Christ's Faithful Witness Get's A Lifeboat Thrown!

Pro-Life Coffee: A Lifeboat Tendered to Those Drowning in the Great Sea of the Culture of Death

by Susan Fox

It’s come down to this.

What kind of coffee you drink may mean the difference between life and death.

Many pro-life and pro-marriage individuals thoughtlessly walk into Starbucks. But a portion of every cup of coffee you buy at Starbucks goes to fund a corporate assault on marriage and its fruit – human life.

I faced this reality in 2012. Though I loved their coffee, I stopped drinking it. I wrote them a letter: Dear Starbucks, My gold level card became a green level card, you say? (That means I hadn’t been using my rechargeable Starbucks card that earns rewards.)  While I was once a happy customer of Starbucks, I am no longer.

I will not stop in any of your stores for a Frappuccino. I will no longer buy your Via Ready Brew at Wal-Mart for my son in college. Anything manufactured by you -- I will not touch. I will not pay for it and I will not consume it in another's home. I have found out that you have legally challenged the Defense of Marriage Act. You have committed economic suicide. Where do you think your future customers are coming from???

At the time I was ignorant of the fact that Starbucks was also a major donor to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. Not only were they bent on destroying Marriage, the cradle of human civilization, but also the baby in the cradle – human life itself. Ug, that coffee doesn’t taste so good anymore.

But once you throw that deadly coffee out the window, where do you get your daily fix?  I wandered aimlessly through malls, sighed in frustration at coffee kiosks, stared glumly at the options at Wal-Mart. I tried alternatives at Catholic bookstores, but the beans were frankly old. I never found a good source of delicious fresh whole beans. We went for three years with no fragrant coffee in the house! A kindly priest came to visit, asked for coffee, and he got tea! It was Lent 365 days of the year.

Then a wonderful pro-life family man offered me a lifeboat!

His name was John Lillis. He and his family (wife, seven children and in-laws) started the Lifeboat Coffee Co. in 2013 out of his home in Omaha, Nebraska.  

Every one-pound bag of coffee purchased at Lifeboat goes to fund pro-life causes and parishes -- whichever one the customer wants! My pound of coffee from Lifeboat netted about $1.25 for Students for Life of America, and unbelievably you can get up to two pounds of reasonably-priced fresh coffee with shipping that costs only  $2.99. It arrives in three days. And it isreally good coffee.

This Lent, I am not fasting from coffee. But as always I am fasting from Starbucks.

So who is the man who started the nation’s first pro-life coffee company?

John Lillis is a survivor of the abortion holocaust that began in March 1967 in the state of California. John was born only five months after the abortion law was put into effect, and then he was abandoned in a hospital in San Francisco. Things started looking up then because pro-life Catholics George and Rita Lillis adopted John. 

Being pro-life was “kinda in my genes,” John said in an interview with me. Rita, John’s 81-year-old mother, worked as the director of the Respect Life Commission in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. She was a volunteer at Birthright International, a grassroots response to the insecurity faced by many unwed mothers.  “I can’t say (count) the number of women that came through our house that had a newborn or were about to have a child, so it was just imbued upon us that was the proper thing to do (support life).”

Then growing up in a Catholic family, there were Rosary prayer walks through San Francisco – “As a young kid that always left a permanent mark on my heart,” Lillis said.

While Lillis never abandoned his pro-life beliefs, he did take a detour out of Catholicism at the age of 16.  “I decided I no longer needed to participate in the faith even though I was a product of Catholic schools. We’re talking 1970s, early 80s –- we sang songs about Jesus and had poetry, colored pictures. I’m not sure what else I might have learned so I kinda quit for a while.”

Fascinating to both Lillis and I is the Cross that San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has embraced: he is trying to get Catholic School teachers to support the Church’s position that homosexual acts, masturbation and pornography are “gravely evil.”

Fully 80 percent of the faculty and staff at the four archdiocesan high schools have rejected his amended teacher’s handbook, and they have signed a petition to that effect. If Cordileone is successful in his reforms, life stories like those of John Lillis may become a thing of the past. People may actually receive a Catholic education at a Catholic school.

