Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 27, 2018

Remarkable Rwanda

I am visiting Rwanda for the first time and I am beyond impressed. Of all the countries I have visited on the African continent, Rwanda is by far the cleanest and, I must add, beautiful. From the manicured streets of Kigali to the dirt roads leading to countless villages, I was hard-pressed to see a single piece of litter.

Rwanda’s cleanliness is not something that happened by accident. Rather it is a testimony to the visionary and intentional leadership of President Paul Kagame. My friend and host David Leatherwood explained that there are mandatory days on which all Rwandans participate in cleaning the streets and beautifying their surroundings.

This among other initiatives has resulted in a pristine environment as well as social and economic reconstruction that has set Rwanda on a successful course into the future. Rwandan’s are consciously committed to building a better Rwanda — by eliminating one piece of litter at a time and more.

What makes all this even more remarkable is that only twenty-four years ago, Rwanda descended into the tragedy of genocide. Hollywood movies like “Hotel Rwanda” tell the story of how Rwanda became hell on earth as the majority Hutu people engaged in the slaughter of the Tutsi. Earlier today we had lunch at Hôtel des Mille Collines, the real Hotel Rwanda.

The saddest part of this slice of Rwanda’s long history is that upwards of half a million people lost their lives. So, for Rwanda to have made such strides from the hell of genocide to the Rwanda of today is indeed remarkable. I am still trying to process it all. I can name no other city that I have visited on this continent that even comes close to what I have seen in Kigali.

Our primary focus this week is to help our friends the Leatherwoods to prepare for the launch of their new mountain biking expeditions business — a platform they will harness to bring the beauty of Jesus to the hearts of Rwandans along the Congo-Nile Trail. Located along Lake Kivu in Rwanda’s wildest corner, this trail is a bucket list destination for mountain bikers from around the world.

We have spent the past two days assembling mountain bikes and getting things ready for the launch of their business. Papers have been filed with the government. Things are in motion. We will also spend a couple of days bike-packing to villages along a portion of this epic 141-mile off the beaten path trail. This will help David to plan the various riding options he will offer as a part of his business.

My friends Jay and James and I still have a lot to do in our remaining time here. We trust that God will use this new initiative to reach into the hearts of people who still remember what it was like to see the ugliness of hell unleashed on their country.

We want for all the people groups in Rwanda to know that Jesus always offers something better — better then death, better than violence, better then hatred, better than genocide. He alone can transform hearts and lives into something remarkably beautiful. Along with our friends the Leatherwoods, we long for the day when His beauty will be reflected in the hearts of all Rwandans.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 17, 2018

To My First Grandchild

My Dearest Little One,

It’s me — your grandfather. Although we have not formally met, I wanted to write to tell you how excited I was to receive the wonderful news about you from your mom and dad. They were a little bit sneaky about it all but managed to do a pretty good job of surprising us with the news about you.

To say that your grandmother and I are excited would be an understatement. We are excited times infinity. We are counting the days and hours and minutes until we welcome you into the world. And honestly, those days will simply not go by fast enough for us.

For now, we are wearing the generic labels of grandfather and grandmother. That, however, will change when you get here. As our first grandchild, you get the special privilege of giving us new names. The other grandkids (we hope there will be many) will just have to follow your lead on the name thing.

Exciting things are happening in your life right now. Hour by hour, God is involved in the process of making you and helping you grow. He is personally marking every single cell in your little body with the unmistakeable signature of His image. And although it doesn’t show up in your sonogram pics, God has already placed a crown of dignity and glory and honor on your precious little head. He loves you.

Even though you are not here yet, you have already changed our lives. We are already in love with you — crazy, madly, head over heels in love with you. Your grandmother and I pray for you (and for your mom and dad) every night without fail. So, when you arrive, just know that you don’t have to do a single thing to earn our love. You already have it.

You will be excited to meet your mom and dad. They are two really special people whose love for you is beyond measure and who are ready to welcome you home. Your dad is adventurous and caring and has never met a stranger. He will always have your back, stand at your side, and lead you with wisdom. Your mom is amazing and fun and sweet and creative and will always be there to protect you, comfort you, and embrace you. You will have lots of fun with your mom and dad — guaranteed.

