Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 26, 2014

24 Melancholy Notes

My grandfather, Felipe Garcia, was the first to tell me stories about the military. He served as a Sergeant Major in World War 1. My grandfather was instrumental in encouraging Hispanics from South Texas to enlist to serve their country. His contributions to the war effort are recorded in some books about the involvement of Hispanics in the First World War. Today, his military uniform is on permanent display in the museum in my hometown of Mission, Texas. My grandfather was proud of his military service and always modeled what it means to have a high regard for those who fight to protect our freedoms.

Felipe Garcia WW1 Seated
Throughout his life, my grandfather maintained a deep respect for those who serve in the military. His three sons served in the military and his only daughter married a career Navy officer. He always believed that America is the land of the free because of the brave and was very active in his local veterans’ post. Although I did register for the draft near the end of the Vietnam War, I never served in the military. Like my grandfather, however, I have always had a high regard and abiding gratitude for those who died to protect our freedoms.

In my early years of high school, I accepted an invitation from a veterans’ organization to play Taps at the funeral of a young man from McAllen who had been killed in Vietnam. As the moment approached for me to sound the twenty-four melancholy notes of what is the most recognizable military bugle call, I was gripped by a great sense of responsibility. In the words of US Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva, “Sounding Taps is the most sacred duty a bugler can perform.” He is right! After that day, I was invited to play Taps at military funerals many times throughout my high school years.

The origin of Taps dates back to the Civil War. In the days before field radios and wireless communication, military leaders depended on bugle calls to guide the movement of their men in battle. Union General Daniel Butterfield had bugle calls composed that his men would recognize as distinctly theirs in the heat of battle. Not satisfied with the bugle tune that signaled his men to extinguish lights and go to bed, Butterfield worked with his bugler to modify the tune that we now know as Taps. Although never intended to be a funeral ballad, it was first played at a military funeral during the Civil War. Finally in 1891, the year my grandfather was born, Taps was recognized in a military manual as a key component of a military funeral.

Today, Taps is played at least twenty times per day at Arlington National Cemetery, every evening at US military bases around the world, and countless times at military funerals and memorial services. The tune has become a part of our national conscience. No other notes can evoke such emotion from brothers-in-arms and family and friends at a funeral than the twenty-four haunting notes of Taps. In the words of Oliver Willcox Norton, General Butterfield’s brigade bugler, “There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.”

I like Norton’s description of the beauty of the twenty-four melancholy notes that we know as Taps. Just as the echo of the tune lingers in the heart long after the bugler has stopped playing, so does the legacy of the fallen linger. On this Memorial Day may we remember with gratitude the bravery of those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 23, 2014

A Shared Adventure

Today is my son Jonathan’s 30th birthday. I can hardly believe that so many years have passed since we brought him home from Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. Our lives have never been the same since. Over the years we have enjoyed lots of really good days, survived some really tough and dark days, and learned many lessons about the ways of God — how He can take the best and worst of our lives and weave these threads into a beautiful tapestry. I am very proud of Jonathan, grateful that he is a member of our family, and thankful that he still enjoys sharing adventures with me.

Jonathan and Dad in Colorado
I took a couple of vacation days this week to travel to North Texas to do some adventuring with Jonathan. He and I talk several times a week and our conversation inevitably turns to what will be our next father-son adventure. This week we decided that we would camp out at one of our state parks, ride our mountain bikes on some challenging trails, and do some paddling in our canoe.

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Jonathan recommended that I ride the trails at Cedar Hill State Park on my way to pick him up in Lewisville. So, I spent Tuesday night at the park in my solo tent and rode the single-track trails there the following morning. Fantastic trails maintained by the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association. Other than taking an epic spill going a little too fast on a tight switchback, I thoroughly enjoyed the trails at Cedar Hill. Definitely worth another visit.

