Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 19, 2020

Addressing Food Insecurity

When shelter-in-place directives went into effect earlier this year, life took an unexpected turn for many families around the nation. Hourly wage earners who could not work, two-income families whose earning capacity was compromised, parents who now had to care for children not attending school are just some of the scenarios that added stress to households.

Understanding the impact shelter-in-place would have on families, our missions ministry wasted no time in forming a strategic partnership with Eyes On Me to address anticipated food insecurity concerns. Eyes On Me has several ministry locations around the greater Houston area, including The Hangar Unity Center in Brookshire. We chose to serve neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of one-parent households in the vicinity of The Hangar because the majority of these families live in poverty.

Our friends at Grace Fellowship and The Fellowship (two Katy area churches) along with key non-profit partners joined the team. We quickly discovered that purchasing food in large quantities turned out to be a challenge. Places like Sam’s and Costco and local grocery stores had strict limits on quantities. In spite of the challenges, we managed to purchase enough food to get started.

In the weeks that followed, we received food from several sources. The Houston Food Bank, Food Town, and Goya Foods consistently donated thousands of pounds of food. We also received fresh produce from the federal Farmers to Families initiative.

Over the past several months, hundreds of folks have volunteered to help pack and prep food boxes on Thursdays. This process generally takes about three to four hours. The actual food distributions start at 10:00 AM on designated Fridays at The Hangar with the line of cars well over a mile long before the start time.

The only stipulation for receiving food is that recipients show proof of residency in Brookshire. Each family receives a box of non-perishable food and a box of produce and meat. We strive to make sure that the boxes have a high volume of healthy food.

Since starting this food distribution initiative, we have served an average of 400 families per distribution. This month we will have our 18th food distribution. One of the best things about these distributions is the feedback we receive from families in need. So many have expressed gratitude and told us what a difference the food has made for them at a time when they are dealing with so many pandemic-related challenges.

I am grateful for the generosity of Kingsland and our partnership with Eyes On Me. By working together, we continue to meet urgent needs among families who are struggling to make ends meet. We remain committed to working with our partners to move in the direction of people in need and making a difference through the pandemic and beyond.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 17, 2020

The Death of Civility

Over the span of the past few months, life in America has deteriorated into something nightmarish. With tensions already running high because of the pandemic, the death of George Floyd earlier this year ignited off-the-charts outrage. The ripples of that outrage continue to trouble the waters to this day.

What started as peaceful protests in the wake of Floyd’s death quickly morphed into something less than peaceful or civil. Rioters and looters destroyed private property and robbed businesses with impunity — and continue to do so. Worse than the property damage are the number of people who have been injured or lost their lives.

The latest victims of the current cultural unrest are two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were ambushed while sitting in their patrol vehicle outside the MLK Transit Center in Compton. Video surveillance footage shows a man approaching the police car, firing his gun multiple times at close range, and then running away.

Both deputies suffered multiple gunshots. Deputy Claudia Apolinar, a 31 year-old mother who was shot in the face and upper torso several times, was able to call for help while assisting her 24 year-old partner. Amazing! Sadly, not a single onlooker stepped forward to help the critically wounded officers.

Thankfully, help arrived and the injured deputies were taken to St. Francis Medical Center where they underwent emergency surgery. Apolinar and her partner miraculously survived and now face a long road to recovery.

Later, demonstrators assembled outside the hospital, blocking the entrance to the emergency room. Referring to the wounded officers, one protestor yelled “I hope they (expletive) die.” Another brazenly told police: “Y’all gonna die one by one. This ain’t gonna stop.” Others were yelling, “We hope they die.”

The ambush of the deputies and hateful rhetoric of protesters outside the hospital are among the latest expressions of cowardice, hatred, and violence — essentially of depravity on display. These senseless acts, regardless of who commits them, reveal the desperately sick condition the human heart and the death of civility.

If a society is to function for the benefit of all, then civility must be safeguarded.

The earliest use of the word civility denoted the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship or orderly behavior — or as Mr. Rogers would say, being a good neighbor. Recent months have given us frightening glimpses into what disorderly behavior looks like and how such conduct hurts others.

One thing is certain, the solution to the madness goes much deeper than anything legislation or laws can reach. The late President Ronald Reagan understood that. In a speech he gave on March 8, 1983, Reagan observed:

“But we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.”

