From Pig Feed to Kingdom Work
Entrepreneur Gary Ringger and his wife, Marla, talk about the thriving food business they built with God's direction and grace. Gary remembers his big break selling rice crisps to Quaker, and they also reflect on their decision to sell the company at just the right moment. Since then Gary and Marla have invested in hundreds of families by helping them adopt children through their ministry, Lifesong.
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Entrepreneur Gary Ringger and his wife, Marla, talk about the thriving food business they built with God’s direction and grace. Hear about how Gary and Marla have invested in hundreds of families by helping them adopt children.
From Pig Feed to Kingdom Work
Bob: Gary and Marla Ringger were successful business people who wanted their lives to count for more. That’s when God put a burden on Marla’s heart.
Marla: I remember talking to a young lady in church who—she and her husband were adopting a little boy from Korea. She had had cancer before they were married and wasn’t able to have children biologically. She was just telling me about it; we were just chatting. She told me they are going to have to take out a loan to bring this little boy home.
I just went home that day and I told Gary, “No young couple should have to go into debt to have a child.” We committed to helping them bring that little boy home. It was a seed planted, I believe by God, because we had no idea that we would be involved in orphan ministry.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Have you ever asked God to put a kingdom burden on your heart?—how He might want to use you to advance the work of His kingdom? We’ll hear today how He did that with Gary and Marla Ringger. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m sitting here, trying to come up with something—from pig feed to kingdom—and I can’t—[Laughter]
Bob: —I’m close; it’s not there. Our listeners are going, “What are you talking about and what’s all this on FamilyLife Today?”
Dave: From pig smells [Laughter] to kingdom swells. [Laughter]
Bob: Let’s see if we can explain all of this!
Gary and Marla Ringger are joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Gary: Thank you.
Bob: Gary and Marla are from central Illinois. Pig feed is a part of Ringger Feeds, which is a company that your dad founded, that you got involved with after you got out of college.
Ringger Feed then gave way to Ringger Foods, where you were starting to make food for human consumption, not just for pigs. That business kind of had some ebbs and flows. We’ve already talked this week about the fact that it was stressful for you, and you came to a point where you weren’t sure what to do. You ultimately wrote out a contract, where you turned the business over to God and said, “If we ever get this thing turned back around—Ringger Foods—we’re going to sell it, and we’ll fund God’s work after we’ve paid back our debts on this.”
That was a turning point. Ringger Foods—at that point, you were making donut sugar; is that what I remember?
Gary: Well, that’s what we were making at the beginning, but donut sugar did not make it.
Bob: Okay, when donut sugar didn’t make it, what was next for Ringger Foods?
Gary: Because we were doing so poorly at donut sugar—I’m jesting here—when a gentleman came to us and asked us to buy his extruder, I thought, “Well, sure, we’re not making it in donut sugar; so we can make it with this extruder.”
Bob: What’s an extruder?
Ann: Yes, that’s—
Gary: Yes, an extruder is a cooker.
Dave: You don’t have one of those, Bob? [Laughter]
Gary: Yes; anybody that knows anything knows that—[Laughter]
Bob: Okay. [Laughter]
Gary: —just kidding. The extruder is the way you can do a lot of the cooking, and it just happens that you could cook and make rice crisp. We would take rice flour—and it would come out the end—and we would make it into shapes like Rice Krispies®. Where rice crisp goes, it’s a little cheaper to make than Rice Krispies. What you can do is go into granola bars and things like that—and cereals.
Bob: Okay, so you buy an extruder; and you’re making rice crisps and selling them where?
Gary: We’re selling them to Quaker®, to M&M Mars®, and to—
Dave: Ooh, right now, you just interested; didn’t you, Bob? [Laughter]
Ann: I did.
Bob: If it’s in candy, I’m in. Yes; alright.
Gary: What we first did—when I’m thinking, for sure, we can’t miss—so we’re trying to figure out a way to use this.
Gary: About that time, the oat bran craze—I call—hit.
