Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 3, 2015

They’re Coming to America

I think that I am one of the few people still alive who actually watched the remake of The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond and Sir Laurence Olivier and liked it. This remake of the 1927 classic that originally featured Al Jolson was a critical flop and earned Neil Diamond a whole slew of bad keep-your-day-job reviews. However, although the film was a flop, the soundtrack was enormously successful. In fact, the Jazz Singer album remains Neil Diamond’s most successful album to date.

Neil Diamond America
Perhaps the most recognized song from The Jazz Singer album is America, popularly known as They’re Coming to America. The song has a positive message about immigration and about our country. Since its release in 1980, Diamond has performed the song countless times at patriotic events all over the country. I love the lyrics that end with an interpolation of the traditional patriotic song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” No wonder the song has earned a place in our Fourth of July patriotic medleys.

The message of Diamond’s song remains true — the nations are indeed coming to America. As the song says, “Everywhere around the world / They’re coming to America / Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled / They’re coming to America.” The people of the world are not only coming to America, they’re coming to Houston, now regarded as the most culturally diverse city in the nation. Every week 2,300 people move into the greater Houston area and more than one million of these people were born outside the United States and speak more than 200 different languages.

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One of the things I love most about our community is the opportunity to interact with people from around the globe. The manager at the Shell station near my house is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. The lady who helps me at Office Depot is from Pakistan. My neighbors hail from Africa and Asia. Yesterday I had a great conversation at Lowe’s with a young man from China. This morning I hired day laborers from Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras to help Scott Grant, our new missions resident intern, move into his house. We had a great time with these guys and lots of meaningful conversations.

This summer we will have almost 500 Kingsland members serving in missions endeavors around the globe. But, our people are also engaged in building meaningful connections with people from the nations here at home. This summer we have groups connecting with Bhutanese and Nepalese refugees and a group of ladies reaching out to Muslim women from several nations. And through our partners we are reaching out to Pakistanis and people from several African nations.

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Years ago, a couple of months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I was traveling in northern Bangladesh, searching for a man of peace. The sentiment toward America was not good. Street vendors were hawking full-color posters of bin Laden. People were praising the bearded terrorist and his lieutenants for the good work they had done for Allah. As I walked and also traveled by rickshaw, people shouted at me on several occasions — telling me to go home!

Finally, I grew weary of the taunts, so every time someone called out to me to go home I stopped and engaged them in conversation. I asked each person the same thing, “If I offered you enough money to go live with bin Laden or to go live in America, which would you choose?” To a person, every answer was the same, “I would go live in America.” Interesting! There is something about America, imperfect as we are, that compels many to want to come to our shores.

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Because “they’re coming to America,” we need to be prepared to build bridges of love that will earn us the right to share the good news about Jesus Christ, a message that is often restricted and distorted in many nations. As we celebrate our freedoms this Fourth of July, let’s not forget our responsibility to share good news with those who have come to America. After all, we have the freedom to do so.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 26, 2015

Journey Off The Map

John R. Mott is one of my historical mentors. A historical mentor is someone who, although dead, continues to influence succeeding generations through writings and a life well-lived. In the late 19th century, Mott became a key leader in the Student Volunteer movement — a movement that inspired thousands of students to go to the nations.

Mott envisioned a generation so concerned about the spiritual welfare of others that they would willingly take the gospel to the ends of the earth. In a speech that he gave in 1901, he said that the last command of Christ “awaits its fulfillment by a generation which shall have the requisite faith and courage, and audacity and the purpose of heart to do their duty to the whole world.”

Equipping the generations to love God and love others is serious business. Unless we intentionally guide our kids to consider and respond to the needs of others, we risk unleashing a selfish generation into the world. But if we will model for our kids what it means to be concerned about the welfare of others and how moving in the direction of people in need glorifies God, then we can raise a generation that will have the courage and audacity to dynamically live out the gospel.

GB Flurry KidsThis week our missions ministry officially launched our new Go Beyond Kids Explorers Club. Our club is designed to help our children learn about the people of the world and how God can use them to reach others for Christ. Every year our kids raise funds to make the world a better place for kids in other countries. This year we are raising funds to help Tesoros de Dios, a school for special needs kids in Nicaragua.