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Later in the morning, Jonathan introduced me to the Grapevine North Shore Trails, so named because they are located on the north side of Lake Grapevine. These are among the best single-track trails in the metroplex. Lots of fun and plenty of technical challenges. Because Jonathan is a much faster rider than I am we did get separated at one point. I took a wrong turn. But, we enjoyed a good time on these trails.

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After riding the North Shore Trails, we loaded our gear into Jonathan’s Trailblazer and headed to Cleburne State Park to set up our camp. We arrived just as the sun was starting to set. What a beautiful night it was. Jonathan cooked up a delicious meal and we spent the remaining hours talking around the campfire. Our original plan was to head for the Brazos River the next morning to paddle and do some primitive camping, but something unexpected happened.

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For the past few days the big toe on my left foot has been sensitive to the touch. From Tuesday night to Wednesday afternoon, my toe swelled to twice its size, turned red, and my toenail turned a frosty color (too much information, I know). The pain was intense — it felt as though someone had hit my toe with a hammer. So, we drove to nearby Cleburne on Thursday morning to see a doctor. Bottom line: I have a bad strep or staph infection in my big toe. Not sure how I got it but it has my full attention. Started my round of two prescribed antibiotics and then we were off again on a modified adventure since we ate up most of the morning at the doctor’s office.
Dinosaur Valley SPInstead of canoeing on the Brazos, we decided to keep our campsite at Cleburne State Park and ride the trails there (very painful ride for me) and then canoe at Cedar Lake. We also drove to nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park for a quick trail ride and to look at the dinosaur tracks along the Paluxy River. Pretty cool stuff! There is just something about dinosaurs that brings out the boy in grown men. Before we left, Jonathan did a little rock-stacking at the park, something amazing to watch. When we returned to our campsite Jonathan cooked some delicious steaks and veggies. The best part of the evening, however, was sharing good conversation around the campfire.

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Our two-day adventure was not expensive. We are fortunate to have so many beautiful and affordable venues in the Lone Star State for outdoor adventure. Sharing adventures like the ones Jonathan and I enjoyed this week is a great way to strengthen the ties that bind. I feel especially fortunate to have a son who still enjoys spending time with his dad. As for me, I can’t wait for our next father-son adventure. On the horizon is yet another shared adventure — biking the Caprock Canyons Trailway. You can be sure that Jonathan and I will talk a lot about this next adventure between now and the day that we do it. Happy Birthday, Jonathan. I love you.

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Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 19, 2014

Once-Ordinary Days

The longer we live, the more that the days on our calendar take on certain significance. All it takes to forever change a once-ordinary date on the calendar is for something beyond the ordinary to happen. For example, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.” September 11 is to our generation what December 7 is to what Tom Brokaw described as the greatest generation.

Certain dates on our personal calendars are also set apart because of some happening that is of significance only to us — perhaps a birth, death, anniversary, graduation, tragedy, or whatever. Every person that we meet carries with them the joys and pains associated with certain days on their calendars, once-ordinary days forever changed by the stuff of life.

EPSON MFP image

Today is one of those bittersweet days on my personal calendar. Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. My beautiful mother observed her 75th and final birthday in the hospital, battling cancer that was diagnosed only days before. She never left the hospital. Two weeks later my mother died quietly in her hospital bed, surrounded by family.

My mother’s death was unexpected in more ways than one. Because her mother had lived to be almost 102 years-old, we always assumed that Mom would also have a long life. Instead, she was the youngest in her family to die. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and give thanks to God for her influence in my life. Her death rattled me and reminded me that there is so much I will never understand about God’s ways and purposes as long as I am on this side of heaven.

So, for me, there are three days in the month of May that will always cause me to be a bit more pensive. Mother’s Day, my mother’s birthday, and the date of my mother’s death will always be filled with a measure of sadness. But, these days also remind me of how fortunate I am to have had such a wonderful mother. Her sweet memory is forever stamped not only on these once-ordinary days on my calendar but, indeed, on every day of my calendar. I miss her still. I grieve with hope. I know I will see her again on a yet undetermined day on the calendar when I draw my final breath.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 18, 2014

Reaching Panta Ta Ethne

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of joining Dr. Robert Sloan and the faculty and trustees of Houston Baptist University for the May Commencement ceremony. This was my second time to witness a graduation at HBU from the platform. There was a palpable excitement in the air at the Dunham Theater in the beautiful Morris Cultural Arts Center on campus. Parents and friends of the graduates made it no secret how proud they were as their graduate walked across the stage. And, rightly so.