Gary: Do you remember when oat bran—
Bob: —was everything.
Gary: —yes, heals everything. I thought, “We have to get into making that.” I started getting equipment to take oats and get them into what’s called oat groats so people could make oat bran from it. I found a broker that sold a semi-load of oat groats that we made to the east coast. Then I get the call, “I’m sorry, Gary, our customer rejected your load.”
Bob: All of this was happening after you had taken the business and said, “This belongs to the Lord.”
Gary: That’s right; that’s right.
Bob: So you’re operating this entrepreneurially, but with the idea that this is God’s business.
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: So, when you got a call that a load of God’s oat groats has been rejected, what did you do with that news?
Gary: We went on a vacation that was planned. [Laughter]
Marla: Why not?
Dave: I bet that was fun!
Gary: We walked the beaches and wondered, “What is going to happen?”
Basically, about that time, Dad and Steve Baner, our CFO, and I got together then shortly after I got back. We said, “Okay, Ringger Feeds is doing good, but we’re starting to lose enough in Ringger Foods that we can’t do this.” We prayerfully said, “How long are we going to keep this going?”
I believe that the contract—when you make a commitment to God, you still have to do right things in business—but I think He provides extra mercy. What happened, during that time, one of the guys I worked with, Greg Umland, had put a little ad at the back of a food magazine that said who we were and that we had an extruder—a Wenger extruder. Quaker called us, saying they have a plant in Danville, Illinois, which is just an hour-and-a-half/two hours from us—not very far; we are in the perfect position—and they are needing somebody to produce rice crisp. That was, probably, maybe three to four months before we were going to shut it down—that was in that period of time—it was God’s grace.
Dave: So the call comes through, and the extruder is a wise decision now; right?
Gary: It was, by the grace of God/by His mercy.
Dave: That ends up being a profitable business for you?
Gary: That ends up being a profitable business and, really, a blessing that we knew where it came from.
Ann: It’s remarkable that they called you.
Gary: Yes, I know!
Ann: You had an ad; but still, it was almost like God brought it to you.
Gary: At one point, my son-in-law, who worked with me—we had built a new plant, and we were standing outside it—and he said, “Does this ever make you proud?” I said [Emotion in voice], “No,” because it was so obvious.
Bob: Just telling that story gets you emotional; doesn’t it?
Gary: [Emotion in voice] Yes, it was just the grace of God.
Bob: At what point does God start to birth in you a concern for or an interest in the needs of orphans around the world?—Marla?
Marla: Well, we didn’t know it at the time, that this would be something that we would be doing; but I remember talking to a young lady in church who—she and her husband were adopting a little boy from Korea—she had had cancer before they were married and wasn’t able to have children biologically. She was just telling me about it; we were just chatting, and she told me they were going to have to take out a loan to bring this little boy home.
I just went home that day and I told Gary, “No young couple should have to go into debt to have a child or adopt a child.” We committed to helping them bring that little boy home. The neat thing about it is that we had a vested interest in that child.
Marla: So we see him in church, and it was a little bit of a special connection. It was just a seed planted, I believe by God, because we had no idea that we would be involved in orphan ministry.
Bob: That seed that got planted just stayed in the ground, really, until the point that you, Gary, said, “It’s time to sell the business.” How did you know it was time to sell the business?
Gary: There are kind of two stories on that, if I can. The first story was I didn’t know what we wanted to get into in ministry, but I was feeling the tug to get out of business and into ministry. At one point, a company came to us and made an offer for our company. I was getting kind of excited about it and wanting to move, but Marla was—
Dave: I see a tendency there, Gary. [Laughter] Getting excited and wanting to move; okay!
Gary: —and for some reason, Marla wasn’t catching the vision. [Laughter]
Dave: I see something there, too! [Laughter]
Gary: We were on the way to church one night, and we drove by Ringger Foods. I turned to Marla and I said, “I’m mad at you.” She said: “What? Why are you mad at me?” I said, “Because I want to sell the business, but you’re not giving me that freedom,”—not that she was saying, “No,” —but she just didn’t feel right about it.
