Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 8, 2019

The Fruit of Emptiness

The late Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” He was right! Children are, after all, among the most vulnerable members of any society — including children in the womb.

God has always been concerned about the weak and vulnerable in society. A child in the womb is more vulnerable and at risk than any other members of society. If I am in danger, I can take steps to seek safety. I can move to a more secure home or neighborhood or community. However, if a child in the womb is in danger, that child cannot move to a safer womb.

Children in the womb have no voice and no choice. They cannot speak for themselves. They cannot appeal to an abortion-minded woman to let them live, to do them no harm, to keep them from being torn limb from limb. They are the weakest of the weak and at the mercy of those who are stronger.

This past week, the voices of those who would seek to destroy life in the womb have spewed some of the most vile rhetoric I have ever heard.

State Representative John Rogers of Alabama voiced his opposition to the abortion ban that was approved in his state. He said, “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later.”

The preborn are always on the losing end of choices made by those who deem they are neither loved nor wanted. Many children are not loved nor wanted because they have come at an inconvenient time (as if the child had anything to do with that). Mother Teresa observed, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania State Representative, recorded himself harassing pro-life women outside the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania clinic in Philadelphia. His eight minute rant went viral on social media.

Sims viciously scolded these women, telling them that they had no right to tell other women what they can do with their bodies — while he reserved the right to tell other women what they can do with their bodies. He accused Christians of being Bible Bullies, bigots, sexists, and misogynists — while recording his own misogynistic, bullying, and bigoted behavior.

And finally, a Students for Life group at the University of Texas—San Antonio set up a display of crosses to remember the 910 babies Planned Parenthood kills each day. Their peaceful display was interrupted by protestors associated with the Shout Your Abortion movement which encourages young women to proudly proclaim they had an abortion. What followed was recorded on video.

Several young women holding pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” signs walked among the display of crosses. One pointed at a cross and boasted, “Look, there’s mine right there!” Another said, “I just love sex and aborting fetuses. That’s my number one kink.”

One girl chanted, “Stop, hey, what’s that sound. All the fetuses are in the ground.” Another responded, “What if we pissed in the fetus graveyard.” These are just some of the things shouted by the protestors.

The one thing all of these individuals have in common is that they lack the bandwidth to see beyond today, to where disregarding the sanctity of life will ultimately lead us as a society. Their vile speech is the fruit of emptiness.

Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet in the Old Testament, lamented that the people of Judah had strayed far from God. He observed that they had followed emptiness and became empty themselves as a result. Unless they repented, he warned, judgment would come. And indeed judgement came.

God cares about the plight of the weak and the vulnerable, and so should we. We must speak for those who have no voice. Like Jeremiah, we too should weep over what is happening in our society. And we must warn that judgment will come, if not sooner then later.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Ultimately, no one destroys life with impunity. There will be a reckoning.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 6, 2019

The Act of Dehumanization

Every beneficent and malevolent act committed in the world today is driven by worldview considerations. Whether human rights atrocities or acts of extreme love, every act can be traced back to what an individual believes.

The substance of beliefs is ultimately transmitted by words. That is why words matter. There is power in words.

A children’s rhyme boasts, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The truth of the matter is that words can hurt us and others — and sometimes hurt in a big way!

The Holocaust is not something that happened overnight. This horrible chapter in our human history can be traced back to words that shaped the thinking of a people. In Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler referred to the Jews as “parasites upon the nations.” His words paved the way for the final solution.

Last month, a biology professor at the University of California San Diego compared unborn babies to parasites. As part of a lecture, this professor drew “parallels between fetuses and cancers.” A student in his class took a photo of one of the professor’s slides and expressed his shock on social media.

The class title was “biology of disease.” Thus to refer to a pre-born baby as a parasite is essentially to liken pregnancy to a disease for which abortion is the remedy.