With Dr. Robert Sloan, HBU President, and Dr. Steven Jones.

With Dr. Robert Sloan, HBU President, and Dr. Steven Jones.

What I have found most interesting at the two graduation ceremonies that I have attended are the names of the students — some of which are hard to pronounce. The variety of names testify to the fact that the nations are certainly well represented at HBU. The nations are among us to stay. The last command of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations” or “all peoples” (panta ta ethne in the Greek) applies to the nations among us, not just those that live abroad. There is a diaspora of people groups from all over the world that live and study and work among us. They, too, are our responsibility.

This morning I spoke at the Cambodian Baptist Church of Houston, a 30-year-old church that meets on the campus of South Main Baptist Church in downtown Houston. God has honored the faithfulness of those first generation Cambodians who came to America soon after the days of the Khmer Rouge in search of a better life. God bless whoever it was at South Main who had a vision for reaching out to Cambodian immigrants and refugees. The Cambodian church has grown over the years and will move into their new facility (constructed debt free) in August.

With some of the leaders of the Cambodian Baptist Church of Houston.

With some of the leaders of the Cambodian Baptist Church of Houston.

One of the members of the Cambodian church shared something interesting with me this morning. “We are a church of Cambodian Christians but we are not only interested in reaching Cambodians. We want to reach out to all peoples (panta ta ethne).” The members of the church are not just sharing their faith with Cambodians, but with people from many nations in their respective circles of influence. They are seeking to fulfill the last command of Christ to make disciples of all peoples and not just people like them. May we also be sensitive to every opportunity to show Christ’s love and to share His message with all peoples — both at home and abroad.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 15, 2014

It’s A Small World After All

Fifty years ago, Disney introduced “It’s A Small World” — a now-famous ride offered at five Disney theme parks around the world. The ride features at least 240 figures representing children around the world. The song “It’s A Small World” is played roughly 1,200 times per day at this popular Disney attraction. The lyrics to the catchy tune remind us, “There’s so much that we share / that it’s time we’re aware / it’s a small world after all.”

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The lyrics to Disney’s song are even more true today than they were fifty years ago. It is indeed a smaller and ever-shrinking world. Faster modes of transportation have made it easier than ever before for people to travel beyond familiar horizons. And, advancements in technology have made it easier for people around the planet to connect, regardless of whether they ever leave their own borders.

One thing is certain, the movement of people from place to place is greater today than at any other time in the history of the world. In 1914, Edward Judson, the son of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson, remarked, “Our Heavenly Father deemed it wise to put in the hearts of the heathen to come from all parts of the world to our shores, paying their own expenses.” Judson was aware of the presence of nations among us in his day.

In the hundred years since Judson spoke those words, immigrants from the least-evangelized parts of the world are now coming to America. Technology enables these immigrants to maintain close ties to their countries of origin — something not possible in Judson’s day. Technology has also paved new roads for the gospel to make its way through those who are reached on our shores back to their countries of origin. With the nations among us, Christ-followers today have unprecedented and strategic opportunities to be a part of God’s plan of redeeming the nations to Himself.

The nations are migrating to urban areas all over the United States, including Houston. Every week, 2,300 new people move into the greater Houston area. And, more than one-million people who call Houston home are born outside of the United States, represent more than 300 people groups, and speak more than 200 languages. We must be aware of the fact that the nations are in our own communities. Having that awareness ought to awaken our sense of responsibility for the nations.

