Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, joined the Belmont community for a conversation on the heart of the organization’s commitment to create a world where there is a home for everyone and their mission to bring people together. In this event hosted by the Office of Spiritual Development as a part of the Debate 2020 Programming, Reckford shared insight from his experience on the critical importance of housing on all aspects of society including health, education and racial equity.
Reckford recognized that during a time of political unrest and polarizing views, picking sides often leads people to defend the indefensible and refuse to see the good in those who do not see things exactly the same way. But he also recognized that we have the opportunity to do better, promoting truth over tribe and civil bipartisan discourse.
“Transformation, like every positive action, happens in relationship,” Reckford said. At Habitat for Humanity, Reckford has witnessed on countless occasions the transformation that occurs from relationships of ordinary people who come together from around the world to help families build or improve their homes. Though these people do not agree on every topic, they all care deeply about the work and are motivated by their faith.
Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 7 million people in the last year alone. Habitat for Humanity believes every child is created in God’s image and should have the opportunity to grow up to be all that God intended. Many people are familiar with the volunteer opportunities to participate in building homes, but fewer people know that the organization was created by a committed group of people desiring to live out their Christian faith, loving one another in a tangible way. Being both faithful and inclusive are key values of the organization.
Reckford was strongly influenced by his grandmother, U.S. Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick, who was widely known for her unconventional fight for social justice. He described her imposing presence, always challenging him to be useful. While Reckford took many directions to find his path to usefulness, he said there is nothing he would rather be doing than working with Habitat for Humanity, despite difficult days along the way.
Since he began his role as CEO in 2005, Reckford has experienced both the triumphs of success stories and impactful experiences and the struggles of the realities they face. Along with the systemic issues the organization works to fight on poverty and affordable housing, natural disasters over the years have also drastically changed the organization’s ideas of what is possible and upscaled their work. He described the way these catastrophes strip our pretenses away, often forcing connection and community in the way people come together to take care of their neighbors in recovering. Reckford noted the opportunity we all have to live in this way of community, service and love that we experience during tragedy at all times, even the mundane days.
Reckford’s prayer is that the world will choose this model of loving and serving to live every day. When we help each other, we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
“My grandmother wanted me to be useful because she knew my life would be better and brighter, and I would more fully experience a world of hope when I had genuine compassion for others, because I need to feel that connection. We all do,” Reckford said. Through every trial, each of us is called to be a light in the darkness. Reckford encouraged the Belmont community to consider how they will be useful and make the world a better place, a reminder that while our individual efforts will make a difference, our collective efforts can change the world.