The professor described a fetus, or unborn baby, as a “legitimate parasite” that grows rapidly and manipulates the immunity of the mother — just like cancer. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, this professor used words that unquestionably contribute to the dehumanization of a baby in the womb.

Dehumanizing language is indeed dangerous because it suggests that certain human beings (in and out of the womb) are less valuable than others. And, as in the case of the Holocaust, this kind of language can lead to the destruction of life.

Nobody would argue against killing a parasite any more than they would protest killing a roach. Comparing unborn babies to parasites, however, can condition people to think of the preborn in terms of being something less than human. While a parasite does not belong to the human species, a human fetus is a human life — regardless of the stage of development.

Derogatory and dehumanizing language is nothing new to those who advocate for abortion. In her book Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, used derogatory language to refer to minorities and certain groups of human beings. She referred to those she loathed as “human weeds, reckless breeders” and “human beings who never should have been born.”

We live in dangerous times. When we regard a child in the womb as a parasite, then it will not be long before life outside of the womb is regarded in similar terms — especially children that survive abortion, the aged, and those born with special challenges.

How utterly arrogant and irresponsible for anyone to use language that dehumanizes, devalues, and disregards the sanctity of human life. If we are not careful, this kind of rhetoric will ultimately endanger us all.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 30, 2019

Back in Alaska

Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. No question about it! No matter where I look, the natural beauty of this place just makes my heart smile. It’s the kind of beauty that takes my breath away and leaves me wide-eyed and silent. And the magnificence of Alaska just doesn’t quit. No matter which direction you look, God’s creative signature is everywhere to be seen.

And yet, for all its beauty, there is a darkness in Alaska. Regarded as the least church-attending state in the Union, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country — nearly twice the national average. Suicide is the leading cause of death here for people ages 15 to 24. Beauty is not enough to stave off the despair that leads so many in Alaska to take their own lives.

A few years ago, I connected with Scott Kirby of GraceWorks Alaska. He has an inspiring vision to reach Alaska. If you ask him about GraceWorks, he will tell you why they even exist. “Our goal is nothing less than to literally transform Alaska by winning new believers, growing disciples, and starting new gatherings of believers. We will not be satisfied until we see a remarkable, multiplying, Jesus Movement in our state.” That is a bold vision.

Every summer, GraceWorks hosts hundreds of volunteers each week — students and adults who come here to be the hands and feet of Jesus. These teams help GraceWorks with their outreach in most of the city parks in Anchorage. Teams lead all sorts of fun activities for kids, teach Bible stories, repair bikes, host skateboarding clinics, and so much more.

However, before these teams arrive in Anchorage, there is much work that has to take place. One of the most important things is making sure that GraceWork’s fleet of vehicles are all in good repair and ready to transport teams to and from ministry locations every day. That’s where we come in.

For the past three years, our missions and men’s ministries have collaborated to bring a team of men to service the vehicles that will transport volunteers. GraceWorks has a fleet of 29 vehicles and trailers that must be serviced to ensure the safe transport of teams and supplies. Each vehicle has its respective maintenance record and a punch list of things to service. That’s why we are back in Alaska.

We are off to a good start and making progress. I am grateful for Gil Harris, Kingsland member and owner of Katy Auto Care, for his passion for leading men and serving God. Gil always does a great job of leading our morning devotionals and guiding our team in servicing vehicles. I don’t mind saying that I have learned a lot about car care over the past three years as a result of this annual initiative.

As time allows, and because the sun sets almost at ten at night, we always try to squeeze in an adventure at the end of the day — whether a quick hike or a quick trip to see one of the local sights. The work, the fellowship, the food, and working alongside our friends at GraceWorks all make for a great week. We all enjoy getting our hands dirty because we know that in a few weeks, the teams that come to serve will have a great experience. And we want to make sure that they have a safe experience as well.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 22, 2019

Terror in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a tear-drop shaped island in the Indian Ocean, was rocked by terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. Three Christian churches, packed with worshipers, and three luxury hotels were targeted by suicide bombers in what can only be regarded as coordinated attacks. The explosions claimed 290 lives and wounded an additional 500 people.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the government has blamed the National Thowheed Jamath, a little-known jihadist group. Authorities also believe that the suicide bombers and their co-conspirators, all Sri Lankan citizens, had international support from other Islamist terrorist groups.

