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

Return to Pindobal

Amazonas, Brazil

The Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey was motivated, in part, by a desire to return to the people and places he had previously visited. Paul told Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). Therein lies the value of returning — affirming the value of others and looking after their spiritual welfare.

One of my hopes for this third trip to the Amazon was to return to Pindobal, a village where I previously had the privilege of seeing several young ladies come to faith in Christ. These young ladies had been thinking deeply about spiritual matters when I met them. They had questions about where they would spend eternity but had found no satisfactory answers.

One by one, they embraced faith in Christ and then asked to be baptized. They listened intently and took notes as we explained to them the importance of reading and studying the Bible. It was clearly evident that they were serious about their new faith in Christ. They were determined to become a band of sisters and agreed to meet regularly to study and pray together.

Leaving Pindobal was hard. As the village faded from sight, I wished we had set aside more time to spend there. I determined therefore, to make provision for follow-up by mature believers from Manaus. This in itself would be difficult because of the distance these mentors would have to navigate by river to the village. But, most important, I committed myself to pray for the girls and for their spiritual welfare.

And now, I have returned to the Amazon. I was thrilled when Pastor Eli, our Brazilian team leader, told me that we would travel close to Pindobal and agreed to take me there by motor-boat. I could hardly wait for the day to arrive.

On our return trip to Manaus, we stopped and ministered in a place just thirty-minutes down river from Pindobal. Armed with some discipleship training materials, we headed toward Pindobal late in the afternoon.

Our arrival was uneventful because no one was expecting us. So, we went ashore and headed for the home of the school teacher who had come to faith in Christ along with her sister and many of her students. What a sweet reunion it was.

The school teacher shared how she and each of the girls had stayed true to their commitment to Christ. She told us how reading the Bible had helped them stay strong through some tough days. They had not wavered in the commitment they had made months before when I was with them.

The teacher was happy to receive the new discipleship materials and promised that she and the girls would work through it together. And although our reunion was brief, it was powerful. I could see the gratitude in their faces and they could certainly see it in mine. This was the value of returning.

Pastor Eli and I headed back to meet the rest of our team, skimming along the surface of the waters in the dark under skies intermittently illuminated by a distant thunderstorm. I was so happy to have had this opportunity to return to Pindobal.

As the humid night air rushed past my face, my thoughts turned to the parables of the kingdom where Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, something that starts small and grows to become a large tree. I smiled. The kingdom of God has indeed come to Pindobal.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 16, 2017

The River and Rainforest

Amazonas, Brazil

The Amazon has fascinated me since I was a boy. Learning about the river and the rainforest pushed my impressionable boyhood imagination into overdrive. I found it easy to daydream about jaguars and piranha and monkeys and spiders — and especially about the fascinating people who had mastered survival in such a difficult place.

The one thing I never imagined as a boy was that I would one day visit the Amazon. Now back for the third time, this magnificent slice of geography continues to stir my imagination. I still feel much like a schoolboy, only this time I am learning about the rainforest and the river on location — in one very amazing classroom.

Our travels down the Amazon and its tributaries have taken us deep into the territory of the Mundurucu people. They are one of many tribes that call the Amazon home. The Mundurucu have learned and mastered the keys to survival in a place that is tough and unforgiving. Their subsistence lifestyle means that there is little time for relaxing. This is definitely a “if you don’t work you don’t eat” kind of place.

Every village has its own shaded huts, built exclusively for the preparation of manioc, a key staple of the Mundurucu diet. Processing this root is a labor intensive process that includes soaking, straining, and finally cooking the yield in a massive wok-looking pan. The root provides the people with farhina de mandioca, a type of flour, and tapioca.

The villages are all located along the river rather than in the rainforest because the river provides an abundance of fish. And there are indeed some incredible fish in the Amazon and its tributaries. Every variety of fish we ate was delicious.

