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The Journey to Lifesong for Orphans
“I have been blessed so much. My prayer is that God will use The Manna Group to bless others.” — Gary Ringger, Lifesong for Orphans President
If someone would have told us 20 years ago that Gary would be president of an orphan ministry, traveling annually to Ukraine, Zambia, and India, we would not have believed them. (By the same token, if someone would have told us that we would be grandparents of 7 under the age of 5 we would not have believed that either!) Both are true. It just proves that God delights in the unbelievable and will do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. The journey to Lifesong for Orphans is made up of struggles and promises, and shows us if we are willing, God has a wonderful plan waiting for us. Here is our story…
The Struggle to Begin
Having succeeded in growing a feed business with his dad, Gary was confident he could also succeed in the food industry. So Ringger Foods was born, and the struggle began. After several years of trying to make it go, Gary decided he couldn’t keep losing money and was going to quit. The financial burden and the pressure to make a safe product for human consumption would wake him up at night and the worry would keep him from sleeping. Fatigue soon set in followed by classic symptoms of depression.
Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Gary was broken before God and he began to spend more time in prayer, pleading for mercy and direction. And God convicted Gary not to quit, but to think of the business as an opportunity to be a ministry. It was the stimulus we needed to keep going with the business, to persevere and see where God was leading.
Carrying out the conviction that this was God’s business, Gary and his dad decided to make a vow before God. In order to make it official (and also to hold them accountable), Gary wrote out a contract with God, stating that if He decided to bless Ringger Foods and make it profitable, and we had the opportunity to sell it, we would keep only what we had invested in the company, with interest, and the rest would go for Kingdom purposes. This was not a sacrifice as we were well provided for by Ringger Feeds. In fact, the vow was somewhat self-serving because if we had quit at that point we would have never recovered our initial investment, much less any interest. Gary and his dad both signed the agreement.
The Struggle to Continue
After the vow was signed, it would be several years with ups and downs before Ringger Foods became profitable. At times when Gary would refer to the business as God’s, his dad would joke that he didn’t think God really wanted it. But God showed Himself to be faithful several times throughout the years. Just as we would think about getting out, something would happen to keep us going.
One such instance was the time that Gary, his dad, and Steph, the Ringger Feeds CFO decided to put out a fleece before God. Based on prayer and discussion, they wrote down a specific date (their fleece), and told God that they would shut down Ringger Foods if they did not have new profitable business by then. Shortly thereafter, Nutri-Sweet contacted us based on a small classified ad we had placed in a food magazine. They were building a new plant and needed someone to blend Equal for them until their plant was completed. Within the “fleece date parameter” they awarded us a lucrative contract. The purchasing agent commented that she had a “gut feeling” about us. We praised God for giving her that “gut-feeling”. This was huge for us, as before the contract was over we had basically made back all we had lost in the previous years.
The struggles were not over. Within a few years, losses again were mounting up. Gary was anticipating talking to his vice president Greg about closing. Shortly before this important conversation Greg found out he had a tumor on his stomach that was malignant. Gary could not bring himself to say, “I am really sorry about your cancer, and by the way, we are shutting down Ringger Foods.” Brought to his knees again, Gary pleaded with God for help, and help was provided. From another classified ad placed in a food magazine, Quaker Foods found us and asked us to make the rice crisp that goes into their granola bars. The new business that Quaker provided became the turning point for Ringger Foods. Thankfully, Greg recovered and he currently works for the company that eventually bought Ringger Foods.
The business was beginning to thrive, but there were always concerns with plant and food safety. At one point we had the opportunity to make a significant cookie order for Nestle. Right before the product was to be released, we had a scheduled meeting with a quality assurance team from Nestle. Minutes before they arrived, Gary received a call from his quality assurance director. She was in tears as she explained that a preliminary test on the product indicated bacteria might have contaminated it. The product was immediately put on hold until further testing could be done.
