Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 17, 2017

Rio Peligroso

The small village of El Palmarcito is hidden deep in the folds of El Salvador’s hills — a tiny speck located along the way to nowhere in particular. Unless you have a reason to go there, you will never see it. There are no places of interest, no restaurants, nothing to beckon you there.

Twenty–seven families, however, call El Palmarcito home. And, in the words of young Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home.” Dorothy was right. There is no place like home, even if home is a place that lacks access to clean water.

It’s hard to imagine that in all of its history, there is not a day that El Palmarcito has had access to clean at–the–source potable water. Like all of the villages tucked here and there under the canopy of these lush hills, villagers have depended on streams, rivers, and occasional hand–dug wells for their water.

But, these water sources are neither reliable nor free of the contaminants that cause diarrhea and other water–related illnesses. Ironically, there is a warning sign at a water–crossing at the river that flows lazily beside El Palmarcito. It reads simply: Rio Peligroso, which translated means Dangerous River.

One local explained to me that this little river can be easily transformed by flash floods that send angry waves of water down paths of least resistance. Years ago almost thirty soccer players were killed as their vehicle was overturned by flash floods that came barreling down this river. So, the warning sign is absolutely legit.

But, it is legit for other reasons as well. This is indeed a dangerous river because it carries all sorts of contaminants from a garbage disposal site farther up-stream. So, even when the waters are calm they are dangerous.

We have come to change all that by giving the folks here what we take for granted in our own homes — a reliable source of clean water. As you can imagine, this is a big deal here and cause for celebration. Everybody has put on their best smiles for the occasion.

We drilled to a depth of 120–feet on our first day and the signs are hopeful. Our prayer is that, by the end of this week, the people of this village will have a clean source of water for the first time in their history. Good things happen when Christ–followers move in the direction of people in need.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 11, 2017

Beauty and Darkness

Alaska is beyond beautiful. Every time I visit I am captivated, or rather hypnotized, by the beauty of this great state. If it is even possible for God to show off, then He was undoubtedly showing off when He sculpted the mountains, scooped out the valleys, and traced the course of the rivers in Alaska. No matter which direction you look, God’s creative signature is everywhere to be seen in His magnificent creation in Alaska.

And yet, for all its beauty, there is a darkness in Alaska. Regarded as the least church-attending state in the Union, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country — nearly twice the national average. Suicide is the leading cause of death here for people ages 15 to 24. Beauty is not enough to stave off the despair that leads so many in Alaska to take their own lives.

Alaska is also home to the nations. Anchorage is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation. Beyond the diversity of the indigenous population, Alaska is home to peoples from all over the world. They are here along with their respective heart languages and world views. Alaska is a place from which Christ-followers can impact the nations.

Next summer, our Kingsland tenth-grade students will venture to Anchorage to engage with the indigenous peoples and the nations. Curtis Lane who serves on our student ministry staff, and I have come to Anchorage to meet with our ministry partner Scott Kirby of GraceWorks Alaska. Scott’s ministry mobilizes volunteers to do community initiatives throughout Anchorage and beyond.

I first connected with Scott a couple of years ago. He has a vision to reach Alaska. If you ask him about GraceWorks, he will tell you why they even exist. “Our goal is nothing less than to literally transform Alaska by winning new believers, growing disciples, and starting new gatherings of believers. We will not be satisfied until we see a remarkable, multiplying, Jesus Movement in our state.” That is a bold vision.

It takes someone with bold vision to do great things for the kingdom. Why settle for anything less than reaching the entire state of Alaska with the gospel. Scott understands that he cannot fulfill this vision alone. That’s why volunteer teams like ours are so important. We are committed to a long-term partnership with GraceWorks to help advance God’s purposes in Alaska. Only as people find hope in Jesus Christ will the suicide rate go down and the nations meaningfully connect with the God who loves them.

Alaska is a beautiful place. We are determined to add our voice to the chorus of volunteers who come here to serve each year. We want for the people of Alaska to see the beauty of Jesus and to understand that He alone offers us what no one else can. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God has set eternity in the heart of man. Jesus alone can fill the void in our hearts and make all things beautiful.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 1, 2017

Deadly Water

The Amazon River | Western Basin | The Village of Novo Niníve

Among all of the things we take for granted in suburbia, access to clean water is close to the top of the list. We seldom give a thought to the convenience of turning on a tap or reaching into the refrigerator for a bottle of ice-cold water. We don’t give a second thought to taking long showers or hot baths. We are beyond blessed by having immediate and easy access to abundant water.

