Hope in the Darkness
By Kelsey McFaul
Gary Ringger stewards businesses, foundations, nonprofits with hope
He was in his early thirties, the president of a successful agricultural feed company, and a start-up food processing business. He had a wife and three young daughters. But Gary Ringger was experiencing the darkness of depression.
“I started waking up at one or two o’clock in the morning in a cold sweat. I could feel my heart beating fast in my head, and I would lay there consumed with dark thoughts. I couldn’t think straight; my mind was like tires spinning on ice.”
Despite his early business success with Ringger Feed, an agricultural feed company started by his father Edwin, Gary realized he was completely out of his depth with the processed foods Ringger Foods produced. He was consumed with worry about health and food safety, terrified his products might make someone sick.
“I had an ownership mindset. I had realized how much bigger the food industry was than the feed industry, and I was expecting great success with Ringger Foods. I told my wife Marla, ‘we’re going to get rich and retire at the age of 40 and live the American dream.’ Now the American dream didn’t mean anything. I just wanted my life back.”
Gary considered himself the owner of his businesses and as such took full responsibility for their successes, and their failures. When things got difficult, he wanted nothing more than to leave the leadership role where he exercised an ownership mentality.
“I just wanted to quit. But as I was crying out to God in desperation many nights and during the day, I couldn’t come to a peace about quitting. I felt like God was saying, ‘Don’t quit. Change your paradigm.’ And ultimately that led to a contract with God about Ringger Foods.”
With Marla and Edwin’s participation, Gary drafted an agreement with God.
“The contract basically said that if Ringger Foods ever became successful and we sold it, we would pay ourselves back with interest. But anything over and above that interest would be given to charity or used in some way for ministry. The business had no value, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice at the time.”
Despite the agreement’s low financial stakes, its implications for stewardship were monumental. In literally signing over ownership to God, Gary declared he was no longer the owner of Ringger Foods, but merely its manager or steward.
“Ultimately, that was life-changing. I was submitting. All of a sudden, it was a much more tangible stewardship relationship with God, and it changed my prayer life.”
Before, Gary had struggled to sleep, plagued by anxiety, depression, and worse. Now, he was waking up early to spend time with God.
“First thing in the morning, I wake up. I’m still struggling with depression; I don’t know what in the world to do with this business. But I went out and I got into a pattern based on the Lord’s Prayer. I’d say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ and think about the attributes of God. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’–that was always focused on submitting, not my will but Your will.
“‘Give us today our daily bread’–I had three prayer lists, for my family, for my ministry and work, and for others. I started praying about specific things in business that I’d never really done before. Before I’d pray for Ringger Foods to be successful so I could retire at age 40 and live the American dream.”
Once freed from this prayer of ownership, Gary’s prayer life was transformed.
“Now I’m in a more tangible stewardship relationship. From a discipline, maybe 5-10 minutes of prayer where I was trying not to fall asleep, it was sometimes half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour. It became the sweetest part of my day.”
As he practiced acting as a manager rather than an owner, Ringger Foods became successful as well. In 2002, Gary sold it and, per the contract, divided the net profits between a family foundation, The Manna Group (TMG) Foundation, and a new business to fund the foundation.
Around the same time, Gary and Marla had privately helped a couple cover the cost of adopting a child. Once TMG was founded, they began to administer more grants to eliminate the financial barriers to adoption–including court fees, health care, travel expenses, childcare and household supplies–that many families face.
The Ringgers were approached by a small nonprofit working in Ukraine. After a probationary year, they took over daily operations in 2005, a decision that brought with it new struggles for stewardship.
“We really struggled. We had to go from being the supplier of the money to having to ask for money. We didn’t want to do that. I’m a businessman. I don’t ask for money; I make money. A lot of that struggle was rooted in pride. Not wanting to ask for money and just really not giving it to God.”
It was advice on surrender from two mentors that began to turn things around.
“My dad told me, ‘Gary, you don’t have to twist anybody’s arm. You just need to tell them the story, and if they want to join, they can.’ And I heard a song by Rich Mullins on the radio: ‘Hold me, Jesus, I’m shaking like a leaf.’ That’s the way I felt, and God really convicted me, ‘This is just not about your family. This is about My family, God’s family.”
In this new venture, Gary found himself surrendering ownership not only of his family’s finances, but also the purposes they were used for.
The renamed nonprofit Lifesong for Orphans provides financial assistance for adoption, foster care support, church and ministry partnerships, and international orphan care.
Lifesong continues to support adoptions and foster care in the United States and its international orphan care ministry has expanded from Ukraine to currently total 13 countries. Its unique 100% pledge means that 100% of funds donated to a specific family will fund their adoption expenses. The pledge is made possible by the TMG Foundation and its additional business ventures, including Lifesong Farms in Ukraine and Zambia.
“My life has been much more than I ever dreamed it would be. I’ve learned that I don’t want to do what I want to do, because I’ve blown it so many times. I want to do what God wants me to do.”
Yet in the midst of his exciting ministry and entrepreneurial work, Gary still occasionally feels the darkness that marked his early years in business.
“I find that if I get too many things going on and I don’t have enough quiet time, there’s a side of me with that depression that can get bogged down. If I give myself some time for solitude and quiet time, every day is joy.”
Stewarding his relationship with God and with himself, reminding himself of the person God made him to be, helps Gary surrender his worry, ownership, and busyness. The light of hope begins to diffuse the darkness of depression.
“I have some verses I collected during that struggle time that I still use today. One in particular is Psalm 33:22, ‘Let Thy mercy be upon us, O Lord, according as we hope in Thee.’ Instead of being self-sufficient, when you’ve given up control and you’re really just hoping in God and saying, ‘I can’t do it, You’re my hope,’ that in a sense unleashes His mercy in a very supernatural way. Then it’s not work, it’s just trying to be a good steward.”
Gary’s Power Verses (a selection)
Psalms 33:22—“Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”
Isaiah 40:29—“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.”
Luke 1:37—“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
Romans 9:16—“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
2 Corinthians 3:5—“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”
Philippians 4:6-8—“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”