We must all do our part to oppose evil and to safeguard civility. Civility is the guardian of kindness, selflessness, and the capacity to give greater consideration to the welfare of others. If we allow civility to die then we will lose much more as a consequence, including the capacity to engage in the kind of dialogue that can lead to meaningful change.

The madness has got to stop.

Each of us must aspire to something greater than the anger that divides us and destroys decency. We must intentionally and purposefully practice civility toward one another. We must regain the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. The health of our democracy depends on our ability to disagree about important things while remaining friends.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his final sermon on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His message was entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He challenged his listeners to “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness” — like that demonstrated by the Good Samaritan.

In this parable told by Jesus, the despised Samaritan demonstrated what civility looks like — what it means to be a good neighbor. King observed that the Levite in the story worried, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you tonight.”

And that is the question before us today. It becomes easier to ignore others, walk past people in need, speak ill of others, wish others harm, or treat others badly when we don’t consider them people or we demonize them in some way. How sad to even utter the words, “We hope they die.” Dr. King, and Mr. Rogers, would have found such rhetoric repulsive.

May each of us do our part to safeguard what it means to be a good citizen and a good neighbor. Like Jesus, may we move in the direction of others in order to help them rather than harm them. If we fall short, as we likely will from time to time, then let’s adjust our behavior toward the better while keeping the standard high. The health of our society depends on it.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 9, 2020

The Death of Common Sense

Jacob Blake’s name is the latest to be added to a roster of names associated with police shootings of black men. Every one of these shootings happened in a context of time, place, and palpable cultural tensions. All of these have contributed to some degree to the civil unrest that has gripped our nation over the past several months.

I have previously written about what I believe to be the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. I am however, troubled in particular by the context of the Blake shooting. And I am troubled by the rush to make Blake a victim or a role model or someone with altruistic intentions on the day of the shooting.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, police arrived on the scene in Kenosha in response to a phone call from a woman who said Blake was not supposed to be on her premises. These officers learned that Blake had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in May. Officers on the scene tried to execute that arrest warrant.

According to reports, Blake resisted arrest. This action prompted officers to use a Taser not once but twice in an attempt to subdue him. Video then shows Blake defiantly walking away from police officers with weapons drawn. Minutes later, as Blake leaned into his car, a police officer shot him seven times in the back. Blake survived and, according to investigators, later admitted to having a knife in his possession.

I am troubled by the fact that Blake was shot seven times in the back. This is the kind of action that has prompted calls for everything from reforms in police rules of engagement to calls for defunding the police. I wish Blake had cooperated and that cooler heads had prevailed on all sides but alas tensions escalated quickly.

The actual casualty of this particular shooting was common sense.

Blake does not get a free pass on being complicit in the murder of common sense by virtue of his race or any other reason — and neither does the police officer who fired seven rounds. Both are guilty of contributing to the death of common sense.

In regard to Blake, he should have had the sense to know that things generally do not end well when you try to settle maters with police on the street. Better to cooperate and settle things at the police station. It’s just as easy to call a lawyer from there than to have to hire one after an incident gone south. Blake may never walk again as a result of choosing to resist arrest.

I am also troubled that this incident happened in front of Blake’s children. Common sense should have prevailed there as well. A father has a responsibility to set an example for his children of how to intelligently deal with life’s troubling issues. However, by resisting arrest, Blake unwittingly communicated to his children that it is ok to disregard the police. Common sense sustained another gut-punch in those moments of resisting arrest.

As for the police officer who shot Blake in the back, I wish that he had shown some sense and restraint as well. Seven shots is a lot by any measure, and certainly more than sufficient to neutralize a threat. In light of all of the concern and debate and protest about the conduct of police, a cooler head should have prevailed. At this time in history, this shooting just added more fuel to a fire already burning out of control.

From his hospital bed, Blake has pleaded not guilty to the charges filed against him. He will have his day in court as will the woman who has accused him of sexual assault. The police officer and others at the scene of the shooting will also have their day in court. Hopefully, our justice system can administer CPR to common sense and somehow revive it before the madness continues to spread like wildfire, consuming all in its path.