I could write so much more about your great-grandfather and your aunts and uncles but just know that they all feel the same way about you. They love you and are so excited that you will join our family. You will also get to meet Panda and Tux, your mom and dad’s kinda hyper little dogs. They are lots of fun.

I have had to stop several times as I write this just to wipe the tears from my eyes. They are good and happy tears — each one filled with gratitude to God for sending you our way. All of us in your family are committed to giving you the best childhood ever. We want to bless you with good memories that you can enjoy for a lifetime.

So for now, we must wait. You will be here soon. We will continue to pray for you every day as we wait for your arrival. Your mom will have lots of visits to her doctor. Your dad will call to give us updates. We look forward to seeing more sonogram pics so be sure to smile. We love you, precious little one.

Your Grandfather (aka, whatever name you will give me)

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 31, 2018

The Next Generation

Each of us are stewards of our own generation — essentially a narrow slice of time in which to serve God’s purpose. After that, we die and return to dust. However, what we do in our generation does not have to die with us if we will own and responsibly serve God’s purpose while we have opportunity.

In a sermon that Paul preached on his first missionary journey, he said, ”Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” (Acts 13:36). But, what David did in his generation impacted the course of redemptive history because he served the purpose of God.

One way in which we can impact the course of redemptive history is by investing in the next generation. By so doing we help to ensure “that the generation to come might know” (Ps. 78:6) God and understand His purpose in the world. We must therefore teach the successive generation to “put their confidence in God” and “not forget the works of God” and “keep His commandments” (Ps. 78:7).

One of the best things we do at Kingsland is to invest in ministry interns — young people who have expressed an interest in serving and learning about all-things ministry. Mentoring and encouraging those who will take the reins of ministry long after we are gone is strategic in the work of the kingdom.

I had the special privilege of having eight missions ministry interns this summer. We spent the first week and a half meeting with many of our local ministry partners throughout the greater Houston area. The purpose of these meetings was to gain greater insight into the value of strategic partnerships and understanding the importance of cooperating with others in order to reach our community for Christ.

Our interns also assembled more than fifteen-hundred of our Go Beyond Explorers Kids Club packets for our Vacation Bible School. We also did some team-building Crossfit training together - in the heat. I especially loved the upbeat and always positive attitude of each member of the team. They brought smiles to faces and blessed others wherever they served.

Five of my interns spent the month of June in Alaska. They served with GraceWorks Alaska, our partner in Anchorage. Our interns led volunteer groups from around the nation that served neighborhood kids in city parks throughout Anchorage. Many kids came to faith in Christ through this initiative.

The interns who stayed home helped with a million details of trip preparation for our student ministry mission trips that sent over four-hundred volunteers around the globe. Each of our interns was assigned leadership responsibilities on a student trip and helped shepherd our students as they served others.

All of my interns spent the balance of their time in July serving with our partners at The Hangar in Brookshire. Our missions ministry has invested much in developing this strategic ministry location that is reaching kids and families. They engaged in a variety of tasks — from cleaning bathrooms to working outdoors to serving neighborhood kids.

Today is the last day of our summer missions ministry internship. I am going to miss all of the energy, excitement, and joy that our interns generated on a daily basis. But I am so encouraged by what I have seen God do in their lives. I have received so many encouraging text messages and emails from those touched by our team.

I am proud of each of our interns and wish them the very best as they return to their respective schools in the coming days. They served well and will no doubt continue to do so as they return to their college campuses. I am confident that God will use them to reach their own generation and, long after I am gone, to invest as well in the next generation.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 20, 2018

Exploring Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of the most beloved and well-known Christmas carols. The carol was written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian priest from Philadelphia. Brooks visited Bethlehem in 1865 and wrote the words to the carol three years later for the children of his church to sing at their annual Christmas program. Today, Brooks’ carol is enjoyed by people all over the world.

