Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 25, 2014

The Humble Campfire

I could hardly wait to get out-of-town yesterday to go solo camping at Palmetto State Park, one of my favorite campgrounds. The best tent camping areas at the park are located on the banks overlooking the San Marcos River. Absolutely beautiful and peaceful location. I was fortunate to score the farthest campsite where I set up my brand new tent. I was especially excited to test my tent on a night with temperatures expected to drop into the low 40’s.

After setting up my tent, I got about the business of preparing my campfire. Starting with tinder and twigs, I progressively added the bigger stuff and finally topped everything off with the split logs I had brought with me. The hard part was waiting until dusk to start the fire. Of course, no fuel other than a match and tinder to start my fire. That’s the rule. But, when conditions are dry and you have followed a tried and true fire-starting method it’s not hard to get a fire started with a match or two.

My plan for this campout was to cook on my Pocket Rocket and just enjoy my campfire (rather than cooking over a campfire as I usually prefer). Honestly, I just did not want to fool with cleaning my camping pans. So, I prepared a delicious dehydrated meal, the kind I enjoyed on my 100-mile backpacking trek earlier this year. And I boiled plenty of water for hot chocolate — several cups of really chocolaty and creamy hot chocolate with little marshmallows. Perfect for a cold night.

I started my campfire just before sunset. No problem. A couple of matches and the flames started to peek out from my tinder bundle deep inside my teepee of firewood. Within minutes the fire was blazing. There is just something really inviting and comforting about campfires, especially on cold nights.

As I sat and watched the flames dancing around the logs I thought about Chuck Noland, the character that Tom Hanks played in Castaway. When Chuck finally succeeded in building a fire he cried out, “Aha. Look what I’ve created. I have made fire.” Ok, I know it’s a cheesy movie line but everything changed for Chuck when he succeeded in making fire and later when he found Wilson, his new best friend.

I watched the soft glow of another campfire in the distance and could hear the muffled tones of conversation. Four friends were camping out and stayed up most of the night talking around their campfire. Reflecting on all of this led me to conclude that campfires are important because they bring people together and inevitably open them up to share their own stories.

I recently read about a lady who spent several weeks with a remote tribe. She chronicled their conversations during the day and then at night around the campfire. She concluded that it was the evening campfire conversations that were the most important because that’s when the people sang songs and shared the stories that had shaped their culture and influenced the next generation to keep their culture alive.

Campfire 3
I think that we lost something important when the humble campfire was replaced by technology. Families and neighbors no longer gather around campfires in the evenings. Instead many families go their separate ways in the evenings, each to their respective televisions or computers or smart phones or whatever — substitutes for campfires, stuff that robs us of opportunities to have conversations and share the stories that shape the next generation.

We need more campfires — opportunities to experience the warmth and tranquility they foster. We need to gather together to share our stories in the hearing of our children, stories that make them smile and wonder and dream and ask questions. Perhaps its time to consider how to revive the humble campfire in our high-tech world. It may just be the very thing we need to do a better job of inspiring and shaping the next generation.

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

I Will Lift Up My Eyes

The Texas Hill Country is one of the most beautiful places in the Lone Star State. Traveling the winding backroads of the Texas Hill Country is therapeutic for me. The farther I travel on two-lane Ranch to Market roads the better I feel. And, of course, the hills serve as a reminder to me of Psalm 121, one of my favorite Psalms. This beautiful Song of Ascents pictures God’s care, protection, and vigilant watch-care over His own.

Windmill & House
This morning Cheryl and I drove from Johnson City to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. We loved driving past windmills and farm houses. But the best part of the trip was when the pink granite dome known as Enchanted Rock came into view — a massive island of stone rising above the surrounding green sea of cedar and piñon pines. Seeing Enchanted Rock in the distance reminded me of Psalm 121. When the psalmist felt threatened by danger he lifted his eyes to the hills and, more importantly, beyond those hills to the One who had created them.