Because I believe in the sanctity of human life, I believe that all lives matter regardless of pigmentation, orientation, or station in life. But I also believe that brains matter. It is incumbent on each of us, regardless of the color of our skin, to use the brain that God gave us to make good choices. Had everyone involved in the Kenosha incident used even an ounce of common sense, things would have turned out a lot different.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 17, 2020

A Tribute to a Champion

Smita Singh was a champion for justice — and she was my friend. Soon after I led our missions ministry to engage in the fight against human trafficking I met Biju Mathew in India. Biju introduced me to a young lady named Smita who was engaged in both rescues and the aftercare of young girls who had suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of evil people. That was the start of a wonderful friendship and partnership in the gospel with Biju and Smita.

Earlier this week, my friend Biju called me from India to tell me the unbelievably sad news that our dear friend Smita had died. The tears came immediately. I could not stop crying. How could Smita be dead? Her value to the work of the kingdom is inestimable. Of all people, Smita understood and embraced God’s passion for justice like few others. I have found myself wiping away tears many times since that phone call.

In these days of absolute chaos in our own country we need to know about people like Smita. When so many are trying to make a point with destructive and ugly and hateful behavior, Smita actually made a difference by embodying what it means to compassionately move in the direction of people in need, just like Jesus. I am grateful to have known Smita and to call her my friend. She will forever be one of my heroes in the faith.

With his permission, I am posting Biju’s tribute to Smita from a letter he sent to his team and co-workers at International Justice Mission. Please take a moment to read Biju’s heartfelt words that show the beauty of a life well-lived for the kingdom.

—————— • ——————

Dear Friends,

I write to you with a heavy heart. I woke up this morning hoping that yesterday was a bad dream. That I could pick up the phone and call Smita. And we could catch up on life and she could share about the joys and frustrations with the children in her homes.

Smita was a bold visionary. She pioneered IJM’s aftercare work in Kolkata in 2006. Then she launched out with an ambitious dream to start Mahima shelter homes, because she believed that the children deserved better than the current care that was being offered. Smita was unafraid to see hope in the darkness and put herself in harm’s way in order for that light to break through. She imparted this hope into every child she encountered, whether it was on a rescue operation or at her shelter homes. On recues, Smita’s calmness diffused through the team; it disarmed the angriest child; and emboldened police officers with courage to press on with the rescue. When taking the stand to testify in court, Smita’s calmness and reassurance would frustrate the fiercest defence attorneys.

Smita was the embodiment of courage and compassion. It exuded out of her. Her stubbornness was also unequally matched. She was a sister to me and we fought, loved and respected each other like siblings do. Smita could hold the complex. She was someone who didn’t over-simplify life, emotions or thinking.  She understood that life was rich with pain, sorrow, joy and love. She understood that to know pain is to know love.

I mourn with you IJM Kolkata. The city has lost a daughter, a sister, and a mother to so many. I will pray for her mother especially. Smita’s mother’s words at the funeral this morning continue to echo in my thoughts: “tui iswarer meye. Iswar tor jonno opekha korche. Papai ache okhane”  (You are the daughter of the Lord and the Lord is waiting for you. Your Papa is there…).

Smita selflessly fought for the freedom of so many and it’s hard to imagine this life without her. We mourn a loss that cannot be quantified, ache deeply as we try to imagine this fight without her and yet, we celebrate her life. Smita’s life profoundly impacted each of us; the city; and this country.

Let me leave you with this quote from Frederick Buechner that brings me solace today:

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

Much love to each of you,

Biju C Mathew
Vice President, Strategy & Operations | Africa & Europe

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 5, 2020

Heartbroken for Our Nation

Our nation is currently caught in the teeth of a violent cultural storm that is ripping our societal fabric to shreds. The pandemic aside, the killing of George Floyd ignited expressions of collective outrage that morphed into rioting, looting, destruction, and more deaths.

Beyond that, Floyd’s death has forced us to address the ugly specter of racism. The anger is palpable as people cry out for the kind of America that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of — a place where people are not judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I too, long for that kind of America. Skin color often puts people at an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Judging a book by its cover often keeps us from reading some amazing stories. However, the content of our character levels the playing field. MLK understood that character, not skin color, reveals the heart of a person.

God has always been concerned about the heart of man.

Jesus warned that the heart can produce some really ugly behaviors like “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). But He also illustrated how a person with a heart that breaks for what breaks God’s heart can make difference — as in the case of a good Samaritan who moved in the direction of a man in desperate need.

A broken heart is essential to fixing broken things.

