Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 2, 2009

Beating Back the Jungle

   In 1998 I traveled by train from the ancient city of Cuzco, high in the Peruvian Andes, to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. The train journey was magnificent, offering breath-taking vistas as it made its way northwest along the Urubamba River to the town of Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes I boarded a local bus for the final few kilometers up to the high mountain ridge where Machu Picchu lay hidden for centuries beneath a thick jungle canopy.

   Built around 1460 by Pachacuti, king of South America’s Inca civilization from A.D. 1438 to 1471, Machu Picchu was eventually abandoned and swallowed up by the jungle. In 1904, an engineer named Franklin caught a glimpse of Machu Picchu from a distant mountain. He told a missionary named Thomas Paine about what he had seen. Paine and a fellow missionary climbed to the ruins in 1906. In 1910, Yale’s Hiram Bingham heard of the discovery, journeyed to the site, and credited himself as the discoverer of Machu Picchu.

   I have visited many of the world’s premier sites, but Machu Picchu took my breath away. You can’t walk its ancient paths without wondering about the people who crafted this city out of precisely carved and placed stones, many weighing several tons. Our guide shared that Machu Picchu is the most expensive archeological site in the world to maintain because of the rapid growth of the surrounding jungle. “We have to beat back the jungle or Machu Picchu will be swallowed up,” he said.

   I have often thought about Machu Picchu as I have walked the streets of urban areas in our own city. These concrete jungles bear resemblances to ancient ruins with their abandoned row houses, trash-filled lots, dilapidated crack houses, and more. Life is hard and dangerous for those who live in these areas, especially children whose futures are constantly threatened by the encroaching jungle. I am thankful for those who have caught a glimpse of these areas and have ventured in to beat back the jungle so that the light of God’s love and opportunity can shine through.

   Our missions ministry has formed strategic alliances with those serving in Houston’s concrete jungles. We are committed to investing resources and mobilizing volunteers to help our partners beat back the jungle.

   Houston’s Fourth Ward | Pastor Elmo Johnson has served the Fourth Ward’s Rose of Sharon Baptist Church for twenty-five years. His influence reaches beyond Rose of Sharon to the surrounding community. He has shut down crack houses, provided safe housing for poor senior adults, and more in an effort to revitalize his neighborhood. Elmo is committed to winning the Fourth Ward to the kingdom, home by home.

   Generation One | Mike Malkemes beats back the jungle daily as he works to help children in Houston’s Third Ward to realize their God-given potential. Mike and his staff at Generation One help kids connect with Jesus, provide after-school tutoring, and get kids involved in sports leagues. They also provide food and clothing for these children and their families, clear hazardous lots and abandoned homes, and more. The Third Ward would be much more dangerous without his presence.

   Alpha House | Josh and Amy Wood work under the leadership of Jim Herington and the Harbor Church Network to provide a supportive environment for those addicted to alcohol and drugs. Alpha House is the only Christ-based residential recovery initiative in Houston’s Montrose district. Josh and Amy are committed to helping those recovering from alcohol and drug dependency to rebuild their lives in a supportive Christian environment.

   Something Blessed | Almost fifteen years ago Mary Lee sensed a call from God to provide care for a vulnerable segment of the homeless community — those with mental and physical challenges. Doing what she does day after day is hard, but Mary knows she is doing exactly what God has called her to do. Without people like Mary, the residents she cares for would be swallowed up by the concrete jungle and forgotten.

   God’s Will Word Ministries | Pastor Leonard Butler came to the Houston area to make a difference. He planted a church in Katy that is presently meeting in a building in Brookshire in the midst of a hurting community. He and his small congregation are working to connect with vulnerable kids and their families and to introduce them to the hope that is found only in Jesus.


  1. Omar,
    I am not going to lie, I don’t think I could’ve done what you did in Kolkata, nor do I serve in this urban jungle that you speak of. However, as I read all of your posts, I became eager to learn more about Mother Teresa. I desire to have such a giving and compassionate spirit. Traveling to Texas Children’s 3 days a week has afforded us many opportunities to see this jungle that you speak of. My children have been so sheltered living in the luxurious world of Katy. Though I often dred the trek down there, we have been blessed with many ‘God Moments’ along the way. I am thankful that my children are getting to see, with their own eyes, that there are many hurting and hungry people in this world, and that it is good to help them. I was always taught not to give them money because they can go to a shelter, as I believe many of us were. (I appreciated Jon’s blog on giving supplies) I believe that God has begun to give me eyes to see their hurt and shame. You are the one, Omar, who has encouraged me to do this. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Although we aren’t entirely “there” yet, God is working in our hearts. Thank you so much for your faithfulness to share what God is doing in your life. It sharpens me.
    Kelly Isenberger

  2. Kelly…

    Thank you for having a heart that is so open to learn and to serve. And thanks for taking advantage of the God moments along the way to teach your children. God will honor your willingness to grow and to teach your children.


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