Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 18, 2023

A Big Bend Adventure

Last year at this time, my wife Cheryl and I hosted a Spring Break camping adventure for boys from the Brookshire community, located west of Houston. Brookshire has the highest number of fatherless homes in the greater Houston area.

Several years ago, our church entered into a strategic partnership with a local ministry called Eyes On Me — a ministry that exists to mentor, disciple, and serve at-risk youth and their families. EOM has a presence in Brookshire at The Hangar Unity Center.

My friend Ryan Orbin is the Director of The Hangar. Among their many community initiatives, Ryan and his team have a mentoring program for boys, many of whom have never ventured far outside their community. The Hangar provides opportunities for these boys to participate in outdoor adventures along with their mentors,

For the second year, Cheryl and I were thrilled to host the boys from Brookshire at Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property located outside of Big Bend National Park. The boys arrived on Sunday afternoon for a week of hiking, working, and adventuring in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The first order of business was to set up base camp at the property. For many of these boys, this was their first time to set up a tent. Because of the size of the tents, the boys had to work together to get the task done.

One of the lessons we want to drive home is the importance of cooperating in order to get a task done. And the boys did just that — they worked together to set up their tents. Teaching boys to work together and to do life in community with others is important because trying to do things alone is difficult and often dangerous.

On the first evening, we enjoyed hamburgers around the campfire. Afterward we gave each of the boys a hydration backpack and the hiking and survival gear they would need for the week. We took the time to talk about why a particular item was important and how that item was a metaphor for how to be better prepared for life in general.

After we gave the boys their hiking gear, my friend and fellow pastor Bobby Cooley shared his personal story around the campfire. Bobby is an outdoorsman who has hiked every trail in Big Bend National Park. He and his kids joined us for a couple of days.

Bobby grew up in an at-risk home — a very broken home — and shared his remarkable story of how a caring adult changed the course of his life. I have heard his story more than once and always wonder what might have happened to Bobby had that one caring adult not come into his life. His is a story of hope and one that encouraged the boys.

The boys enjoyed two and a half days of hiking in Big Bend — recently recognized by National Geographic as one the top places to visit in the world. Once again, we stressed the importance of having adventures in community with others because alone is dangerous.

For most of the boys, this was their first visit to a national park. They hiked, climbed, soaked in hot springs, swam in the Rio Grade River, and enjoyed lunch under the endless Big Bend sky.

Of course, the sky is one of the best things about the Big Bend region of Texas. Big Bend offers visitors some of the darkest skies in the nation. So when the sun goes down, the stars come out — more stars than are visible from Brookshire and the light-polluted skies of the greater Houston area.

I invited my friend Joseph Bear, known as Yogi to locals, to do a star party for the boys. Yogi and my neighbors were kind enough to set up one of his large telescopes. As we sat around the fire, Yogi told stories about the night sky and how the constellations got their names and so much more.

The boys then formed a queue at the telescope to see planets and stars. So cool to see their curiosity spill out into questions about the night sky. The following night Yogi returned with his laser pointer to continue teaching about the Big Bend night sky.

Our campfire times in the evening were special times for reflecting on their day and for sharing stories. Two friends from El Paso joined us and shared their personal stories around the fire.

One of the men shared about the death of his dad in a suicide by cop encounter and how that set him on a destructive course until he had an encounter with Jesus. The other shared about growing up in a broken home, spending fifteen years in prison, and how Christ transformed his life. Both men offered encouragement and hope.

We set aside one day to do work projects at the property — tasks that can only be completed by working in cooperation with one another. Cooperation requires good communication, asking for help, taking the initiative to offer help, and doing what it takes to finish a task well.

The boys cleared a fence line on our newest tract, set t-posts, and stretched field fencing. They learned to nail the fencing to the cedar fence posts and to use clips to attach it to the t-posts.

Once again, every hike and task was designed to teach life lessons. Before working on the fence we talked about doing all things with excellence because the quality of our work is like our signature. Red Steagall is one of my favorite cowboy poets and The Fence That Me and Shorty Built is one of my favorite poems about doing your work with excellence. It’s worth listening to this story.

On the final day, three of the boys who professed their faith in Christ chose to be baptized in the Rio Grande River. This was a special time for everyone and another reason why the work of Ryan and his team at The Hangar is so important.