Bethlehem was known as “the city of David” (Luke 2:4). The name Bethlehem means “house of bread” and is located only a few miles from Jerusalem. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Micah prophesied that the Messiah, a descendant of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Because of its significance in the biblical narrative, our students spent a day exploring Bethlehem on our recent trip to the Holy Land.

The Church of the Nativity | The Church of the Nativity was built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus. Guests must enter the church through a very low door called the Door of Humility. This door was created in Ottoman times to force even the most important visitor to bow low as he entered this holy place.

We reviewed the story of Jesus’ birth at the Church of the Nativity. The traditional site of His birthplace is enshrined in the grotto beneath the choir area of the church. Jesus was not born in this building but in the cave it enshrines, a place where animals were once kept. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son…” (Gal. 4:4) who “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7) and was born in the most unlikely of places and laid “in a manger,” a feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:7)

The Shepherds’ Field | The good news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to poor Jewish shepherds (Luke 2:8-10). This is significant because shepherds in Jesus’ day were regarded as social outcasts and were among the most scorned individuals. Their work made them ceremonially unclean and kept them from participating in the religious life of the community.

While visiting the site of the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, our guide reminded us that God chose ordinary shepherds, not priests or kings, to be the first to hear the news of His Son’s birth. And, common shepherds would be the first to welcome Jesus — the Lamb of God. These ordinary men could not keep silent about what they had seen and heard and unwittingly became the world’s first evangelists. Their first priority after seeing Jesus was to spread the news about Him. We should do the same.

The Herodium | The Herodium is a fortress-palace built by Herod on top of the highest real estate in the area. We hiked to the top of the hill to look at the ruins of this once-great palace. The Herodium is an active archaeological site where workers are painstakingly working to peel back the layers of history.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Herodium was one of the largest and most luxurious palaces in the world. Herod spared no expense to build the biggest and the best on the highest mountain so that the world would know there is a Herod. Today, the Herodium and all of Herod’s palaces and fortresses lie in ruins. Herod is remembered as the megalomaniac who became paranoid and killed many people, including babies (Matt. 2:16-18), in an effort to maintain his power.

Herod had wealth and lavish palaces in which to dine and sleep, but Jesus had “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Jesus did not leave a legacy of palaces or architectural accomplishments. Instead, He left something much more lasting. And, what Herod the Great feared (Matt. 2:3) came to pass. The baby born in Bethlehem beneath the shadow of his palace became a greater king than him and changed the world forever.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 17, 2018

Exploring Desert Places

Masada is one of the signature must-see sites while visiting the Holy Land. Our students visited this imposing mountain fortress that rises 1500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea. This place has an interesting but sad history, one that has led the Jews to resolve that Masada will never fall again.

When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, 960 people followed a Jewish patriot named Eliezer Ben Yair to this rock plateau. Herod the Great had earlier recognized the strategic significance and built an impressive “bug-out” palace at the top — just in case. It was a seemingly impregnable site.

The Roman army besieged Masada for two years and reached the top only after building an impressive earthen ramp. When the end was near, the patriots atop Masada chose to take their own lives. And, to make a statement, they left all of their food stores and water in place to show the Romans that they could have continued to survive. They chose instead to die as free people rather than face slavery at the hands of their enemies.

From Masada we made our way to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet. This super-salty lake lies 1,300 feet below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley between the Wilderness of Judah to the West and the mountains of Moab to the East. Absolutely nothing lives in the Dead Sea – no fish or seaweed or plants of any kind. That’s why it’s called the Dead Sea. Water flows in but it does not flow out.

Our students had an opportunity to float in the mineral-rich but slimyish water of the Dead Sea. Later in the evening we considered how the Dead Sea can serve as a metaphor for those who take in Bible nutrition but never burn off the calories. Taking in truth but never applying it leads to a dead spiritual life that benefits no one.

From the Dead Sea we made our way to the oasis of En Gedi. This is the place where David hid when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29). We hiked through the Crags of the Wild Goats where Saul took three thousand men to look for David and his men (1 Samuel 24:1-2).

