Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 19, 2017

Advice From A Mountain

Mountains figure prominently in the biblical narrative. Many key events happened in the solitude of high and rugged places — everything from tests of faith to the giving of the Ten Commandments to amazing personal encounters with God.

When the psalmist felt threatened, he lifted his eyes to the mountains and beyond to the One who created the mountains. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come?” He concluded that his help came from the Lord, “who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

I have long admired those who set their sights on summiting mountains. From George Mallory whose Everest summit bid in 1924 ended in his death to Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who were the first to stand atop the highest point on the planet in 1953. Like so many before them, these intrepid adventurers were drawn to high places.

Although I am not a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination, I am drawn to high places. In 2014, at the age of 58, I set my sights on solo hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak. Rising a modest 8,750 feet above sea level, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas.

Standing at the summit of Guadalupe Peak triggered something deep inside me. I knew then that I wanted to trek to other high points in Texas. So, I set my sights on summiting all of the 8,000-plus foot peaks in the Lone Star State. Last week, my friend Doyle Lowry and I summited our fourth peak in the Guadalupe Mountains, El Capitan.

Hiking and bushwhacking to the tops of these peaks has caused me to reflect on lessons I am learning from mountains. I offer these lessons here as part of a growing list of life lessons gleaned from my few treks to the tops of Texas peaks.

Plan Ahead — Before setting off on any of my modest mountain adventures I make it a point to plan ahead. That means studying trail and topo maps, reading online posts from those who have gone before me, watching the weather and packing accordingly, and making provision for contingencies. After all, I want to live to adventure another day.

Pace and Place
— This has become my mountain mantra. I constantly remind myself to hike and climb at my own pace and to watch where I place my feet. Moving toward a summit requires a huge commitment of energy, so it is best to hike at a pace that will help you to get to the top. Getting in a hurry and not watching where you place your feet can lead to disaster. So, pace and place … pace and place … pace and place. Remember that a mile is a mile no matter how fast or slow you hike it.

Keep Moving — The one common denominator of moving toward the summit of any mountain is this: every step will eventually lead you to your goal. Sometimes you will lose elevation in order to gain it. But, ultimately, every step will lead upwards. So, keep moving even when you go through sections where you lose some elevation.

Progress Hurts
— I am a sea-level born and bred kind of guy. I grew up in a place so flat that a fellow could watch his dog running away for three days, maybe four if he stood atop a tuna fish can. So, hiking trails that take me ever higher has introduced me to aches and pains I have never known. But, that’s ok because I know that every painful step will ultimately lead me to my goal.

Manage Fear
— Last week, my friend Doyle Lowry and I summited El Capitan, the signature peak of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is my first peak that was not accessible by trail and required navigating by landmarks and through a lot of brush and scree. Bushwhacking is hard and painful. Skirting the western edge of the ridge was a bit scary. Keeping my eyes on the summit helped me to push past my fears.

Enjoy the Views — Paying the price to reach a summit offers its own rewards — magnificent views in all directions. The joy of seeing beauty as far as the eye can see has an impact on your very being and gives you a perspective that is sobering. Take time to breathe in the vistas.

Celebrate Your Accomplishment — Accomplishing a goal is a good feeling. I enjoy celebrating at the summit and again when I return to the trailhead after the trek is complete and in the books. Reaching the summit of El Capitan and seeing so few names in the summit log was affirmation that we had accomplished something hard. And, that’s a great feeling and something worth celebrating!

Look Toward the Next Peak
— Summiting another peak was motivating and invigorating. Now, I can hardly wait to trek to the next peak on my list. I want to always make sure that my dreams outnumber my memories — and that means looking ahead to the next adventure.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 6, 2017

Reaching All Peoples

God’s concern for all peoples, or people groups, is evident throughout the biblical narrative. The last command of Jesus to His followers was to make disciples of “panta ta ethne” or all peoples. Jesus’ plan was simple. His kingdom would grow at the speed of one transformed life reaching another.

The last command of Christ has not been repealed. There are still thousands of people groups waiting to hear the good news about Jesus. Many of these peoples live in places that are difficult to reach. The hard reality is that many people have yet to hear the gospel because they happened to be born in tough geographical, ideological, and political contexts.

John R. Mott, a leader of the Student Volunteer Movement at the turn of the twentieth century, was gripped by the urgency of the last command of Christ. In a speech that he gave in April 1901, Mott told his audience that we owe Christ to all people. “To have a knowledge of Christ,” Mott said, “is to incur a tremendous responsibility to those that have it not.”