Not so for many in our world today, including those who live in villages along the Amazon. This mighty river pushes fresh water a hundred miles into the Atlantic, yet those who live in villages along its banks still struggle to have clean water to drink.

I have never seen a water well in any of the many villages I have visited on my previous trips to the Amazon. While in a village a few months ago, I asked an old woman where she got her drinking water. “From the middle of the river,” she quickly replied, “because the water in the middle of the river is cleaner.”

A special focus of our trip to Novo Niníve was to educate the people about water purification, hygiene, and water-related diseases. Every minute of the day, many children all over the world die of water-related diseases, especially diarrhea. And yet, these deaths are preventable if people have some basic knowledge of how germs spread, how to rehydrate after severe bouts of diarrhea, and how to purify water.

My friend Bob Thorp, who is on the staff of Living Water International, joined our team to the Amazon to specifically address water issues. The good folks at Sawyer filters gave us a great deal on a water filtration system that can provide families with clean water for years, if they will follow some simple steps for maintaining their unit.

Bob showed families how to assemble and maintain their Sawyer water filtration kit. He also demonstrated the effectiveness of the system by taking a bucket of murky water from their village pond and turning it into clear, clean, potable water. This filtration system, along with hygiene training, can lead to better health for the villagers.

Bob also ran a series of tests on the village water source. The results were frightening. Absolutely high levels of e-coli were present in the water that the people drink daily. The problem is that villagers bathe in the same ponds they depend on for their drinking water. It’s no wonder kids and adults get so sick.

A key part of Bob’s instruction included how to rehydrate a child who has had diarrhea. He gave each family a measuring spoon to mix the proper ratio of salt and sugar to a cup of water to make a rehydration drink. Something as simple as this will result in lives saved.

We will continue to monitor the health of the villagers on our return trips. We expect to hear good things if the people will use the filters we provided and make it a habit to practice good hygiene. We hope to turn the deadly water of Novo Niníve into living water.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 30, 2017

Novo Niníve

The Amazon River | Western Basin

The village of Novo Niníve (New Nineheh) is located about 15-hours down the Amazon River from Tabatinga, a frontier town on the Brazilian and Colombian border. There are no roads to this village. You can only get there by boat. But, unless you know where you are going, chances are you will miss the muddy bluff that shelters this little village from civilization.

The Ticuna Indians call this part of the Amazon home. They have been here for generations, living in villages nestled between one of the mightiest rivers in the world and a rainforest so vast that it is regarded as the lungs of the planet. This is a place of remarkable beauty and very real dangers.

Life along the Amazon is anything but easy. But, tribes like the Ticuna continue to thrive here, thanks to essential survival knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Their food largely comes from the river and the rainforest. And, because of boats that trade along the Amazon, they also have access to other staples and a few modern conveniences.

Ours is the first team of English-speakers in recent memory to visit Novo Niníve and the adjacent villages. That’s understandable. There is nothing easy about coming to a place like this. Everything about venturing to Novo Niníve spells inconvenience. But that’s what makes it so attractive to me.

The good news is that the Good News has reached the people of Novo Niníve thanks to Portuguese speaking evangelists. The bad news is that the bad news is still here and very much a part of the lives of the people. Animistic beliefs are still strong here — and the confluence of these beliefs with the gospel has made the waters a bit murky.

In the words of one pastor, they know how to get people to the foot of the cross but don’t know where to go from there. There is a strong need for instruction in spiritual development and doctrine— the kind of knowledge that can help them untangle messy syncretistic beliefs from their worldview. This will be a particular focus of future trips.

Our team provided optical and dental care, something that is not easily accessible in these remote villages. I always enjoy the final vision test once we have fitted a person with glasses. We ask them the men to put monofilament line through a fish-hook and ask women to thread a needle — simple daily tasks that had become difficult because of failing vision.

We are happy to start what we hope will be a long-term relationship with Novo Niníve and the adjacent villages of Santo Domingo. Village leaders have asked for specific help. We will return at their invitation and work alongside them to improve the lives of their people and to strengthen families. And unlike Jonah who tried to run away from God’s call to go to Nineveh, we look forward to returning to Novo Niníve.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 23, 2017

Proud To Call Katy Home

To say the past month has been a blur would be an understatement. The days on my calendar started to melt together as soon as Hurricane Harvey passed through and left destruction in its wake. And yet, in spite of the long days of fielding dozens of disaster-related phone calls and hundreds of emails a day, the past month has illustrated what it is that Christ-followers do best.