A long conversation with several men in one village helped me to understand what the rainforest provides in terms of animals and exotic fruits. What the rainforest provides, they emphasized, is essential but the rainforest is a dangerous place. A couple of guys shared stories of getting lost and eventually finding their way home.

Seems that every man had his own stories of near-misses with the feared jaguar, the stealth killer of the rainforest. And then there are the snakes and spiders and scorpions. Encounters with these creatures are much more common than coming face-to-face with jaguars — and yet still as frightening in their own right.

One key takeaway from our conversations was that the Mundurucu intentionally pass on knowledge of how to survive along the river and the rainforest to each generation. This naturally led to conversations about the importance of parents being the primary faith-trainers of their children and intentionally equipping their children to live in ways that please God.

Faith is important to the Mundurucu for many reasons, not the least of which is that they live in a place fraught with dangers. I heard stories about demonic creatures that inhabit the river and the rainforest — and how these creatures lead people to their deaths. The good news is that the Mundurucu are hearing and embracing the good news about how Jesus has won the victory over the demonic realm and over death itself.

Reaching one home at a time is hard enough in America but even harder in the Amazon. Sharing the message that true fulfillment (and victory over fear and evil spirits) is found only in Jesus Christ is a must if the kingdom of God is to reach into every corner of this vast geography known as the Amazon. And that means venturing into inconvenient places to have spiritual conversations with those who live between the river and their rainforest.

 

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 14, 2017

To Inconvenient Places

Amazonas, Brazil

The last command of Jesus to His disciples was for them to move toward inconvenient places — to take the good news from familiar fields toward the ragged edges of the earth. Doing so meant creating distance between the conveniences of home and the uncertainties of far horizons. Fortunately for us, because of those intrepid souls who were willing to venture afar, the good news reached all the way to where we live.

The last command of Christ has not changed. As hard as it may be to believe, there are still people today who live in places that keep them distanced from the gospel. Some people are kept in darkness by cultures that are hostile to the gospel. Others just happen to have been born in inconvenient places that present more of a geographical challenge.

I have returned once again to the Amazon at the invitation of friends from Carlisle Baptist Church in Florida. The Amazon is, unquestionably, an inconvenient place. There are thousands of villages pressed against the muddy banks of the mighty Amazon River by dense jungle — places that can only be accessed by way of the river. Reaching these villages means lots of travel under the guidance of those who know the river and how to navigate it.

A map can show locations and routes from Point A to Point B and beyond. However, a map is not adequate to explain what it’s like to spend hours and hours watching nothing but the vast rainforest go by. As magnificent as this geography is, it is what keeps the people who live here at arm’s length from the gospel and the resources that can help new believers grow in their faith.

By the time we reach our first village we will have traveled some twenty-five-plus hours down river from Manaus. We are fortunate to have a good boat that will serve as our base camp as we travel from village to village over the coming days. Our team hopes to connect with those who have yet to hear and respond to the gospel and to invest in those who have previously embraced the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

I personally like and prefer to move toward inconvenient places. I love meeting the people who live in these hard places. I am under obligation or in debt to them. I owe them Jesus Christ. I want for them to have the opportunity to hear and respond to the message that has transformed my life.

And honestly, a week or two of inconveniences is a really small price to pay to help someone who lives in a hard place discover the surpassing value of knowing Christ. After all, as A.W. Tozer wisely noted, the kingdom of God never advances at our convenience, only at our inconvenience.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 28, 2017

Alaska and Adventure

Alaska and adventure belong together. Over the past few years we have seen a proliferation of reality shows about adventure in the land of the midnight sun. Even the titles of these programs have adventure written all over them: The Edge of Alaska, Alaska the Last Frontier, The Last Alaskans, Bearing Sea Gold, and others.

Alaska is indeed a land for adventurers — those seeking to escape the comforts and conveniences that come all too easy to city dwellers. This vast state is, in fact, a proving ground for those who think they have what it takes to live off the grid. It is a haven for those who are wild at heart.