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Over the past several days, our missions office has received numerous stories about how our kids have worked to raise funds to help Tesoros de Dios. Our kids have made and sold handcrafted items, set up lemonade stands, done extra chores, emptied piggy banks, walked dogs, and a variety of other things to make money. The exciting thing about all this is that our kids have taken the initiative to do these things. They understand that they don’t have to wait until they are all grown up to help change the world.

I am excited about what I see happening in the lives of kids at Kingsland. I am more motivated than ever to help our kids learn about the nations and to dream big about how God can use them to reach out to others. I envision a generation of kids who will better understand their responsibility to go to the world while embracing the opportunity to love the people of the world who have come to us.

Special thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who made this week of VBS memorable and meaningful for our kids. Our “Journey Off the Map” theme was the best ever. I am confident that in years to come we will see many of our kids continue to love the nations and journey off the map. And many thanks to our kids for raising $12,007.95 for the Tesoros de Dios school for special needs kids in Nicaragua.

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Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 23, 2015

Texas Water Safari Delayed

The Texas Water Safari is one of the greatest personal adventures I have ever experienced. When my son Jonathan invited me to do this grueling 260-mile ultra-marathon canoe race with him in 2012, I seized the opportunity. And I am so glad that I did. Sharing this adventure with Jonathan and my daughter Niki, our team captain, will always be at the top of my list of great adventures. Competing in the 2012 Texas Water Safari is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done.
TWS 2012 Dad and JonathanReaching the finish line with Jonathan in 2012 was surreal — an amazing experience for me. I knew that I had to do this race again. My goal was to race again in 2013 and to reach the finish line alive. Jonathan’s goal was to get a faster time. So, Jonathan found a faster paddling partner and encouraged me to do the race with my friend Doyle. Jonathan finished almost 12 hours faster with his new partner and Doyle and I reached the finish line alive.

With Jonathan’s wedding looming large on the horizon in 2014, we took a hiatus from the race — but talked all year about getting back on the river in 2015. Jonathan and Ben, the best man at his wedding and a multi-safari finisher, are ready to race again this year. Doyle and I have also looked forward to doing the safari this year. All of us have spent lots of time training on the river and competed in the Texas River Marathon, the prelim race, last month.

The recent floods in Central Texas added an unexpected dynamic to this year’s water safari. Record setting rain resulted in rivers overflowing their banks and destroying property and lives. To date, the bodies of two children who were swept away by flood waters have not been recovered. The Texas Water Safari board made the responsible decision to postpone the race from June 13 to June 27.

However, because of additional rains and sections of the race course at flood stage, there has been a buzz in the paddling community that the race might be postponed a second time. Yesterday evening, the Texas Water Safari Board announced that the race will be postponed until July 11 — only the second time in the Safari’s 53 years that river conditions have required that the race be postponed twice.
TWS 2013 Doyle and OmarSadly, this second postponement means that Doyle and I will be unable to compete in this year’s safari. I am leading a team to work with Syrian refugees in Jordan in July and Doyle will be out of the state. So, because of these previous commitments, we have had to withdraw from the race. To say that I am bummed would be an understatement. I was hoping to get a third safari finish to close out my fifties. But, my daughter Niki reminded me that finishing the safari in 2016 will be a great way to start my sixties. I agree.

Thanks to all of you who have followed our training journey and who have offered us words of encouragement along the way. And thanks to all of you who joined us in donating funds to help the Generation One Academy. These funds will do a lot of good in the lives of inner city kids. Doyle and I are disappointed that we cannot race this year but not discouraged. Every training run was an adventure and nothing was wasted. We are stronger paddlers as a result and look forward to racing another day.

I applaud the Texas Water Safari Board for their wise stewardship of the race and for making the tough call to postpone the race a second time. Their decision will help to better ensure the safety of participants and uphold the integrity of the world’s toughest canoe race. I am grateful to be a part of the Texas paddling community and to be a Texas Water Safari finisher.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 22, 2015

Our Disaster Response Team

WHAT WE DO | When disaster strikes, chaos immediately follows. The people impacted by a disaster are often overwhelmed by the sudden loss of property and even life. Within minutes, a disaster can destroy or jeopardize access to our most basic needs — shelter, food, water, and sanitation. Our Go Beyond Disaster Response Team stands ready to respond to short-term emergencies and the long-term ramifications of disasters. We are ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus in times of greatest need.

