Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 1, 2011

Why Context Matters

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I arrived in Malaysia this afternoon feeling like a kid at Christmas, anxious to see my youngest daughter. Gina has lived here for the past four months and is scheduled to return to the States in July 2012. I scrambled off the plane like the proverbial bat out of … oh well, you get my point. I was in a really big hurry to clear immigration and customs because I wanted to see Gina. Of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in when I chose the shortest line at immigration. Somehow the second I stepped into queue, the immigration officer responsible for my line developed slower-than-molasses-in-winter syndrome. It was agonizing watching every other line grow shorter by the second while I stood in my line wondering if my passport might expire before I reached the counter. But, I finally made it through, collected my luggage, and hurried out to find Gina. Oh my, it was so good to see her and to hold and hug her once again.

Kuala Lumpur at night.

“Welcome to Malaysia, Dad,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re here. I want to show you this place that is my home for now.” Gina’s words reminded me of something that my mother-in-law had told Cheryl when she came to visit us for the first time after we had settled into our new home in Katy, Texas. “Darling, I am so happy to see your new home and to memorize every room. Now, when we talk on the phone, I will be able to picture where you are standing or sitting as we talk.” I feel the same way about being here. I want to memorize every room of the house where Gina lives and every street and restaurant. That way, I will be able to picture her in the context of where she lives. Somehow this helps and comforts me as a parent.

Once we arrived at the house where Gina lives, she wasted no time in introducing me to several of the students she has connected with here. Before going out to eat, friends from Korea, Indonesia, and Africa stopped by to meet “Gina’s Dad.” A little later we walked several blocks to Ali’s Restaurant, one of her favorite places to eat. Gina’s supervisors and several more students joined us there for a meal — students from Africa, China, and Malaysia. I loved every minute and couldn’t help but thank God for these friends who mean so much to my daughter. Now when Gina and I Skype or talk on the phone, I will have a much better understanding of her friends, surroundings, and her home here in Malaysia.

Today, God reminded me again of why context matters. Every person lives in a particular geographical, relational, cultural, and political context. In order to understand others we must make every effort to learn about the places where they live and the people who share that same space with them. Being on site is a great way to gain insight into why people live or think or act or worship as they do. That’s why it’s always good when a teacher visits the home of a struggling student or when we venture outside the comfort of our own homes to serve the poor or others in need. Being in and seeing the context in which others live can soften our hearts and strengthen our resolve. It can make us less critical or judgmental and more understanding and compassionate. Developing a deeper understanding of where and how others live can also give us a higher purpose in life — one that goes far beyond living our lives only to please ourselves.

So, look for ways to better understand the context in which your neighbors and the nations live. Determine to learn all that you can about the factors that influence and shape others. And then be prepared to love and care for them as Jesus would. I’m looking forward to learning more about Gina’s new home and friends in the coming days. And I’m especially happy to be in the context of her new adventure in Malaysia.


  1. Omar & Gina,
    It’s so great to think of ya’ll together, but I must admit a bit of jealousy is setting in. I pray for your visit to be packed full of memories that will last a lifetime! Love you both.

    Cheryl (Mom)

    • We miss you, Honey. You would be very proud to see Gina here. It’s kinda cool having her show me around. She and Abby have taken me around town in cabs and trains. Beautiful city. Will connect with students later. Much love.

  2. Omar of the world,
    I am so thrilled you are having the chance to visit Gina. I know you are so proud of your courageous girl! Give her big hugs from Anna Grace and from me 🙂 Have a great time and thank you for the blog. It is a good reminder to learn and observe before we draw conclusions about others.

    • Thank you, Christy of the Nile. Having a wonderful time with Gina. I hate to think that I am leaving in a couple of days. That’s probably going to be harder to do than I expect.

  3. Omar,
    I just visited “the Bronx” in Bogota Colombia, a block long “farmer’s market” of drugs and prostitution. I also visited one of the poorest areas of Cartagena Colombia. After having spent 1 year and several visits ministering to orphans it was an eye opener last week to get a dose of where these children are coming from and where they may end up. Thanks for the reminder of how important context is in ministering and serving others. Shoby

    • Good word, Shoby. There is nothing quite like the insight that is gained while on location. Blessings to you as you serve the purposes of God among the least of these.

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