Of course, every adventure needs fuel — lots of good food to provide the energy to hike and climb and swim and drive t-posts. Once again, my friend James Meredith ran point on providing all of our meals. My friend Doug Rogers and others assisted in meal preparation. One thing is certain, we ate like kings. Every meal was outstanding.

This Spring Break adventure is important, especially when you consider that many boys from at-risk homes are just one decision away from becoming a statistic. But, in the words of motivational speaker Josh Shipp, every kid is one caring adult away from becoming a success story.

I am grateful for every caring adult who participated in this second annual Spring Break Big Bend adventure. This was time well spent — and only time will reveal the full impact of this investment in the lives of a group of boys from Brookshire on the road to manhood.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 6, 2023

Caring for Katy 2023 Video

On Sunday, February 26, we observed our 16th Annual Caring for Katy. This is the day we close the doors to the church and go out into our community to be the church. Words can’t express how cool it was to see the people of Kingsland — all generations — serving together throughout our community.

We believe that service is an essential component of spiritual formation. Caring for Katy provides all of our members the opportunity to serve and also provides families the opportunity to make memories of serving together.

A total of fifty of our community groups engaged in 68 service initiatives from Katy to Brookshire. Our teams cared for widows and single moms, ministered to families who have suffered great loss, assisted local ministries and churches, and more. We demonstrated the love of God in practical, measurable, and meaningful ways.

Andrew Probsfeldt has again produced our Caring for Katy video. I hope you enjoy this look at what happened when the church left the building.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 20, 2023

316 Kilometers Across South Asia

To tell the story I must go back to 1998 — the year before the dream worked its way into my heart where it would lay dormant for many years.

I was traveling by train from Ulan Bator, Mongolia to Beijing, China. With a 26-hour journey across the vast expanses of the Gobi Desert ahead of me, I settled comfortably in my berth and started reading through the book of Acts.

The rhythmic and relaxing motion of the train drew me deep into each story. And each story caused me to think deeply about the journey of the gospel from the first century all the way to the doorway to my heart.

What I distinctly remember about that train ride is how God used the account of Paul’s journeys to redirect my own. I sensed his call for me to move in the direction of those with the least access to the gospel. “Last places first,” I recorded in my journal.

Upon my return to the States, I looked into the possibility of traveling to North Africa. However, as Paul experienced when he had tried to go into Bithynia on his second missionary journey, that door was shut. God providentially redirected me to Bangladesh — and there He opened a door.

Through a series of providential steps, I traveled to Bangladesh and saw God work in amazing ways. I came home reassured about what God had spoken to me on my Trans-Mongolian journey.

A year later I returned to Bangladesh at the invitation of my friend Kevin Greeson, author of The Camel Method. I walked from village to village with Kevin in search of a person of peace. A person of peace is an individual with a measure of local or broader influence who will listen to the message and open doors for others to hear the message.

That trip made a deep impression on me as God opened doors of opportunity that resulted in many coming to faith in Christ. As we walked down remote roads, God impressed an idea on my heart — essentially a dream to walk across Bangladesh from border to border. The purpose of the walk would be to pray for the people of Bangladesh and other people groups with little or no access to the gospel.

Little did I realize at the time that the fulfillment of that dream would come 22 years in the future. And yet, in all those years the dream remained alive. I never stopped believing or hoping that I would be able to see the fulfillment of that dream.

This year, our missions ministry launched Every Home Every Nation Covered in Prayer — a prayer initiative in cooperation with our local and global ministry partners. The time was finally right to fulfill the dream of doing a prayer walk for unreached peoples by launching our global prayer initiative in Bangladesh.

I invited my friends Jay Lowe and Kevin Greeson to join me. Jay is the father of Sean Lowe who was The Bachelor on the seventeenth season of the popular ABC television show. Seven million people watched Jay officiate his son’s wedding to Catherine Giudici on television. Jay and Kevin are deeply committed followers of Christ.

After months of careful planning, the three of us set off to Bangladesh on New Year’s Day. Upon arrival we drove from Dhaka to Comilla on the eastern border of the country. From Comilla we traveled to the Bangladeshi and Indian border.

Standing at the starting point of our trek seemed surreal. My heart beat with anticipation of all that the coming days would bring. I fully expected that we would experience good things as we prayed in the very places where we expected our prayers to be answered.

As we stood at the border I spoke to our team about listening for God’s voice along our journey. Our paths would undoubtedly and providentially intersect with people in need all along the way. And so we took our first steps, eagerly anticipating what God had in store for us.