That night Gary came home totally spent with worry. In a case like this, the initial test could be wrong, so it would take an additional test to confirm the findings. So we had to wait. We talked about it and what it could mean to the business. I tried to reassure Gary, but it was a very serious issue. Again, he pleaded with God for help. He remembers picking up a Readers’ Digest to finish an article he had read the night before on prayer. As he started to read his eyes fell on the phrase “Prayer has even been known to change results in laboratory tests.”
Gary immediately called to me and shared what he read. He then called several friends to ask for their prayers on this matter. Several days later we received word that the final test showed no signs of bacteria, and the product was shipped without any problems. We still have the article and we marvel how God, in a very personal way, reminded us who is really in control and that prayer does change things. We have never read anything about prayer affecting lab results before or after that night.
We share these examples of God’s faithfulness simply to say that without His blessings, we could do nothing. We attribute the success of the business to God because we believe He had a bigger plan for us.
In the spring of 2002, after almost 15 years, Ringger Foods was a profitable, self-sustaining business and we were able to sell it for a fairly large profit. This vow that Gary had signed took on new meaning. The net proceeds were divided into two parts. One part would be put into a family foundation and the other would be used to start up a new business that would eventually fund the foundation. We called the business The Manna Group and we called the foundation TMG (The Manna Group) Foundation. The question we were praying about was what focus the new foundation would take for Kingdom purposes.
As we thought about what kind of ministry TMG Foundation would fund, a good friend gave Gary some sound advice. He said that we should not just “write a check”, but be focused and involved in a ministry we believed in. He also told Gary to dream bigger than himself because when it happened, we would know that it was God’s work and not ours.
We prayed about the direction and within a short time we felt a conviction to help orphans. We knew that helping orphans was God’s definition of pure religion (James 1:27) and that with the proper training, they would grow up as Christians (Proverbs 22:6).
We decided to assist families who were adopting with financial grants to help with the steep cost of international adoption. Gary and I had helped fund the adoption of some friends of ours several years before, and we had been blessed in the process. What better way to bring children to the Lord, then to place them in a “forever family”?
Our initial plan was to fund grants strictly through TMG Foundation, which would be supported in time by The Manna Group profits. Our concept was that this would be a family ministry. We had no interest in asking others to help us fund the ministry. God, however, seemed to have a different plan.
A New Direction
As Gary started investing in The Manna Group business, expenses ran much higher than he had anticipated. In fact, losses were so drastic that he used to tell folks “if you get close to The Manna Group you will hear the sound of money being flushed down the toilet”. One day while Gary was driving to work, he was feeling the burden of the new business (sound familiar?) and the fact that there were families that needed help adopting who we were turning away due to lack of funds. Rich Mullins was singing on the car stereo: “Hold me Jesus, ‘cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been king of my glory; won’t you be my Prince of Peace?” In a sense, Gary felt like he was in repentance. It was as though God was saying, “You have spiritual pride about your family foundation. It’s not about your family, it’s about MY family” This ministry is not yours. It’s mine.”
We counseled with family and friends and their general advice was to offer the opportunity for others to join with us in the work. Our foundation would pay for all administrative costs so 100% of their donation could be used to help qualifying couples rescue children and then bring them up in a Christian family. This change meant that many more children could be helped than before.
While it is a continuing journey, The Manna Group has begun to find its niche and we believe it will be a successful business. However, if it had started off in a positive way, we wonder if we would have been open to asking others to join us in the ministry? Consequently, had we not reached out to others for help, many children that are now being nurtured by Christian parents and mentors would still be languishing. And while our natural instinct was to resist asking for help, we have found that in general, we who have so much here in the United States, need the orphans just as they need us. Recently, a donor told Gary that the opportunity to work side by side with us… helping orphans… was an answer to prayer.
We continue to be amazed at the doors God is opening for us in this journey. We have learned that He uses both struggles and blessings to get our attention and to do the work He has called us to do.