At the end of our hike we stopped at a beautiful waterfall tumbling down the canyon wall. Unlike the water in the Dead Sea, this was living water – cold and refreshing. This water does not disappoint. On our hike out of the canyon, we stopped to watch Ibex drinking from the streams of En Gedi — and reflected on David’s words, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

One of our students remarked that prior to coming to the Holy Land, she had always read the Bible in black and white, “For the first time,” she said, “I am seeing the Bible in color.” That is one of the benefits of making a pilgrimage to the place where our biblical worldview unfolded. My prayer is that our students will always long for God even as “the deer pants for the water brooks.”

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 12, 2018

Exploring Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the most important places in the world. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all regard this ancient city as a sacred site. Our students spent two days exploring Jerusalem — from the narrow and crowded streets of the Via Dolorosa to the tunnels that lead to ongoing archeological work beneath the city.

The Temple Mount | The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles identifies this location as Mount Moriah (3:1), the place where Abraham had been willing to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:1-14).

Solomon built the first Temple at this site (2 Chron. 2–6). Centuries later Herod enlarged the Temple platform and made the Jerusalem Temple bigger and better than ever. Herod’s project was finally completed in 60 AD but was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Dome of the Rock was erected near the site of the Jewish Temple in the 7th century AD. This mosque, with its golden dome, is perhaps the most prominent feature of Jerusalem’s low skyline.

It was at this place that God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac…” (Genesis 22:2). This is the first time in Scripture that the word “love” is used — not in the context of a man’s love for a woman but a father’s love for a son.

Garden of Gethsemane | The olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane are old — so old, in fact, that they may actually date back to the time of Jesus. The Garden of Gethsemane is the place where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss and where Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the slave of the high priest.

The name Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew words “gat” (a place for pressing) and “shemanim” (oils). The Greek word “thilipsis” means great pressure and describes the point when olives were crushed by a heavy millstone, squeezing the olive oil out of the pulp.

Jesus was under such intense pressure at Gethsemane that “His sweat became like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Soon after the hour of His betrayal, Jesus would feel the full weight of the sins of the world as He hung on a cross.

The Place of Crucifixion and Burial | We visited both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb Site with its skull–looking hill nearby. It was interesting to learn about both sites. And regardless of whether you regard one as the more likely place where Jesus was crucified and buried, the fact remains “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

One of the best parts of our time in Jerusalem was observing the Lord’s Supper at the Garden Tomb. We sang, read the account of the Last Supper, and took time to reflect on our personal lives and walk with Christ.

Hezekiah’sTunnel | Seven-hundred years before Jesus, King Hezekiah prepared Judah to face the threat of Sennacherib’s Assyrian army. Hezekiah took practical measures to safeguard Jerusalem’s water supply (2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chron. 32:30) because without water they would not survive the seige.

Hezekiah’s workmen created a tunnel by chiseling through solid rock, at points more than 140 feet underground. One team started at the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem. The other team started on the Western ridge of Jerusalem. The two groups met in the middle — an amazing feat of engineering. 

Armed with flashlights, our students waded through the entire distance of Hezekiah’s tunnel. Every chisel mark etched in to the walls of the tunnel is a reminder of a people who did something hard in order to survive what seemed like an insurmountable threat.

Via Dolorosa | Via Dolorosa is a Latin term that means the “way of suffering.” This street in the old city of Jerusalem is believed to be the path Jesus walked in the way to the crucifixion. Today, this path is lined with vendors and choked with people — both locals and pilgrims. It was a humbling experience to follow this path to the place where Jesus was crucified. Every painful step He took on the Via Dolorosa led him closer to facing an excruciating death for the sins of the world.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 8, 2018

Gaining Insite Onsite

For the past year, Kingsland’s high school seniors have studied apologetics in their respective Sunday night Life Groups. This is part of our strategy to raise biblically literate students capable of intelligently articulating their biblical world view. These students are culminating their year of study on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

We arrived in Israel on Friday evening and have been on the move ever since. We’ve only got a few days so we are not wasting any time. Our students have already enjoyed two full days of touring and study. What I had hoped would happen in the lives of our students is indeed happening — they are gaining new insights into the biblical narrative as a result of being onsite.