Ann: What were you feeling, Marla?
Marla: I don’t know. It wasn’t something I had prayed about; I just knew in my heart this just didn’t feel right, so I believe that was from God.
Ann: It just wasn’t time to sell yet.
Marla: It just wasn’t time, right.
Gary: Yes, so—
Dave: Wait, wait! Go back to that, “I’m mad at you!” How did that go?
Gary: I said: “You don’t get it, Marla; because we have three great customers, but if we lose one of them, we’re in trouble,” and “We have borrowed money.”
She said, “Well, you’ll figure it out, Gary.” I said: “Yes, that’s easy for you to say. [Laughter] You’re not the one up in the middle of the night.”
Bob: I have to stop you, because I would confess to you a tendency that—if my wife said, “I just don’t know, but I don’t feel comfortable with this,”—there would be this tape in the back of my head that would be like: “I understand the business. I know what’s going on. So you have some queasy feeling in your stomach…” I would have a tendency to tune that out and go, “I know better than you do.”
Was there any part of you, going: “Why am I even listening to her? She doesn’t know the business; she’s taking care of the kids at home”?
Gary: I probably would have, maybe, moved on to act on that; but God was, again, very merciful to us; because literally within a week—I would say I don’t know the exact time—I was on a plane to go to visit one of the customers/one of their plants down in Texas. I was still considering it; I hadn’t totally said, “Okay, Marla; we’re done.”
I was reading a book by Chuck Swindoll, and it was called The Mystery of God’s Will. I was reading that because I’m trying to search it out.
Dave: Yes, right.
Gary: I read this one part, and he’s talking about fear. The Scripture came to my mind of Timothy, where he said God is not the spirit of fear, but He’s of power and of love and of a sound mind. I knew that I was—I mean, the Spirit just spoke to me clearly that that’s what I was doing—I was just at peace [Emotion in voice]: “Marla’s right.”
Bob: Wow; so you were feeling fearful; you recognized it at that point and you said, “I can release this.”
Then it turned out—you had a conversation with Marla; and God had been confirming that same thing with you, Marla?
Marla: Yes, he called me that night from the hotel. As soon as he said, “Hello,” he said, “I have something to tell you.”
I said, “Wait, dear, I have something to tell you”; because we had just had that conversation this past week. I said, “I was listening to Focus on the Family® this morning, and he was interviewing Chuck Swindoll. Chuck Swindoll was talking about this book, and he was talking about knowing God’s will. He even mentioned about not doing things out of fear, and not letting fear decide what you do.” I said, “So Gary, I don’t want you to be mad at me;—[Laughter]
Gary: —kind of real cute like.
Marla: —“but if you really believe we’re supposed to sell the business, that’s one thing; but I don’t want you to do it out of fear.”
Gary: That was just a wonderful confirmation, and I’ve never looked back. And there’s a “rest of the story.”
Bob: The rest of the story is?
Gary: That company that made that offer to us gave a relatively small amount of money, and then I was stay-on; and after a period of time, I would get a payout. It was a five-year payout; and within a couple years, they went broke.
Within two to three years after that was when God just opened the doors, and this other company came. We wouldn’t be sitting here, because I don’t think Lifesong would have ever happened; the dollars wouldn’t have been significant enough.
Bob: You sold two to three years later for—
Gary: I sold it two to three years later for roughly six or seven times more than what we would have gotten at that point.
Bob: You talked about Lifesong. That was what really came out of—once the business was sold, you’d had a nudge that maybe you should be doing something in ministry. You didn’t know what that meant.
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: How did you figure out what was next?
Gary: Well, I have had some great mentors in life. One was a gentleman by the name of Clayt Irmiger [spelling uncertain]. I said to Clayt—who had been part of my journey when I was struggling before, and I would go to him—I said, “Clayt, what do we do with this money?”
He said two things—he said: “Be focused and involved; and whatever you do, don’t just write checks—number one.” “Number two, dream big; and then if it happens bigger, you’ll know it was God and not you.”
