“Generosity” by Millard Fuller (1935-2009), Building Material for Life, Vol. 1, 2002, pages 125-129. Fuller was the founder of Habitat for Humanity.
To see a video of Fuller speaking on this topic in an expanded version of this text, go to:
God loves a generous heart. I firmly and strongly believe that. Everything I have come to know and understand about God persuades me to believe that God loves and honors generosity. God, of course, is the ultimate giver. He is the source of life itself and all that we know in life. As a Christian, I understand and accept that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. I would call that magnanimous act the ultimate in generosity. Since God is love and love is about giving, when a person is generous, he or she is close to the heart of God.
When Linda and I went through our marital crisis in the early years of our marriage, and we made the decision to divest ourselves of our wealth, we were drawn closer to each other, to our children, and to God. Also, we were drawn closer to many wonderful people outside our family. And the biggest bonus of all was that we were brought by God, we believe, into a work of building houses for families in need that evolved into the worldwide ministry that is known today as Habitat for Humanity.
What blessings and joys we have known in the years since our decision to give away our wealth! Of course, I do not say to every wealthy person that you should give away all that you have. I do say that everyone should listen to and respond to the still, small voice of God. He calls different people to different tasks and responsibilities. I say the wise person listens to God and responds to God’s call. The details of one’s response will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. However, I believe that God calls and expects from everyone, generosity. That generosity should permeate life and it should be lifelong.
Generosity has a lightness to it. When we are generous, something happens to us. We are blessed. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). He did not say it is not blessed to receive, just more blessed to give. Often, sheer delight and long-lasting joy result from generosity.
I remember being on a plane during the time Linda and I were in the process of divesting ourselves of our wealth. A young woman sitting beside me poured out her heart about her boss. She said that his small company was about to go under for lack of capital. I asked her how much money he needed. She said that $25,000 would probably save the company. I told her to tell her boss that I would lend him the money. She was astounded. When we landed, I arranged to have the money sent to him, as an unsecured no-interest loan.
The money did save the man’s company and, over time, he paid every penny of the money back, not to me but to charities I designated. I became friends with the man and we’re still friends more than thirty years later. And he has been generous to others, too, as I was to him.
More recently, I was in New York at LaGuardia airport. I got off the plane and boarded a bus that transports passengers into Manhattan. I took a seat about halfway back in the bus. Other passengers boarded, including a middle-aged woman who took a seat near the front of the bus. The driver entered the bus and slowly made his way toward the back, collecting the bus fare from each passenger along the way. When he got to the middle-aged woman, an argument ensued. He wouldn’t take her money. As the argument became more heated, other passengers joined in, “Get off the bus, lady, if you don’t have the fare. You’re holding- up the bus.”
Finally, the driver moved on past the woman. He didn’t take her money and she didn’t budge. He walked on back, collecting other fares along the way. When he got to me, I gave him the ten-dollar fare for myself and I asked what the problem was with the woman. He said she had Canadian money and he couldn’t take it. I gave him another ten-dollar bill and said I would pay the fare for her. As he walked back past the woman, he nodded toward me and told the woman I had paid her fare. He took the driver’s seat, and we headed off toward the city.
After we had traveled for a few minutes, the woman walked back and sat down in an empty seat across the aisle from me. “Why did you do that?” she asked.
“Two reasons,” I responded. “First, I am a Christian and my religion teaches that I should help people, even strangers. Next, I wanted to get into the city and you were holding up the bus.”
She burst into tears. She had on quite a bit of mascara and it started to streak down her face with the tears.
“I’m Jewish,” she said.
“God loves Jews’,” I responded.
More tears came and more streaked mascara. She told me that she had just flown in from Canada and hadn’t had time to change any money. A member of her family was gravely ill in the city, and she was distraught about that situation.
We continued to converse all the way into Manhattan. As we approached our destination, she asked for my name and address so she could send me the money I had paid for her fare. I refused to give her that information. She then wanted to know the name and address of my church so she could send a donation. I refused to give her that information as well.
“Why?” she wanted to know.
“Because,” I replied, “the only way to pay me back is to help someone else someday who may need you.”
The tears flowed again and down her face came the remaining mascara. That whole experience greatly blessed me and, I believe, it blessed her, too . (continued…)