Over the past week, our men’s team has had more than a sip of adventure in Alaska. We have enjoyed some of the best of what this state has to offer. Our adventures, however, have been grounded in a shared mission — advancing the purposes of God in the least churched state in the nation.

Our daily routine consisted of being the pit crew for GraceWorks Alaska, a ministry committed to making Christ known in Anchorage and beyond. This ministry has a fleet of vehicles that will transport almost a thousand volunteers who will come to serve here this summer. Our task — to service every vehicle and ensure it is in good running order.

One by one, we pulled each vehicle into a bay, propped it up on stands, and then proceeded to punch out a long checklist of service items. We changed oil and transmission fluids, serviced brakes and differentials, topped off all fluids, rotated tires, and performed more than a dozen other service checks.

Each of us had our assigned responsibilities in, under, and around each vehicle. We got our hands and our clothes greasy. We reeked of oil and transmission fluids at the end of each day. We worked under the sound of impact wrenches and oldies blaring out of an old radio. We came along side one another to work loose rusted bolts, to clean and reinstall transmission pans and differential covers.

In short, we learned to work with the efficiency of a pit crew and met our goal of ensuring that every vehicle under our care had our seal of approval. And we prayed for those who will come after us — those many volunteers who will use these vehicles to reach out to those living in and around Anchorage all the way to the far reaches of the state.

One of the advantages of being in Alaska at this time of the year is that the sun sets later and later each night — close to ten o’clock at night. That meant that after we cleaned up and enjoyed a hearty meal, we could head off on our own Alaskan adventures. And that is exactly what we did. We took advantage of every free moment to enjoy shared adventures while fulfilling our shared mission.

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One night we drove north out of Anchorage to get a glimpse of the northern lights. And Alaska did not disappoint. Sometime after one in the morning these fabled lights began to dance across the night sky in a magnificent display of color. They were everything I had imagined they would be and much more. It was as if God Himself was writing a message in the heavens — a message that affirms we are of greater worth to Him than the universe itself.

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Alaska is also the land of pilots and planes. It is simply not possible to reach parts of this state apart from the bush planes that can squeeze in and out of remote places. On a couple of evenings, our hosts flew us over glaciers to remote places to meet folks who live off the grid in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. The beauty silenced us.

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We also managed to squeeze a hike into our limited free time. And once again, Alaska did not disappoint, dusting us with snow as we hiked the muddy and icy trail to the top of Flat Top Mountain. It’s just hard to put into words what it’s like to look in every direction and see nothing but pristine vistas. We got into some knee-deep snow in places, slipped and slid our way down sections of the tail, threw some snowballs, laughed a lot, and breathed in the surrounding beauty.

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I believe that God created us to do more than to sit, soak, and sour in a pew. He created us for adventure, for kingdom adventure. He designed us to go beyond routine and comfort — to enjoy everything He has created while we advance His interests around the globe. He wants us to get our hands and our clothes dirty as we serve others. In the words of Christian writer John Eldridge, He has made us wild at heart. God has made us restless for the kind of adventures that will draw us closer to Him and that will shape us into the kind of people who can change the world.

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I am grateful for our kingdom adventure in Alaska — for our early morning devotional and discussions, for the privilege of crawling under vehicles on a cold garage floor, for the people we met from Anchorage to Skwentna, for the breathtaking views as we flew over Alaska, and for our refreshing hike in the snow. And I am grateful to God for making us wild at heart and with a thirst for adventure.

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I am also grateful for the partnership between Kingsland’s missions and men’s ministries. The synergy we have will enable us to do some very strategic work in Alaska. Gil Harris, our men’s ministry director, and I are collaborating to create opportunities for our men to engage in shared study, shared mission, and share adventures. We are excited about returning again to work with GraceWorks, our new ministry partner in Alaska, the Last Frontier.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 21, 2017

Alaska Beyond

Anchorage is a long way from Houston. After eight hours of air travel and a brief layover in Seattle, our team of men arrived in Alaska. We are here to serve GraceWorks Alaska, one of our newer ministry partners.