Sri Lanka’s security forces were warned about possible attacks at least ten days before the bombings. However, no one took action and top government officials say the warnings never reached them, indicating a catastrophic intelligence failure. Whatever the reason, the failure to take action resulted in the loss of lives.

The reality, however, is that no matter how vigilant we are, those who seek to kill and destroy will find a way to do it no matter what — even at the expense of their own lives. That is one of the realities that makes terrorism so terrifying. The suicide bombers in Sri Lanka willingly paid the ultimate price in an effort to advance whatever it is they wanted to advance.

Perhaps we will find out more in the coming days. Surely the suicide bombers would want the world to know why they sacrificed their lives and were willing to take the lives of others. Given that 24 people have been arrested in connection with the bombings, it appears the suicide bombers were part of something much bigger than themselves.

The bombings in Sri Lanka are yet one more indication that we live in a world gone mad, a world that is being ripped apart by senseless acts of violence — acts designed to strike terror into the hearts of ordinary people. Terror always leaves death and destruction in its wake. These are just two of the bitter fruits of worldviews that disregard the value of human life.

When you peel back the layers of any terrorist act, or any beneficent act, you eventually get to the heart of the matter — and the heart really is the matter. Jeremiah (17:9) cautioned, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus observed, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Luke 6:45).

At the heart of every oppressive and deadly act of violence is a blatant disregard for or an impoverished understanding of the sanctity of human life. When we do not value human life, then no one and no place is off-limits to those who seek to steal, kill, and destroy — be it in a holy place or the market place.

I am saddened by what happened in Sri Lanka. My heart aches for all who are dealing with the pain of the senseless loss of their loved ones. As a Christ-follower, I choose to bring good treasures out of my heart. I choose to respect life, protect life, and work toward the day when “man who is of the earth may cause terror no more” (Psalm 10:18).

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 10, 2019

Pay for Praise

While waiting for my ride to the airport in Kampala last week, I sat in the lobby of the Fairway Hotel and perused a copy of the China Daily. One article in particular intrigued me — “Youths chat or pay their way to adulation.”

Praise, it seems, is in short supply in China — at least among young people who feel the pressure to perform and excel and meet very high family expectations. Dang Jianguo, an associate professor at Fudan Journalism School, observed, “In China, people have been traditionally reluctant to praise others.” That’s unfortunate!

Praise is an essential ingredient of the human emotional food pyramid. If you remove the nutrients that praise can provide then the result is malnourished individuals who, according to Jianguo, are “thirsty for praise.”

This thirst for praise has led to the development of “kuakua” online chat groups. In Chinese, “kua” literally means “to praise.” This new sub-culture platform has become super-popular among Chinese youth. Participants can receive free praise from fellow college students or complete strangers. If they come up short, then they can purchase “compliments.”

Things are really not much different in America or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. Praise is important to us, too. We tend to measure affirmation by using social media metrics. The more likes, the better we feel. Not sure how we survived in the days before social media gave us access to this kind of instant affirmation. But, somehow, we did.

Sun Jiashan, a researcher at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, is not too worried about the kuakua phenomenon. On the up side, she points out, “many youths have said that by joining the group, they have experienced the joy of praising each other.” That’s a good thing! Maybe when these kids become parents they will be more proactive about praising their kids thus eliminating the need for their kids to purchase praise.

The bottom line is that rejection is a terrible thing. No one likes rejection. Anne Murray spoke for all of us when she sang, “I was born to reject rejection. If only for today, Show me that you want me, Show me that you need me, Send a little love my way” (from her song “Send a Little Love My Way”).