I love Jesus and I love my neighbors and our community. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ life is that He always moved in the direction of people in need — and, by so doing, made a difference in their lives. As soon as Harvey hit our area our Katy churches followed the example of Jesus and swiftly moved in the direction of people in need.


From the early days when I had the opportunity to assist with boat rescues to coordinating lots of disaster related work and connecting resources with need, the most obvious take away is this — good and selfless neighboring is What makes America great and what shows a hurting community the beauty of Jesus.

Did we do a lot of good? Absolutely! Did we get everything right? No. As with all major initiatives that serve thousands in times of crisis, there are always things we miss. And there are always things we wish we could fix with just a wave of the hand. But, that’s not how things work in times of crisis. It really is hard work meeting needs.


Rescuing folks stranded in their homes by boat, for example, took hours rather than minutes per household. The same holds true for mucking out homes and distributing clothing and other supplies and feeding people and more. Volunteers worked countless — and I do mean way too many hours to count — hours helping folks in need in so many ways. But because they did, needs were met one by one.

It’s been weeks and the work is still not over yet. Teams are still mucking out homes, trash piles are being slowly addressed, people are waiting on insurance and federal resources to start the rebuilding process, resources are still being distributed, people who lost vehicles are trying to figure out transportation, and so much more. But, the day will come when everyone impacted by Harvey will look back on all this and finally breathe a sigh of relief.


And the day will come when folks look back on all of this and remember those who moved in their direction at their time of need — the guys in the boat, the muck-out crews, the volunteers who distributed clothing and food, to name a few. Hopefully we will all remember what united us and refuse to make room in our hearts for the things that tend to separate us.

I am proud of our churches, the non-profits in our community, and all of the good people who lived out the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, we all witnessed dangerous unselfishness on display. Like the Good Samaritan, folks asked the right question, “What will happen to that person in need if I fail to move in their direction to help.”


Thank you to all who have selflessly served and loved others in our community. You are what makes our community great and what makes America great. I am proud to call Katy my home.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 3, 2017

Hero To The Homeless

Hurricane Harvey wreaked history-making havoc in the greater Houston area and in our own community of Katy. The days before the storm intensified I was packing to go to Nepal. My flight was scheduled to leave Saturday evening. And then, along came Harvey and changed all my well-laid plans.

As so it was for each of us in Katy. Like an unwanted intruder, Harvey entered into our lives and turned everything upside down. The closer the storm got to the Gulf Coast the longer the lines at the grocery stores. Concerned for the welfare of our families and the possibility of damage to our homes, we were in a frenzy to prepare for the worst while we hoped for the best.

While we pushed our grocery carts between crowded aisles and topped off our gas tanks, one woman was already on a search and rescue mission. My friend Tina Hatcher, the founder of Hope Impacts, is a remarkable lady. Her heart beats for the least of these. She has given her life to do one thing — to care for the homeless in our community. She knows every homeless person in Katy and where they sleep.

I have served at Mother Teresa’s homes in Kolkata many, many times. One thing I admire about Mother Teresa is the simple charge she gave to her Missionaries of Charity. She told them to go to the narrow and filthy alleys, to the dark places, and to look for Jesus. “You will find Him in those places,” she said, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Mother Teresa continued — and when you find Him, do for that person what Jesus would do. Feed them if they are hungry. Give them something to drink. Clothe them. Bind their wounds. Give them shelter. Do for the least of these what you would do for Jesus Himself. That simple charge and her small band of missionaries started an unprecedented revolution of caring in Kolkata, throughout the subcontinent, and beyond.

Tina thinks like Mother Teresa. As the first drops of rain began to fall she forgot about her own needs and drove to those dark and filthy places where Katy’s homeless seek shelter. One by one, she picked them up and brought them to an empty suite at Kingsland’s off-campus office building. The concern on Tina’s face was unmistakable. “There are some who will not come in,” she told me.

And so, like the guy in the Hacksaw Ridge WW2 movie who kept going back into harm’s way to rescue wounded soldiers, Tina went out again and again in search of her homeless friends. And one by one she carried them to safety and made provision for them to be fed and cared for. And then, within hours, our slice of Texas found itself caught in the teeth of a storm. But because of her actions, the homeless in Katy found a safe haven.