So Marla and I—just the prayer life became this daily question, “What do You want us to focus on?”
Bob: Marla, how did the answer on that come to you guys?
Marla: Well, we kind of thought back to that adoption story, how we helped that little child come home from Korea. We decided to help fund adoptions for adoptive families. I remember talking with another friend of ours, who was starting an orphan ministry also; and adoption just seemed to be the right direction at that time.
Bob: You didn’t have any background or experience in starting a non-profit or starting an orphan ministry. Where do you go with a dream like that?
Dave: That’s not going to stop Gary! [Laughter] I just know he’s going—
Ann: That’s not going to stop God in Gary’s life and Marla’s.
Dave: Yes, there you go.
Bob: Where do you find the extractor for that?—is what I’m wondering. [Laughter]
Dave: He’s going to figure it out; so yes, how did you figure it out?
Gary: One thing that—I think this was before this—but through the journey and searching out God’s will, there was a book by Blackaby. You may remember Experiencing God.
Gary: The key thing I took from that was: “If you want to experience God, don’t try to recreate the wheel. See where God is moving, and join the movement.” We had the history of us helping Darren and Marie, so that was a part; talking to the friend that she mentioned; and just the Word—we could just see this was God’s way, so we started on that path.
We really didn’t know what we were doing, but I had had a relationship with National Christian Foundation. They were really helpful in kind of guiding me.
Bob: You found out about the Christian Alliance for Orphans—which FamilyLife® was part of helping give birth to—and wound up coming to some of those events. Was this at the very beginning of your involvement with Lifesong?
Gary: That was at the very beginning, and that was even before Lifesong; that was when it was a family foundation. The original vision: that we would have a family foundation. We took part of the money and put it into our family foundation. We put part of the money—because I am the business guy—into a new business that was to feed the foundation. That was our original vision.
That led, in time—based on the work we were doing with that to—a lady asked us to take over another ministry, which led then to Lifesong.
Bob: Tell our listeners what Lifesong is.
Marla: It’s a lot of things right now, but it started out helping people to adopt by supplying matching grants and interest-free loans. People would apply; and I got the privilege, actually, of reading many of these stories of adoptive families, who were needing funding to help bring their children home; so that’s how it started.
We eventually got involved with an orphanage in Ukraine and, then, a school in Zambia. I mean, I feel like we never really went searching for new places to get involved; and I feel like God just brought them to us one way or the other.
Gary: This lady asked us to take over this ministry. At that point, we knew it was bigger than us; it was this Ukraine ministry. Frankly, I’m a business guy; I know, if we do this, we’re going to have to ask for money.
Gary: I’m really struggling with that. I tell people: “I’m many times broken, but twice significantly broken. The first time was the failing business; the second time was when we were supposed to take over this Ukraine ministry, and I didn’t want to do it.”
I remember specifically coming to work one day and struggling with that, and Rich Mullins—remember Rich?—was singing, “Hold me, Jesus, I’m shaking like a leaf.” I was feeling like I was shaking like a leaf; and I was feeling like I was in repentance, and that God was saying: “You have pride in your little family foundation. This is not about your family, this is about My family; and you need to let go and give it to Me.”
Bob: Today, if listeners want to find out more about Lifesong, and about what you’re doing, we have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com where they can go and learn about this. Are you still providing matching funds?
Bob: If folks are saying, “This is something we are interested in finding out more about,” they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link for Lifesong and find out how—see if they qualify; and what they would need to do to get the no-interest loans or to get the matching-gift money.
You guys look back on all of this and go, “This is a long way from making pig food—
Gary: That’s right!
Bob: —“to where you are today”; but what a journey God’s had for you!
Gary: Yes, it’s been great. I tell people: “It’s so much more than the American dream.”
Ann: That’s what I was going to ask, Gary. Here you wanted to be a millionaire by the time you were 40 so you could retire. God took you on a little different path. Would you consider yourself a millionaire, in many respects, in terms of what God’s done in your heart?
