Clarence Jordan And Bringing Jesus to Life
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In 1942 Clarence Jordan and his wife, Florence, moved to a four hundred acre farm in Americus Georgia. Clarence had just received his Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and finished four years as a missionary. They called their farm Koinonia. The Greek word meaning fellowship. A name they used to identify their purpose and strongly connected to the first Christians portrayed in the Books of Acts. A Christian commune committed to sharing their resources and money.
To sustain their farm and community, they began raising peanuts. Clarence also had a degree in agriculture, which proved to be also valuable in creating an economically sustainable community. But Clarence did something very different than prevailing societal norms. He hired and recruited black and white to help maintain and live on the farm. Taking vastly underpaid sharecroppers and giving them a chance to earn a living wage for their efforts. Long troubled by the racial and economic injustice of his region, he insisted on treating all people equally.
Well, this led to a substantial amount of backlash and Koinonia became viewed as a threat. There were bombings, boycotts and Clarence himself was dismissed as a Southern Baptist minister.
The FBI investigated the farm as a communist stronghold. For a few years, life was tough for those living on the farm. Cleverly, to work around the boycott, the farm shipped their peanuts to other parts of the country. And used the slogan, Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia. And it worked, the farm stayed self-sufficient.
Now an interesting turn in both Koinonia and Clarence’s vision occurred in 1965. Millard and Linda Fuller visited the farm, intending only staying for a few hours, instead, they moved on the farm. Milliard by the age of twenty-nine had become a self-made millionaire and was looking for a different path in life and found it at Koinonia.
The Fullers brought new energy to the farm and created a home building initiative for those who could not afford new housing. After getting this initiative started, the Fullers wanted to take what they had learned to Africa. And so they did.
They went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and successfully started a home building initiative. There they learned more methods to helping people have safe and sound housing.
During this time, Clarence died in 1969. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the farm. But his legacy and methods continued. Leading one resident to say, He be gone now, but his footprint is still here.
Millard and Linda returned to the farm in 1976. Armed with what they learned overseas and seeing the work they had started earlier on the farm of building homes was still growing. They decided to set up a new organization, an international organization, to expand what they had learned and started.
And this new organization grew quickly throughout the United States and internationally. Today this organization still exists. Over the last forty-four years has built over one million homes and helped well over ten million people. All from the vision of one man and other loyal Christians. Recently they built a new headquarters in Americus Georgia in honor of Clarence Jordan.
The name of this organization is called Habitat for Humanity. Surprised? Well, many think this was Jimmy Carter’s idea. It wasn’t, but Jimmy and his wife Rosalyn became great ambassadors for Habitat and helped make it a much larger organization. Dedicating a substantial amount of time post-presidency to working with Habitat for Humanity.
On a side note, older readers may remember the name, Hamilton Jordan. He was Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff during his presidency. The son of Clarence Jordan.
While many deserve a lot of credit for the work of Habitat for Humanity, it was Clarence Jordan who created the environment and his commitment to Christian values that led the rise of one of the world’s most recognizeable organizations.
When Clarence started Koinonia farms, he believed the cause of poverty was spiritual and economic injustice. His life goal was to create a way to solve both, which explains why he was both a scientifically trained farmer and held a Doctorate in Theology. With a simple goal to help the sharecroppers of Georgia.
He wanted to bring the lessons of Jesus to life amidst the poverty and racism of the rural south. A unique way to bring the lessons of the Gospel into a real world practice. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Gospels, from John [1:14]; where it says, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And that’s what Clarence did, he brought Jesus the Word to life in Georgia. Not just because he was the guiding light of Habitat for Humanity, but also he radically changed the life of the poor rural sharecropper in the south.
Giving up a life of material abundance his parents had, he turned instead to giving his life for the downtrodden. He was well ahead of the commune times of the 60’s and 70’s, in his vision. He had no earthly model to follow, but the example in Acts, where early Christians lived in fellowship. Tending to the poor both spiritually and economically.
To the citizens of the nearby towns, his supposed radical approach was threatening. So radical the FBI investigated and looked for dangerous societal practices. When all any of them could have just read the first few chapters of Acts, to see where the idea came from.
No, Clarence’s idea of bringing Jesus’s lessons to life wasn’t radical or subversive. It was one man’s bringing the message of the Gospels back to earth. What was radical was Clarence’s complete commitment to bringing the words of Jesus to life and sacrificing his own wealth to help others.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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