Injustice and regarding others as anything less than those created in His image breaks the heart of God. Unless our heart is broken for what breaks God’s heart, we will fail to make a difference in our world. We must get in sync with the rhythm of His divine heartbeat.

When we truly get our heart in sync with His, then we can no longer remain the same. We cannot remain passive or uninvolved or complacent about what we see happening in our world. Instead we will reorder our priorities to reflect God’s passions and then intentionally spend ourselves on bringing healing to a world that is broken.

God hates injustice and the violation of the sanctity of human life. The anger of man, however, will not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). While acts of injustice should disturb us and even enrage us, an angry heart will not heal the deep wounds that have resulted in so much painful division in our nation. We must do more than respond in anger to make a point. We must take wise steps to make a difference.

Each of us, regardless of the color of our skin, must ask God the same question. We must seek to understand what breaks His heart and how He can use us to play a role in promoting healing rather than creating more wounds. We must build and maintain bridges of love.

Asking God to break your heart for what breaks His is a dangerous prayer. When this prayer is answered it will change the way you look at and respond to what you see in the world. The answer to this prayer will turn your life upside down. But, that’s ok!

God uses those whose lives have been turned upside down to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) — essentially, to turn the world right side up and aligned with God’s purposes.

A heart that is in sync with God’s heart is reflected in a life that is willing to do more than talk a good game but that actually gets in the game. A broken heart will lead you to an honest examination of what steps you must take to respect and live in harmony with all people regardless of their pigmentation.

A broken heart will cause you to dig deeper, work harder, pray longer, go farther, and reach higher. A broken heart will not allow you to live selfishly — to consume everything solely on yourself and your personal interests. A broken heart will lead you to close the distance between yourself and those who are lost, hurting, disenfranchised, and in need.

The popular praise song “Hosanna” by Hillsong expresses the sentiment of what it means to ask God to break your heart:

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Singing or saying these words is much easier than living them out. Asking God to break our heart for what breaks His must be more than an emotional exercise that does not result in any change in our lives.

Be warned: A person whose heart is truly broken for the things that break God’s heart will be inconvenienced in order to engage with hurting humanity. But, that’s ok! In the words of A.W. Tozer, the kingdom of God has always advanced at our inconvenience, never at our convenience.

God is looking for people with broken hearts who are willing to do whatever it takes to connect with a hurting world and to make a difference. Will you allow God to break your heart?

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 10, 2020

On Defunding the Police

The protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd continue to dominate the news. In major cities across the country, large crowds gather daily to express their collective outrage at the senseless death of an unarmed black man by Minneapolis police officers.

To express outrage at the death of Floyd in a peaceful manner is a responsible way for our nation to sigh and to grieve and to call attention to an injustice. Sadly, many of the protests have deteriorated into ugly expressions of anarchy that dishonor the death of George Floyd.

According to news reports, outsiders show up at demonstrations to agitate and stir up trouble. To make matters worse, opportunists also show up to loot and destroy. The toxic presence of these two groups has resulted in the wanton destruction of property and the loss of life.

Amid these ongoing protests, calls to defund police departments have grown increasingly loud. Activists who feel that reforms are not enough to address concerns about police are urging politicians to do more. Minneapolis, the city where Floyd took his final breath, is among the first cities to take steps toward defunding the police.

This week, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council committed to dismantling its police department. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey prefers to make changes but not break up his city’s embattled police force. And so a new battle now rages over the best way to protect the public.

In its most literal sense, the movement to defund is simple. It means taking funding away from police forces, many of which are already underfunded. In its broader sense, the push to defund the police is about taking money away from police departments and reallocating those funds into social programs.

Advocates for defunding argue that dollars taken away from police will yield better results if invested in community initiatives that provide more opportunities for the poor and marginalized. This would result, they assert, in less crime. Others argue that funds can be used to help communities do a better job of policing themselves.

Passionate arguments will continue to be made on both sides of this divisive issue.

Those who argue that previous reforms intended to keep police in check have not worked point to the few bad apples in the bushel as proof. Bad apples, after all, are what make the sauce of savory news. Reforms, to be sure, are needed but seldom work as quickly, consistently, and effectively as these folks would like. So, toss out the entire bushel of apples.

