“The economics of Jesus.”
Words that would be public suicide for any of today’s politicians, but this is how Mary Barrett, founder of the Omaha chapter of Habitat for Humanity, describes the Habitat philosophy.
“It’s a biblical business model.”
“We don’t work for the poor. We work with the poor. We don’t want to lose that focus.”
This is how Jesus would have run a business in today’s world. That’s not to say that Mary sees herself as Christ-like; far from it. Mary is one of the most honest, sincere, humble women I have ever met.
So how exactly would Jesus run a business in the modern economy? If it were a housing business, he would first house the poor, the homeless, and the helpless. He would have those who he helped repay him by doing the same kindness for another, and building more homes for the homeless. By paying it forward, he would soon have amassed a volunteer base that could build not just one house, but a whole neighborhood, and much much more. Instead of sheltering profits, he would shelter people. And he would call it Habitat for Humanity.
This idea of people helping people at the most basic level, with no interest in profit, is what motivated Mary to found Habitat for Humanity in Omaha. On a visit to Georgia in 1984, the same year that Jimmy Carter discovered Habitat for Humanity, Mary saw the Habitat organization and what they were doing, and how it got to the root of the problem. She had worked with her church and other organizations at homeless shelters and charitable foundations before, and had seen the revolving door of the same faces coming in time after time with the same problems, stuck in the same rut. Habitat for Humanity was a different sort of project, one that aimed to empower people and give them a foundation on which to build their own futures.
Mary came back to Omaha with the idea to help the communities in her hometown that needed the help most. After receiving little initial support, she invested $1,000 of her own money into the project, and when that ran out, she invested another $1,000. Her initial investment fed the organization hand-to-mouth until enough support was garnered to interest donors and grants. Once the project was underway, it became completely self-sustaining; the money gained by mortgaging the houses is directly channeled into building more houses, with no profit to the organization. The homes are mortgaged at 0% interest.
Now, 25 years later, Mary is still involved heavily with Habitat in Omaha. Though not officially a staff or board member any longer, she often visits Habitat sites and continues to lend a helping hand.
For more information on the Omaha chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the organization in general, visit habitatomaha.org