Unless we understand that the gospel concerns all peoples, we will likely never feel the weight of our obligation to the nations. Mott reminded his audience, “You and I have received this great heritage, not to appropriate it to our exclusive use, but to pass it on to others.” Withholding the gospel from others has eternal ramifications.

When considering our debt to all peoples, we must think and act strategically. Today, more than 6,600 people groups are still waiting to hear the good news. And yet, we have the resources and the capability to take the gospel to all peoples.

In Mott’s words, “God forbid that we should lack vision in these days to take advantage of the tide that is rising to sweep multitudes into the all-embracing kingdom of Jesus Christ.” May we be dominated by the conviction that we must stop at nothing until we have paid our debt, until we have fulfilled the last command of Jesus to take the good news to all peoples.

If you are a Kingsland member, watch your mailbox for the arrival of our 2018 missions publication entitled Reaching All Peoples. This beautiful publication highlights the fourteen people groups that our missions ministry has adopted and explains why we go to these particular groups.

I am especially grateful for Heidi Doe for her creative work in laying out the publication, to Jessica Sowell, my missions intern, and for Kingsland member Becky Finnegan. These ladies helped with every aspect of this publication.

As you read the profiles of each of the people groups with which we are currently engaged, please pray for these peoples and for our initiatives among them to fulfill the last command of Jesus. May we not rest until we have reached all peoples with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 27, 2017

The Best In Us

Hurricane Harvey was bad, really bad! This history-making storm scrawled its ugly and devastating signature across many homes and lives in our community. None of us expected that the devastation would be as bad as it was. At least we hoped it would not be as bad as predicted. However, as the rains continued to fall hour after hour, we all became increasingly anxious — afraid that this hurricane was going to be worse than expected. And it was.

But as bad as Harvey was, the devastation caused by this storm unwittingly became the canvas on which the beauty of Jesus was displayed. We wasted no time in springing into action. Harvey brought out the best in us as we compassionately cared for one another, selflessly assisted our neighbors, and eagerly welcomed complete strangers into our lives and into our homes.

Looking back on it all, I am especially proud of the people of Kingsland and our Katy area churches and non-profit organizations. The worst of Harvey indeed brought out the best in us. Together we met the challenge as we worked hour by hour to mitigate the damage of Harvey and to help the people of our community pick up the broken pieces of their lives. It was a beautiful thing to behold. This kind of neighboring in the worst of times is what makes America great.

Every church in our community along with our local non-profit organizations stepped up in a big way. We worked tirelessly and cooperatively to get the job done. We demonstrated what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Every church and organization that participated has a story to tell — many stories, in fact, that should not be forgotten. The video below tells Kingsland’s story.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 22, 2017

Service and Adventure

Meeting with my Band of Fathers is a highlight of my week. Gil Harris, our men’s ministry director, encouraged me to start this core group in late 2015 with the intention of connecting with dads who wanted to build stronger relationships with their sons through shared study, shared mission, and shared adventure. We believe that all three of these elements are essential in building strong bonds.
Over the past couple of years we have engaged in some really great studies and are currently deep into a study of Endurance, the story of Sir Ernest Shackelton’s failed Trans-Antarctic Expedition — regarded as the most successful failure in the history of exploration. This study is yielding powerful and practical lessons on life, leadership, and perseverance.

This past weekend, several of us packed our gear and headed to El Paso on a shared mission / shared adventure. I enjoy these road trips because they strengthen fellowship and give us opportunities to serve and enjoy outdoor adventure together. El Paso is a far distance from Katy so we spent our first night at South Llano River State Park. No sense paying for a hotel room when you can camp!

Morris Horner, pastor of The Journey Church on the East Side, graciously hosted us at his home when we arrived in El Paso. Morris planted The Journey Church on the east side of El Paso where the desert is blossoming into thousands of new homes. The Journey Church is only one of a couple of churches in the midst of thousands of people.

I had the privilege of speaking at The Journey Church on Sunday. Present in the service that morning was the family of a fourteen year-old boy who had committed suicide two weeks ago. When their son committed suicide, the family had no one to turn to but Morris, the pastor who had once visited them and brought by some homemade cookies.

Morris officiated at the service for this young boy and continues to care for the family aching with grief and trying to understand what happened. They have since learned that their son had been relentlessly bullied at school and through social media. As a result, the boy chose to end his life alone in the desert. His body was found after a massive manhunt.