Tina’s story is just one of many that need to be told so that our divided nation can reconnect with what really makes America great. Neighbors caring for neighbors, ordinary folks who deployed their fishing boats to rescue others, people opening their homes to take in displaced families, volunteers manning supply distribution locations, and so much more. Thank you to each of you who did your part to move in the direction of people in need.

And Tina, we all thank you. You are indeed a hero to the homeless and a gift to our community. We love you.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 18, 2017

A Thing We Ended

While every news organization in the country devoted almost every minute of air time this week to endless debate about what the president should or should not have said or tweeted about the terribly sad events of Charlottsville, a profoundly disturbing news story caught my attention — “Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing.”

How could I ignore a story like that? Down syndrome disappearing? Was this a story about some medical breakthrough that somehow had been overshadowed by the media’s parsing of Trump’s tweets? Had some scientist finally unlocked the mystery of what causes the chromosomal condition that produces Down syndrome?

Down syndrome occurs in people of all races. In the United States, approximately one in every seven hundred babies is born with Down syndrome. That’s somewhere around six thousand babies born with Down syndrome each year. The great news is that studies have shown that those born with Down syndrome are actually very happy with their lives.

But, back to the country where Down syndrome is disappearing — of all places, Iceland. Within the first couple of paragraphs of the first news story I read, the ugly truth became apparent about why Down syndrome is disappearing on this island in the North Atlantic. And it was not because someone had made some magnificent medical breakthrough worthy of Nobel Prize consideration.

Iceland, like several other countries, conducts prenatal screening for Down syndrome. Doctors in Iceland are required to notify women if their prenatal screening indicates they are carrying a child who might be born with Down syndrome. As a result, nearly 100 percent of women who receive a positive result terminate their pregnancy, even though test results are not always accurate. There you have it

Iceland is not eradicating Down syndrome — it is eradicating people.

Helga Sol Olafsdottir, a woman who counsels women whose prenatal screening indicates a chromosomal abnormality, does not hesitate to encourage those women to have an abortion. In her own words, “We don’t look at abortion as murder. We look at it as a thing we ended.”

A thing we ended?

When we look at life in the womb as a “thing” rather than a person created in the image of God then there is nothing to stand in the way of a decision to terminate that “thing.”

It’s interesting that a woman who is carrying a child she wants never refers to it as a thing. Can you imagine — “I am so excited about the thing growing in my belly. I can hardly wait to welcome this thing into our home.”

It is worth considering where all this can lead. Eventually decisions about the value of life in the womb lead to discussions about the value of life outside the womb. The late Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer warned, “If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity.” That’s a frightening thought.

The reality is that prenatal screening can detect numerous physical defects. So, what’s the next headline? “Inside the country where spina bifida is disappearing?” Or, perhaps, “Inside the country where cleft lip and palate is disappearing.” What about cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy?

I am saddened about what is happening in Iceland and in many other countries, including the United States, with similar practices. People with Down syndrome are every bit as precious in the eyes of God as any other person on the planet. No human being has the right to set up a caste system based on whether you are born with Down syndrome or a particular physical defect.

Again, in the words of the late Francis Schaeffer, “Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: How did it treat people?” Indeed, how did it treat those both in and out of the womb? Folks in Iceland should more carefully consider the fact that we are not things but rather human beings created in the image of God — and that all lives matter, including life in the womb.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 10, 2017

unSeminary Podcast

I recently had the opportunity to meet Rich Birch, not in person but via Skype. Rich is a young man with an extensive ministry and entrepreneurial business background. He is also the author of Unreasonable Churches: 10 Churches Who Zagged When Others Zigged and Saw More Impact Because of It — an Amazon bestseller in the Church Leadership category. This book is designed to help church leaders think creatively and take risks in order to impact their communities.
As if he does not have enough on his plate, Rich also hosts the unSeminary podcast — dedicated to “stuff you wish they taught in seminary.” Over the years I have especially relished opportunities to learn from people in the field, men and women who were doing some thought-provoking things to advance kingdom interests in their respective slices of geography. Rich has harnessed the power of the internet to do that very thing — to host a place where creative kingdom ideas can be exchanged.

A couple of months ago the unSeminary folks contacted me about sharing the story of Kingsland missions on a podcast. Lucky me, or better yet lucky you, the Skype video malfunctioned and only the audio portion of my interview was captured thus allowing you a more pleasant listening experience! But seriously, I am grateful for Rich and his team for their ministry and offer the link to our interview here. Thank you, Kingsland, for going beyond and embracing our community and the nations.