The Bible certainly affirms the significance and worth of all human beings. In Psalm 8, David marveled at the fact that the God who created the universe considers us as more prized than the planets. Jesus also affirmed the worth of people. He spent time with those rejected by society and became known as “a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).

May we all look for opportunities to offer the kind of genuine and heartfelt praise that will nourish those who are hurting or doubting their self-worth. After all, no one should have to pay for praise.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 3, 2019

Miracles in Kawempe

Kawempe is one of the poorest and most densely populated divisions of Kampala, Uganda. Most of the folks who call Kawempe home manage to live on less than two dollars per day. Think about that the next time you place your order at Starbucks — two dollars per day — or the next time you fill your cart at the grocery store.

Living on two bucks a day means that every penny that comes into the household must be used for essentials — like food, mostly food. That leaves almost no discretionary money for anything else. Life for the poor of Kawempe is dismal and suffocating. When people here dream of the future, that future is shortened to a day or two out at best.

Enter Robert Nabulere and his wife Rose. Robert is Ugandan by birth and grew up in poverty. He understands what it’s like to wonder where the next meal will come from. Robert and Rose came to Kawempe more than a dozen years ago with a vision to make a difference in the lives of the poor. For them, that meant introducing Jesus Christ into the equation because they believe that apart from Him things will just not add up.

When Robert and Rose came to Kawempe to plant Miracle Centre Kawempe Church, they became burdened for the welfare of the kids — the many kids who were not in public schools. The poor here cannot afford to pay for uniforms for their kids to sit in classrooms with ratios as high as a hundred and twenty students to one teacher. They can’t afford to pay for school lunches. So, they don’t go to school.

Robert and Rose both dreamed of a better future for the kids in Kawempe. They had the vision to look beyond the depressing actualities to behold the possibilities — what could happen if they invested in the lives of Kawempe’s poor. So, they trusted God and got to work.

In May of 2008, they rented a home on a large lot to start the Miracle Destiny Primary School. They defined their vision as seeking the kingdom of God in education and their purpose as guiding children into their destiny with godly wisdom. They started with sixteen kids from the poorest homes. Today, their primary school enrollment has grown to 264 students plus a faculty that shares their vision.

In recent years, Robert and Rose purchased a large piece of property in the bush and have transformed it into a beautiful residential campus for secondary level students. One-hundred-seventy-five students from Kawempe currently live on that campus. They have just completed extra buildings to house even more students in the coming months.

A few months ago, Robert and Rose were able to secure a small piece of property in crowded Kawempe. The purchase of that property was miraculous in itself. Plans are to build a multi-story school to make room for even more children from Kawempe’s poorest homes. This summer, the kids who attend Kingsland’s Vacation Bible School will raise funds to kick off construction of this new campus. We will give these funds in memory of Cooper Potts. Cooper faithfully attended VBS at Kingsland throughout his childhood.

Every time I visit Robert and Rose I am amazed at the great stories I hear about how God is using the Miracle Destiny schools to bless families. This week I visited the home of a single mom whose only daughter is a top student at the primary school. Rebecca has attended the school for years and now can see a brighter future. She dreams of becoming either a doctor or a teacher. Her mother nods in agreement.

If you wonder whether miracles still happen, I assure you that they do. There is no other way to explain what is happening in the slums of Kawempe. God is using Pastor Robert and Rose to serve despair its eviction papers — one home and one child at a time. I have witnessed miracles in Kawempe.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 10, 2019

Better Than Advertised

For years I have heard (from a variety of sources but mostly from grandparents) that becoming a grandparent is one of the most amazing experiences in life. Some have even boasted that the experience is so good they wish they had had grandkids first — a pretty strong endorsement for grandparenthood.

On the morning of Valentine’s Day of this year, I officially joined the grandparent brigade when Mila Noelle entered the world. I loved Mila long before she arrived — but when I finally saw and then held her in my arms for the first time, I felt something I could not put into words. It was a new and deeper dimension of love.

