Koinonia Farms: An introductory history
|Koinonia is an intentional Christian community founded by two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England in 1942 as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” For them, this meant a community of believers sharing life and following the example of the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles, even amidst the poverty and racism of the rural South.|
Clarence Jordan held an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia and wanted to use his knowledge of scientific farming “to seek to conserve the soil, God’s holy earth” and to help the poor: most of Koinonia’s neighbors were black sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Jordan and England were ordained ministers and professors (Jordan held a doctorate in New Testament Greek) and part of their vision was to offer training to African American ministers living in the area. For the first few years or so of the Koinonia experiment, Jordan, in particular, was welcomed to preach and teach in local churches. Though the demands of farming in those early years did not allow time for formal training of others, he used these visits to both black and white churches to offer guidance. They envisioned an interracial community where blacks and whites could live and work together in a spirit of partnership.
Based on this radical call to discipleship, Koinonia’s very presence confronted racism, militarism and materialism with its commitment to:
- Treat all human beings with dignity and justice
- Choose love over violence.
- Share all possessions and live simply.
- Be stewards of the land and its natural resources.
Soon other families joined them, and visitors came to “serve a period of apprenticeship in developing community life on the teachings and principles of Jesus.” The community grew and friendships formed as the Koinonians, their visitors, and their neighbors farmed together, ate meals, attended Bible studies and held summer youth camps. From the beginning, the community emphasized equality and fellowship among all. When resources allowed the hiring of seasonal help, black and white workers were paid equally. When the community and its guests, neighbors and friends gathered for a meal, everyone was invited to sit at the table to regardless of color.
Koinonia’s Struggle during the Civil Rights Movement
These efforts to live the gospel were a break with the prevailing culture of the time and were fiercely challenged by many citizens of Sumter County, many of whom attempted to destroy the farm and scare off its residents. As a way to survive in hostile surroundings, Koinonians began shipping Georgia pecans and peanuts around the world by mail order. The business evolved to include treats made in the farm’s own bakery—the mail order (and online store) business which still generates a large part of the farm’s revenue today.
Through the 1950s and early 60s, Koinonia remained a witness to nonviolence and racial equality as its members withstood firebombs, bullets, KKK rallies, death threats, property damage, excommunication from churches, and economic boycotts. Koinonia and its members suffered greatly. But Koinonia survived.
Koinonia: Birthplace of Habitat for Humanity
As the threats of physical violence dwindled in the late 1960s, Koinonia was at a crossroads. Local violence had tapered off, and now only two families were living on the farm, including the Jordans. The Koinonians found themselves searching for a renewed focus, unsure whether Koinonia’s end had come, when Clarence received a brief note from Millard Fuller, asking “What do you have up your sleeve?”
Millard and Linda Fuller had spent a month at Koinonia several years earlier, shortly after the threat of a failed marriage caused the couple to recommit their lives to God and give away their wealth. Millard had been a millionaire businessman, and his enthusiasm seemed to inject a new spirit into the community. After a series of meetings with Millard and other friends of Koinonia, a new direction for Koinonia emerged.
Clarence Jordan and the others held a deep concern for their neighbors and noticed the poor quality of housing available to them. They initiated a project to help build decent, affordable homes. Changing its name from Koinonia Farm to Koinonia Partners, the community launched several innovative partnership programs, chief among them Koinonia Partnership Housing, which built affordable homes for low-income families living in shacks and dilapidated houses. Using volunteer labor and donations, Koinonia built 194 homes from 1969 to 1992, which families bought with 20-year, no-interest mortgages. Mortgage payments were placed in a revolving Fund for Humanity, which was then used to build more houses. With both rich and poor contributing capital to the Fund and building houses together, Clarence saw his vision of Partnership become a reality. Of the homes built, 62 houses sit on Koinonia’s land, forming two neighborhoods that surround the central community area; the remaining houses are located in the towns of Americus and Plains.
In addition to his work on the farm, Jordan spent hours writing in what became known as “Clarence’s Shack,” a small wooden building nestled in one of the farm’s pecan orchards. Among the works penned there were the Cotton Patch Version, his translations of the New Testament gospels from the original Greek into the Georgia vernacular. He prepared for his nationwide speaking engagements there. And, working on a sermon, it is where he died on October 29, 1969.
Clarence’s spirit continues: “Seed Sowing”
Although Clarence died in 1969, just before the first house was completed, his vision continued, as other community members carried on his legacy. The Fullers remained at the Farm, guiding the first 4 years of Koinonia’s partnership housing program before moving to Africa for 3 years to establish a similar program abroad. In 1976, they returned to Americus and founded Habitat for Humanity International, now a worldwide housing ministry with affiliates in every state and in more than 50 countries. Modeled after Koinonia’s original “partnership housing” program, Habitat builds houses with families in need, then sells the houses to the families at no profit and no interest. To date, Habitat for Humanity volunteers and homeowners have built more than 100,000 houses around the world.
The Koinonia spirit also led to the founding of other organizations such as Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA (a community that welcomes refugees from war-torn countries), New Hope House in Griffin, GA (assisting families with loved ones on death row, as well as advocating the abolition of the death penalty) and The Prison & Jail Project in Americus, GA (an antiracist, grassroots organization which monitors courtrooms, prisons and jails in southwest Georgia). Koinonia became known as a place of “seed sowing,” giving life to organizations in the making, but equally and perhaps more importantly to countless individuals renewed and transformed by time on the farm. This legacy continues today: in 2005, the Fullers left Habitat for Humanity and founded The Fuller Center for Housing, which also seeks to create affordable housing solutions for impoverished families worldwide. Their first meeting was held at the Koinonia Community Outreach Center.
Our Ministries, Yesterday and Today
Some of the causes and ministries Koinonia has been involved in over the last 60+ years include civil rights, prison ministry, racial reconciliation, peace activism, early childhood education, youth and teen outreach, affordable housing, language training, sustainable agriculture, economic development, home repair, elders programs, and more. Today, Koinonia remains committed to treating all human beings with dignity and justice, choosing love over violence, sharing according to need, not greed, and stewardship of the land.
In 1993, Koinonia abandoned its “common purse” and experimented with a more corporate, non-profit structure. It gained a board of directors and established staff and volunteer positions instead of resident partners. In 2004, we began a journey to return to our original roots while remaining relevant to the 21st century. We are now returning to the community-based model. Guided by our rich history and the vision of Clarence Jordan, we continue our mission to apply Jesus’ teachings on compassion, partnership, community, reconciliation, and stewardship of our resources to the social and economic realities we face today. (See our Ministries and Online Store pages to learn about our latest work, or join us as a visitor or intern!)