Ironically, it was the Rosary in the context of the staunchly Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville that brought John back to the Catholic Church in 1993 at the age of 26. After having worked for a while, John wanted to go back to college, but none in the San Francisco area would accept him.

His mother lured him into applying for Steubenville, and amazingly he was accepted. John went and took a peek at the campus before he accepted.  “I had not participated in the faith for some time – the only thing that crossed my mind was  ‘Wow look at all the beautiful Catholic women that are on this campus. It’s going to be a great place to go!’” As he learned later, grace works through nature.

So he packed up his truck and drove from San Francisco to Steubenville, Ohio. He planned to live in the dorm and immerse himself in campus life and prepare for a Master’s Degree in Counseling. But when he got there, there was no room in the dorm for an older student, so he was given a “$2 hotel” for three days, so he could look for an apartment.

A guy from New York named David shared the hotel with him, and of course, they shared their life stories. Out of the blue David asked John, “Do you want to pray a Rosary?”

Lillis responded, “Don’t you do that when somebody dies and you go to the wake?” “No,” David said, “You pray it all the time,” and then added, “What harm could it do?”

Put like that John Lillis, age 26, couldn’t say no, and David threw him “one of those powder blue plastic Rosaries that are so famous in Catholic homes.”

He got to the second decade of the Rosary. “It wasn’t quite a Pauline Christophany, but I was zapped by a moment of grace, and I realized everything I'd been doing on my own for the last 10 years was really displeasing to Our Blessed Lord,” John said. “And I started to cry like a little baby.”

“That was just a sign to this guy to say, ‘Okay now you need to go to confession.’”

So John tried, though he honestly believed alarms would go off when the priest heard his confession. He had to go back several times, as the lines were so long. Finally, he got in after waiting 90 minutes.

To his shock, there no longer was a nice little screen to hide behind. “The confessional opens and there’s the priest sitting right there,” John recalls.  “‘Hey, come in and sit right down!’  I was like, ‘Whoa!’  So after ten plus years away, I had this wonderful face-to-face confession with a priest who is now gone to the Lord. But all he said to me was, ‘Welcome home.’”

John found within himself a passion to learn “what the Church actually teaches (and) why she teaches what she teaches.” No more songs and coloring books. He wanted the real thing.

So began the life of a passionate pro-life Catholic who attends Mass almost daily. He became a Catholic radio journalist – not a counselor, and joined the Board of Directors for Nebraskans United for Life, the largest pro-life group in the state. He also became a paid lobbyist for the pro-life cause and helped shape several laws in the state of Nebraska.

“I worked on creating alliances between pro-life groups and being able to help find funding for pro-life groups,” Lillis said, adding, “I think the funding issue has always been a big battle.”

That’s when the idea for the Lifeboat Coffee Co. came into being.

“We are still in the start-up mode so we are not yet in the black, but it takes two to three years to get a start-up running efficiently,” Lillis said, adding that they hope to be making a profit by 2016.

Still with the intention to donate 10 percent of receipts less shipping to pro-life charities, Lifeboat Coffee is already fulfilling its mission – to provide funding to groups that will work to save lives. They donated approximately $3,000 to pro-life groups in their first year of operation, 2014. “We just need to increase traffic (sales),” Lillis said, and if they do that,  pro-life charities will benefit further.

Parishes or Right-to-Life groups can get in on the charity bonus by putting a passive link for Lifeboat Coffee on their web pages. Coffee purchased from that link will automatically earn the 10 percent reward for the charity that sponsored the link. 

Where did the name, Lifeboat Coffee, come from? It grew out of John's life experience. For nothing happens accidentally. God gifts everything providentially. Like St. Don Bosco, who shepherded sheep in his youth, and then became a priest who shepherded boys, Lillis was carefully prepared for his role in life: husband, father, pro-life radio journalist and the mission of selling the pro-life message in the great sea of the culture of death.  Growing up, he was a member of the Sea Scouts of America – part of the Boy Scouts, but on the water. Then he worked as an adult in the U.S. Coast Guard.

