Connecting you to God’s work through Cru
A retired Air Force colonel commands GAiN’s distribution center.
Troughs lined several rooms, mildew spawned on the walls, and a lingering scent permeated the countryside scene. The exotic fish hatchery in the middle of Amish farm fields was, to say the least, unusual. Yet, this warehouse held potential. It cost almost a million dollars less than other commercial warehouses available in Mount Joy, Pa.—but also required more work.
Oh Lord, what have we gotten into now?, thought Phil Liller. He and two other staff members with Global Aid Network had been charged with turning the hatchery into a non-smelly, mold-free distribution center, adequate to store donated goods and host events for thousands of people.
“The first thing we did,” recalls Phil, “was realize there was no way we were going to get it together. So the three of us went out to the corner of the building, laid hands on it, and prayed, ‘God, help us.’”
GAiN is the relief and development arm of Campus Crusade for Christ. It receives and sends supplies to people in need and also hosts its own mission trips, gathering groups of volunteers to carry boxes of aid through winters in Russia or the mountains of Guatemala.
“We are here to feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” says Phil. “And we never talk about aid in isolation; these are opportunities for the gospel.”
Before they found the fish hatchery, GAiN had to refuse aid if it couldn’t make it to their borrowed warehouse in time. Phil saw God at work as donors paid for the warehouse in three months, and hundreds of volunteers, including retired plumbers and electricians, completed the remodeling. Now, thanks to both the extra space and Phil’s leadership, GAiN is able to ship 150 containers of supplies a year instead of its former 20.
He knows the importance of each item sent—each one is a catalyst. Crutches cleaned and repackaged are not just walking assistance, but steps toward a conversation about Christ. Heat-sealed bags of beans and rice feed not just hungry stomachs, but lead to feeding hungry souls.
Phil depends on God for all the details of these spiritual catalysts. “When you ask God about something bigger than you can accomplish, you don’t fret about it too much,” he says. “You know if it has to get done, God has to do it.”
Now his staff team has grown, and GAiN hosts two packing weeks a year at the center. Up to 6,000 volunteers come from across the United States to pack up aid each time.
During the most recent packing week, 764 people volunteered the first day, putting a strain on the leadership team to train everyone. “This is the lowest leadership year we’ve ever had for a packing event,” says GAiN staff member Joey Payne, referring to the leader-volunteers who help steer the process.
Attempting to fill in the gaps, Phil is everywhere on the first morning. Wearing a green polo shirt with the GAiN logo, he’s been up since 4:30 a.m. for a morning segment with a TV station. He thanks the reporter, makes the coffee (enough for the first volunteers), pushes paper into the printer as he walks by and attempts to fix the wireless connection.
For most of Phil’s life, he’s been a logistician—manning and scheduling tasks and sorting data. God helped him significantly during his 30 years in the Air Force, protecting and guiding him as he flew a C-141 cargo plane, airlifting critical food items, medical supplies and troops overseas. Phil retired as a colonel in 2003.
Those years also seasoned him to be a leader with good rational thinking and directing skills. Now 64, Phil is tall and reserved, and though his present civilian gear is usually a polo shirt and khakis, it’s easy to imagine him in uniform, standing at attention.
“At my last job in the Air Force, I had 1,100 people working for me. I stepped into the ministry business, and nobody’s working for me,” Phil says with a laugh.
“And he’s driving his own forklift,” adds his wife, Mary Jean.
In the middle of the packing week’s first day, Phil holds a quick pow-wow with several staff members. His low voice cuts under the loud noises of the cafeteria as he expresses his concerns and priorities. Volunteers need to slow down in some sections for quality control. Forklift drivers must have spotters. “Be hard about this, guys,” he emphasizes.
“There is some improvement every year,” says Bill Banfield, an 83-year-old volunteer standing by a pallet of just-packed donations. Once the last box is placed on top, the volunteer group will pray over the boxes. This happens throughout the day, as box after box is packed and pallets are loaded. Bill and his wife have been on 13 overseas trips with GAiN, and all the packing events for the last six years. “I’ve seen [Phil] a couple of times when things aren’t going right,” says Bill. “[He’s] not angry, but it bothers him. But he doesn’t say, ‘You can’t do it that way!’ He says, ‘Let’s fix this.’”
There are several times Phil could have been bogged down. It would be understandable to hear of certain failures: for a fish hatchery to not become a warehouse, or for volunteers to not understand how physical aid helps address spiritual questions.
Yet, Phil is always reminded of the need. People are literally starving, and every month GAiN’s communications team sends out a plea with hard facts: One child dies every 15 seconds because of dirty water, 12 million are starving in the Horn of Africa, another child is going to bed hungry. GAiN can help bring solutions, both physical and spiritual. It’s a significant pressure.
They’ve come a long way since the fish hatchery, but their dependence on God remains the same. “We have a more robust staff and more organized programs,” says Phil, “but we do cover the projects in prayer, and we go to God. I think that’s why He’s blessed the ministry. If He’s not leading, we’re in trouble.”
After 5 p.m. on the first day of the packing week, Phil is tired and hungry, yet he’s already thinking about the next situation. A donor has given thousands of bright pink tents to send to Africa. Someone has to collect, clean and ship them overseas.
As always, a logistician is needed.
You can contact the writer at email@example.com.
>Phil Liller has a special gift as a logistician and uses that well in his ministry. What about you? Ask a few friends where they see your gifting, and brainstorm ways you could use them well in aiding others in hearing the gospel.