In regard to the physical aspect of our trek, the first couple of days were a bit hard as our legs and feet adjusted to the demands of walking 16 miles a day. After that, we fell into a comfortable rhythm and, in fact, looked forward to getting started each morning.

I started each day by slathering a film of hiking cream on my feet to avoid blisters. I encouraged our national partners to do the same. Unfortunately, a few of the guys developed some big blisters that we had to address along the way. One of the guys suffered in silence until we noticed his feet were bleeding. We had to force him to rest.

In regard to challenges that made us feel helpless, my friend Jay received word that his 98 year-old dad had been put under hospice care. Four days later Roy, his dad and my dear friend, passed away. Jay stayed only because his Marine dad had told him that no matter what he had to finish the mission. So, we determined to do just that.

My own 93 year-old dad was in and out of the hospital four times while we walked across the country. My dad has hardly been ill in his 93-years and all of a sudden he contracted Covid and later fell in his bedroom. Spiritual warfare? Perhaps. The enemy, we felt, would stop at nothing to stop us.

In regard to the spiritual aspect of the journey, the sights and sounds along the way seeped into our hearts — and then ascended to heaven in the language of prayer as hour after hour we put one foot in front of the other. We prayed for homes and families and children. We stopped to pray for those who were sick. We prayed for laborers and shop keepers, for children and lame beggars by the side of the road.

Folks along the way were understandably curious about who we were. Many stopped us to ask questions and to take selfies — so many selfies. We met Muslim imams and Hindus and animists and a few Christ-followers along the way. We met people who told us about having a dream about a man in white who had urged them to seek the truth.

On Day 6, two of our national partners were beaten by an angry mob. One of our friends was having a conversation with another man at a tea shop and had answered questions about Jesus. That was enough to anger some locals who felt they needed to teach our friend a lesson. Fortunately, God sent a couple of people (perhaps “angels unaware”) to defuse the situation until the police arrived and rebuked the mob.

God protected our friends from further harm and the police offered us their protection from that point on. What others intended for evil God turned into a blessing to our team. We were able to continue our journey with a renewed sense of safety.

Thanks to our national friends, we were able to modify our route daily to trek down quiet roads that took us through villages. Walking these country roads ultimately put us five days ahead of schedule by shaving many miles off our originally planned route. These quieter and off-the-beaten-track routes allowed us to meet more people.

Four times along the way, Christ-followers met us to offer us flowers and words of encouragement. These unexpected acts of kindness energized us and sent us along our way with renewed determination to reach the western border of Bangladesh.

Finally, after 12 days of walking, we took our final steps toward the finish line. When we arrived at a government border crossing, we asked permission to approach the border. The border guards personally escorted us to the boundary marker and then treated us to to tea and coffee. They were happy that we had completed our journey and most impressed that the three Americans were all in their sixties.

To make the experience even better, some Christ-followers greeted us at the border with flowers and words of encouragement. Their presence reminded us that we are part of a bigger family of faith — a beautiful family.

There is so much more to tell — much, much more.

Although we reached the border — or finished the mission as Roy would say — our prayers continued. This trek touched each of us deeply. Every conversation. Every smile. All of the physical aches and pains and even the threats of opposition. All of these experiences enriched us and redefined the spiritual geography of our own lives.

As a result, we are not the same as when we started. The estimated 423,476 steps that we took changed us from the inside out. We gained valuable insight by praying onsite. I expect that for the rest of our lives every memory of this trip will be turned into a prayer.

I am personally grateful to God for keeping the dream of walking across Bangladesh alive in my heart. For the past 22 years I have dreamed and day-dreamed about this trek. In many ways it’s as though I took the first steps of this journey 22 years ago and the final steps just a few days ago.

At the finish line I knelt in gratitude at the border and thanked God for allowing me to live to see the fulfillment of the dream. I also thanked Him for our many partners who will lead prayer initiatives in their respective nations over the coming months.

Our intent was to attempt something great for God. I am sure that one day we will learn more about how our prayers helped advance the interests of the kingdom in hard places. But, we will have to wait. Only heaven will ultimately reveal the full impact of our prayers as we walked slowly among the people of Bangladesh.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 7, 2022

Every Home and Every Nation

In December of last year, Kingsland’s missions ministry launched the 5511 Initiative — based on the truth of Isaiah 55:11 where God declared that His Word would not return to Him empty or without succeeding in the matter for which He sent it.