GraceWorks hosts hundreds of volunteers from the Lower 48 throughout the summer months. Volunteers come here to serve in a variety of capacities — from reaching out to kids and people in need in Anchorage to working among the Athabaskan people of the Yukon.

Managing and moving so many volunteers from Point A to Point B is no easy task and one that requires a lot of vehicles. And GraceWorks has a lot of vehicles that get a pretty tough workout on Alaskan roads, including a lot of unpaved byways that lead deep into the beauty of this magnificent state.

Every year, before the volunteers begin to arrive in biblical proportions, GraceWorks must ensure that all of their vehicles are in good repair. That’s where we come in. Our men’s ministry team has come to service all of their vehicles — doing tune-ups, oil changes, and some vehicle-specific maintenance.

Doing tasks like servicing vehicles is a behind-the-scenes but necessary part of what it takes to advance God’s purposes in the least-churched state in America. We want to help ensure that those who come to serve in the land of the midnight sun can indeed serve. And in order to do that, they must have reliable transportation.

I am grateful for the Men of Kingsland. Our men’s ministry now touches the lives of hundreds of men at Kingsland under the leadership of Gil Harris, our men’s ministry director. We are committed to leading men to do more than just meet together. We also challenge men to serve together as well as to share adventures.

We have a lot of work ahead of us this week. We are here to go beyond! We will spend long days in a garage and under the hoods of some thirty vehicles. And we are excited to do so, knowing that our labor of love will make it possible for those who come after us to take the life-transforming message of the gospel to people throughout Alaska.

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

Palm Sunday Bombings

ISIS is at it again — promoting their destructive agenda without regard for the sanctity of human life. This time, bombing two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, leaving more than 40 dead and more than 100 injured. The whole world recognizes that death is the unmistakable signature of this radical Islamic group.


How can ISIS dish out such wanton violence that results in the deaths of unsuspecting men, women, and children? They can do so because they anchor their behavior deep in the teachings of the Qu’ran concerning infidels. They have, in fact, vowed to step up attacks against Christians, the infidels they believe are empowering the West against Muslims.

This is not surprising. There is a troubling consistency whenever we match the actions of radical Muslims with their beliefs — destruction and death always follow. Muslims must ultimately come to terms with the most disturbing and dangerous element of their worldview, something at the root of their theology: the sanction to kill infidels or those who are not of like faith and practice.

The Islamic State is doing a pretty good job without the West of getting the whole world to question the teachings of Islam. If they want to attract people to consider the worth of their worldview, violence is certainly not going to work in their favor. In the words of the old proverb, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

While ISIS continues to send out its minions of murder and mayhem, Christ followers continue to show up wherever people are hurting — demonstrating selfless service that meets practical needs. That’s because radicalism looks much different among Christ-followers. A Christian who radically lives out the teachings of Christ lives as Christ lived.

The distinction between world views could not be more pronounced. I am thankful that Jesus never called His followers to hate or to murder others who believe differently. Instead, He calls us to compassionate acts of service, to sacrificial acts of love, and to the affirmation of life, even the lives of those who are not Christ-followers.

My heart hurts for our dear Coptic friends in Egypt. It also continues to ache for the many Syrian Muslim refugees, who themselves are the victims of Muslim violence, that we help every year. And my heart remains heavy for the many Iraqi Christians I have met in the Middle East who have been displaced from their homes because of ISIS. What a mess ISIS has created.

As we approach Easter, may we be reminded of the power of the gospel to transform lives and to fill them with a resolve to love as Jesus did. ISIS will continue its efforts to usher in darkness and death. But the Scriptures are clear that the darkness will never overwhelm the light. The love of Christ will ultimately prevail.