Proponents of defunding the police also argue that reallocating funding to address other social needs would reduce crime. MDP150 is a Minneapolis-based initiative by organizers aiming to bring “meaningful structural change” to police in the city. This group believes that shifting money away from the police and toward social needs will eventually lead to “a place where people won’t need to rob banks.”

And then there are those who fear the chaos that would result from defunding the police. While poll numbers indicate that there is strong support for police reform, they also reveal that most Americans think that cutting back on police is a bad idea. Many, however, are hopeful that the death of George Floyd will lead to reforms that restrict choke holds and encourage the police to police each other when restraining a suspect.

Regardless of what you may think about the issue of defunding the police, there is one thing that is overlooked in this debate — the heart of man. Jeremiah, one of the pre-exilic Old Testament prophets to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, had this to say (17:9): “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Therein lies the real problem. The heart is deceitful and desperately sick.

This illness was demonstrated by a cop who showed no compassion to a restrained and unarmed man who was fighting to catch his breath.

This illness was also demonstrated when a 24 year-old black man killed David Dorn, a 77 year-old retired police captain who was protecting a shop during a violent night of protests in St. Louis. Dorn was also black.

One thing is certain, no amount of legislation, reforms, or funding can fix the human heart. Jeremiah was right. The heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” And a heart that is deceitful and sick is vulnerable to evil expressions and deeds.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). We have seen the truth of Jesus’ words illustrated too many times to count over the past few weeks.

As a Christ-follower, I am convinced that the only remedy for a bad heart is a new heart.

Speaking to a nation in exile, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel recorded these words of the Lord (36:26-27), “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

A person with a new heart is cleansed, forgiven, endowed with a new nature, and has a changed attitude toward sin. A person with a new heart recognizes the value of human life, all human life, regardless of pigmentation. A person with a new heart respects the dignity of others and does not act out of selfishness or empty conceit. A person with a new heart seeks to give rather than take life.

Funding or defunding the police will never lead us to “a place where people won’t need to rob banks” because you can’t fix a deceitful and sick heart with funding or defunding. William Golding’s 1954 novel “Lord of the Flies” is worth reading again in light of current cultural events. This story illustrates what can happen when hearts that are deceitful and desperately sick rule the day.

May we look to the only One who can fix what is broken within us.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 29, 2020

George Floyd’s Final Breath

George Floyd drew his final breath on Monday, May 25, in the presence of concerned bystanders. The 46 year-old black man was arrested by Minneapolis police officers who responded to a call from a shopkeeper about someone trying to pass a potentially counterfeit bill.

Police arrived and pulled Floyd out of his vehicle and cuffed his hands behind his back. This is where bystanders enter the picture. The cell phone video of the moments leading to Floyd’s death is disturbing.

Four police officers used restraint on an unarmed and handcuffed man that was beyond anything reasonable. Floyd lay face down on the street, in obvious pain and distress, while police officers held him down. One officer in particular placed his knee and the weight of his body on Floyd’s neck.

The cell phone video recorded Floyd repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” Bystanders called out to the officers to show restraint. Their calls fell on deaf ears. The officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck never backed off. Seven minutes later, Floyd said, “I am about to die.”

And then, George Floyd drew his final breath and died. A person nearby remarked, “They just killed him.”

Floyd had moved to Minneapolis from Houston’s Third Ward in search of work and a better life. I have spent lots of time in that part of Houston over the past fifteen years. I have friends in the Third Ward who knew Floyd — and liked him.

Many who personally knew Floyd in Minneapolis also liked him and spoke kindly about this man they regarded as a gentle giant.

As for the phone call about a potentially counterfeit bill, the phone call that set things in motion, I know that I would never be able to distinguish a counterfeit bill from a real one. And if I unwittingly pulled a counterfeit bill from my wallet to pay for something, I would probably get the benefit of the doubt — but not so for Floyd.

What disturbs me most about the video is the unwillingness of the police officer to give Floyd the benefit of the doubt when he cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. While Floyd’s protests moved bystanders to desperately plead on his behalf, the officer remained stoic and unresponsive, making it increasingly difficult for Floyd to breathe.

Floyd’s cry is a metaphor for what racism, violence, and an unwillingness to give a hurting human being the benefit of the doubt can do. These are things that suffocate people and make it difficult for them to breathe. And a foot or a knee on the neck of another is the ultimate expression of exercising power over those who can do little to help themselves.