We challenged the people of Kingsland as well as our domestic and international partners to distribute 150,000 copies of God’s Word. One year later we have distributed 152,000 copies of the Scriptures in 18 countries. Over the past year we have heard amazing stories of lives transformed by the power of the gospel.

This month, our missions ministry launched our 2023 initiative entitled “Every Home Every Nation Covered in Prayer.”

The purpose of this initiative is to coordinate prayer for unreached homes both domestically and internationally during 2023. We are mobilizing Kingsland families to prayer walk our own community and cover every neighborhood in Katy with prayer.

The local prayer walk initiative will be concurrent with international prayer walking initiatives coordinated by our international partners to symbolize our shared intention of reaching homes for Christ around the globe. Our international partners will mobilize believers to pray in every state, province, or district in their respective countries.

We are launching our global prayer initiative in January in a South Asian country (unnamed for security reasons) in the heart of the 10/40 Window. I have asked our partners in this country to mobilize their networks to pray in every district — over homes, schools, hospitals, and government buildings.

I will travel to this nation on January 1 to join our partners there. While Christ-followers are praying in every district, I will lead a 250-mile prayer walk across the country. I will start on the eastern border where the sun rises and proceed to the western border where the sun sets to symbolize the coming of the light.

As with the 5511 Initiative, my prayer is that God will use our “Every Home Every Nation Covered in Prayer” initiative to storm the darkness. Once again, we are taking the battle to the enemy who seeks to steal, kill, destroy and frustrate the purposes of God among the nations. In the words of William Carey we are expecting great things from God and attempting great things for God.

I understand the risks of what I am attempting to do in January and also know that any number of things can happen along the way to stop me in my tracks. But I am nevertheless determined to trek from border to border and to pray onsite with insight as I do so.

I spent many years serving at Mother Teresa’s homes in India and have read no less than a dozen books about her life and the wisdom she gleaned from her years of serving the least of these. Among the things Mother Teresa wrote, I find this quote especially meaningful as we launch our global prayer walking initiative:

We must keep His interests continually in our hearts and minds, carrying our Lord to places where He has not walked before, fearless in doing the things He did, courageously going through danger and death with Him and for Him…

[We must be] ready to accept joyously the need to die daily if we want to bring souls to God, to pay the price He paid for souls — ever ready to go to any part of the world and to respect and appreciate unfamiliar customs of other peoples, their living conditions and language, willing to adapt ourselves if and when necessary, happy to undertake any labor and toil, and glad to make any sacrifice involved in our missionary life.

This imposes a great responsibility on us to fight against our own ego and love of comfort that would lead us to choose a comfortable and insignificant mediocrity.

I am not interested in living a life characterized by “a comfortable and insignificant mediocrity.” That’s why I am lacing up my prayer walking shoes and moving in the direction of people in need. I am trusting that over the next year we will again hear remarkable stories of lives transformed because we chose to cover every home and every nation in prayer in 2023.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 10, 2022

The Himalayan Leadership Development Center

Nepal is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. Nestled between the steamy plains of Northern India and the towering snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, it is a land of indescribable natural beauty. It doesn’t matter which direction you look, the vistas are a feast for the eyes.

This fascinating land is home to several of the highest peaks on the planet, including Mount Everest. Every year, those who dream of standing atop Everest arrive in Kathmandu and then make their way toward base camp in hope of inching their way to the top of the world.

Like others who will never trek to Everest, I did the next best thing — I booked a flight that follows the Himalayan range north of Khatmandu all the way to Everest. Of the multiplied hundreds of flights that have taken me on great adventures around the globe, this short flight was beyond amazing. I fulfilled a boyhood dream to personally see Everest in its magnificent geographic context.

What I love most about Nepal, however, is neither its natural beauty or the breathtaking Himalayan mountain range. What has touched my heart most about Nepal is its people. When I first ventured here in 2017, I was most impressed by the many people groups who call Nepal home.

I visited several of these people groups in the mountains in and around Jiri, a town known as the Gateway to Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay came through Jiri in 1953, the year they became the first to summit Everest.

The writer of Ecclesiastes (3:11) said that God has set eternity in the heart of man. There is something within us that longs for answers to why we are here and the purpose of our existence. The people groups that live in this area have the same hunger to know the answers to life’s deeper questions.