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OUR LEADER | Monte Vincent serves as Coordinator of our Go Beyond Disaster Response Team. Monte has a wealth of experience in volunteer management, logistics, and response to global disasters. He understands how to mobilize volunteers to provide high-impact disaster relief and rehabilitation. He also understands that our response to emergencies and disasters must include caring for those individuals whose lives have been turned upside down.

HOW YOU CAN JOIN | If you are interested in learning more about how you can join our team, please begin by completing our brief online survey. Once you have completed the survey, we’ll be in touch and will add your name to our group to receive notifications about training, mobilization, and response. Thank you for your interest, involvement, and determination to serve others in times of their greatest need.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 17, 2015

Our GB Kids Explorers Club

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” He was right. On Father’s day, this Sunday, I will observe 37 years in full-time ministry. That’s a long time. Thinking about this upcoming milestone has made me a bit nostalgic this week. I have spent a lot of time looking backwards and reflecting on the dots that God connected to incline my heart to the nations.

Interestingly enough, I was born in a small town called Mission and lived on streets called Holland and Globe when I was a kid. I grew up in a family of travelers and was exposed to the nations through stories and photos and letters and souvenirs sent to me by family members. All of this stirred my imagination and made me curious about the people of the world.

When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers told us about Commander Whitehall’s Explorers Club and sent us home with membership information. She thought it would be a good idea for us to join the club so that we could learn about people in other countries. My Mom and Dad agreed and paid the $5.00 per month membership fee, a lot of money in those years.

Every month, Commander Whitehall would send a package from some far-away place. Each package contained a map and information sheet, a small souvenir from the country he was visiting, and a floppy vinyl record with his narrative about that particular country. It was always exciting to hear Mom call from the mailbox to tell me that my package had arrived.

Over the past few years I have found myself increasingly grateful for how God used the interesting letters and packages I received from traveling family members and also the monthly package from Commander Whitehall. As I have reflected on these treasures from my childhood and how God used them to stir my interest in the nations, God impressed upon me to do something to inspire kids today to love the nations.

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I am thrilled to announce that next week, our missions ministry will officially unveil the new Go Beyond Kids Explorers Club. On Tuesday, we will give out more than 1,300 packages to kids who attend our Vacation Bible School. Each package is full of cool stuff for kids including a copy of our Just for Kids missions magazine, a Go Beyond Explorers Club certificate and pin, a map of Nicaragua (the first country we will focus on) and a souvenir from that country.

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My prayer is that God will use our Go Beyond Kids Explorers Club to touch the hearts of our kids for the nations. We want for our kids to understand that they do not have to wait until they are all grown up to change the world. God can use them right now to make the world a better place for kids in need who live in other countries. Our first Explorers Club challenge will be for our kids to learn about and to raise funds to help a school for special needs kids in Nicaragua.

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My personal prayer is that God will use our Go Beyond Kids Explorers Club to impact the next generation of Christ-followers. Perhaps one day one of our kids will look back and connect the dots — grateful for how God used our little club to inspire them to bring glory to God among the nations.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 15, 2015

Take a Dirt Path

Those of us who love the outdoors owe a debt of gratitude to conservationists of years gone by — visionary individuals who worked to protect our natural heritage. John Muir is regarded as our nation’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He inspired the people of his time to experience and to protect what later became some of our country’s largest national parks.

Muir played a key role in the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks. And, in 1892, he and other supporters formed the Sierra Club and served as the organization’s first president until his death in 1914. Today, the Sierra Club is the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

John Muir inspired others to experience the outdoors not only through his example but through his writings. He reminded a generation that we are to be good stewards of the planet. “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods” wrote Muir. “But he cannot save them from fools.” Well said. Muir understood that our stewardship of the environment will indeed impact future generations.

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Muir lived outdoors and walked who knows how many thousands of miles of land that is now part of our national park system. Muir’s meanderings inspired him to write what has become a favorite quote: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” There is something of great value in taking the time to travel down dirt paths.

Most people will live a lifetime without ever walking down a dirt path. I recently listened to a report on NPR that said there is now so much concrete in Houston that in years to come it will keep temperatures hotter in the Bayou City. All the more reason to escape our urban sprawl and venture down a dirt path in one of the many parks located within easy driving distance.

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There is something therapeutic about taking a dirt path. Last year I wrote a blog post entitled Nature Deficit Disorder about how some doctors are prescribing outdoor activities to patients to help them combat everything from obesity, diabetes, and asthma to stress, depression, and anxiety. New research is showing that exposure to natural environments actually improves physical and emotional health. I believe it. I always feel better in every way after a good long trek through the woods.

