A Heartful Harvest: 30 Years of Gathering Love!

Enjoy Executive Director Gary Garland’s keynote address from this year’s dinner & auction!

Our theme, “A Heartful Harvest”, drawn from Jesus’ promise in the parable of the sower:

“Blessed are those who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” Luke 8:15

From the earliest days of Love INC, Christ has certainly blessed this ministry. We trust this blessing is the result of His people & His Church in Lake County hearing His word, keeping His work, and persevering!

In 1994, our affiliate filed for formal incorporation. In our founding Articles of Incorporation, we shared our purpose with the Illinois Secretary of State and that purpose reads: “Members of churches in Lake County Illinois are inventoried for time and talents they are willing to share with those in need.”

A little dry, right? I think that’s what it sounds like when you try to share the God-breathed mission of Love INC with government bureaucrats. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible tells us that we must pray for our governmental leaders and God appoints them – and removes them. None other than Jesus himself told us that governmental leaders have an important role to play in a just society and that we should: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

But, I suspect if those who launched this affiliate 30 years ago could have written their Articles of Incorporation in a way that better reflected how their souls were panting, it might have read differently. I think that they would have said something like:

  • We are the church & our brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting. Our servant Savior commands us to do just as He has done! or,
  • We are on fire! King Jesus found me – and loved me – while I was still a sinner. There are people out there who still don’t know Jesus, so we must tell them about him! or,
  • We are in danger of becoming a lukewarm church, comfortable staying within our church walls. It’s time to get out of our comfort zone and show the other beggars where we got the bread!

But if that was how they filled out their articles of incorporation – we might not be celebrating 30 years tonight! We must remind ourselves today what our friends who started Love INC of Lake County knew 30 years ago – that our mission falls squarely under “the things that are God’s!”: To mobilize the local Church to transform lives and communities, In the Name of Christ.

Sowing the Seeds

Recently, I talked with several past Love INC staff & volunteer leaders. My goal was to better understand how they had kept the word and, through perseverance, yielded a harvest – a harvest which we still benefit from today!

Linda Tubaugh joined Love INC in 1996, just a couple years after we launched. There were only 12 partner churches when she started, but God had brought dozens more in the 8 years she was here. During her time, several local church ministries that remain today first took root including auto repair, budget classes & furniture ministry. Seeds planted long ago, from which we still see a harvest today.

A co-worker of Linda’s said “Linda had so many ideas, but we were always telling her she was crazy. ‘You’re going to get people to donate furniture and then churches will deliver it with trucks?!’ Linda said, ‘Yes, that is what God wants!’” 30 years later, it seems like she was right.

Linda shared this with me, “My personal vision was always getting the ‘people out of the pew’ and into the community – seeing the love, service, and sacrifice of Jesus seep into real lives. To see the church unite over serving people in need. I loved seeing denominational barriers broken.” Seeds planted long ago, from which we still see a harvest today.

Kay Barry served between 2000-2005, with both Linda and then with Executive Director Carl ‘Spark’ Ball. Kay shared how on the morning of September 11, 2001 she went into Love INC’s offices and heard the news of the attacks on America. She wept about that day, and the reminder of our world’s brokenness. But within days she saw an awakening of the local church and a renewed commitment to partnering in Love INC’s mission. With this local church awakening, she says she saw the “gates of heaven open”. We serve a God who bestows on us a crown of beauty instead of ashes.

Maybe my favorite story Kay shared was regarding working with Spark – our long time E.D. and current volunteer. She said that prayer teams would regularly gather in the office when there was a specific great need to be prayed about. They might pray for a car for a neighbor who needed one to get to work or for God to bring more volunteers to deliver furniture. She was honest enough to share that – even after giving it up in prayer – it was obvious to Spark that many members of the prayer team weren’t so sure God was ready to answer their prayers so clearly.

So then Spark would go throughout the office, singing:

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me

And Kay said, “then miracles happened!” Scripture tells us: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.” Our God loves bringing us joy!