Cheryl and I hiked the Summit Trail, not a long distance but one that rapidly gains in elevation. I was proud of Cheryl for making it all the way to the top on two artificial knees. She had expressed some concerns about the hike but steadily put one foot in front of the other until she made it all the way to the top. I’m glad that we shared this adventure together on the first day of our thirty-fifth year of marriage. Just as Cheryl reached the summit one step at a time, God has walked every step of our journey with us whether in the valleys or toward the mountaintops.
Processed with MoldivAfter our hike, we headed south to a place we have both wanted to see for a long time — the Lost Maples State Natural Area. This is the best time of the year to visit Lost Maples because the trees in the park (and along the way) are dressed in their finest Fall colors. We were not disappointed. What an absolutely beautiful place and a sweet reminder of the kindness of God in filling our world with much natural beauty and vistas that take our breath away.

Summit Tree
Experiencing the seasons in a place like Lost Maples got us to talking about the seasons of our own lives. Cheryl and I went back to year one of our marriage and recounted God’s blessings through the years. Each blessing we have experienced has its own particular context that makes us appreciate each of them even more. Some came to us in the lean early years of our marriage. Others came at times when we needed a miracle. But every single blessing came at just the right time and filled us with wonder at the beauty of God’s kindness.

As Cheryl and I begin year thirty-five of our marriage, we will continue to lift up our eyes to the hills and beyond. We learned a long time ago that we can’t make it to any summit without His help. And we also know that God has always been and will continue to be faithful. He is never surprised by anything that touches our lives and knows exactly how to take every thread and incorporate it into the colorful tapestry of our lives.

Lost Maples

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 22, 2014

34 Years With Cheryl

Thirty-four years ago on this date, I married the woman I love. And today, I still love the woman I married. Loving Cheryl has always been easy for me — easier, I am sure, than it has sometimes been for Cheryl to love me. When I married Cheryl I felt like the man Jesus talked about who had found a pearl of great price and immediately recognized the surpassing value of what he had found. That man sold all that he had in order buy that single pearl he had longed to possess (Matt. 13:45-46). Like that guy, I certainly found a good thing when I found Cheryl. She has certainly enriched my life.

Newlyweds | November 1989

Newlyweds | November 1980

Since we only have a couple of days to celebrate our anniversary, Cheryl and I decided to do one of the things we enjoy most — a Texas backroads road trip. I don’t know that I will ever retire, but if that day ever comes then Cheryl and I know exactly what we would like to do. We would love to buy a little trailer to pull behind a pickup truck and hit the road. We’d love to visit and explore small Texas towns, learn their respective stories, and eat at quaint diners and dives.

This morning, we decided to hit the road in spite of the rain forecasted to soak most of the Lone Star State. According to the weather report, things should clear up by Sunday morning. No problem. We loaded our stuff in the truck and headed west to see where the road would lead us. We decided to visit and stay in Johnson City, the home of Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th President. We drove through lots of rain on winding backroads in the Texas Hill Country before arriving in Johnson City. Texas drives are enjoyable, even in the rain.

Murals & Fine Art
After enjoying a late lunch at the Pecan Street Restaurant, one of the local diners (the food was delicious, by the way), we went exploring most of the streets in town. There are lots of little shops near the courthouse that are geared to tourists, kind of like a mini-Fredericksburg thing. These little shops add great Texas character to the town. And the oak trees in the neighborhoods are a−maz−ing. They’ve obviously been here a while and have had plenty of time to develop their distinctive characters.

LBJ Home
We stopped by LBJ’s boyhood home and drove down South Lady Bird Lane. We laughed as we drove past the Boot Hill Health Store — a Texas oxymoron for sure. The pace of life on Johnson City streets was noticeably slower, but that may be because the weather kept lots of folks at home today. The folks we met were more than friendly enough. We are enjoying our little adventure in Johnson City. Tomorrow we’ll head northwest to Enchanted Rock and then head south to Lost Maples State Natural Area for a quick visit before returning home.

