A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Travis and Christie Lynch provide hope for young people who have nobody else

By Steve Flairty
Special to NKyTribune
 
Spouses Travis and Christie Lynch each grew up as an “only child” in their homes. Otherwise, the family backgrounds were significantly different. But after meeting in high school as 14-year-olds and with their eventual marriage, the two walk today in unison in an amazing endeavor.

For more than nine years, they’ve dedicated their lives to providing loving support to young people experiencing unstable lives, and they do it using their own home, near Berea, as the base of operations. They call their organization God Is Love MINistries, or as an acronym, “The GILMIN Group.”

Christie and her strong, church-going family lived in Harlan County until moving to Madison County where her father took a job working with her uncle. The location became one of deeper roots when her dad and uncle bought 150 acres together a few miles of U.S. Highway 25.

Travis saw his parents split up when he was three and his father died at age five, a time he called “chaotic.” He lived with his mother and was mentored lovingly by his great-grandfather, a tenant farmer, while living near Paris. After the split, Travis saw his great-grandfather much less. From Paris, Travis and his new step-father and mother moved to Lexington, and later to near Richmond. And though his life was much more bearable than when he was a small child, Travis carried the scars of not having a meaningful relationship with his biological father.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

Travis and Christie met at Madison Central High School and soon fell in love.

“I told Mom when I was 15 that I was going to marry Christie,” said Travis. But before that would happen, the powerfully built Travis parlayed his high school football success into also playing for three seasons at Murray State University in the late 1980s. Afterward, he came back to Richmond to finish his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at Eastern Kentucky University, while Christie received her bachelor’s in accounting, also at EKU.

They married in 1992, and he became a teacher and athletic coach at Madison Southern High School, in Berea; she worked in property management in Lexington and later as an accountant at Sherwin-Williams in Richmond. She worked in childcare after their children, Andrew and Grace, were born.

Being with kids every day, Travis saw many who had needs, mostly emotional, that were not being met adequately. Broken homes, anger issues, abuse, and other issues were quite common. It burdened his heart, likely because he felt a connection to his own challenges in childhood.

So after six years at the high school placement, Travis decided to transfer to the staff at the local Madison Day Treatment Center Alternative School, though he continued to coach sports in the school system. At his new school, he could concentrate on helping the most vulnerable of the vulnerable young people and have more time with each to develop relationships to effect real, positive change.

It wasn’t easy.

“My heart began to be burdened,” said Travis. “I look at the brokenness. They didn’t have one person they could trust. How thankful I am that I at least had Mom.” Ironically, a young man he coached left Travis nearly speechless one day when he asked Travis: “Coach, you believe about Jesus?”

Travis and Christie Lynch

Growing up and into the early years of his marriage, Travis didn’t consider himself devoutly religious. “Religion and faith were nowhere on my radar growing up,” he said. “I actually wanted nothing to do with it.” Christie, with her early faith background impetus, strongly practiced hers. In time, with subtle encouragement he received from people like the young boy he coached and his wife’s example, Travis began to read the Bible and started attending Sunday School with Christie. The teacher of the class inspired Travis, making a difference in his whole faith outlook.

It was evidence, said Travis, that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” As he grew deeper in his faith, a connection formed in his mind between the needy students he taught and what his new-found faith in God required of him. It nudged Travis along.

“Travis started bringing home kids,” said Christie.

Those kids received good, home-cooked meals around the Lynch family kitchen table. They received “listening ears” and were affirmed; they received badly needed structure and educational tutoring. “They’d never had that kind of love before,” said Travis. “(And) if a kid knows that you love them, they’ll listen to you.”

By 2008, Travis and Christie concluded that God wanted them to go full-time in support of The GILMIN GROUP they established. Their organization would serve as “a family-oriented home that serves young men ages 12 and up as well as individuals and families who need help.” It would require an amazing amount of faith on their part because they believed they were instructed by God to give up employment outside the home. The loss of Travis’s teaching position, besides the income, also meant the loss of a good retirement plan and affordable healthcare.

According to the couple, they were simply following instructions from God. Being obedient caused them some consternation at first, however. “It didn’t make sense,” said Travis. “My wife didn’t work. We didn’t have any savings. Christie wasn’t happy about what God wanted us to do.”

Christie was torn emotionally. “I was angry at God,” she said. “In my human mind, I wondered how we were going to take care of our family, much less anyone else. To me, God could come up with a better plan. This was not going to work. I prayed to please let us do something else.”

The couple believed they received final word on the issue — to go ahead and write a letter of resignation regarding Travis’s job — through words written by noted religious writer Oswald Chambers in his iconic daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.

After making the break from regular employment, the two cashed in a relatively small retirement cash balance to refinish their basement in order to have more room for those young people staying in their home.

And young people, and sometimes older members of their families, have come to stay at this sanctuary of tough love, located on the acreage Christie’s father and uncle bought years ago. All told, there has been over 150 “stays” at GILMIN, according to Travis, with some individuals being there more than once. Many first knew Travis in the Day Treatment Center. Many have been referred by the Kentucky State Juvenile Justice department. Sometimes there are single parents who bring their children for a temporary home.

Besides being involved in Bible studies and academic-related activities, residents are expected by the couple to be involved in work activities, either at GILMIN or in employment outside the home. Being defined as a school, opportunities to learn skills consist of auto mechanics, construction, landscaping, and agriculture.

One older adult who stays at GILMIN is a “car mechanic genius,” according to Travis and has been quite helpful in teaching and keeping the Lynch vehicles in good repair. There is a building next to the main house that it is hoped will soon be used to change and balance tires and is already used for woodworking projects. And, said Travis, “We’re going to build houses for people one day.”

The couple advocates, counsels, prays for and with, establishes boundaries, teaches, listens, feeds, helps get medical care and gives shelter to those who come to the home. There are successful stories — and some not so successful. That’s where their seemingly endless faith is demonstrated.

One resident has progressed to be a high-achieving student at the local college, EKU, and many have seen improvement in their lives regarding substance abuse. Some have left the security of being at the GILMIN Group because it required more positive effort that they wanted to give.
But whether “successful” or not, the Lynches see faithful obedience as the key, leaving the results to their God.

Travis said it this way: “God’s desire is that all people will know him and if he asks you to do something, he will move heaven and earth for a person to hear the gospel see lived out.”

Judging by the couple’s obvious dedication, they are true believers of that statement, and those around them are being blessed.

………………

I asked Travis about funding for the ministry, and he answered this way: “I am totally fine with sharing what God has done and continues to do. If God moves in someone’s heart, we have just tried to give them options of how they would like to give. But to clarify, we have not asked for money. Our work has been done through the working of His Spirit in people and we live by faith in how He provides.”

If you are interested in donating to the Lynch outreach ministry, make checks to “GILMIN Group” and send to 597 Pine Woods Road, Berea, KY 40403 or call 859-985-9164 or visit gilmingroup.org for more information.

steve-flairty

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)             
 

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