The signs of the search for answers are everywhere evident among the Nepalese. Altars and shrines reflecting both Buddhist and Hindu world views are a common sight. Many people here also fear unseen things — evil things intent on harming them. As a result, efforts to both placate and mitigate the influence of these spirits has worked its way into the local world views. It’s a part of life here.

More than two millennia after Jesus walked the earth, the gospel arrived in Nepal — and people are embracing Him as Lord and Savior. Christ-followers in this landlocked little country have taken ownership of sharing the good news about Jesus Christ. Christians here are working together to make Christ known.

In 2018, my young friend Cooper Potts died in an accident. His death, and more importantly his life, set in motion a series of events that resulted in an initiative that will have a huge impact in the work of God’s kingdom in this part of the world.

When Cooper died, his family asked that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to Kingsland’s missions ministry to fund the work of God’s kingdom in hard places. Not long after that, I returned to Nepal to work with the Himalayan United Christian Fellowship. While here, I met with their leaders to discuss adding to their theological training work by constructing a larger facility to equip more workers.

The rest is history. We funded the construction of the Himalayan Leadership Development Center with gifts to Cooper’s memorial fund plus additional gifts from Kingsland missions. The facility was completed in 2020 but we were unable to dedicate the center at that time because Covid had shut down travel.

So, today we did what we had hoped to do two years ago — we dedicated the Himalayan Leadership Development Center to the glory of God in Cooper’s memory.

Although the center is already being used to train many workers, we came to officially dedicate the center in Cooper’s memory. My friends Steve Hyde and Poline Yean traveled from Cambodia to take part in the dedication. Steve has trained hundreds of workers here and introduced me to this work.

My friend and Kingsland member Bobby Haier accompanied me as well. After visiting Nepal with me, Bobby started a non-profit to help schools and churches in this area. God is using him to bless lots of kids and to help advance the work of the kingdom in the Himalayas.

The dedication ceremony was very meaningful as several of the local pastors talked about what this new training center means to the work they are doing. Steve, Bobby, and Poline shared words of encouragement and then I delivered the dedicatory message. Our friends were deeply moved to learn more about Cooper and his commitment to Christ.

Steve and I cut the ribbon and then I unlocked the door and presented the key to our partners. As I handed the key over to them, I thanked them for their stewardship of the gift of this training center. We are in agreement that this center must always be used as a place that will bring glory to God and make His name famous in the Himalayas.

The ceremony lasted two and a half hours. We prayed, we sang, and then we departed more determined than ever to strengthen our partnership in the gospel. Perhaps the best thing of all is knowing that this center will continue to serve the interests of the kingdom beyond our generation. And that will forever be a part of Cooper’s legacy.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 18, 2022

Why Bible Literacy Matters

The Keller Independent School District has pulled the Bible from library shelves — along with forty other books.

Jennifer Price, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for this Texas school district, issued the order to remove 41 books while they undergo a review. The reason cited is that over the past year these particular books were challenged by parents, lawmakers, and other community leaders.

This is not the first time the Bible has been challenged nor will it be the last. Regardless of what the Keller Independent School District concludes, the Bible will survive this current scrutiny much like an anvil outlasts the many hammers that beat against it.

The 1963 Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory prayer in schools explicitly authorized academic Bible teaching. “The Bible is worthy of study,” wrote Justice Tom Clarke, “for its literary and academic qualities.” Regardless of whether you are a fan of holy writ, Clarke was right.

Bible literacy is important to our understanding of documents like the Mayflower Compact or Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” address or the references that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his inspirational sermons during the Civil Rights movement.

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King told his listeners: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop . . . And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Without a knowledge of the Bible, students will fail to grasp the significance of King’s references to the mountaintop and the Promised Land and why he said, “I may not get there with you.”

When I was in school we were assigned Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” and Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” — all of which are better appreciated by those who have at least a basic measure of biblical literacy.

The tension between law and grace in Victor Hugo’s magnificent historical novel “Les Miserables” makes better sense when informed by the expression of these same dynamics in the Scripture. Cervantes’ unforgettable “Don Quixote,” the knight errant who went about doing good deeds and believing the best about people like Aldonza mirrors the capacity of Jesus to look beyond the actualities to behold the possibilities in the marginalized people of His day.

In his book “Cultural Literacy,” E. D. Hirsch writes, “All educated speakers … need to understand what is meant [by] a contest … between David and Goliath or … whether saying ‘My cup runneth over’ means a person feels fortunate or unfortunate. Those who cannot use or understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English.”

