Building for a divine cause

Home: Inspired by a church challenge, a Kingsville family sponsors a Habitat for Humanity house, raising $30,000 in seven months.

December 27, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

With a little help from 200 friends, acquaintances and strangers, Barbara Slusher is building a cozy Cape Cod that will become a Harford County family's first home.

It was a church sermon and her husband who inspired her to think big.

The three-bedroom house, called Sheltered by Grace, is a Habitat for Humanity house going up in Aberdeen, funded with contributions the Slushers raised by selling everyone they knew - and some they didn't - on the idea of helping a family have its own place to call home.

"It's been a really neat story," said Slusher, a Harford County resident. The brain researcher and mother of three added that before this year, she had never sold anything, not even Girl Scout cookies. "I used to make my mom buy them all," she said, laughing.

But that was before the days of role-playing in the car, practicing what she would say to bosses, co-workers and friends. And before the days of assembly-line letter stuffing at the kitchen table. Now, having raised about $30,000 in a little over half a year, Slusher may seem like a pro.

Having one family raise the funds for a house is unusual, said Harford Habitat director Joann Blewitt. Typically, she said, a church, business or other group sponsors a house, dividing the fund raising among the members. "For a family to say, `We're going to do this' is - wow!" she said.

The three-bedroom house on Baltimore Street in Aberdeen is going up beside two others. They are the 17th, 18th and 19th Harford Habitat houses; at least two more are waiting in the wings. The other houses on the site are sponsored, respectively, by a group of county Presbyterian churches, and by Mountain Christian Church, where the Slushers and Blewitt are members.

At the church on Mountain Road, the inspiration for the fund raising began.

On a wintry Sunday morning in February, Barbara Slusher stepped to the front of her church with 49 other people and accepted a "Kingdom Assignment" from one of the pastors to take $100 each and invest it for God's kingdom.

The challenge was based on one given three years ago to a California congregation by a minister named Denny Bellesi, said Rob Kastens, executive pastor of Mountain Christian. Since then, the Kingdom Assignment has grown into a book, a Web site and countless success stories from churches across the country that have tried it and watched members start missions in their communities.

Kingdom Assignment

The challenge is based on the New Testament parable of the master giving away his goods to his servants, Kastens said. In the biblical story, two servants invest the talents, or money, given to them, while the third buries his in the ground.

"It's what the servants did with what was entrusted them that was important," Kastens said. "When you do something like this ... you never know. We didn't know how people would respond. We just left it up to them and to God."

The response, Kastens said, has been inspiring. The group had 90 days to come back and report about their work. "I think it really blew people away," he said. "It caused everybody to think."

One parishioner began a bicycle ministry, collecting old bikes, repairing them and giving them away with copies of the New Testament to children; another used the money to donate teddy bears with prayer tags to children in the hospital. One woman began a political career. Another started working with a shelter for pregnant mothers.

Now Mountain members are talking about their role in the community in a different light, Kastens said. "We all have a Kingdom Assignment, and we need to figure out what that is," he said.

`Think bigger'

For Slusher, a senior vice president with Guilford Pharmaceuticals, the revelation came slowly. She struggled with the responsibility, she said, and would pick a project, only to have her husband, Chuck, shake his head and push her to "think bigger."

Slusher felt her project should help the homeless. Then, as she and her husband learned about the church's sponsorship of one of the Aberdeen houses, the focus began to narrow in their discussions at home.

"I think that's where the idea came about: Why don't we build our own house," said Chuck Slusher, who is a finance and operations vice president for Zurich North America, an insurance provider.

Neither of them had raised money before. But they took a leap of faith, cleared the kitchen table in their Kingsville home and got to work.

During the spring, they said, about $10,000 flowed in. Then in June, the money just stopped coming - a third of the way to their goal.

And that's when the arguments started. It was all his fault for pushing them into an impossible project, they both say now, laughing.

Meeting the goal

Then in August, more contributions came in, as they turned to more friends, one of whom took up her own campaign and brought in the last $5,000 on her own. The APG Federal Credit Union, a longtime Habitat supporter, donated $12,000. In about a month, the rest of the $30,000 was in hand, they said.

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