And then it happened. I had hardly clocked one whole minute as a new grandfather when I realized that being a grandfather is indeed far better than advertised. Totally true!

Well, things are about to get even better. A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter Gina and her husband Casey announced that Gina is pregnant. Cheryl and I could not have been more excited. Although they immediately shared the news with us, they waited three-months before making their news public.

They waited because Gina’s first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage. That news was hard on all of us because we had already fallen in love with the precious baby that Gina was carrying. And although we never had the opportunity to meet that child, we believe that one day we will. We now have one more compelling reason we long for heaven.

Today is my oldest daughter Niki’s birthday. Gina and Casey chose this already special day to call our family together to reveal the gender of their child. Gina made the reveal lots of fun. We are thrilled to learn that our next grand baby will be a girl — due to arrive on August 18.

Two grandkids in one year! Never in our wildest dreams could Cheryl and I have envisioned such a blessing. Our joy could not be any higher. We are counting the days until we hold our newest granddaughter in our arms. I can’t help but think that, once again, God is going to take our love deeper still.

I am fortunate to have grown up with four grandparents who loved me. No complaints about my childhood, due in large part to my amazing grandparents. I treasured every moment with them when I was a kid. As an adult, I treasure every memory we made together.

Cheryl and I want to do the same thing for our grandkids. We don’t know how much time we have remaining to enjoy them but we are determined to make the most of the time we have. We want for them to look back and treasure the time we were privileged to spend together. We want to love and bless them. And we want for others to know that being a grandparent is amazing — far better than advertised.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 24, 2019

Caring for Katy 2019

For the past twelve years, Kingsland has set aside a day on which to close the doors of the church on a Sunday. Instead of attending church on that day, we mobilize our people to go out into the community to be the church. The impact of a couple thousand people all serving our community on a single day is huge.

Today’s Caring for Katy was a remarkably good day. The weather was perfect. All of our community groups mobilized to move in the direction of people in need, to serve alongside many of our local ministry partners, and to do the kind of good works that glorify God and make a difference in the lives of others.

Months in advance of this big day of service, we challenge our community groups to look at our community as Jesus would. That means slowing down enough to look carefully to the right and to the left — to develop a peripheral compassion that can spot needs in places that are otherwise easily overlooked. And then, to determine how they can move in the direction of that need to make a difference.

One of the best things about Caring for Katy is that we encourage each of our groups to involve every member of the family in meeting needs. Family is important at Kingsland. And serving others is an important part of the spiritual formation of family members.

Good things happen when families serve together, especially in the hearts of our kids. They discover that there is a special joy that comes from serving. They witness the gratitude of the beneficiaries of their service. They begin to understand that they do not have to wait until they are all grown up to help make our world a better place.

Caring for Katy is not the only day in which we serve our community. We also encourage our community groups to take ownership of service initiatives that we engage in throughout the year. But the beauty of Caring for Katy is that we corporately do on a single day what our community groups do throughout the year.

Twelve years of Caring for Katy has changed the way many people in our community think about God. Because we have consistently moved in the direction of people in need, people in need consistently move in our direction. Those in need of help, healing, and hope know that we care because we so consistently demonstrate God’s love in practical ways.

Today’s Caring for Katy is now history. Once again, we allowed God to use us to pen His distinctive signature across hearts and homes throughout Katy and beyond. And God did something in each of our hearts as well. Thanks to each and every individual young and old who served today. Thank you for Caring for Katy.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 14, 2019

Best Valentine’s Day Ever

I am in love, so in love. In a way I never could have imagined. In a way that I can’t quite put into words. At 10:36 this morning, a precious little girl tipping the scales at 7 pounds and measuring barely 19 inches long changed my life. Without saying a word, her arrival ushered me into a deeper dimension of love.