Hirsch contends, “Far from being illegal or undesirable, teaching about the Bible is not only consistent with our Constitution, it is essential to our literacy.” I agree. Those who insist on removing the Bible from school libraries and will not allow it to be used as an academic resource are unwittingly depriving children of a key component in cultural literacy.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 21, 2022

Return to Ukraine

“It’s just hell there. Everything is engulfed in fire, the shelling doesn’t stop even for an hour.”

These words, spoken by Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, are a sobering reminder of the ongoing reality of Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army continues to leave its destructive signature in villages and towns and cities throughout the eastern part of the country.

Thirteen million Ukrainians in the path of destruction have fled their homes. Many of these have no home to return to. All of them face the challenges of an uncertain future. A few have opted to return to the places they called home to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

This war has taken a hard toll on families, especially children. Three months ago life was normal even as the gathering storm clouds of war loomed beyond Ukraine’s eastern border. Families went about their daily routines. Kids went to school, played with their friends, and went to bed at night in the relative security and comfort of their homes.

And then all hell broke loose — and life was no longer normal.

On my visit to Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine last month, I witnessed what an exodus looks like. Within Ukraine’s borders, internally displaced people have found help at various locations on their westward journey. Churches have set up way stations where the displaced can find a bed and a hot meal and other necessities.

At the border crossings a stream of mostly women and children wait in lines to take their final steps toward safety. Noticeably absent are men — dads who have remained behind to keep the invaders at bay. Once across, refugees make their way to places where they can receive help in taking their next steps toward an uncertain future.

Since the start of the conflict, our friends at Proem Ministries have hosted upwards of 900 refugees at their campground situated on fifteen beautiful wooded acres. It is an absolutely picturesque and peaceful site.

Most recently, the ministry purchased a hotel in a nearby town. Kingsland generously donated toward the purchase of this building. Proem Ministries has repurposed the hotel to become their new Family Crisis Center for the Nations. The hotel rooms are already at capacity with Ukrainian refugees.

This past week Proem hosted a camp for Ukrainian kids. We gladly helped to underwrite the cost of this camp because of its strategic significance. The kids in attendance had the opportunity to enjoy a fun week but also had access to counseling to help them cope with the fears and anxieties brought on by the war.

One mother wrote to Daniel, the director of the camp:

Daniel, I would like to thank those who made the subsidy for our camp experience possible. Camp was an incredibly enriching place, we were able to experience a sense of community and belonging. The friendships we made there are invaluable. Without the help of sponsors in this terrible time of the war we would have missed out on an incredible time. I give you a multitude of thanks. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity for our children.

We also purchased food and medical supplies that we transported from Poland into Ukraine. After a nine-hour drive we arrived at Chervonograd south of Lviv. Our friends were overjoyed to receive the timely help. From there, they will transport various supplies and meds to locations along Ukraine’s eastern border.

After off-loading our supplies, we enjoyed a meal with our friends and some refugees. I had the privilege of speaking at their prayer gathering that evening. The church in this community has met for prayer every night since the start of the war. We were inspired by their faithfulness to pray daily for their own people who are in harms way.

At this point no one knows how much longer this war will last. One thing, however, is certain — the impact of the war on young hearts and minds will last far beyond whatever date will mark the end of the conflict. The painful memories of loved ones killed, homes destroyed, and futures lost will remain.

Sadly, those who fled and those who stayed will all bear the damaging marks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But, the beneficiaries of the aid given by God’s people will never forget the kindness shown to them in their hour of need. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

As the war rages on, may we continue to do what Jesus did best — move in the direction of people in need and make a difference. Pray for the peace of Ukraine.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 30, 2022

The Disruption of War

War disrupts. Plain and simple. That is what war does.

For the past several months, the people of Ukraine have heard the distant thunder of a gathering storm, slowly intensifying with intimidating power while filling the distant horizon — the kind of storm that one hopes and prays will dissipate or stall.

Two months ago, that storm arrived in eastern Ukraine, unleashing the kind of havoc that leaves its destructive signature on everything in its path. Many Ukrainians hunkered down while others chose to scramble away toward safer ground.

Either way, the storm that is the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the lives of everyone in its path.

Last week, my friends Cesar and Eric and I moved in the direction of that storm to assist displaced Ukrainians in whatever way necessary. We traveled to Poland to join our friends at Proem Ministries in their relief efforts.