“One day when thinking about the name, I thought we want to help save lives, what about a life boat?” Lillis said, “It’s just that easy.”

Besides saving the lives of unborn people, he is also saving the souls of us, who must make a discerning choice about where to spend our dollars.

Almost every year, Lillis and his family attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. So he was there again this year, but the hotel he was staying in did not permit him to serve coffee to the pro-lifers staying there. So nobody could taste Lifeboat, although they got free coffee samples to take home.

“The point is everybody from the director of the March for Life to almost every pro-lifer that had a booth (drank) Starbucks Coffee,” Lillis said, “And I said to them, ‘Do you understand what you just did? You took two steps forward and one step backward.”

I feel great sympathy for the squirming pro-lifers who had to look the founder of Lifeboat Coffee in the face, while holding their Starbucks latte.  Their excuses were “there’s no other coffee.” And when he reminded them of McDonald’s, they said, “If you dig deep enough everybody is bad.”

“It was a disappointment,” Lillis said, adding, “You don't have to dig with Starbucks. They are just bad from the get-go.” 

But Lillis and those boycotting Starbucks for their pro-gay and pro-abortion stances are making a difference. Planned Parenthood – as recently as 2014 – proudly listed its major corporate donors on its web page, including Starbucks. But that link was removed sometime since last year, and now they only sport a partial list of corporate donors, and Starbucks isn’t on it. Apparently bowing to pro-life pressure, Starbucks decided to hide their involvement with the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood *

However, on the issue of same sex “marriage,” Starbucks has simply become more strident.  Starbucks was among the 379 companies who just  filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, pressing it to overturn a lower court ruling that upheld bans on same-sex marriage in four states.

“They (Starbucks) are technically our nemesis. I don’t really think about them per se. Obviously they are the 800-pound gorilla so it’s hard to beat them," Lillis said. "But someday -- God willing – there will be Lifeboat coffee shops in cities around the country.” 

And that’s the good news. The pro-life, pro-family Lifeboat chain will grow. John is exploring all types of options for selling coffee on the street. On one hand, he could begin a chain of stationary coffee cafés similar to what Starbucks has nationwide. Who knows there may be some Starbucks cafés coming up for sale soon?  Or he has looked at partnering with Newman Centers and Catholic groups on campus to put pro-life coffee in the hands of every collegian.  One of his most exciting ideas is that of a mobile café.

With a mobile café, Lifeboat Coffee could be at every major pro-life, parish and civic event and “just be there rather than having people trying to find us in one spot,” Lillis said. People could enjoy fresh homemade coffee to drink, buy Lifeboat’s one-pound bags, and take home its pro-life honey. “We might get really radical and put a small 5-pound coffee roaster on the truck, so people can get fresh roasted coffee.”

At one point in his life, Lillis was interested in becoming a priest in a religious order. But another young man made a pass during his last year of summer camp, sponsored by the order, and he never went back.

Perhaps that was for the best because the alternative suits John to a T. I asked him what was the most defining experience of his life, and the staunch pro-lifer answered: Marriage and Fatherhood.

“I’m a command-and-control kind of guy.  I’m 6 foot, 2 inches, big broad football kind of guy. I don’t really have a lot of fears. I understand what the Church teaches. I talk about It unabashedly sometimes to my detriment -- people get offended ... But being a better spouse and father is really my biggest challenge and the thing that's changed me the most,” Lillis said, admitting that he was still growing in that vocation.

“Trying to understand another human being in the way that spouses have to, that has been the biggest dimension in my walk with the Lord,” John humbly admitted.

*Bowing to pro-life pressure, Starbucks apparently decided to hide their involvement with Planned Parenthood.  This link of the Family Council, “Starbucks, and OtherCompanies, in Partnership with Planned Parenthood” sports a link to a list of corporate donors to America’s largest abortion provider, but when you click the link that says, “Click here to see the list,” Planned Parenthood has removed the list. 

Life Site News in this article, “Starbucks, American Express Still Support Planned Parenthood,” also sports an Error 404 message when you try to view the list of corporate donors to Planned Parenthood.

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