As you plan your summer activities, make sure to schedule some time to walk down a dirt path. When you do so make sure that you walk slowly, listen carefully, observe intentionally, and breathe deeply. Take my word for it, the walk will do you a lot of good — probably more than you may realize.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 9, 2015

Doreetha’s Dream

At 99 years old, Doreetha Daniels finally realized the fulfillment of a lifelong dream — to earn a college degree. Sixty-three years after her high school graduation, Daniels earned an associate of arts degree in social science from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, making her the oldest graduate in the university’s history. She walked across the stage to receive her diploma last week.

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Born in Nebraska in April 1916, Daniels moved to California in 1947 where she hoped to study nursing. However, because she was considered an out-of-state student, she was not accepted into college. So, she married and raised a family of her own, got a job at McDonnell Douglas, and became active in the civic affairs of her community.

After retirement Daniels pursued various hobbies to keep her mind occupied. These however, became boring after a while. So, at the age of 90, after watching her kids and grand kids earn their college degrees, she decided it was finally time for her to fulfill her dream of earning a college degree. She enrolled at the College of the Canyons and chose to major in sociology because she loves people.

Daniels drove herself to school until she suffered a stroke. The stroke, she said, was not nearly as tough on her as trying to pass math and statistics. But, with the help of tutors, she made it. At a pace of two courses per semester during her eight years at College of the Canyons, Daniels finally earned her associate of arts degree.

Doreetha Daniels
Daniels enjoyed rock-star status at the May commencement ceremonies. She stood before her fellow students and waved to a cheering crowd. “I accomplished what I wanted to do, and this is my dream come true,” she said. In a campus press release, Daniels said she wanted to finish her education to better herself. Amazing!

Doreetha Daniels is a fantastic example that we should never be satisfied with where we are or what we have accomplished but instead continue looking for ways to go beyond — to improve and to stretch and to grow. Daniels understands that complacency is the enemy of growth. She reminded her fellow students of what lies at the heart of her accomplishment: “Don’t give up. Do it. Don’t let anybody discourage you.”

I think that the Apostle Paul would have congratulated Doreetha Daniels. Like Doreetha, Paul had a pressing-on-and-overcoming kind of attitude. “I press on,” Paul said, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). That’s the kind of attitude that will get you somewhere! Congratulations, dear Mrs. Daniels. Thanks for your inspirational example and reminding us that making an effort is far better than making excuses, no matter how old you are.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 6, 2015

Waves of Volunteers

This week, our Disaster Response Team joined other volunteers from around the country to assist with the clean-up of homes damaged by flood waters in San Marcos. Our team focused on removing water-logged sheetrock and cabinets from homes located just around the corner from the Blanco River. After days of torrential rains in Central Texas, the normally scenic Blanco River overflowed its banks and unleashed a deadly and destructive wall of water in this area more than a week ago.

Omar and Team
Although the waters have receded, the damage remains. Today, some families are grieving the loss of loved ones swept away by the flash floods. Eleven bodies have yet to be recovered. Many more families are dealing with the aftermath of the damage to or complete destruction of their homes. Our team had the opportunity to work in ten damaged homes in a subsidized housing community.
Cleaning InteriorThe water that entered these homes certainly left its moldy signature throughout. All volunteers were required to wear masks because of the mold and the bad stench. We removed the sheetrock, all of the cabinets in the kitchens and bathrooms, appliances, and any damaged furniture and household goods. We then piled all of the debris in front of each home for pickup by other crews.

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Once we completed our work, another crew of volunteers cleaned all of the surfaces with bleach to kill any remaining mold. Over the coming days things should dry out and repair work can begin. The sooner that repairs can be made the quicker the displaced families will be able to return to their homes and begin the process of getting their lives back to some kind of a new normal.

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As I worked alongside our men, I thought about one of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes —“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” The flood waters certainly left their ugly signature on the homes and in the hearts of many people in Central Texas. But God is leaving His signature as He uses waves of volunteers to write a message of love, hope, and healing.