Reaching the nations among us means that as Christ-followers we must learn to think and live as foreign missionaries at home. The immigrant has one foot in their country of origin and the other foot planted in America. As Christ-followers, we must have one foot in America and learn to plant the other foot in the diaspora — the nations among us. We must take the initiative to think like a missionary and to look for ways to build bridges of love with our global neighbors.

As I was writing this blog today, a couple from Eritrea stopped by the church. They were driving by and felt compelled to come in. A coincidence? Not at all. A divine appointment? Yes. I shared with them that I had just returned from Ethiopia where we are engaging with refugees from Eritrea. This shared concern has now connected us. We have agreed to stay in touch. As a Christ-follower, I must have a dual citizenship that includes being a citizen of the diaspora. God reminded me again this afternoon, that it is indeed a small world after all.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 14, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Ethiopian man. | 27 April 2014 | Shire, Ethiopia

Ethiopian man with toothpick. | 27 April 2014 | Shire, Ethiopia

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 12, 2014

A More Friender Friend

I often tell kids at Kingsland that they don’t have to wait until they are all grown up to make a difference in the world. They just have to care and then be willing to do something to help others.

Our missions ministry takes seriously that part of Kingsland’s purpose statement that says we are committed to equipping the next generation one home at a time. We want to do our part to help raise a generation of kids who love God and love people — who understand the importance of not merely looking out for their own personal interests, but for the interests of others as well.

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Reid Pierson, the grandson of Kingsland members Jack and Marti Pierson. Reid attended our Vacation Bible School while he was in town to visit his grandparents. At VBS, Reid learned about what life is like for the Zabbaleen, Cairo’s garbage people. Our kids raised almost fifteen-thousand dollars during VBS to help build a school for the Zabbaleen.

Reid was especially moved by the plight of the Zabbaleen kids and stopped by my office to talk with me about his concerns and to ask questions about how he could help them. I saw Reid again a few weeks ago when he was visiting his grandparents. He once again gave some of his own money to help the Zabbaleen.

This past weekend, Jack and Marti traveled to north Texas to visit with Reid and his family. They gave Reid a copy of a story about me that was featured in last week’s Katy section of the Houston Chronicle. Reid then decided to produce a video message about our Vacation Bible School. Marti sent me the video this morning. I am so proud of Reid and his continuing concern for helping kids who are less fortunate and living in difficult places.

I thought you might enjoy Reid’s video, a great reminder of how God can touch the heart of a child to want to help less-fortunate kids in other nations. I am especially blessed to be called “a more friender friend” by Reid. I can think of no greater honor or privilege than to equip the generations to love God and love people and to be known as a friend of kids like Reid.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 11, 2014

She Must Be Watching Yet

An old family photo recently surfaced — one that I had never seen before and that has become one of my favorites. The photo was taken sometime in 1960 at a family reunion at my grandparent’s new home in Mission, Texas. I have a couple of other photos taken on that same occasion, one inside and another on the back porch. Just looking at these pics warms my heart and brings back a flood of wonderful childhood memories.

Garcia Family Pic
Because my Aunt was married to a Navy officer, my older cousins lived far from our little South Texas town. They lived in various cities both at home and abroad. So, it was always a special occasion whenever they came to town for a visit. Although we did not see each other as often as we would have liked, we did keep in touch by writing letters, something that has become a lost art in our day of texting and email.

Mom Looking On
After my aunt and her husband passed away, one of my cousins found the old photo among his mother’s things. He sent a copy to my youngest sister who then forwarded me a copy. I love this photo because my beautiful mother made it into the shot. As my cousins and I posed for a photo with my grandmother, my mother was off to the side, smiling and looking at her little boy. When I received the photo I just stared at my Mom’s face for the longest time.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can sense my mother’s joy in her little family when I look at this photo. Like most kids, I always wanted to make my mother proud — something that I didn’t always do as well as I would have liked. But regardless, my mother always loved, encouraged, affirmed, and watched out for me. She continued to do so until the day of her death five years ago.

