Church-Affiliated Garage Helps Those Who Can't Afford Repairs

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Crying isn’t the norm at most service centers when you go to pick up your newly repaired car, unless you’re in shock at the final cost. (Do you have to take out a second mortgage?)

One local garage begs to differ, however.

“Joyful tears are a pretty common thing around here,” said Craig Agapie, manager of Love Auto Repair, a garage ministry near downtown Fort Wayne and owned by Love Church.

“We get the most satisfaction in seeing the stress melt away from people when they know they’re in good hands (pre-repair), or when we surprise them by fixing so many things for so little money. They are then able to get back to work and still make that month’s rent payment."

His business is a ministry, said Agapie, of the church-attached building that opened in 2010.

“We exist for three reasons: to humbly serve the poor who can’t afford car repair anywhere reputable; to save fellow Christians money on a necessity so they can choose where to reinvest their savings into the kingdom – some choose to help us help others by donating it back to us. We’re a 501c3 – and coming online this year is our main mission: to train automotive-minded foster kids who are aging out of the system into the next generation of technicians. This is almost solely dependent on securing a full-time trainer for the at-risk foster kids. We currently only have two mechanics – technicians Paul Miller and Randy Drummond – but hope to add a third soon.

“We strive for excellence in all we do, but cars rust away ... people are eternal. Our ministry is about much more than fixing cars.”

The discount ministry began in 2010 when the powers-that-be at Love Church conferred to see what the most urgent needs were for the lower-income people and to provide jobs for mechanics and apprentices.

“Love Auto Repair is fulfilling the dream my dad, Rev. Phil Mortensen, founder of Love Church, had years ago for a vehicle repair shop that would provide excellent service and job training skills to empower those wanting to better themselves,” said Michael Mortensen. “Craig and his team have done an excellent job in building this ministry with a successful sustainable business model.”

Agapie has been manager of the garage for 15 months now, coming off eight years as a cargo pilot for Fort Wayne International Airport, where he flew small twin engine and turboprop airplanes.

“While employed at the airport I was doing car ministry on friends’ cars in my own garage, which expanded into including cars of coworkers and people from church,” said Agapie, a graduate of Indiana State University with a dual major in Professional Aviation Flight Technology and Aerospace Administration. “It was great to be able to hugely bless them and further hone my skills.

“My flying job was fun but not eternally meaningful. I was just there to make someone else money (the people I was flying for). Toward the end of my aviation career, I went to a men’s retreat through my church, Fellowship Missionary. I had been expecting to be laid off from my flying job for months because the company was rapidly shrinking but I felt that God was saying to me, ‘Stay in Fort Wayne; don’t pursue a flying job elsewhere.’ God gave me the faith and patience to obey. While at the retreat my friend Josh Kellenberger and I talked about the future and how I’d like to use my skills to help people personally and practically.

“A few months later, Love Church was looking for someone to run Love Auto Repair and Josh’s dad was the chairperson of the search committee. Josh suggested that I would be a perfect candidate. No one knew I was laid off on Tuesday, but Love Church called on Wednesday. Had the days been reversed, I probably would have said no – why leave a ‘glorious,’ much better-paying job with benefits for a start-up nonprofit auto ministry with no equipment, no supplies and a four-year history of being propped up by the church? Didn’t sound wise in our eyes, but God brought me through my life up to that point, building the skill and character needed to make it a blessing to both me and the community.

“Through the community’s generous involvement, Love Auto Repair is now financially helping Love Church continue its mission of inner city, holistic life ministry. We couldn’t be more thankful.”

Agapie, who with his wife Rachel has four children, said grateful customers often flood the garage with doughnuts, cash donations, thank-you cards, drawings from kids and adults both, and pizza, and that, “we’re very blessed by these gestures.” He appreciates both cash and checks to help keep the cost down but, “we do accept credit cards without any fuss.”

The words “Our goal is for Jesus to be honored through our service, value, and business practices” are prominent on Agapie’s business card along with a coupon offering a free oil change after four full-service oil changes have been checked off on the card.

According to Fort Wayne customer Annie Holladay, the service is “wonderful, and the team is quick to repair with very manageable low rates.”

Some of the services LAR offers include tune-ups, brakes, tires, alignments, suspension, steering, engine repair/replacement, air conditioning services, batteries and electrical. Everything but transmission rebuild, most exhaust work and body work, said Agapie. Their website, www.loveautorepairfw.com, references this list, and also provides coupons for even more discounts.

For work LAR doesn’t do (internal transmission work, exhaust repair, and most body work) they have a list of reputable garages to which they refer their customers. LAR does have a very advanced shop with some dealer-level scan tool capability, state-of-the art alignment and wheel-balancing equipment and an air-conditioning machine. Agapie also subscribes to a service that provides factory service manuals for all vehicles up through the current year.

“We have been blessed with some explosive growth,” said Agapie. “This year we did three times as many cars as the average number from both 2013 and 2014. This has come through some much-needed shop updating – more lifts, more equipment and more training. We invest in the long-term so that we can invest in the eternal term. What I mean by that is we were so bottlenecked by lack of tools, equipment, and lifts that we couldn’t grow. We need to grow so that we can support our aging-out foster kids’ training/mentoring program. Our next challenge is that we need to hire a couple more technicians to service the growing customer base and provide the revenue to fund the training department. It should be an exciting year.”

Has LAR ever been burned by a customer who did not pay after his/her car was repaired?

“Most definitely,” said Agapie. “We’re a Christian organization and we do a lot of benevolence work anyway, but it’s nice to know upfront whether it is going to be benevolence, you know? But we trust that God knows the customer’s story and we keep working without complaining because He’s in control and will always provide if we’re faithful to serve and represent Him.”

This article originally appeared on the News-Sentinel

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