What happened to Floyd should disturb us all in a profound way. When we allow racism, violence, and disregard for the sanctity of human life to have a place in our hearts, we become guilty of choking the life out of others — just like the officers responsible for Floyd’s death. And when we tolerate these things in our society, sooner or later it will become difficult for us to breathe.

God hates racism and violence and attitudes that disparage others. As a Christ-follower, I must not and will not tolerate what God hates. I want to see others as Christ sees them — as members of the same human race and those who are equally valuable in the eyes of God. I want for my actions to breathe life into others rather than make it difficult for them to breathe.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” May justice indeed be served in regard to the senseless death of George Floyd.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 24, 2020

24 Melancholy Notes

Felipe Garcia WW1 Seated
My grandfather, Felipe Garcia, was the first to tell me stories about the military. He served as a Sergeant Major in the First World War. My grandfather was instrumental in encouraging Hispanics from South Texas to enlist to serve their country. His contributions to the war effort are recorded in some books about the involvement of Hispanics in the First World War.

Today, my grandfather’s military uniform is on permanent display in the museum in my hometown of Mission, Texas. My grandfather was proud of his military service and always modeled what it means to have a high regard for those who fight to protect our freedoms.

Throughout his life, my grandfather remained active in his local veterans’ post and maintained a deep respect for those who serve in the military. His three sons served in the military and his only daughter married a career Navy officer. He was proud of each of them.

Although I did register for the draft near the end of the Vietnam War, I never served in the military. Like my grandfather, however, I have always had a high regard and abiding gratitude for those who died to protect our freedoms.

In my early years of high school, I accepted an invitation from a veterans’ organization to play Taps at the funeral of a young man from McAllen who had been killed in Vietnam. As the moment approached for me to sound the twenty-four melancholy notes of what is the most recognizable military bugle call, I was gripped by a great sense of responsibility.

Sounding Taps is indeed a great responsibility. In the words of US Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva, “Sounding Taps is the most sacred duty a bugler can perform.” He is right! After that day, I was invited to play Taps at military funerals many times throughout my high school years.

The origin of Taps dates back to the Civil War. In the days before field radios and wireless communication, military leaders depended on bugle calls to guide the movement of their men in battle. Union General Daniel Butterfield had bugle calls composed that his men would recognize as distinctly theirs in the heat of battle.

Not satisfied with the bugle tune that signaled his men to extinguish lights and go to bed, Butterfield worked with his bugler to modify the tune that we now know as Taps. Although never intended to be a funeral ballad, it was first played at a military funeral during the Civil War. Finally in 1891, the year my grandfather was born, Taps was recognized in a military manual as a key component of a military funeral.

Today, Taps is played at least twenty times per day at Arlington National Cemetery, every evening at US military bases around the world, and countless times at military funerals and memorial services. The tune has become a part of our national conscience. No other notes can evoke such emotion from brothers-in-arms and family and friends at a funeral than the twenty-four haunting notes of Taps.

In the words of Oliver Willcox Norton, General Butterfield’s brigade bugler, “There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.”

I like Norton’s description of the beauty of the twenty-four melancholy notes that we know as Taps. Just as the echo of the tune lingers in the heart long after the bugler has stopped playing, so does the legacy of the fallen linger.

On this Memorial Day may we remember with gratitude the bravery of those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. We remain the land of the free because of the brave.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 19, 2020

Remembering Ravi Zacharias

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias died at his home in Atlanta this morning after a brief battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 74.

Born in India, Ravi was a skeptic. He came to faith in Christ in a hospital in New Delhi after a failed suicide attempt at the age of 17. While recovering, Ravi heard seven words from the Gospel of John that changed the trajectory of his life: “Because I live, you also will live” (14:19).

Ravi surrendered his life to Christ and said that if he emerged from the hospital, he would leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of truth. His obituary notes that once Ravi “found the truth of the gospel, his passion for sharing it burned bright until the very end.”

Later reflecting on his decision to follow Christ, Ravi wrote:

“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I have remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.”

When he was a boy, Ravi’s mother took him to a local palm reader who told him, “Looking at your future, Ravi Baba, you will not travel far or very much in your life,” he declared. “That’s what the lines on your hand tell me. There is no future for you abroad.”

Perhaps that might have been the case had Ravi not come to faith in Christ. But, Jesus changes everything, and He did so for Ravi. After coming to faith in Christ, Ravi began his itinerant preaching ministry in India, growing in his reputation as a brilliant speaker and apologist.