I still miss the sound of my mother’s voice. I miss her laughter and her tears. I miss our conversations about loving and serving God. I miss seeing her whenever I return home for a visit and I miss waving goodbye to her when I back out of the driveway to return home.

On the day after Mom died, I sat in a chair looking down the hallway, wishing for one more opportunity to see her walk down that hall to greet me and to talk. I was so overcome by emotion that I excused myself and went to her reading area next to Dad’s office. I stood there alone and wept, telling God that I just wanted to hear Mom’s voice again.

At that moment I looked over at a stack of books that Mom had been reading and noticed one book in particular that had a page book-marked. I picked it up and when I read what was on the page my jaw dropped. It was, without question, a God-wink and a divine hug! Here is what Mom had marked on the page of that book. It was a poem entitled…

The Watcher
by Margaret Widdemer

She always leaned to watch for us,
Anxious if we were late,
In winter by the window,
In summer by the gate;

And though we mocked her tenderly,
Who had such foolish care,
The long way home would seem more safe
Because she waited there.

Her thoughts were all so full of us,
She never could forget!
And so I think that where she is
She must be watching yet,

Waiting till we come home to her,
Anxious if we are late —
Watching from Heaven’s window,
Leaning from Heaven’s gate.

So, the old photo of my beautiful mother watching me from the side will always be a favorite. I’m glad that when Dad took the photo of me and my cousins, he unwittingly captured Mom watching her little boy. And I am thankful that she never stopped watching out for me or for my sisters and brother. I am comforted by the photo on this Mother’s Day. And, I am also comforted by the poem that Mom had marked in her book, never realizing what it would mean to me to find it the day after her death. I believe that heaven is for real and that “she must be watching yet.”

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 9, 2014

# Bring Back Our Girls

Until recent weeks, not many of us had heard the name Abubakar Shekau — leader of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the abduction of 284 Nigerian schoolgirls. In a move that stunned the world on April 14, Shekau and his minions kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok and, shortly thereafter, another 8 girls. This is but one of the latest evils perpetrated against children by this Nigeria-based Islamic terrorist group.

As if fools and idiots were lacking on the world stage, Shekau forced his way onto the pages of the Playbill and assumed his position in front of a global audience. And he could care less about rotten tomatoes. A Boko Haram intermediary said that Shekau “is the craziest of all the commanders. He really believes it is OK to kill anyone who disagrees with him.” For an encore performance, Boko Haram slaughtered more than 300 people in a Nigerian village near the Cameroon border. No wonder the words Boko Haram have become a synonym for fear in Nigeria.

Why school girls? The answer may lie, in part, in the meaning of the words Boko Haram. This Arabic-Hausa compound phrase conveys a range of ideas from “books are forbidden” to “Western education is forbidden” or “is a sin.” A man claiming to be Shekau said in a recently released video that girls should be married by age 12, not go to school. “I abducted your girls,” he boasted. “I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”

As if to add insult to injury, the thickset bearded psychopath said, “Why is everybody making noise just because I took some girls who were in western education anyway?” In the mind of Shekau, it’s a sin for Muslim girls to get an education but it’s ok for him to kidnap and sell these young girls into forced marriages or slavery where they will lose their innocence and be repeatedly overpowered and raped. This is the reasoning of a man whose impoverished worldview has no regard for the sanctity of human life.

Bring Back Our Girls
Acts of violence like those committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria are no longer just some unfortunate regional problem. The kidnapping of the schoolgirls has stirred global outrage. Parents, women, and girls around the planet are standing in solidarity with the kidnapped Nigerian students. Using the hashtag Bring Back Our Girls, people around the globe have let their voices be heard. Among them, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot at point-blank range by the Taliban and survived.

