It all started in 1990 when Marillyn Nations began a crusade to get First Baptist Church in Kingsport, Tenn., to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Pete Morrisett, a member of First Baptist, said Nations did not want the church to be outdone in local missions by the area Presbyterian churches who were strongly supporting Habitat for Humanity.

Now, 12 years later, First Baptist Church is gearing up to build their 12th house.

“It gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” Nations told “Forty-seven people live in those 11 houses. Five of them are single moms.”

Nations said the whole church is on board and there is always an outpouring of help. Those who can’t shingle, pour concrete, paint or insulate, can provide food and daycare for the workers.

Her favorite part of the process is the end. That’s when she can see that all the hard work has paid off, that there is tangible evidence that the church’s mission spirit is alive and well.

Marvin Cameron, pastor at First Baptist, said the projects are part of an ongoing cycle and the church is slotted to begin construction on the next house in late summer or early fall.

“This project continues to be a central focus of our church,” Cameron told Ethics “It has really developed a sense of camaraderie among our members.”

Cameron said that building houses is a natural fit for the people of Kingsport, which includes a large population of engineers.

“Many of the engineers who retired early wanted to continue honing their craft,” he said. “There is a real ‘can do’ spirit to people here in East Tennessee.”

The money for the projects comes out of the church’s mission budget.

Morrisett said the church keeps building Habitat Houses simply because the need has not yet been met.
“There are still a lot of families in our area who are living in substandard—unsafe, unhealthy, overcrowded—conditions,” Morrisett told “This is something I can do to put my faith to work.”

Holston Habitat for Humanity, the local Habitat affiliate, has partnered to build a total of 77 houses in Kingsport. Churches partnered in building about 70 of those houses.

Morrisett said this should give pause to those who think churches are irrelevant in today’s world.
And enthusiasm for the project is growing rather than waning, he said.

First Baptist has partnered with other Baptist churches, including an African-American church.
“Last September, during the building of the 11th house (this one for a single mom), the president of Habitat for Humanity Indonesia visited Kingsport and joined the construction effort one Saturday,” Morrisett said. “He was startled to see the men and women of two Baptist Churches—black and white—working together. He commented that ‘this is not what we read and hear about America.”

“Surely Christ makes the difference,” he added.

“It has opened my eyes to the large number of families who remain on the economic edge where a helping hand can allow them to join the ranks of the middle class. But without that help they may fall back into despair, defeat and welfare dependency,” Morrisett said. “I believe this is a tangible way to illustrate to them the life-changing power of Christ.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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