Capernaum | We started our tour in the place Jesus chose as His base of operations when He began His ministry. The ruins here tell a story. Homes were built around a common courtyard known as an insula. When a male child married, he added a room to the family insula. When the room was ready, his father gave him permission to bring his bride home.

Jesus used the image of the insula in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you.” And then one day, when the Father says all is ready (see Matt. 24:36), Jesus “will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

The Jordan River | The Jordan River figures prominently in the biblical narrative. Our students learned about the Jordan by rafting down the river. This gave them new insight into various biblical stories that happened around this renowned river. On our second day, many of our students and sponsors chose to reaffirm their commitment to Jesus by being baptized in the Jordan.

Sea of Galilee | We enjoyed two nights at kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus performed the vast majority of His ministry in and around this well-known lake. We took a boat ride on the lake where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the places where Jesus taught and performed so many miracles. This geographical context gave our students insight into the movement of Jesus from place to place.

Caesarea Philippi | Caesarea Philippi was a pagan city built by Herod Phillip, a son of Herod the Great. This city was a religious center where people worshiped the Canaanite god Baal. Later, a shrine there was dedicated to the Greek half-man and half-goat god Pan. Worshipers expressed their devotion to Baal and later to Pan without moral restraint.

One of the most interesting things about Caesarea Philippi is the cave that is located there. At the time of Jesus, pagans believed that caves were a door to the underworld — or the gates of Hades. Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a place that represented the worst evils of the day. It was there that Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (Mat. 16:13-16). In this context Jesus said to His disciples, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18).

Beth Sh’ean | We visited the only city of the Decapolis located west of the Jordan River. The ruins of Beth She’an are a compelling advertisement for Hellenism — a people-centered worldview that glorified human knowledge, accomplishment, and experience. The heroes in Beth She’an were athletes, entertainers, and thinkers. So, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine what life must have been like in this impressive place. Sadly, God got edged out by all of the personalities and stuff that made life very comfortable in this ancient city.

Mount of Temptation | The temptation of Jesus is one of the best know stories in the gospels. Actually seeing the arid and unbearably hard place where Jesus fasted and prayed put this story into eye-opening perspective. Temptation often comes when we are in a weakened or vulnerable state. Like Jesus, we can resist the evil one by properly understanding and applying the Scriptures.

Jericho | Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet. For 10,000 years, people have called Jericho home. Zaccheus, a citizen of Jericho, had a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Jesus did what no self-respecting religious leader of his day would ever do — He entered into the home of this tax-collector. As a result of this compelling act of grace, Zaccheus opened his heart to the truth and his life was changed. We too should be people filled with the grace that enables us to love people in need and ready to share the truth that transforms lives.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death | Not far from Jericho is a hard place known as the valley of the shadow of death. In that valley is the St. George Monastery. The monks who live there are deeply devoted to God but personally disconnected from a hurting world. This site provided us the opportunity to consider how to best engage the world as Christ-followers. Like the monks in the monastery, we must develop our inner spiritual life. But, we must go beyond that by being the hands and feet of Jesus in a messy world.

A Big Mitzvah | One final thing. As we were leaving the baptismal site at the Jordan River, a woman approached our guide and tearfully asked if he knew of a pastor who could baptize her and her children. She was from Colombia and had been planning her pilgrimage for six years only to face the prospect of not having anyone to baptize her and her two kids. Even though we were about to depart, I agreed to take the time to perform the baptism. She was beyond grateful.

Afterwards, another guide turned to me and said, “You have performed a big mitzvah” — referring to the charitable act I had performed. Although, the Hebrew word mitzvah does not mean “a good deed” in that sense, I understood what she was trying to say. This became a teachable moment to talk with our students about the people God puts in our path and to not see those people as interruptions but rather as divine appointments.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 28, 2018

The Pursuit of Adventures

Our lives, it seems, are increasingly oriented toward the pursuit of convenience and ease. And while these may be rewards of hard work, if we are not careful they can actually keep us from doing hard things.

Doing hard things requires a commitment to do more than watching Bear Grylls scramble down a mountain. There is, after all, absolutely nothing adventurous about watching others have adventures. We have to engage in the pursuit of our own adventures.