Let’s pray that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan indeed has some good luck in finding “our” girls. Perhaps he will finally deal decisively with Shekau and Boko Haram with the assistance of other nations who have offered their expertise and intelligence. No evil that seeks to destroy children, a nation’s most precious resource and hope for the future, should be allowed to commit acts of terror with impunity. #BringBackOurGirls

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 6, 2014

Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” I had an opportunity to do just that on my recent trip to Ethiopia with my long-time friend Dr. Jerry Squyres. Jerry and I met at Hobby Airport in 1994. We had both been hired by LifeWay Christian Resources to write biblical exposition for what was then known as the Bible Book Study curriculum, later renamed Explore the Bible. We flew to Alabama together to meet with our editors at a retreat center and returned home as friends.

Little did I realize how God would use Jerry to turn my heart toward unreached people groups. Jerry and his wife Fran had served as the International Mission Board’s first journeyman couple to Taiwan in their early years of marriage. At the time we met, Jerry was serving as Education Pastor at a large church but was sensing God’s call to return to the nations. Within a year of our meeting, he left his position and turned his attention to mobilizing volunteers to engage with the world’s least reached peoples.

Searching for a man of peace. | 1999 | Bangladesh

Searching for a man of peace. | 1999 | Bangladesh

The thing that intrigued me most about Jerry was that, like Paul in Romans 15:20, he did not want to build on anyone else’s foundation. He truly wanted to engage with unengaged people groups living in difficult and even hostile places. He was interested in reaching out to those who had never had their first serving of Jesus. Within a short time I joined Jerry on mission to hard places in the 10/40 Window. The last trip we took together was to Darfur shortly after Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, had visited this region and declared that Sudan was guilty of a terrible genocide there.

Jerry sharing good news. | 2004 | Al-Fashir in Darfur region of Sudan

Jerry sharing good news. | 2004 | Al-Fashir in Darfur region of Sudan

Hanging out with a guy like Jerry was exactly what I needed as a younger man interested in engaging strategically with the nations. I learned a lot from him through our conversations and by observation. God was using Jerry in those early years to shape my own ministry and to challenge me to consider the needs of those who are kept in darkness by hostile cultures and are in greatest need of the gospel. Jerry forced me to think deeply about the hard places.

A visit to the village barbershop. | 1999 | Bangladesh

Jerry looking on as I get a close shave. | 1999 | Bangladesh

In 1999, while traveling by train from Ulan Bator to Beijing across the Gobi Desert, I made a commitment to give my life to engaging with the people of the 10/40 Window as much as possible. Looking back on it all, I can easily connect the dots and see how God used Jerry to lead me to that commitment. Over the years, I have continued to learn from Jerry and his work of mobilizing multiplied hundreds to serve the least reached.

A few months ago Jerry and I met for lunch where he shared with me about the plight of unaccompanied Eritrean refugee kids in northern Ethiopia. As we sat and talked I could hear his familiar heartbeat for reaching out to those in difficult places. Because of the magnitude of the need, Jerry asked if Kingsland would join him in helping to change the world for these kids. He asked just at the time when I had been seeking God about the next challenge for our VBS kids. Over the next days God confirmed that we should join Jerry in this strategic initiative.

Our team. | April 2014 | Shire, Ethiopia

Our team. | April 2014 | Shire, Ethiopia

God reminded me this past week in Ethiopia that even though I am a seasoned traveler and mobilizer of volunteer teams, I can still learn from mentors like Jerry. I found myself taking lots of mental notes as I once again watched Jerry, now 70 years-old, in action — among the kids, in meetings with the UN and Ethiopian authorities responsible for refugees, and with team members. And I found myself thanking God that our paths had crossed in 1994. That “dot” played an important role in my life and ministry.

The truth of the matter is that none of us become who we are or get where we are solely because of our own efforts. God does indeed use others to provide us with opportunities for growth that we might otherwise have never experienced or to open doors that might otherwise have remained shut. To fail to recognize, acknowledge, or to give thanks for those “dots” is nothing short of arrogance and ingratitude. I am grateful for how God used Jerry to influence the course of my life and ministry. I look forward to how God will use us as we labor together in the coming months to help change the world for some of the most vulnerable kids on the planet.

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