Christmas Store

Cheryl and I are certainly two souls knitted together by God. We enjoy being together and sharing our little affordable backroads adventures. These shared moments remind me of how fortunate I am to be married to the woman I love and for whom I have the deepest respect. It’s been a long time since Cheryl and I enjoyed our 2,100 mile honeymoon road trip, but I’m still deeply in love with the gal in my passenger seat. I am thankful that we tied the knot thirty-four years ago and that the knot is still tied. I am blessed, indeed.

Live Oak & Elm Street

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

Zabbaleen Eye Clinic

The Zabbaleen, Cairo’s garbage people, call themselves “the nothings.” And yet, without them, Cairo would drown in it’s own garbage. The Zabbaleen transport the tons of waste they collect door-to-door to their slum neighborhoods and then sort through it in order to find items to sell to recyclers. They feed any organic waste to their pigs. Most families are able to eke out a subsistence living of only a few dollars a day. Life is hard for the Zabbaleen.

Girl Among Trash
As many as 90% of the Zabbaleen are Coptic Christians. They work extremely hard under very difficult conditions. In order to survive, every member of the family, including children, must lend a hand. Children of the Zabbaleen generally do not have opportunities to go to school. Without an education, these children are destined to remain trapped in a vicious cycle of generational poverty.

When I first learned about the plight of the Zabbaleen, God touched my heart to lead our missions ministry to engage with them. Our desire is to give the Zabbaleen a hand-up and a way out of poverty. Last year, the kids who attended our Vacation Bible School raised funds to build a school for Zabbalen kids. Our national partners secured a piece of property in the middle of a Zabbaleen village where we recently completed construction of our school. We also set aside one room at the school to serve as a clinic. This small clinic is the only medical facility for the people of the village.

This morning I received a report from Farhan, our national partner, on a recent medical initiative at our clinic. Farhan arranged for an optical clinic to serve the people. A total of 85 people visited the clinic to have their eyes examined. Many received new glasses and a few folks will require more extensive treatment. In the coming weeks, Farhan will schedule other medical initiatives to help the people.

Zabbaleen Eye ClinicIn January, David Budke, our missions ministry’s point man for our Zabbaleen work, and Pastor Ryan will travel with me to Egypt to officially dedicate our school and clinic. Our partners from Global Hope will also join us for this special occasion. Please pray for the children who attend our school and those who will be served through our medical initiatives. Because of our good work in this village as the hands and feet of Jesus, we trust that the next generation of Zabbaleen kids will take their first steps out of poverty toward a brighter future.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 16, 2014

Shepherds in Blue

I met Houston Police Department Officer Jaime Giraldo in 2011. At that time Officer Giraldo was one of three officers assigned to HPD’s new Homeless Outreach Team. This team was charged with the responsibility of compassionately connecting with and assisting Houston’s homeless population. In February 2011, just one month after the Homeless Outreach Team was launched, the weather turned very cold in Houston. That’s when I connected with Officer Giraldo. Our missions ministry provided sleeping bags, jackets, blankets, and warm caps and gloves that the Homeless Outreach Team officers distributed to the homeless. Since that time we have worked together to meet many needs among the homeless in Houston and Katy.

With HPD's Senior Police Officer Giraldo and Sergeant Wick.

With HPD’s Senior Police Officer Jaime Giraldo and Sergeant Stephen Wick.

Since its inception in 2011, the Homeless Outreach Team has grown. And, through the help of grants, they now have their own custom vehicles equipped to help the homeless and to transport them to shelters and hospitals. Over the past year, a documentary film crew spent some time with the Homeless Outreach Team officers to produce a documentary on their remarkable work. My friends Officer Giraldo and Sergeant Wick are among those featured in the film. Last week, I had the privilege of attending the premiere of the documentary at the Sundance Theater in downtown Houston. It was a memorable evening.

The documentary is appropriately entitled “Shepherds in Blue: How Community Policing is Guiding People Home.” What started as a pilot project to help the homeless in 2011 has gown into a compassionate initiative that is making a difference. It was one thing to see the stories of life transformation on the screen and quite another to see formerly homeless people at the premiere. The collaboration of the Homeless Outreach Team with others who care for the homeless in our community is changing lives. After the premiere, it was nice to hear Kingsland named among those who care about the homeless and who generously support the work of our Shepherds in Blue.