Proem Ministies, founded by my friend Maui Dwulat, has a large capacity Christian camp located a little more than an hour south of Warsaw. As Ukrainian refugees began to flow across the Polish border by the tens of thousands, some found their way to Proem — a temporary stop on their way to the places where they will wait out the storm.

The Christian community in Poland and other surrounding nations quickly mobilized to provide housing and food and transportation. At the first signs of refugees, the road leading to Proem was lined with vehicles bringing donations of clothing and bedding and diapers and food. Two months later the donations continue to come.

Proem has not only housed and provided for the practical needs of Ukrainian refugees, it has helped them connect with family and friends and even strangers in many of the surrounding nations — those who have opened their hearts and homes to the displaced.

Additionally, Proem continues to send supplies to Christians in Ukraine who have set up relief stations along the paths from the east to the more relative safety of the western part of the country. One of our assignments was to deliver relief supplies into Ukraine.

We purchased as much food and supplies as we could possibly fit into a large cargo van and then began the long ten-hour drive from Poland into Slovakia and then along the southern edge of the Carpathian Mountains into Ukraine. At the border crossing we took our place in the long queue of vehicles transporting supplies into Ukraine.

We arrived after the curfew at ten in the evening, the time when villages and towns and cities all over Ukraine turn off all lights and stay indoors. The following morning we arrived at our destination, a small church that has mobilized its members to help their internally displaced countrymen and those headed toward the Polish, Slovakian and Romanian borders.

With the help of the pastor and others, we off-loaded the supplies and then enjoyed warm and welcoming fellowship around the table. The pastor’s mother prepared a delicious meal for us. In the course of our conversation we learned that this little church of 94 members had already taken in more than 700 refugees.

Later on we visited host homes in the area and found that each family had created as many places for guests to sleep as possible. Foam mattresses lined all available floor space. Families did not hesitate to take in complete strangers. Their hospitality included providing clothing and other things needed by those on their way to the border.

We learned that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had recently acknowledged in a speech that 70% of the aid coming into Ukraine was from Christian churches and Christian non-profits. As in the case of every crisis whether large or small, God’s people consistently move in the direction of people in need to be the comforting hands of Jesus.

On our final day on Proem’s campus, we met Pastor Dmitry from Melitopol, one of the first places to feel the full impact of the storm. On March 11, the mayor of this city was abducted by the Russian army and later released as part of a prisoner exchange. Not long after this, Russian soldiers arrived at Pastor Dmitry’s home and arrested him.

Pastor Dmitry spent eight days in captivity. He described his filthy cell and said that the walls were splattered with blood. He was interrogated every day but, fortunately, not tortured like others whose screams he heard daily. He took advantage of every opportunity to speak to his captors about Jesus and told them that he would continue to help his people as Jesus would.

Pastor Dmitry was released but forced to leave the area. He fled with his family and eventually made his way to Proem where we met him. He is now mobilizing to go back into Ukraine to help the displaced.

We heard so many stories — heart-breaking accounts of loss, destruction, and death related to us with tears. We prayed with our new friends. We offered encouragement along with practical provisions. And we talked about how we can continue to play a role in caring for the Ukrainian people.

No one knows how long this terrible war will last or how much longer it will continue to disrupt lives. But I am certain of this, that no matter how long the conflict lasts, the Christian community both in Europe and around the world will continue to play a key role in offering comforting and compassionate care to those whose lives have been disrupted because of Putin’s illegal and immoral war against the Ukrainian people.

Let’s continue to pray for an end to this war.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 22, 2022

The Shattered Homes of Ukraine

A little more than 50 days ago, Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine. The world watched this invasion unfold in real time while simultaneously expressing its outrage on the social media platforms that have lessened the degrees of separation between us.

The movement of armed forces into areas populated by civilians always ends badly for civilians.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 5,264 civilian casualties in the country to date. This includes 2,345 killed and 2,919 injured — numbers that sadly include children.

In addition to those killed or injured, more than 7.7 million people are internally displaced in Ukraine and more than 5 million have fled to neighboring countries. That is a staggering 12.7 million people who have been displaced since the beginning of the Russian invasion in late February.

Many, if not most of those displaced, fled with the barest of essentials, leaving behind much that was dear to them and sacred to the memory and history of their respective families.

This brings us to yet another casualty of Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine — the home.

