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.Powered by Sidelines