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

A Simple Cup of Tea

The past few days have taken me deep into the foothills of the Himalayas and into the world of the Jirel, Sunuwar, and Tamang peoples of Nepal. These people groups live in one of the most beautiful and yet most difficult geographical contexts on the planet. Life for them is unquestionably hard. Not much comes easy.

Years ago while trekking in the mountains of Yunnan Province in China, I came across an old man carrying a bundle of wood on his back. “You live in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” I said to him. “No,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I live in a hard place.” He was right.

The Nepalese would agree. They too live in a hard place, albeit beautiful. There is little latitude for anything other than hard work for these resourceful mountain dwellers. Survival depends on it. Aside from growing their own food on precarious terraces they must contend with other difficult challenges that can threaten survival, like the weather and the recent earthquakes.

But, in spite of the difficulties, the Nepalese peoples I met are not unhappy. They love their kids, care for one another, and want the same things that we want for our families. They work hard to provide daily necessities, have hopes and dreams, and also contemplate the deeper questions about why we are here.

The writer of Ecclesiastes said that God has set eternity in the heart of man. There is something within us that longs for answers to why we are here and the purpose of our existence. Like people groups all over the world, the evidence of the search for answers are everywhere evident among the Nepalese.

Altars and shrines reflecting both Buddhist and Hindu world views were a common sight everywhere I visited. I also heard stories about the unseen things that people fear. As a result, efforts to both placate and mitigate the influence of these spirits has worked its way into the local world views. It’s a part of life here.

While looking down from higher altitudes, I could see the trails that connected one home to another and one village to another — a reminder that it’s never good to live in isolation. And where these trails encountered a natural barrier like a river, the people spanned these chasms with the most remarkable foot bridges I have seen anywhere on my travels.

One bridge in particular took my breath away. I have never seen a longer foot bridge anywhere in the world. I am a fast walker and it took me nearly four minutes to walk across this bridge. As I walked across I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that this bridge was here to facilitate connections. That’s what bridges are for.

While in the mountains I also encountered a different kind of bridge — a simple cup of tea. In many of the places I have visited around the world, offering someone a cup of tea is a sign of hospitality, an act of kindness, an invitation to stop and rest, and an opportunity to enjoy conversation.

It’s amazing how God can use a cup of tea to help us move in the direction of others and to help others move in our direction. Spanning the things that divide us and fostering greater understanding can start by something as simple as a cup of tea. I am returning home enriched by my experience in Nepal and looking forward to returning again in a few months for another cup of tea.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 28, 2017

Among the Seekers

Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal first piqued my imagination when I was a kid learning about Mount Everest, the highest point on the planet. This landlocked little country is nestled between the towering peaks of the Himalayan mountains and the flat and steamy plains of northern India. Nepal is steeped in indescribable beauty and is heaven on earth to adventure seekers.

Kathmandu is the largest city and the capital of this multiethnic nation. The city itself is rich in history and is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. It is home to world heritage sites, interesting people, and some of the most amazing vistas in the world.

Nepal’s greatest attraction is Mount Everest. Every year hopeful climbers cross the threshold into Nepal at Kathmandu and then make their way to Everest base camp in hope of becoming one of the few humans on the planet to stand at the top of the world.

Those with other appetites for adventure come to hike, mountain bike, kayak, or trek from tea house to tea house on routes that lead to Everest base camp. The central part of Kathmandu is an area with narrow streets flanked by rows of vendors that outfit adventurers of every stripe. The best way to describe this area is REI on steroids with gear at bargain basement prices.

Without question, Kathmandu is Mecca to adventure seekers. But you will find something else here — a mixture of locals and visitors from all over the world. Many of these visitors come in search of spiritual fulfillment. Every temple in the city is abuzz with tourists seeking to learn more about Hinduism, the majority religion, as well as about Buddhism, Islam, and other world views.

There seems to be a tolerance among the world views represented here even though they may be diametrically opposed to one another. Today, I watched Tibetan monks doing a dance that represented self-denial adjacent to Bouddhanath Stuppa, the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. Shorty after I watched smoke rise into the sky from a Hindu cremation site.

