Washington Post article
April 4, 1992
by Carey Kinsolving
Former president Jimmy Carter returned to Washington last week to talk about a house. Not the one he lived in for four years on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but a house he will build this summer as part of the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project.
“The greatest discrimination on Earth today is the discrimination of rich people against the poor,” Carter told the congregation at First Rock Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. “Who are the rich?” he asked. Then he answered. “Most of us in this congregation are rich.”
Carter equated the rich with those who have a home, a decent diet, health care, education, a chance for a job and some form of security in their neighborhood.
He said that when he left the White House 11 years ago there were 1,200 homeless people in Atlanta, and “now there are 15,000.” He also said there has been a 92 percent reduction in federal financing to build and repair housing for the poor.
Carter told the congregation about a former carpenter who got a job clipping trees. The carpenter lives among seven homeless families who stay within a “stone’s throw” of the 30-acre Carter Center in Atlanta. The man helps his neighbors build shelters, carries water from a stream and builds a fire to boil it so his neighbors can have clean water to drink, Carter said. Through the door to one of the shacks, Carter said, he saw a wall of orange crates filled with books. The carpenter teaches his neighbors to read.
“Do our hearts go out to these people?” Carter asked. “Do we look at them as equals? Are they the center of our prayers? We look at them as somehow beyond the scope of our responsibility.”
Carter noted the plight of many caring Christians, who want to help the poor but don’t know how or where to start. He said Habitat for Humanity offers a rare opportunity to help the poor help themselves.
Habitat is not a charitable organization because each homeowner must invest “sweat equity” – 500 hours of labor in building the Washington houses – and pay off an interest-free loan, Carter said.
After Carter spoke, the Rev. Beecher Hicks, of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, spoke of another carpenter who was homeless – Jesus of Nazareth. “Jesus knew what it was to be in need of housing,” Hicks said, referring to Jesus’s statement in the Gospel of Luke: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Hicks said Jesus had some practical advice for home builders: “No man builds a house unless he first count the cost.” Hicks quipped, “That means there is a cash problem in relationship to the building process.”
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are scheduled to work June 14-20 on the Habitat site here. They will be joined by volunteers and families earning sweat equity to build 10 houses in the 4600 block of Benning Road.
The D.C. Habitat project is the result of a partnership between Carter and Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development is selling the government land for the project.
The Carters first heard about Habitat for Humanity when two neighbors volunteered for one of its overseas projects. In 1984, the Carters went to New York to convert a dilapidated six-story building into homes for residents in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Since then, the Carters have led thousands of volunteer builders on “blitz-building” work camps. Almost 150 houses have been built by Carter-led teams in the United States and Mexico.
“I’ve learned more about the needy than I ever did as a governor, as a candidate or as a president,” Carter said. “The sacrifice I thought I would be making turned out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. We have become small players in an exciting global effort to alleviate the curse of homelessness.”
One volunteer following Carter who plans to pound nails in Washington’s June heat is Julianne Crane, of Americus, Ga. Last June she started attending Carter’s Sunday school class in Plains, Ga.
“I’m not real knowledgeable about the Bible,” Crane said. “But when I attend his classes, he makes the Bible live…
“What he says is that the Bible isn’t useful unless we can use it in our everyday life in the way we live. He is truly inspired when he does his Bible class.”
Crane recalled the lesson Carter taught on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast. Carter taught that Jesus seemed to do the miracle reluctantly so that only a few had knowledge of it. And the lesson, according to Crane: “We don’t do good things for the attention we will get from it, and that even the small things we do in our life are meaningful. So it’s all God’s work.”