For the past nine months, we have anxiously awaited the arrival of Mila (pronounced me-la) Noelle. A few days ago my son Jonathan and my daughter in law, Aubrey, shared the very good news that Mila would arrive on Valentine’s Day.

A Valentine’s Day baby — what could be better. My own sweet grandmother was born on February 15, 1900, so even if Mila arrived a day late it would be super special to have her share a birthday with her great, great grandmother.

Cheryl and I arrived in Lewisville last night, just in time to see Jonathan and Aubrey off to the hospital. Seeing them drive off brought back so many memories of the night we drove to the hospital for Jonathan’s birth. It seemed surreal that Jonathan would become a dad in a matter of hours — and that we would become grandparents.

Cheryl and I met Aubrey’s family at the hospital this morning to welcome Mila into the world. She was ready to make her entrance. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, Mila was born. The minute the nurse gave us the green light to go to the room, nine of us anxiously made our way down the hallway to meet Mila.

I could not hold back the tears when I saw her. I just stared in amazement at the beautiful gift we had all received. She just took my breath away. Here was the first fruits of a new generation of our family. I am now a grandfather of a beautiful little granddaughter. What a gift.

My grandfather was 66 years old when I was born and lived another 30 years. He was my dearest friend growing up. How ever many years I have left to live, they will certainly be enriched because of Mila Noelle. I hope that Cheryl and I are around to enjoy her for a long time.

Welcome to our world, to our family, and to our hearts little Mila. You are a precious gift from God and we will treasure you always. You made today the best Valentine’s Day ever!

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 11, 2019

Honoring Cooper’s Memory

In September of last year, I received a text message from my friend Kara Potts. I had just returned home from Rwanda the day before and was at a birthday celebration. Gil Harris was celebrating his 60th birthday and his family had asked me to say a few words about our friendship.

Kara’s message came just moments before I was to speak. When my phone vibrated I took a quick peek to see who was texting. With a quick swipe of my finger I read Kara’s message: “Cooper passed away.”

It didn’t register.

I replied with a single word — “What?” And then, hoping that it was not true, I typed out “Cooper?”

A few days later I spoke again, this time at Cooper’s memorial service. Cooper’s family had asked that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to Kingsland’s missions ministry. In the days following the service, the outpouring of gifts was so great that it moved the meter to the generous end of the scale.

A key initiative that will be funded by gifts to Cooper’s Memorial Fund is a center to train Christian children’s workers in Nepal. This center will be dedicated to equipping Nepali Christian leaders in best practices and teaching methods they can use in their cultural context.

This past week, my friend Gil accompanied me to Nepal for meetings with our partners. The focus of our meetings was to lay the groundwork for the purchase of land and to outline the details concerning how this training center will operate. We covered everything from legal issues to the hiring of instructors. We also sketched out conceptual drawings of the building.

After sixteen hours of meetings over a two and a half day period, we settled on action plans, timetable for construction, and a bunch of other details that we must address as we move ahead. Barring anything unforeseen, we hope to dedicate this center by the end of this year.

The first thing our partners asked me to share was Cooper’s story. They wanted to know what kind of person he was, how he lived his life, why so many came to his funeral, and how his family is coping with his loss. They leaned in as I shared and were visibly moved by Cooper’s story.

And then they each took a turn to express their gratitude for the center that will honor Cooper’s memory. “Although Cooper is in heaven,” one said, “God will continue to use his life to help us reach many children in Nepal.” They all promised do their respective parts in guiding the work of the center to fulfill its intended purpose and to honor Cooper’s life and memory.

In the Hebrew language, the word “honor” comes from a word that means “to have weight.” In ancient times nomadic peoples carried everything they had with them. Someone who owned much was said to carry a lot of weight. The word honor came to mean to give weight or consideration to another.

And so we honor Cooper by giving weight to his life and consideration to his memory.

We have much work to do over the coming months. Our prayer is that the ministry of this center will impact the lives of children even beyond our own generation. Cooper would have liked that.

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