Doing hard things requires movement away from ease and toward a context where we will get dirty and our muscles will ache and we risk failure and we have to push past the pain or else we will fall short.

This past weekend, a group of men and boys from Kingsland met at Guadalupe Mountains National Park to do something hard. We drove six-hundred and fifty miles for the opportunity to stand at the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.

Summiting Guadalupe Peak is hard. The hike along the steep and winding trail to the top is rated as strenuous. Having summited this peak three previous times, I knew for a fact that it would not be any less strenuous on my fourth bid.

We met at the trailhead at 6:30 in the morning while temperatures were still tolerable. Huge amounts of excitement swirled in the morning breeze and mixed with bits of anxiety as we waited like race cars with engines revved high.

We took a moment to share final thoughts about our adventure, we prayed, and then we hit the trail. Every guy knew that the first mile and a half would be the hardest because of the steep elevation gain.

Like a brick wall, the first mile and a half stops those who are either unprepared or don’t want to summit badly enough. This is where hikers have to decide whether they are willing to push past the pain.

The heat only added to the difficulty. As the morning wore on the temperatures continued to creep higher until they inched past the hundred degree mark. Our bodies craved hydration and electrolytes and power bars.

Every man and boy quickly settled into his respective rhythm as they trudged up the trail, slowly eating away at the elevation. My hiking mantra on this particular trail is pace and place — maintain a steady pace and watch where I place my feet.

Every one of the guys hiked his own hike and just past mid-morning, we began to populate the summit and feast on the amazing views. I felt just as excited as the day on which I first solo hiked to the top of Texas.

Standing at the summit of Guadalupe Peak with an amazing band of brothers was worth every hard step along the way. This is something we did together — a shared adventure, a reminder that we must do life in community with other men because alone is dangerous.

One thing is certain, the guys on this adventure will always share a special bond. We made it to the top of Texas on one of the hottest days of the year. We watched out for and encouraged one another. We enjoyed great fellowship. And we did it as a band of brothers.

I am grateful for my friend Gil Harris who leads our Men of Kingsland and challenges us to engage in shared study, shared mission, and shared adventure. Our shared study will resume in September. And, Gil and I will continue to work together to challenge our men to engage in shared mission and shared adventures.

Stay tuned for the next opportunity to do something hard.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 17, 2018

Forty Years Later

Today, I officially observe forty years in full-time ministry. I began this journey as a young man with a head full of hair, a heart steeped in passion, and a yearning to devote my only lifetime to pursue the purposes of God. For the past forty years I have been on an adventure far greater than I could have ever imagined.

When I answered the call to ministry, the popular terminology was to say that one had “surrendered” to ministry, as though one had lost some sort of battle with God. I never liked that metaphor. Instead, I freely yielded everything — and gladly so because I felt that serving the God who had shown me such kindness in Christ Jesus was the highest privilege I could possibly know.

Forty years later I have no regrets about my decision to follow and serve the God I love. I have tried to live my years with the awareness that God did not call me because I am good but rather because He is good. Every kindness He has shown me through the years testifies to His goodness.

Forty years later I can say with all confidence that God has never been unkind to me. Even though there were times when I did not understand His timing or why He had allowed me to experience setbacks, God has never been mean nor malicious to me. I continue to believe that He has a purpose for everything that touches my life and that He works all things for my good.

Forty years later I have a better understanding of God’s commitment to me in the worst of times. God’s call did not exempt me from life’s difficulties or the attacks of the enemy. I did not receive a divine “get out of jail free” card when He called me. I have experienced difficulties that made me wish I had received a hall pass to leave the room — but that’s not the way God works.

During one particularly tough season when I did not think I would survive, I went to a lonely place to seek God. I prayed and I wept. I sat in silence. I listened to a gentle breeze as it rustled the leaves of the trees in the woods. And then God’s reassuring voice came to me in a gentle and quiet whisper.

“I inhabit eternity,” He said. “I saw these dark days years ago when I called you to serve Me. Knowing you would go through this difficult season did not deter me from calling you. I still called you. I have been here — at this moment in time — waiting for you to get here.” At that moment, His peace flooded my heart and washed my anxieties away.

