As a campus minister I would often warn students that if they are “too busy” to do good at that stage in life it will be an even easier excuse when they have full-time jobs and families.
I was using that line again during a Bible study luncheon in the mid-‘80s to rally volunteers for some community mission project.
One wisecracking student (among many) responded in his usual loud voice: “You do good, but you get paid for it.”
His critique stuck with me as I returned to my office. Earlier that morning I had dismissed an effort to get me involved in a local project.
A woman I did not know at the time, Chrys Street, called to say she had met Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller at a friend’s house in the Georgia mountains. They discussed how Cobb County, Ga., did not have an affiliate — and probably should.
Our Kennesaw State-Southern Tech Baptist Student Union gang was involved with Habitat on a national level. I’d taken groups to Americus, Ga., when homes were still being constructed near the organization’s headquarters.
One labor-intensive spring break we poured the concrete slabs for seven homes in Charlotte, N.C., ahead of one of the earliest Jimmy Carter Work Weeks.
So Millard suggested that Chrys get in touch with me.
However, I’d been less enthusiastic about her appeal than I should have been — prior to the student’s scolding. So I called Chrys that afternoon to be more supportive, and soon we were meeting in the living room of the creatively designed home she occupied with her architect husband John.
Chrys knew local Episcopalians well and I knew lots of Baptists. Together we knew those from other traditions. So we compiled a list of people to invite to an initial gathering to gauge interest in forming Cobb County Habitat for Humanity.
The first two homes — built on site at Marietta and South Cobb High Schools and then moved — gave great visibility. I spoke to more churches and Kiwanis Clubs than I can count.
I even addressed a motorcycle club that met for breakfast on Saturdays. Their arrival at the work site was less than subtle.
Early on, we had more volunteers than nails at workdays.
Chrys and others continued to carry the load long after I moved from the area — and today the renamed Northwest Metro Habitat continues to build much-needed homes across three Atlanta-area counties. The sweat and sacrifices (and credit) are all theirs.
But the lesson — even when reinforced by a wisecracking student — is for all of us: We’re never too busy to do good — for free.