Police departments in major cities around the country are now curious about what is happening in Houston. More than thirty have received copies of the documentary. Arresting and incarcerating the homeless is expensive for any city. However, connecting the homeless with compassionate partners around the community is not only more cost-effective, it is smarter and yielding greater results. Jesus said, “For the poor you always have with you” (John 12:8). I’m thankful for the Homeless Outreach Team and their work of seeking out and helping the poor who are living day-to-day in desperate and dangerous circumstances. Our Shepherds in Blue are worthy of our prayers and our support as they compassionately care for the homeless.

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

In Need of an Adventure

I met my friend and fellow adventurer Bill Crenshaw for breakfast earlier this week. Whenever Bill and I get together it only takes minutes before we start talking about adventure. Earlier this year, Bill and Doyle and I thru-hiked the 100-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. We absolutely enjoyed our backpacking trek through some of the most magnificent scenery in Texas. But we also enjoyed all of the preparation. Before we ever took our first steps on the trail we spent lots of time testing equipment and preparing ourselves physically on some shorter routes.

The past several months have been some of the busiest for me with more than twenty-five local initiatives, some international travel, numerous speaking engagements, and a writing assignment for LifeWay Christian Resources. Bill’s schedule has been equally demanding. The bottom-line is that we both find ourselves in need of an adventure — even if only for a few hours. It’s amazing how doing something outdoors for even a short time can satisfy that inner yearning for an adventure.

Bill and I discussed a few options for some short-term and affordable adventures in the coming weeks. We both keep an adventure bug-out bag packed and ready to go. But, because we each only had a few discretionary hours this week, we decided to head out to Bill’s ranch in Cat Spring for a cold weather adventure. The big plan for the morning was to arrive early, build a big fire, and exhaust ourselves moving brush and branches to a burn pile. And that is exactly what we did. It may not seem like a big deal, but it was a big deal. These are the kinds of little things that scratch the adventure itch and help bridge the gap between bigger adventures.

When it comes to adventure you don’t always have to go far to have one. Whether its riding my mountain bike on bayou trails from my house to George Bush Park, hiking the trails at Brazos Bend State Park, canoeing on the San Marcos River, or hauling dead tree branches to a burn pile in Cat Spring, it all matters. And it all helps. These local and affordable adventures are like a soothing and healing balm to my restless soul. They refresh me.

A good friend shared something with me earlier this week that resonated with me and encouraged me. He told me that he has been so busy that he comes home exhausted, “with only my pilot light lit.” He prayed and asked God to be a Father to him through this period. Encouraged by some of my blog posts on engaging in local adventures, he headed to Stephen F. Austin State Park with his kids for a biking adventure. It was just the medicine he needed. His kids ended up having a terrific time. They made special memories together. And he came home refreshed and glad that he took the time to get away.

I encourage you to live adventurously. If you seldom get outdoors, then break your routine and break a sweat. Build affordable adventures into your life. Buy yourself a hydration pack and go on a hike. Get your bike out of the garage and go for a ride. Get your camera, get in your car, and get lost on Texas backroads and stop along the way to take lots of pictures. Do something that will refresh you, make you take deep breaths, and put a smile on your face. You may need an adventure more than you realize.

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

Wordless Wednesday

Hookah Man

Zabbaleen man outside his home. | 10 April 2014 | Helwan, Egypt

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 8, 2014

Jonathan and Aubrey

Friday, November 7 will no longer be just another day on my family’s calendar. This once-ordinary day has taken on new significance. It will forever be the day on which my son Jonathan and his fiancé Aubrey Williams made a commitment to one another in the presence of God to begin their journey through life as husband and wife.

J & A Walking
The late Steve Jobs said that you can only connect the dots by looking back. He was right. As Aubrey’s family and mine look back over the years we can more clearly see and connect the dots that resulted in Jonathan and Aubrey meeting one another and falling in love. Each of those dots represent the providential working of God to guide Jonathan and Aubrey toward one another.