Gary: Yes, it’s been so much more. I mean, I would have been bored, I think. First, when I was starting, I was burned out on business, frankly; but now at 65—and what I see—we’re involved in 13 countries with schools, and we have kids coming out. We have a four-part pledge for these kids; we call it “Orphan care and adoption.”
So adoption—if you have Christian families, these four things happen naturally—but in an orphan care situation, our pledge that we work towards is: one, that we take care of their physical needs; two, that we give them an education; three, we disciple them in Christ; and the fourth pledge is that we care for them just like our own kids as they age out and help them land well.
In Zambia, as an example, we have 30 kids a year coming out; and within a few years, 80 kids a year coming out each year into a 70 percent unemployed country: “How do we do that?” Now, I’m getting more involved with the Lifesong network: “How do we create businesses that can help those kids become leaders?” I’m loving business for what it can do but in a way that is strictly for God and the kids.
Dave: I don’t know where I’ve heard this quote—Bob, you may know—but: “When God blesses you, He rarely has you in mind.”
Dave: You ever heard that quote? It’s almost like—the blessings of God; and so often, we think it’s for us; and then, when we step back and get His perspective, it’s like, “Maybe He wants to use that blessing through us.”
I sit here—and both Ann and I experience this—we are the missionaries that other people have donated to our ministry. FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry; so there are tens of thousands of people, even listening right now, that give.
I don’t know if you, on that side, ever know what it feels like to be on this side; because you are the ones who made a contract with God, and God blesses, and you just obey and you give. We’re the ones—I can remember lying in bed at night, as a young dad, thinking: “How am I going to make the mortgage payment? The donations aren’t coming in,” and God shows up through people, like you, who are obedient to God. We get to experience the blessing of God on this side.
I just want to say, “Thank you.” And to the thousands that donate to FamilyLife: “Thank you. I don’t know if you’ll ever understand—because you’ve been on the side, where God blessed you—we’re on the side, where we have to sort of ask—and sometimes, feel embarrassed to have to ask—but you know, we’re doing what God wants us to do as well.
God has blessed you, and then you use that blessing. The adventure of eternal impact that you’re a part of—thank you!
Gary: Thank you for saying that. We, from this end—yes, we had our family foundation; but we had this little dream, and we wanted our kids involved. Once we opened it up to Lifesong, then we started experiencing what you were experiencing—people giving to Lifesong. We feel the responsibility of that, but it’s just opened our eyes to how big the church is; and it’s been a great journey.
Bob: I have to wonder how many people are listening today, and God’s tapping them on the shoulder, and saying: “You need to write a contract. You need to start thinking differently about your business, about your family, about what you’re doing.” Maybe you need to get a copy of Gary’s book and read through it/pray through it together. Get a hot tub, and—[Laughter]—because that’s key to your prayer life!
Gary: It is! It is!
Bob: I just have to believe that—because I know how this works. I’ll run into listeners all the time; and they’ll say: “That program, where you had that guy on, talking about that contract he wrote, God used that in my life and our business. Our family is different as a result.” So thanks for being here and sharing your story. Thanks for writing the book.
Marla: You’re welcome.
Gary: Yes, thank you.
Bob: Nice to have you guys here.
The book we’re talking about is Gary Ringger’s book, Radical Business: From Ownership to Stewardship. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the title of the book: Radical Business: From Ownership to Stewardship. Order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
For most of us this week, our focus is on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as we prepare for our celebration of the resurrection this week. Here, at FamilyLife, that’s our focus 365 days a year. Our mission to effectively develop godly marriages and families is anchored in the truth of the gospel. That’s how marriages and families are transformed—by believing the gospel.
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If you are a regular listener to FamilyLife Today, and you’ve never donated, join us today. Be a part of what God is doing through this ministry. Help us provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families all around the world. You can donate easily online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to donate: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about the early church: about marriages and families in the early church and how those first Christians changed the world. Jerry Sittser’s going to join us for that discussion. I hope you can be here with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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