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.

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

Caring for Katy 2022

Our 14th Annual Caring for Katy is now history — but for the recipients of the many practical acts of kindness we participated in, it is a day they will not soon forget.

This year more than 2,400 Kingsland volunteers left the church building on Sunday to be the sermon in our community. Special thanks to all of our small groups for once again doing an amazing job of identifying needs and then moving in the direction of those needs to make a difference.

One of my favorite things about Caring for Katy is seeing so many families make special memories of serving others together. Parents teaching their children to serve by example is an important component in the spiritual formation of children. We want for our kids to understand that they do not have to wait until they are all grown up to change the world. God can use them right now!

Our media department put together a video that offers a few highlights of the practical projects we engaged in. Please take a moment to watch this brief video that captures and celebrates the spirit of Caring for Katy.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 2, 2022

Praying for Ukraine

I first visited Ukraine in 1995. I accompanied my mentor, the late Dr. Rudy Hernandez, to assist with televised evangelistic meetings broadcast from the opera house in Donetsk. What I witnessed that week made a profound impression on me.

The people I met were gracious and received us with open arms. During the course of our two-week stay, we recorded thousands of decisions for Christ. We also gave away thousands of copies of the Bible to individuals who had never owned nor read any part of Scripture.

That was the first of three trips I made to Ukraine. Each of those trips resulted in many Ukrainians embracing Christ for salvation. On my final trip there, I was privileged to lodge with a family of nine who cared for me as one of their own. I have nothing but fond memories of my time with the Ukrainian people.

After 8 years of ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of its neighbor on February 24. As the rockets began to fly, families began to flee for safety. Fathers bid tearful farewells to their loved ones as they stayed behind to defend their homeland.

And now, the world is watching the painful conflict escalate and unfold.The second psalm in the Old Testament speaks about the nations raging and the wars that result when kings of the earth take their stand against one another — and against the Lord. People, it seems, can’t seem to live without engaging in some kind of conflict.

One of the characters in War and Peace, the internationally praised classic by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, lamented:

“I don’t understand, I decidedly do not understand, why men can’t live without war. You would think that humanity has forgotten the laws of its divine Savior, who preached love and the forgiveness of transgressions, and that it finds its greatest merit in the art of mutual killing.”

And because we can’t live without war, and because of what is happening in Ukraine, untold numbers will die, families will be forever shattered, promising futures will be extinguished, and millions will breathe the suffocating dust of war until it chokes the life out of them. And then, perhaps, things will settle for a while, and then history will repeat itself.

By some estimates, the current conflict in Ukraine may result in as many as 5 million displaced people, creating a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. This week, our Kingsland family has responded by sending financial aid through our international network to address humanitarian needs among the people of Ukraine.

Addressing humanitarian needs is extremely important. Displaced families will need food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation and hygiene supplies. The need for these items will only increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks. We are monitoring the situation through our partners and will continue to respond accordingly.

In the meantime, we should remember to pray daily for the people of Ukraine. I formulated the following outline to guide my own prayers and hope it will help you as you pray.

U = Understanding | Take the time to look at a map of the world and note where Ukraine is located. Look at the surrounding nations that will also be impacted by what is happening. Remember that all of these nations are inhabited by people in need of the hope that no government can ever give.

K = Kingdom | Pray for the many Christians in Ukraine who are a part of the kingdom of God. Pray also that God would draw many to Himself through this conflict. Pray that Ukrainians and Russians would discover that Jesus is the only true source of peace, safety, comfort, truth and freedom.

R = Resources | Those presently helping displaced Ukrainians will need resources to meet the demands of providing comfort and care. Pray that those resources will reach aid workers and responding organizations. And then pray with your hands by sending a gift to an organization that is helping meet practical needs.

A = Administration | Please pray for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, and his administration. Pray for their safety and for the wisdom that will guide them to make courageous decisions to protect their people. Pray also for those in Vladimir Putin’s administration and circle of influence who are not in agreement with the decision to invade Ukraine. Pray for them to have the courage to voice their concerns to him, even though at great risk.

I = Ideologies | War is driven by ideologies — by worldviews that either acknowledge or ignore the existence of a God who created us in His image. Ideologies have consequences. Bad ideologies have victims. Pray for a biblical understanding of the sanctity of human life to prevail and to drive away impoverished ideologies that do not value life.

N = Needs | Some in Ukraine have already experienced the pain of loss in the first few days of the conflict — both of possessions and loved ones. Pray for those who mourn. Ask God to comfort those who have suffered loss and to supply their needs. Pray for the elderly and the orphans who are among the most vulnerable.

E = Expect | Pray with a sense of expectancy. Pray the way David did in Psalm 5:3:
In the morning, O Lord,
Thou wilt hear my voice:
In the morning I will order
my prayer to Thee and eagerly watch.
Expect God to do what we cannot do in places we cannot go in ways we cannot imagine. God is there, in the midst of it all, already at work.

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

Marinella Beretti Died Alone

The body of Marinella Beretti has been found — approximately two years after her death.

The 70 year-old Italian woman was not a victim of a kidnapping or lost in the woods or on a list of missing persons. She lived and apparently died alone in her house in northern Italy.