I am glad that our missions ministry has supported Morris and The Journey Church on the East Side from the beginning. And I am glad that when this family suffered their unimaginable nightmare, they moved in the direction of a pastor who had taken the time to meet his neighbors. Next summer, our eighth-grade students will have the opportunity to serve with Morris.

After our time with Morris we headed to Franklin Mountains State Park to camp and hike. There are few things that can promote good conversation among men and boys as a warm campfire on a cold night. We enjoyed two cold nights of camping, some delicious food, and some of the best hiking in the Lone Star State.

We spent one morning hiking to the Aztec Caves that were once inhabited by Native Americans. The smoke-stained ceiling of the caves is mute testimony to people who once inhabited this vast region. And the view from the caves has to be one of the best in Texas. Absolutely magnificent.

We also hiked some other trails that took us deep into the Franklin Mountains and blessed us with some amazing vistas. Sharing this adventure was another highlight of our trip. Our conversations, our laughter, and our time together deepened our bonds of brotherhood. We can hardly wait for our next shared mission and shared adventure.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 12, 2017

The Power of a Pilgrimage

Jerusalem, Israel

I have visited Israel only once before, and I have never forgotten that experience. The anticipation of walking where Jesus walked and then actually doing so made a deep impression on me. All of my senses were engaged as I visited places that were the subject of years of Bible reading.

There was absolutely nothing passive about being in the Holy Land. It was an all–encompassing experience. My mind and my heart had conversations with one another they had never had before. I was forced to think deeply, to contemplate, and to imagine.

In the late Twentieth Century, archaeologists unearthed a stone tablet in Jerusalem that bears the image of a sailing ship. The words “Domine Ivimus” are inscribed beneath the outline of the ship. These words commemorate the pilgrimage of some unknown Christ-follower to Jerusalem. The translation: “Lord, we went.”

There is something powerful about going on a pilgrimage — something that changes you and the way you think and how you see the world. Pilgrims through the centuries would agree.

I am on my way home from my second visit to Israel, my second pilgrimage. And, once again, I am coming home changed. I’m talking about the kind of change that happens on the inside and impacts what you are on the outside.

A pilgrimage to holy and historical places is powerful because it provides context for what you believe. Everything that is recorded in the Bible happened in actual geographical, cultural, and historical contexts. Understanding these contexts helps us to get a better grasp on what we believe.

A pilgrimage also deepens our insight into the people and places of the Bible. There is insight that is better gleaned when we are onsite, standing in the actual places where biblical events unfolded. Being onsite leads to a lot of aha moments — those experiences when we discover something new about things we thought we knew.

A pilgrimage also provides perspective or the ability to understand what a particular biblical passage likely meant to the original readers. Once we understand why something was written in the way it was or subtle nuances of language, the door to understanding a passage opens even wider.

My friend Joe Landi, Kingsland’s student pastor, and I spent the past week visiting several biblical sites as we begin preparations for next year’s summer trip for our graduating senior class. We have some exciting things in store for our students that we believe will help them to become better grounded in their faith before they head off to college.

With our culture becoming increasing hostile to the gospel, we want to prepare our students to stand firm for their biblical worldview. We have nothing to be ashamed of. The life of Jesus was beautiful and worthy of imitation. We trust that our students will fall even more in love with Jesus and that they will determine to be His hands and feet in a world that needs hope, forgiveness, and love.

I am glad to join the chorus of pilgrims to Jerusalem through the centuries by saying once again — Domine Ivimus.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 19, 2017

El Palmarcito Rejoices

Other than finding water, the best part of a water well drilling trip is the day we dedicate the well to God and present it to the people of the community. It’s hard to put into words what this all means to people who live in areas where fetching water from unreliable sources has been all they have known. Finally having access to clean water really is a game, or rather a life-changer.

In every village where we have drilled water wells over the past several years, folks face the same challenges. Lack of access to good water has a way of adding layers of complexity to life. Fetching water robs women of time and fetching bad water results in all sorts of health problems for families.

Consider the daily task of having to fetch water, rain or shine and regardless of whether you feel like it or not. In many cases, women (and sometimes children) walk considerable distances to fetch water and spend hours each day doing so. Because they can only fetch a few gallons at a time, this water is generally used for cooking and hydration but not for bathing.

This afternoon we had the wonderful privilege of giving the gift of clean water to the people of El Palmarcito, a small village in the hills of El Salvador. We drilled to a depth of 75 meters and found an abundant supply of clear, cool, and clean water.