J & A Reasons
This sentiment was expressed in the lyrics of Rascal Flatt’s song entitled “Bless the Broken Road.” There is a beautiful line in this song that says “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” We all travel broken roads at one time or another — roads that are so rough that we can become disoriented, difficult roads that make us wonder if we’ll ever arrive at our destination, if we’ll ever find what we’re longing for.

J & A First Dance
My son Jonathan traveled over a broken road through a prodigal period — dark and difficult days that frightened and concerned us. There were many days when my biggest fear was that I might have to do his funeral. In the midst of those days I never expected that I would one day officiate at his wedding. But God in His kindness took care of Jonathan and rescued and restored him.

J & A Cake
I’m glad that the broken road Jonathan traveled led him to Aubrey, someone whom God used to help him see the future more clearly. Looking back over those years, it’s clear that God preserved his life for a special purpose that included his marriage to Aubrey. The fact that we celebrated Jonathan’s wedding to this beautiful young lady is a testimony to the kindness of our great God who can take all things and work them together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

J & A Sparklers
As for Aubrey, Cheryl and I started praying for her when Jonathan was born. So many times throughout the years we prayed for the girl that our son would marry. Although we did not know her name or anything about her or how God would lead her to our son, we nevertheless prayed for this young lady we would eventually meet many years later. We are grateful that God brought Jonathan and Aubrey together and gave them the assurance that they are meant for each other. God answered our prayers. We could not be happier. Cheryl and I love Aubrey and will always regard her as the answer to our prayers for Jonathan.

J & A Adventure
The Bible says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing — and Jonathan found a good thing in Aubrey. Our prayer for Jonathan and Aubrey is that God will make the road ahead smooth for them. However, we know that there will be times when the road ahead becomes broken, hard, and difficult. For those times we are assured that God will guard them and guide them to better days as they trust Him. For today, we are simply beyond grateful that God blessed the broken road that led Jonathan and Aubrey to find one another.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 5, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Bangla Purple Girl 2007

Girl with purple shawl. | 02 Feb 2007 | St. Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 1, 2014

Eager to Serve

A key component of our missions ministry is to fulfill that part of our church’s purpose statement that says we will equip the next generation, one home at a time. Over the past several years, Kingsland kids have exemplified what it means to Go Beyond — to do more than they thought possible in order to impact the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every year, hundreds of Kingsland kids participate in local missions service initiatives.

Manna House New Ground ABF 2This morning, a group of parents and kids from Kingsland’s New Ground Adult Bible Fellowship met at the Manna House in Brookshire. Since 1997, the Manna House has provided a Christ-centered recovery and restoration program to more than 600 men with drug and/or alcohol addictions. I have met many of the men at Manna House over the years and developed deep respect for this much-needed ministry in our community.

Manna House New Ground ABF 3
Manna House New Ground ABFThe best thing about this morning was that several parents made special memories of serving with their kids. These parents did more than talk about serving others, they modeled it. The kids, even the youngest, demonstrated an eagerness to serve as they planted flowers in several places on the Manna House campus. They also spread mulch and some cow manure, a reminder that sometimes you have to put up with some unpleasant stuff as you serve others.

IMG_4733Our student ministry’s new Community Impact Team also joined the fun at the Manna House. Every student showed up eager to serve. These students painted one of the buildings on the campus and also spread five-yards of crushed granite around the outdoor baptism area. I enjoyed listening to their laughter and conversations as they served shoulder to shoulder. And I love that these students also modeled for the younger children what it means to serve.

We want to help parents to equip a generation of kids who understand the importance of not merely looking out for their own personal interests, but for the interests of others as well. That’s why we are committed to providing opportunities throughout the year for parents and kids to leave the comforts of their homes to do something kind for others. In our selfie-oriented culture, it’s even more important than ever that we lead our kids to regard and serve others. Service is a good antidote to the kind of selfishness that blinds people to the needs of others.

Special thanks to New Ground ABF and to our student ministry’s Community Impact Team. Thanks for your eagerness to serve and for your good work at the Manna House.


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