Nepal is unquestionably a place for seekers, for those in search of adventure and those in search of spiritual fulfillment. Everywhere I looked today I was reminded of the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes who said that God has put eternity into man’s heart — that yearning that causes us to seek what can rightly fill and properly fit into the God-shaped void in our hearts.

I saw this yearning on display at the Swayambhunath Temple, also know as the monkey temple, as the faithful walked clockwise around the old structure and then spun the prayer wheels in a clockwise direction while chanting their mantra. These Buddhists believe that spinning the prayer wheels will have the same effect as orally reciting their prayers.

The evidence is here, the signs of people in search of answers to life’s deepest questions. And that’s why we are here among the seekers — to offer the only answer that we believe perfectly fills the void and to offer that answer with gentleness and respect. If we truly believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then we cannot keep this to ourselves. We must move in the direction of those in search of answers.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 24, 2017

Because She Served

I absolutely love what I do. I am fortunate because when I wake up in the morning I do so excited about the day and what it holds. My days are dynamic, offer plenty of challenges and more than a few surprises, and are meaningful. Working with our global partners and leading the people of Kingsland to go beyond is one of the greatest privileges of my life.

Because our work is so extensive, I live every day with concern for the welfare of our community, our partners, and the people groups with which we are engaged. I care deeply about our work around the world and pray without ceasing for every partnership and engagement. And I live with watchful diligence to guard against the schemes of the evil one who seeks to frustrate the purposes of God.

Last year, our missions ministry mobilized upwards of 4,300 volunteers to serve locally, domestically, and internationally. That’s not an easy task and one requires a lot of attention to detail. And I do mean lot of detail — from buying the right box of screws for a project to help a widow to booking flights and planning ground itineraries for teams traveling to far-flung places.


I have been fortunate for the past ten-plus years to have the capable help of my assistant, Amy Granger. There is no way that our missions ministry could have grown and flourished as it has without her help. She has worked cheerfully and tirelessly behind the scenes to manage a mountain of details that make things run smoothly.

In addition to helping manage so many weekly assignments, Amy has served as our point person for benevolence. She has a tender and discerning heart. I have listened to her weep with people in need and also sniff out and confront scammers. Over the years she has built meaningful relationships with countless families, widows, single moms, and other people in need.

More than once I leaned on Amy to help with special assignments that added a truckload of work to her already busy schedule — everything from Operation Christmas Child, organizing Thanksgiving baskets for families in need throughout our community, taking over our Just Run for a Just Cause, and a few more things. She never complained and relished the opportunity to serve others through these various special initiatives and events.

And now, I must say goodbye. Amy and her family are moving to East Texas at the end of the month. Although this news hit me like a ton of bricks, I rejoice in how God is blessing Amy and her family through this move. It will give her the opportunity to be a full-time mom to their precious little daughter Elizabeth. Baby girl, as we often call her, first came into their home as a foster child. And when God opened the door, Amy and Daren eagerly gave Elizabeth a forever home.


Amy’s final task has been to pass the baton to Mary Whittington who will serve as my new assistant. Mary is a champion for the sanctity of human life and has traveled extensively with our missions ministry. I am happy to welcome Mary and know that God will use her in amazing ways as we continue our work around the globe. I will remain forever grateful to Amy for her friendship and her partnership in the gospel. Our missions ministry is better because she served.

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

CFK 2017 Video

Our 10th Annual Caring for Katy initiative is now history — but the memories of this special day will last a lifetime. A million thanks to each of you who served our community on Sunday, February 26. What an amazing blessing it was to see our army of volunteers being the church throughout our community. Thanks for being the hands and feet of Jesus, for demonstrating God’s love in such practical ways, for having so many conversations about Jesus, and for ultimately bringing glory to God and helping to make His name famous in the place we call home — Katy, Texas. Enjoy this cool video by our media team.

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