learn from my experience and from the words straight from an employee of TFC on the call made to me last April, “You better tell him you don’t want the call recorded.” In my experience, even then your words will be twisted so make your own recording then you can prove what was actually said in the conversation vs. what was printed in the book. As for the Fullers or Vicki attacking each other, that has been a one-sided battle with Vicki taking the hits. It’s about time she speaks out.

  • Smitha Day

    absolutely its about time Vicki spoke out. I have never heard or seen of any attacks from Vicki towards the Fullers. So its my prayer that slander towards her will stop.

  • Victoria Cross

    This article has a little history containing the events leading up to this book.

    Thanks for the support.