Omar Garcia on Transforming an Inward Church to an Outward Church

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 15, 2017

Geographical Literacy

Amman, Jordan

In spite of all the power at our disposal through our electronic devices, most people continue to suffer from insufficient geographical knowledge. Describing Africa as a country is an example of what it means to have a measure of geographical illiteracy.

If we are to better understand the world in which we live, then we need to foster greater understanding of geography. Everything that happens in the world, after all, happens in a geographical context.

Our time in Jordan this past week has given our students better insight into the movement of refugees from one place to another. They now understand a little more about the challenges refugees face in uprooting their families and traveling great distances in search of safety.

There is no doubt that being onsite can yield greater insight into people and places. Visiting with displaced Iraqi Christians this past week in their context has opened the eyes, minds, and hearts of our students. They are coming home with a more informed understanding of current events in the Middle East.

While in Jordan, our students also had the opportunity to visit the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, Mount Nebo, and several other fascinating places. They will never read their Bibles the same way again because they have a better understanding of the geographic context in which so many Bible stories happened.

We concluded our time in Jordan by visiting Petra, a world heritage site, and then going on a safari in Wadi Rum. We talked about the ancient peoples who traversed this region in caravans and the challenges they faced. Spending a night in Wadi Rum helped our students understand just a little bit of what it must have been like for those trying to survive in this vast desert.

At one point I picked up a handful of sand and talked about Psalm 139:17-18, one of my favorite passages of scripture. David wrote these words to express how much God thinks about us. His thoughts about us exceed the number of grains of sand on the planet. David drew this analogy out of his geographic context.

I am proud of our students and the compassionate way in which they served refugee families this past week. They did not hesitate to move in the direction of people in need to offer them “a little bit of balm and a little bit of honey.” In other words, their presence had both a healing and a refreshing impact on those they served.

We develop geographical literacy by doing what people have done for generations — leaving familiar surrounding for distant horizons in order to make new discoveries. In the process we not only learn about the places and people we visit, we also learn more about ourselves. This past week our students have done both. Therein lies the value of going beyond.

 

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 12, 2017

What You Can’t Unsee

Amman, Jordan

The Iraqi refugee families we have visited over the past week are all haunted by the things they can’t unsee. Family members murdered. A father hung from a tree. Property destroyed. A beheading. The rape of a daughter. The distressed faces of others on the road out of town. Walls pockmarked by bullets. The looting of personal property. And more. Always more because the Islamic State has an insatiable appetite for destruction.

The toughest part of listening to these stories is the realization that, in each instance, children were present. Children witnessed the killings, the degradation of human life, and the destruction of property. These images are hard enough for adults to deal with much less kids. There is no way for a child of whatever age to unsee these horrors and atrocities that become the seeds of nightmares.

One of our teams met a talented young Iraqi girl who is a self-taught artist. Her artwork was amazing. In one piece, she sketched the horrors of her past in juxtaposition to her hopes for the future. Brilliant and moving stuff. She said that the only way she can cope with the mess of the past is by daily trusting God. She also asked that we not post her work online because of the personal and graphic nature of her work.

Another team met a fifteen year old boy whose right arm and right leg were blown off in an explosion three years ago. He had run for cover behind a phone pole only to have a rocket smash into the pole and blow it out of the ground along with him. He lives with the daily reality of what happened to him when the Islamic State rolled into town. His life is forever changed. He will never be able to unsee what happened to him.

All of the children we met showed some measure of resilience. Kids will be kids. And even though they have seen things no one should ever have to see, they still manage to smile, play games, and sing songs. And they craved our attention. They were so happy to see us and wanted to be sure that we set aside time to interact with them and not just their parents.

The future will be much different for these kids. For the time being they are in a safe place. The movement of their lives will continue in a direction away from the Islamic State. They long for a brighter future and their parents know that the only way to give their kids a shot at it is by creating as much distance as possible between their families and the Islamic State.

When the Islamic State is not killing and maiming kids it is recruiting kids into their ranks of child soldiers. Sending kids into harm’s way is normal operating procedure for jihadist groups. These things alone tell us much about the rotten and dark soul of the Islamic State. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

Our teams cared for lots of displaced Iraqi families this week — and blessed a lot of kids in the process. As Christ-followers, we value the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of childhood. We will continue to do all that we can to protect children and the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable among us. Where the Islamic State destroys we will continue to sow seeds of hope and life so that people who suffer most will see the beauty of Christ.

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