Home is, or should be, a sacred place — a haven in which the next generation is nurtured, a place filled with the comforting bric-a-brac that is meaningful only to us, the setting where our shared family memories fill the rooms like a fragrant perfume.

Daily images of the consequent destruction of homes and neighborhoods in Ukraine are numbing. The weapons of war have demolished more than physical structures, they have erased the context in which so many families did life together along with their neighbors.

The reality of it all is that those who have suffered the terrible loss of family members, neighbors, friends, and their homes will have to move forward with only memories of what once was — the meals and laughter and celebrations and also the items and old photos that were a link to the past and forever lost.

The destruction of so many houses and the displacement of those who once occupied them reminds me of a stanza from a favorite poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer entitled, “The House With Nobody In It.”

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

My heart hurts for Ukrainian families that are displaced through no fault of their own and also for all the houses destroyed or vacated.

I leave for Poland in a few hours, accompanied by my fellow pastors Cesar Perez and Eric Conley, to serve Ukrainian refugees over the coming week. As I prepare to leave, my mind is flooded with thoughts of my time among Syrian refugees, Eritrean children who had fled their homes to find safety in Ethiopia, displaced families living in squalor in Darfur, and other opportunities I have had over the years to move in the direction of people in need in seasons of crisis.

As a Christ-follower, I am inspired by the example of Jesus and grateful to be a part of a church family that is responding to yet another crisis by sending both financial and human resources to help people in need.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 9, 2022

Ernest Shackleton’s Ship Found

One hundred and seven years after the Endurance sank into the icy depths of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica, the wreckage of the ship belonging to Sir Ernest Shackelton has been found. Shackleton lived during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the period from 1897–1922 during which sixteen major expeditions from eight countries focused on the Antarctic continent.

The ambitious polar explorer first ventured to Antarctica in 1901 aboard the Discovery as a member of the well-financed National Antarctic Expedition under the command of Robert F. Scott. Although this was the best equipped scientific expedition to Antarctica to date, Scott and his team failed to reach the South Pole.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica in 1908 aboard the Nimrod as a member of the British Antarctic Expedition. By January 9, 1908, Shackleton and three companions had trudged to within 96 miles of the South Pole. However, finding themselves dangerously short of supplies, Shackleton made the most difficult decision of his life — he turned his men toward home.

In 1911, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the British explorer Robert F. Scott led their respective expeditions to Antarctica in an attempt to reach the South Pole. On December 14 of that year, Amundsen arrived at the pole a month before Scott. Sadly, Scott and his four companions died on their return journey.

In 1914, with the prize of the pole claimed by Amundsen, Shackleton set his sights on an ambitious new challenge — a trans-Antarctic expedition from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. He hoped to be the first to cross the cold continent on foot. Shackleton described this expedition as “the last great polar journey that can be made.”

In December 1914, Shackleton set out with twenty-eight men on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. However, Shackleton encountered an unexpected and devastating setback when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in an ice pack in the Weddell Sea. The ship was later crushed, leaving Shackleton and his men stranded.

Shackleton and his men endured a twenty-month ordeal — one of the greatest survival stories of all time. After finally reaching Elephant Island, Shackleton selected a few men and made a daring attempt to reach a whaling station on South Georgia Island in a small lifeboat. He promised the men he left behind that he would return for them. He did. And he did not lose a man.

On March 5, the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s funeral, the wreckage of the Endurance was found — resting 10,000 feet beneath the spot where it was trapped and later crushed by the ice, leaving Shackleton and his men stranded.

The project to find the Endurance was mounted by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. Using a South African icebreaker, Agulhas II, equipped with remotely operated submersibles, the discovery was an incredible achievement.

The mission’s leader, the veteran polar geographer Dr. John Shears, described the expedition as “the world’s most difficult shipwreck search, battling constantly shifting sea-ice, blizzards, and temperatures dropping down to -18C.” And yet, in spite of these challenges, the expedition “achieved what many people said was impossible.”

The ship is remarkably well preserved, due in part to the cold waters and the absence of wood-munching organisms. The wreckage will remain undisturbed by human interference as well because the site of Endurance was declared a historic monument under the terms of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

In a day when we are saddened by the current state of global affairs, we need to be reminded of individuals like Shackleton who set their sights of doing things to benefit rather than harm humanity. As a long-time fan of Shackleton, I am thankful for this bit of good news.

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