Brisk ocean air wafted over the
deck of the ship Faithful on a Saturday in southern California. Don
and Sondra Tipton, founders of the Friend Ships ministry, stood on
the deck of their seagoing vessel and shared how God led them to launch
this ministry to the worlds poor.
Until 1985, the Tiptons were living the American dream limousines,
polo clubs, gourmet meals and rubbing shoulders with the
rich and famous. They owned an exclusive equestrian club in California
and were advisers to the Gaming Alliance of Nevada. But somehow
they knew there was more to life than business deals, opulence and
When they committed their lives to Christ, they began to view the
world differently. It troubled them to watch peers crack open expensive
bottles of champagne. It was disturbing to see friends pay $50,000
for a horse just so their children could hang a ribbon on the wall.
And they became convicted with their own lavish ways.
"When Jesus came into our lives," Don says, "we
began to see the contrast between the needs of the rich and the
needs of the poor. A stirring began to grow in our hearts to start
a new life in full-time service to the Lord."
They started reading the Bible and couldnt escape the principle
that Christs followers were commanded to help the poor. "Before
I became a Christian I had shown little concern for the homeless
man on the street," he says. "I felt I had made my own
destiny, and it was up to him to make his own way." But now
he and Sondra couldnt shake the reality that thousands were
dying every day because of starvation and disease. God seemed to
infuse them with newfound compassion.
As they prayed for new direction for their lives, God gave them
a vision to fill a cargo ship with food, clothing and medicine that
could be delivered to needy people around the world. Don and Sondra
owned a 40-foot yacht, but they knew nothing about going to sea
in a large ocean liner. "Lord," Don and Sondra prayed,
"we are the least qualified to do this work. You will have
to provide and show us the way, but we are willing to give up everything
to follow this vision if this is what You have called us to. We
want to be a part of Your navy."
They flew to Tacoma, Wash., in September 1985 to inspect a ship
that was on the market. The ship could carry 5,000 tons of cargo
and her hold was refrigerated. She needed a lot of refurbishing,
but nothing could have diminished her beauty to Don and Sondra.
They felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak with the owner about
donating the ship. The owner paused, then said, "Meet me at
my lawyers office tomorrow. Ill give you the ship free
That first ship, named Spirit, was the beginning of many miracles
for the ministry. Today they have seven ships and warehouses filled
with food and other supplies to help the poor. "We pay for
very little," Sondra says. "God moves on peoples
hearts to give free trucking, fuel and much more." Mission
America Placement Service volunteers, for example, have donated
their time to work on Friend Ships projects.
Friend Ships has given away $120 million in commodities around
the world. They have taken voyages around the world, offering help
to hundreds of thousands of desperate people. The ministry is also
active in the United States. About $40 million in goods have been
given away domestically to churches and other organizations.
The Tiptons call the Dream Center, co-pastored by Tommy and Matthew
Barnett, their church home. "The Tiptons are without a doubt
two of the most amazing people I have ever met," Tommy says.
"Their grasp of the awesomeness of God is unbelievable."
"We are so grateful for what God has done for us," Don
says. "We didnt walk away from anything. We accepted
a promotion that God was offering us. We live in our warehouse.
We sleep in our offices. Its very different from when we lived
in Beverly Hills, but its a far better life."