During Spark’s 14 years here & up until today many harvests have come about as a result of God’s people & God’s church keeping the word and persevering. Let me share just a few of those recent harvests which God has allowed us to see:

  • 2006 – We own a truck for the first time, as a result of a Rotary Club gift
  • 2010 – We are down to our last dollar – but God uses it to renew the local Church’s commitment to Love INC – generating a large influx of both financial & human resources
  • 2016 – Another crazy idea – we open our Loved Twice thrift store
  • 2019 – A generous donor buys our Waukegan warehouse for us
  • 2020 – COVID can’t stop God’s mission here as the Love INC team pivots and holds transformational ministry classes
  • 2021 – Barb Poynter – who graduated from our Transformational Ministry program becomes our first Transformational Ministry Coordinator

Seeds planted long ago, from which we still see a harvest today. 30 years of beautiful blessings. 30 years of beautiful harvests.

So where do we go from here?

We take our marching orders from John 13:15 where our Savior becomes the servant, washing the disciples’ feet before he heads to the cross. He tells them “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

In the summer of 2022, Love INC embarked on what we called a ‘Season of Listening’. We asked 25 pastoral leaders, “What challenges do you see in your church and our community at large – and how might the church respond to it?” A very basic summary of these conversations was that these church leaders were most concerned about – but also most ready to respond to – disunity & hurting people, both in the church and outside.

God is calling us (the Capital “C” Church) to “GO” & love our neighbor. Love INC continues to partner with the Church to create helping opportunities that are practical, effective and transformational for everyone involved.

Meet Wayne

Our friend Wayne embodies the transformation that takes place when the Church serves together. Let’s walk through Love INC’s connection with Wayne:

  • In June 2017, Wayne is referred to us from Warren Township Senior Center
  • In Aug 2017, after weeks of trying to connect, Wayne has his required intake conversation with volunteer Dave. Through this, we learned that Wayne was released from a nursing home after a stroke. He needed a bed, furniture, pots & pans, linens – and a church!
  • Our intake volunteer Dave invited him to his church, Bethel Lutheran, and arranged rides.
  • Between November 2017 and October 2020, Wayne received the household items mentioned above through 9 visits by 6 different church teams! He also kept attending Bethel Lutheran.
  • In Spring 2020, he started taking New Hope Ministry life skills classes through Love INC. He set the goal of getting his driver’s license reinstated and achieved this goal in May 2021.
  • In Spring 2022, Wayne co-facilitates our Affirming Potential class, sharing his experience to give to others. It took 5 years of relationship building, but “Wayne the helped”, became “Wayne the helper”!

Last month, a memorial service took place at Bethel Lutheran Church, following Wayne’s quick passing after a stomach cancer diagnosis. About a year ago, Wayne shared these words with us at Love INC: “Through the friendships I’ve made at Love INC, the love of my children and granddaughter, and the blessings I’ve received from the Lord, I have so much to be thankful for. I am more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been, and it’s all by the grace of God”.

How different would Wayne’s story have been without those 6 churches making 9 visits to show him God’s love?! Only God knows the answer to that, but I can say with confidence I believe at this very moment Wayne is with the rest of the saints and His Savior! Wayne’s words lead us to believe that he was changed by seeing the churches share that love.

Wayne’s story is a story repeated for so many at Love INC, both for the “helpers” and the “helpees”. It is indeed a story where we are blessed and get to yield a harvest through perseverance. There are more “Wayne’s” out there – there’s Wayne’s in this room tonight. Some of them are 4 years old, some of them are 24 years old, some are 64 years old. And they all need to know what Wayne most needed to know – You were created by a God who knew you before you were born, a God who loves you!

What’s Next?

And work remains to be done. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • Nearly 200,000 people die annually in America from suicide, alcohol and drugs – aka Deaths of Despair.
  • 263 deaths last year in Lake County from homicide, suicide & overdoses
  • The exit rate from poverty after 1 year: 56%
  • The exit rate from poverty after 7 year: 13%
  • 36% of all Americans, including 61% of young adults, feel “serious loneliness”

I love this quote from British Missionary C.T. Studd:

“Some want to live within the sound of church bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”

If you want to know where Love INC is going, that’s not a bad quote to look to. Ultimately, our mission, and certainly the church’s mission, is a rescue one. And it is one – if we are to achieve it – that will call us to many uncomfortable places outside of our church walls. Even, or especially, to the gates of hell!

Our new video tells the story of God’s work, through His Church here at Love In the Name of Christ…