Forty years later His grace still amazes me. As a young man I almost lost my life in an automobile accident on my way home from college. As I lay bleeding by the side of the road, a highway patrolman and a nurse immediately came to my rescue. They had been in the vehicles behind me and had witnessed the terrible scene.

Years later when traveling home I decided to revisit the scene of the accident. When I pulled off onto the shoulder of the road at the exact spot where I had almost lost my life, I saw something unexpected — a sign announcing that the adjacent property was the future home of Abundant Grace Community Church. I wept because God had indeed shown me abundant grace at that very spot.

Forty years later I am grateful for the people I have met on my journey. From my earliest days in ministry, I have been blessed to meet and to know the finest of people. I have been the beneficiary of the love, encouragement, and kindness of so many with whom I have served. Today, my network of friends extends back forty years and to more than forty countries around the world.

Forty years later I am still in love with the wife of my youth. In the words of the writer of Proverbs, I found a good thing when I found Cheryl. She has been by my side for 38 of my 40 years in ministry. When Cheryl joined me on my journey in ministry, she too felt called to be a pastor’s wife and has blessed me with her love and support.

It’s not easy being the wife of a pastor, but Cheryl has made it easier for me to be a pastor. She is a bigger-picture person who understands that ministry is messy and does not always fit neatly into a nine to five schedule. Whether I leave home to lead a weekend initiative or to travel to some far-off place, she always sends me out with her blessing and the assurance of her full support.

On the occasion of my forty years in ministry, Cheryl and I received the most unexpected surprise from the wonderful church we serve, Kingsland Baptist. On the first Sunday in June, Pastor Ryan surprised us with the announcement that the Kingsland Community Center building, which houses three of our non-profit partners, will now bear our name. Neither of us could have ever imagined receiving such a beautiful honor when we began our journey together.

We have expressed our thanks to Pastor Ryan Rush and the church council and also want to thank the people of Kingsland. You are the most amazing and generous and thoughtful church family. Thank you for loving me and my family.

Forty years later, I am blessed beyond measure to call Kingsland home.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 7, 2018

Imagine and Wonder

I believe in kids — and am convinced that God can use kids to do a whole lot more than we might think.

At Kingsland, we are committed to helping our kids understand the needs of others at home and among the nations. We want for our kids to embrace the challenge of moving in the direction of people in need, just as Jesus did, and making a difference.

One thing is certain, kids do not have to wait until they are all grown up to help change the world. Over the years, our Kingsland kids have raised funds to help kids in need around the planet. They have invested in schools, orphanages, clinics, housing for refugees, and more — all in some of the most difficult places in the world.

Next week, the kids who attend our Vacation Bible School will learn about the water crisis and how it impacts the lives of kids their age around the world. This is serious stuff, because many kids die every minute of the day as a result of water-related concerns. This summer’s initiative is about saving lives and changing lives.

I am excited about this summer’s edition of our Go Beyond Kid’s Explorers Club kit — designed to help our kids understand all about water. I have written a little book entitled “Imagine and Wonder: A Story About Water” to help our kids get a sense of the challenges faced by kids who live in places without access to clean water. My friend Lesley Steinweg has beautifully illustrated the book.

Each of the kids who attends our Vacation Bible School will receive a Go Beyond Explorers Club kit filled with all kinds of interactive resources to help them learn all about water. We will challenge our kids to raise funds to sponsor three water wells to be drilled in partnership with Living Water International. Our missions ministry will sponsor an additional three wells on behalf of our Kingsland kids.

As I write these words while waiting for my flight home from Guatemala, I am filled with excitement at the thought of what our gift will mean to the people of six villages around the world — and the opportunity they will also have to learn about Jesus who alone can satisfy our deepest thirst. Imagine and wonder about how so many lives will be changed because we are teaching our kids to move in the direction of those who are thirsty.

I am looking forward to another great VBS at Kingsland as our kids learn about the water crisis and, once again, rise to the challenge of making a difference in the lives of others.

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