‘Theology of the hammer’ worked in Talladega
by Ed Fowler
The memories came flooding back as I read the front-page story in The Daily Home on Friday about Shirley Harmon Ward, the first recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house built in Talladega.

I was part of that original group of Talladega citizens who decided to put “theology of the hammer” into practice here.

Mrs. Ward’s story is heartwarming. As staff writer Chris Norwood detailed, she was at the time a single mother with three children, and she wanted what we all want—a home of her own. But, she was turned down at every turn, unable to put together the financing needed to buy a home.

A co-worker had heard of Habitat, and knew that local people were putting together a chapter in Talladega. At her friend’s urging, Mrs. Ward got an application and filled it out. She was pushing the deadline and on the last day, the office was closed when she got there. She left it the following Monday, and then forgot about it.

Then, a call came for her. She and her family had been chosen for the first house in Talladega.

They would be required to put in “sweat equity,” meaning they had to help build the house. And they did. And she and her children moved into the house all those years ago. Since then, she has paid off the mortgage early and is now a wonderful example of how Habitat works and the good it can do when God’s people reach out to help one another.

The “theology of the hammer” is a phrase coined by Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat. The hammer and all the other tools in the box are used to build homes for “God’s people in need,” he said. And the house is provided on Biblical principles—built with no profit motive and financed with no interest.

But it is important to remember that these homes are not given to people. Give people a hand up, not a handout, Fuller preached, and they will respond, just as Mrs. Ward has responded.

Many people, including Druel Yarborough, deserve the majority of the credit for that first house and the others built those first few years.

My role was as a fund-raiser who spoke to churches, civic groups or anyone else who might be prospects for funding.

My father was a carpenter, and one of my prized possessions is an old framing hammer that belonged to him. I took that hammer with me when I spoke and held it up as I asked people to give. And give they did._I was like those volunteers Mrs. Ward spoke of in her story.

“They were not young people…They were older people, and I was scared one of them was going to fall. I just thought, please God, don’t let Paw-Paw fall off the roof.” Nobody fell. One Saturday when we were working, I was trying to nail braces into the roof trusses. Nails were bent, thumbs were bruised and Druel saw what was happening.“

“Here, let me finish that,” he said. I let him, and went off in search of something more suited to my lack of ability.

When we bought the property where Mrs. Ward’s house stands, we had the opportunity to buy adjacent lots at a good price. The board met, and voted to do that. But it meant our budget didn’t have quite enough money to finish her house.

We decided to ask five companies in Talladega to donate another $1,000 each, so we would have the money to complete the purchase. We divided up the names, and off I went to talk to my first prospect.

I started my spiel and the man looked at me, and said, “Yes, we want to help. How much do you need?’’

My answer was going to be “$5,000, but we just want $1,000 from you.”

“We can do $5,000,” he said, and I choked off the rest of my reply.

I raced back to the office and called to let the other board members know we had the money. They didn’t have to ask for more.

And Mrs. Ward’s house was built. The “theology of the hammer” worked in Talladega.
© 2012