What makes her story even more tragic is that Beretti’s decomposed body was found by members of the local fire brigade who responded to complaints that a tree had fallen in her overgrown and obviously neglected garden.

Beretti’s body was found sitting in a chair in the living room of her home. Based on the level of decay to her body, the medical examiner has determined that she died sometime toward the end of 2019 — alone and forgotten.

Did Beretti have any surviving family? If so, no relatives have come forward. Did she have any friends? If she had friends, not one of them reported her missing. None of her neighbors noticed or were puzzled by her prolonged absence. No one knocked on her door. No one called authorities to stop by her home to do a welfare check.

No one — not a single person!

The cause of her death remains unknown and police are investigating whether she had any surviving family.

Mario Landriscina, the mayor of Como, the city where Beretti lived, has arranged for the local government to take care of the funeral arrangements. The mayor has also invited the townsfolk to attend Beretti’s funeral.

Elena Bonetti, Italy’s minister for family and equal opportunities said, “What happened to Marinella Beretti in Como, the forgotten loneliness, hurts our consciences. Remembering her life is the duty of a community that wants to remain united. Taking care of each other is the experience of families, institutions, of our being citizens.”

Bonetti added, “No one should be alone.” And yet, Beretti was alone, to the very end.

Although the cause of Beretti’s death is uncertain, an autopsy may reveal clues about the cause of her death. That remains to be seen. However, regardless of how precise the autopsy by the medical examiner, the autopsy will not reveal the condition of Beretti’s soul. Nor will the autopsy reveal whatever bruises her heart might have sustained as a result of living alone and forgotten.

Life is extremely hard for many people. Reflecting on Beretti’s lonely life and death has reminded me that each of us have the opportunity to leave either the marks of hurt or healing in the lives of others, the kinds of things that an autopsy can never reveal.

May we always be aware of and sensitive to those who are struggling to survive from day to day and offer them the healing and refreshing balm of our friendship, love, and kindness. And if we notice their absence, may we move in their direction to check on their welfare and then do for them what Jesus would do.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 20, 2022

Austin’s Personal Mission

Last week we celebrated the life of my friend Austin Armstrong. He was only 25 years old when he died peacefully in his sleep after years of battling cancer. He was truly a remarkable young man. Here is why.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist, an atheist who would later come to faith in Christ. He was the man who introduced Mother Teresa to the world in 1967. When he finally met Mother Teresa, she told him, “I am only a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

There is something deeply profound about what Mother Teresa told Muggeridge. God indeed wants to write a legible message of love to the world through each of us. He can only do so, however, as we make ourselves available to Him.

My dear friend Austin understood the significance of making himself available to God, without regard for any recognition or attention or honor for himself. Like Jesus, he was willing to become a man of no reputation in order to advance the interests of the kingdom.

Austin simply found great joy in living out his faith — in allowing God to use him to write and send a love letter to the world. He faithfully pursued the passions of God and gave himself without reservation to the purposes of God.

From an early age Austin lived his life intentionally — so much so, in fact, that he wrote his own personal mission statement. Who does that? How many people do you know who have a personal mission statement to govern their life? Austin did!

This was Austin’s mission statement: Strive to love, encourage, and help every soul I come in contact with and purposefully seek to further the kingdom of God.

Austin did not just write out a mission statement for the sake of doing so. He lived out that mission statement. It informed his decisions, guided his actions, and advanced the work of the kingdom as he had hoped.

After Austin died, I heard about one individual who said that Austin saved his life. At a time when this individual was contemplating taking his own life God used a little pencil named Austin to write a reassuring message of hope that brought the beauty of life back into focus.

On another occasion, while en route to a memorial service for a friend, he saw a car stuck in the mud by the side of the road. Most if not all of us would have just kept going — but not Austin. He stopped and helped a stranger push their car out of the mud. He got so dirty that he had to hurry and change in order to attend the memorial service.

Once again, God used a little pencil named Austin to write a brief sentence in a stranger’s life about the difference selfless service can make. Austin once again lived out his personal mission statement by helping someone whom God had put in his path.

Austin traveled with me to Jordan to serve Syrian refugees who had fled to Jordan for safety. I watched as Austin loved and served people who had lost all of their possessions and, in many cases, also lost their family and friends. Once again, God used a little pencil named Austin to write the lyrics of unconditional love across hearts ravaged by the ugliness of a civil war.

Even in the hospital, Austin unwittingly fulfilled his purpose statement. He helped others because of his participation in several clinical trials for the treatment of cancer.

These are just a few examples of how Austin lived out his personal mission statement and, by doing so, allowed God to write a love story to the world through his life.

Austin placed his life in the hands of a writing God. And because he made himself available to God, God was able to write more beautiful stories through him in 25 years than through many who cling to selfishness, refuse to regard others as more important than themselves, and live to be a hundred.

There is so much more I could write about Austin, but suffice it to say that the world would be better served if each of us thought deeply about our lives, wrote out a personal mission statement, and then placed ourselves in the hands of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.

I will miss Austin but know that he is healed and is safely at home in the arms of Jesus whom he loved. I am a better person because God used a little pencil named Austin to write a part of His love story in my own heart.

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