Los Ranchos’ Long History with Habitat for Humanity
by Courtney Ellis
In the 1980s, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos hosted Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Many at the meeting found their imaginations sparked by his vision for helping to build homes for those who needed them most. Soon after, Jim Everett, an elder from Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, first volunteered with Habitat, in part because he saw their mission as an extension of his faith.
“In Matthew, Jesus tells us to be light, that God would be glorified,” said Everett. For him, this took a very hands-on approach. Over the next 25 years, he and the mission committee at PCOM rallied scores of volunteers for Habitat’s building projects, along with over a hundred thousand dollars. Since Orange County’s Habitat chapter was just getting off the ground, Everett and team members like PCOM elders Dick Payne, Sara Jo Craw, and Brownie Turner took on projects with San Diego’s Habitat branch, building in Tijuana and Tecate, Mexico. When Habitat OC was up and running, they partnered on builds in Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, and San Juan Capistrano.
Noted Brownie Turner, “The relationships that have been built over the years with these projects have been, for me, so valuable.” He cited both friendships within the teams as well as between the volunteers and those for whom they were building homes. “When you’re living mission with people, you really get to know them, and that’s a real bonus.”
According to Tustin Presbyterian Church’s website, “TPC supports Habitat in our Keeping CHRISTmas Market and through our local mission budget. Building projects started again in 2022 with new home builds in Santa Ana and Fullerton.” Noted Rev. Steve Ranney, pastor at Tustin, “They do great work!”
San Clemente Presbyterian maintains a similar connection, “bringing parishioners together to build homes, community, and hope with Habitat.”
In the early 2000s, parishioners, elders, and pastors from several Los Ranchos churches banded together to form “The Presbyterian Partnership,” serving both by building homes and by organizing creative ways to raise money together. In 2009 the Partnership, which included Laguna Presbyterian, San Clemente Presbyterian, Tustin Presbyterian, and Yorba Linda Presbyterian Churches, among others, hosted a fundraising concert at Laguna Niguel Presbyterian.
Both Everett and Turner cited Jesus’s reminders to love and serve our neighbors as part of the engine that drove these decades of service. “I’ve always been more comfortable showing my faith rather than talking about it,” said Turner. “Projects like Habitat allow me to demonstrate my faith.”
Rick Shoemaker, an elder and 45-year member at Laguna Presbyterian, echoed this belief. Shoemaker volunteered with Habitat for decades, rallying volunteers through LPC’s mission and outreach committee.
“I felt like I was really a hands-on kind of a faith person,” said Shoemaker. “I just think, why am I here on earth? I should be helping others! That’s what I’ve always thought. I felt like I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do.”
Shoemaker worked locally with Habitat OC as well as traveling internationally with the organization, building homes in Hungary, Russia, and New Zealand. Sometimes his wife and daughter joined him.
“My first build was in Romania in 1999,” he said. “It turns out there were seven or eight countries involved in this build in this little town.” That build occurred at the same time as a total solar eclipse, so Habitat sent six buses to transport them to a viewing sight, an experience that Shoemaker treasures.
In Romania “we built 10 houses in 10 days,” said Shoemaker. After a house is completed, the team and the new owners dedicate it together. “Going through ten dedications like that, people cried and cried,” he said.
PCOM’s official partnership with Habitat ended around 2010. According to Everett, changes at the organizational level led to Habitat requiring less hands-on help and more significant fundraising than in previous years. Interest on PCOM’s mission committee shifted to engagement with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, though in recent years many formerly active participants have aged out of hands-on building.
One of his favorite memories was a build known as the “All Faith” build in Cypress, California. He remembers a newspaper photo of “a Sikh, a Jew, a Presbyterian, and a Muslim all taking a break on a bench together.” This build was sponsored by a group of Sikhs who also provided food for the builders.
“One of the problems is me. I’m too old and too worn out!” said Shoemaker. “But there’s still good work to do!”
Marion Park, associate pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Long Beach reported a similar conundrum. “Our church supports Habitat financially and has given significantly in the past and continues to do so,” but “it seems like we need to figure out in the future how and if we will continue with this mission project.”
Courtney Ellis, Associate Pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, is an author and storyteller. Courtney will be reporting over the next few months on the presbytery’s mission partnerships.