After developing, or cleaning, the well, the men of the village poured a concrete apron around the pump and set the dedication plaque. This particular well was underwritten by the Christian Fellowship Community Group at Kingsland in honor of Marshall and Helen Bates 75th weddings anniversary. Loved sharing their story with the villagers.

At two in the afternoon, everyone in the village gathered around the well. Two of the men in the village spoke on behalf of the people and expressed their deep gratitude for the water well. We prayed together. The villagers sang us a song of thanksgiving. And then every person in the village personally hugged and thanked us. Lots of tears this afternoon.

The best part of it all was the recognition on the part of the people that this water well was an answer to their prayers. They have been waiting a long time but wasted no time in publicly thanking God for the answer to their prayers. What a sweet time we had together.

As for the people of El Palmarcito, they are determined to start saving for an electric pump that will enable them to pump water directly from the well to their homes in the surrounding hills. Installing an electric pump will help make life easier for them and further improve the quality of their lives.

But today, there was much rejoicing in the tiny village of El Palmarcito — and much gratitude to God. We parted with tears in our eyes and with deep gratitude for the time we spent working shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart to bring the gift of water to a place that matters and to people who are highly valued by God.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 18, 2017

75 Meters Down

I love the anticipation that comes with drilling a water well, the expectation of finding cool, clean water. Every time we add a section of pipe and drill deeper, I wonder if that will be the pipe that strikes water. There is nothing better on a drilling project than that initial moment when we finally find water. There are a whole lot of things that happen after that but they all hinge on that one thing — finding water.

I am happy to report that after drilling to a depth of 75 meters, we found an abundant supply of refreshing water. And what a great moment that was for our team. We all thought it was cool that we found water at 75 meters since we are drilling this well in honor of Marshall and Helen Bates, Kingsland members who recently celebrated 75 years of marriage.

Drilling for water, however, is not the only thing we have been doing for the past three days. A key part of drilling water wells in partnership with Living Water International is offering several days of hygiene training. Our hygiene team focuses on the women and children in the village where we are drilling for water.

Hygiene training is important to the health and well–being of a community. Our hygiene team covers topics ranging from how germs are spread to how to rehydrate a child after a severe bout of diarrhea to the basics of brushing your teeth. These are simple and common sense things that can make a huge difference in the lives of people who live in places with limited to no access to good health care and information.

Our hygiene team did an amazing job of teaching the women and children of the village of El Palmarcito. The only thing better than finding water was seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of the children. The water well that we will present to the village this week will make life so much better for these kids. They will live better and healthier lives because they will finally have a reliable source of good water.

We will dedicate and present the water well to the community on Thursday afternoon. This is always a special occasion on drilling trips. Early this morning we drove past two villages where we have previously drilled water wells and both wells were in use. Loved seeing folks still using these wells. It will be no different in El Palmarcito. With precious few sources of clean water, the people of the area will benefit for years from the water well we will dedicate and present to them tomorrow. Looking forward to a great day.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 17, 2017

Rio Peligroso

The small village of El Palmarcito is hidden deep in the folds of El Salvador’s hills — a tiny speck located along the way to nowhere in particular. Unless you have a reason to go there, you will never see it. There are no places of interest, no restaurants, nothing to beckon you there.

Twenty–seven families, however, call El Palmarcito home. And, in the words of young Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home.” Dorothy was right. There is no place like home, even if home is a place that lacks access to clean water.

It’s hard to imagine that in all of its history, there is not a day that El Palmarcito has had access to clean at–the–source potable water. Like all of the villages tucked here and there under the canopy of these lush hills, villagers have depended on streams, rivers, and occasional hand–dug wells for their water.

But, these water sources are neither reliable nor free of the contaminants that cause diarrhea and other water–related illnesses. Ironically, there is a warning sign at a water–crossing at the river that flows lazily beside El Palmarcito. It reads simply: Rio Peligroso, which translated means Dangerous River.

One local explained to me that this little river can be easily transformed by flash floods that send angry waves of water down paths of least resistance. Years ago almost thirty soccer players were killed as their vehicle was overturned by flash floods that came barreling down this river. So, the warning sign is absolutely legit.

But, it is legit for other reasons as well. This is indeed a dangerous river because it carries all sorts of contaminants from a garbage disposal site farther up-stream. So, even when the waters are calm they are dangerous.