At the age of 37, at the invitation of Billy Graham, Ravi preached to the inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983. That meeting launched Ravi into the international spotlight where he quickly gained a reputation as one of the foremost defenders of Christianity’s intellectual credibility.

In 1984, Ravi founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), with the mission of “helping the thinker believe and the believer think.” The goal of his organization is “to touch both the heart and the intellect of the thinkers and influencers in society by tackling some of the toughest questions about faith and providing thoughtful answers.” In addition to his speaking ministry, Ravi’s books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and have been translated into over a dozen languages.

Ravi extended his ministry through his weekly radio program, “Let My People Think.” He explored issues such as the credibility of the Christian message and the Bible, the weakness of modern intellectual movements, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Today, Ravi’s radio program is syndicated to over 2,000 stations in 32 countries and has also been downloaded 15.6 million times as a podcast over the last year.

What I admired most about Ravi was the way in which he engaged with skeptics, atheists, and those who embraced other worldviews. He lived the words of 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Ravi was always a gentleman when engaged in debates with the world’s leading skeptics. His family said: “He saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered. People weren’t logical problems waiting to be solved; they were people who needed the person of Christ.”

There is a lot that we can learn from Ravi. He was a brilliant man. But beyond that, he was a passionate and devoted follower of Christ who loved and cared deeply about the spiritual welfare of others. To his final day, he was actively speaking about Jesus with his caretakers. And before he drew his final breath, he said, “But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with Him.”

Thank you, Ravi. Death has not silenced your voice. In the words of the Psalmist (30:9), your dust will continue to tell the world of God’s faithfulness.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 12, 2020

The Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery left his home for the last time on Sunday, February 23, never to return. Arbery, a 25 year-old black man was out for a jog just outside the port city of Brunswick when he was confronted by Gregory McMichael and his son Travis.

The father and son pursued Arbery because they suspected he was responsible for recent burglaries in the area, although police records indicate that only one burglary had taken place.

McMichael and his son followed Arbery in their pick-up truck in an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest. The 34 year-old Travis confronted Arbery, a scuffle broke out, followed by three shotgun blasts that ended Arbery’s life.

The case remained stagnant and did not get much attention outside of Brunswick for almost two months. McMichael and his son remained free throughout that period. Two district attorneys described the actions of the father and son as perfectly legal.

And then, a 36-second video emerged last week that thrust the case into the national spotlight, emboldened calls for justice, and resulted in the arrest of McMichael and his son on charges of aggravated assault and murder.

Tom Durden, the district attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, will present the case to a grand jury as soon as shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted and a grand jury can be empaneled. The grand jury will listen to the evidence and then decide whether charges against McMichael and his son are merited.

In the meantime, Arbery’s family grieves what many regard as a senseless death. The McMichael men have their own supporters who applaud them for protecting their neighborhood. And a young man will live on only in the memories of family, friends, and those outraged by the events that robbed him of his life. No winners!

Bad things happen when we fail to see others clearly.

The Gospel of Mark (8:22-26) records an occasion when Jesus healed a blind man. He laid hands on him and then asked the man if he could see anything. The man replied that he could see men, but they looked like trees walking about — an indication that his sight was blurry. Jesus laid His hands on the man’s eyes a second time and, as a result, the man could see everything clearly.

Jesus could have healed the blind man with one touch but instead chose to heal him in two stages — perhaps a reminder that insight often comes slowly.

McMichael and his son failed to see Arbery clearly and consequently, perhaps unwittingly, robbed him of his life. Arbery was unarmed and posed no threat. Had they waited on law enforcement officials the story likely would have had a different outcome.

As a former law enforcement officer, the elder McMichael should have known that in any confrontation there is always the potential for things to go wrong. In this case they did and a young man is dead and McMichael and his son are behind bars.

It is now up to a grand jury to decide where things go from here.

When we fail to see others clearly we are in danger of acting on assumptions that may be wrong and may result in harming others. The events surrounding Arbery’s death have reminded me that I need to ask the Lord daily to touch my eyes a second time lest I fail to see people clearly.

I hope you will join me in praying for the family of Ahmaud Arbery and the McMichael family as well. And let’s pray that the grand jury will see things clearly and that justice will do her work.

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