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I am grateful for the men on our Disaster Response Team and for all of the volunteers we met this week. We all enjoyed meeting and serving alongside folks who traveled to Central Texas from around the country to lend a hand. While homes will be repaired in the coming weeks and months, it may understandably take a little longer for hearts to heal. Even so, one thing is certain — God is indeed writing a love letter to the people of Central Texas through the selfless and compassionate service of so many volunteers.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 5, 2015

If Damaged Walls Could Talk

It’s one thing to hear that 1,000 people in Central Texas have been displaced by recent floods but quite another thing to meet some of those people. Today I had the opportunity to meet three families in the small subsidized housing community where our Disaster Response Team has served the past couple of days. My heart has been heavy all day as result of listening to their personal stories.

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We started our day with an early breakfast followed by prayer. Monte Vincent, our missions ministry’s point man for our disaster response initiatives, led our men in prayer. He asked that the Lord would use us to be a blessing and encouragement to those we have come to help. Today, we had ample opportunities to do both.

This morning I met a man and his daughter-in-law who were moving out the last of their personal belongings from their modest little duplex. He spoke to me in Spanish and told me about all of the things they had lost when their home flooded. He was worried sick because the vouchers they had received to stay in a hotel were good only until Sunday. After that, he and his wife, daughter-in-law, and grandson would have no place to live until their little home is repaired.

Later in the day I noticed two older women sitting on a bench outside of the homes where we were working. I approached them and asked them to tell me their stories. One of them has lived in the same home since 1972. The other has lived next door for less than a year. Neither of them have any family that they can lean on. “So we only have each other now,” one of the women told me.

Once again, they will have no place to live while their homes are being repaired. Their hotel vouchers are valid only through this weekend. One of the women has a car. The back seat was filled with the few possessions they were both able to salvage. I told them that the people of Kingsland had sent us here to bless them. So, I filled up their car with gas, bought them some groceries, and gave them gift cards to get through the coming days. I know it’s only a short-term solution but it meant so much to them. They cried.

Damaged Walls PicEvery place we worked at today has a story associated with it. I can’t help but wonder about the people who have had to move out of the homes where the guys and I have been removing sheetrock to help expedite repairs that will follow. If the damaged walls could talk I wonder what stories they would tell about the fear that gripped the people when the flood waters came rushing in and turned their lives upside down.

Mother Teresa once said that it is a kingly act to assist the fallen. We certainly want to honor our King by helping those in need here in San Marcos. Yesterday, three local young men joined our team and worked alongside us. As they drove off at the end of the day one of them leaned out the window and said, “Thanks for coming to help the people of our town.” We are all glad that we came and that we have had the opportunity to help. Thanks for praying for us and for the people whose stories will never be heard by anyone but God.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 5, 2015

All We Lost Was Furniture

“I was sitting in my chair,” the elderly woman told me, “when all of a sudden the water rushed in and covered my feet.” Within minutes her little home was filled with more than a foot of silty brown water from the nearby flood-swollen Blanco River. “But,” she continued, “all we lost was furniture and stuff. Thank God my husband and I are ok.” We continued our conversation as she looked through an album of pictures that had gotten soaked. She managed to dry and salvage most of them. Looking at the photos made her happy.

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Our Disaster Response Team was assigned to work in a low-inclose subsidized housing area yesterday. When we walked into the first little home there was a jumble of stuff that could not be salvaged — furniture, clothing, toys, and just the general everyday stuff of households. Before we could start removing water-damaged sheetrock, we had to empty the place. Doing something like this is sad. The folks who could least afford to lose the things in their homes lost the most. All of their hard-earned stuff ended up in a pile outside the house ready to be carted off to the dump.

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As we worked all day removing sheetrock and appliances and, essentially, gutting out two homes, I thought about the next folks who would live in these places. Life will go on after the floods. People will relocate and readjust and find their new normal. Doing so will be more difficult for some, especially those who are older. But, life will go on. As the elderly woman reminded me, people are more important than things, and when you can walk away from a disaster with the people you love then you have much to be thankful for.

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This morning, we will return to the area in which we worked yesterday and continue our work of clearing out homes and removing damaged sheetrock. These are just the first steps toward helping to get things back to normal here. In a few months, these homes will one again be occupied by low-income families. They will start a new chapter of their lives here with their families and their own stuff.

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The elderly woman told me that this is the third time she has been through something like this in her lifetime. She is a reminder that we can make it through difficulties and that God is good. Please remember the people whose lives have been impacted by the floods and also for all of the volunteers who are here to help. There is still lots of work to do. We are happy to be here to help.

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