We have come to change all that by giving the folks here what we take for granted in our own homes — a reliable source of clean water. As you can imagine, this is a big deal here and cause for celebration. Everybody has put on their best smiles for the occasion.

We drilled to a depth of 120–feet on our first day and the signs are hopeful. Our prayer is that, by the end of this week, the people of this village will have a clean source of water for the first time in their history. Good things happen when Christ–followers move in the direction of people in need.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 11, 2017

Beauty and Darkness

Alaska is beyond beautiful. Every time I visit I am captivated, or rather hypnotized, by the beauty of this great state. If it is even possible for God to show off, then He was undoubtedly showing off when He sculpted the mountains, scooped out the valleys, and traced the course of the rivers in Alaska. No matter which direction you look, God’s creative signature is everywhere to be seen in His magnificent creation in Alaska.

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.

Alaska is also home to the nations. Anchorage is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation. Beyond the diversity of the indigenous population, Alaska is home to peoples from all over the world. They are here along with their respective heart languages and world views. Alaska is a place from which Christ-followers can impact the nations.

Next summer, our Kingsland tenth-grade students will venture to Anchorage to engage with the indigenous peoples and the nations. Curtis Lane who serves on our student ministry staff, and I have come to Anchorage to meet with our ministry partner Scott Kirby of GraceWorks Alaska. Scott’s ministry mobilizes volunteers to do community initiatives throughout Anchorage and beyond.

I first connected with Scott a couple of years ago. He has a 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.

It takes someone with bold vision to do great things for the kingdom. Why settle for anything less than reaching the entire state of Alaska with the gospel. Scott understands that he cannot fulfill this vision alone. That’s why volunteer teams like ours are so important. We are committed to a long-term partnership with GraceWorks to help advance God’s purposes in Alaska. Only as people find hope in Jesus Christ will the suicide rate go down and the nations meaningfully connect with the God who loves them.

Alaska is a beautiful place. We are determined to add our voice to the chorus of volunteers who come here to serve each year. We want for the people of Alaska to see the beauty of Jesus and to understand that He alone offers us what no one else can. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God has set eternity in the heart of man. Jesus alone can fill the void in our hearts and make all things beautiful.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 1, 2017

Deadly Water

The Amazon River | Western Basin | The Village of Novo Niníve

Among all of the things we take for granted in suburbia, access to clean water is close to the top of the list. We seldom give a thought to the convenience of turning on a tap or reaching into the refrigerator for a bottle of ice-cold water. We don’t give a second thought to taking long showers or hot baths. We are beyond blessed by having immediate and easy access to abundant water.

Not so for many in our world today, including those who live in villages along the Amazon. This mighty river pushes fresh water a hundred miles into the Atlantic, yet those who live in villages along its banks still struggle to have clean water to drink.

I have never seen a water well in any of the many villages I have visited on my previous trips to the Amazon. While in a village a few months ago, I asked an old woman where she got her drinking water. “From the middle of the river,” she quickly replied, “because the water in the middle of the river is cleaner.”

A special focus of our trip to Novo Niníve was to educate the people about water purification, hygiene, and water-related diseases. Every minute of the day, many children all over the world die of water-related diseases, especially diarrhea. And yet, these deaths are preventable if people have some basic knowledge of how germs spread, how to rehydrate after severe bouts of diarrhea, and how to purify water.

My friend Bob Thorp, who is on the staff of Living Water International, joined our team to the Amazon to specifically address water issues. The good folks at Sawyer filters gave us a great deal on a water filtration system that can provide families with clean water for years, if they will follow some simple steps for maintaining their unit.

Bob showed families how to assemble and maintain their Sawyer water filtration kit. He also demonstrated the effectiveness of the system by taking a bucket of murky water from their village pond and turning it into clear, clean, potable water. This filtration system, along with hygiene training, can lead to better health for the villagers.

Bob also ran a series of tests on the village water source. The results were frightening. Absolutely high levels of e-coli were present in the water that the people drink daily. The problem is that villagers bathe in the same ponds they depend on for their drinking water. It’s no wonder kids and adults get so sick.

A key part of Bob’s instruction included how to rehydrate a child who has had diarrhea. He gave each family a measuring spoon to mix the proper ratio of salt and sugar to a cup of water to make a rehydration drink. Something as simple as this will result in lives saved.

We will continue to monitor the health of the villagers on our return trips. We expect to hear good things if the people will use the filters we provided and make it a habit to practice good hygiene. We hope to turn the deadly water of Novo Niníve into living water.

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