Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 17, 2014

Losing Sight of Jesus

Perhaps the easiest thing for us to do at Christmas is to allow the frantic pace of the season to cause us to lose sight of Jesus. Instead of slowing down enough to see Jesus clearly, we tend to speed up and, as a result, Jesus becomes blurry. And yet, without Jesus there would be no Christmas. He is indeed the reason for the season. Taking time to reflect on why He left heaven and moved in our direction is key to connecting with the real meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Shoppers
A few years ago, I received an interesting e-mail at Christmas from my friend Mortuza who lives in Bangladesh. He wrote to tell me a tragic story about a family whose only child had died. Here is an excerpt from Mortuza’s e-mail in his own words:

A parent had a child, and parents arranged great things to having festivals for their only child’s birth day. So many guests and pretty decorated was everything. But, only child went up to the roof. As child was so small and child fall down from the roof and died! Parents and guests were very busy with the festivals. All the activities became valueless. They did not look after their child. Many of us today, we are busy for our selves, to decorating our mental satisfactions. We do not looking after “where Jesus is?” we should look after Him! first.

Like the parents of the little boy who fell to his death, we too can become so distracted by the frantic pace of the season that we lose sight of Jesus. We must, as Mortuza pointed out in his e-mail, look after where Jesus is. We should look after Him first. After all, Jesus is the real treasure of Christmas or, in the words of the Apostle Paul, God’s indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). Without Him “all the activities become valueless.”

I hope you will take time to slow your pace a bit to give yourself some margin to reflect on the wonder of Christmas — that God sent His only Son in our direction to deal with our sinful and broken lives. Determine to not let the gifts and gadgets and festivities cause you to lose sight of Jesus. Look after Him this Christmas. Share His story with others. And share your story about what He means to you.

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

The Other Wise Man

I love a good story, especially the seasonal Christmas stories that I have enjoyed since I was a kid. My first exposure to “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was in an imaginatively illustrated book that my grandfather had given me when I was still in grade school. I have read and also enjoyed watching this story on television more times than I can count — and I still get excited when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up as a new man on Christmas morning.

“White Christmas” is still a sing-along and feel-good favorite. Have to watch it every year. And, I still get a little emotional every time I watch Jimmy Stewart, one of my all-time favorite actors, play the role of kind-hearted George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” What a great story and needed reminder that each of us are more valued by others in our respective spheres of influence than we realize.

It's a Wonderful Life
A lesser known but wonderful story of the season is “The Other Wise Man.” Written by Henry van Dyke and published in 1895, this story is about the fourth wise man. Of course, the Biblical account of the Magi does not indicate the number or the names of the Persian wise men who followed the star that heralded the birth of a king among the Jews. No matter. This is still a great story about a “fourth” wise man named Artaban who also saw the star that signaled the birth of Jesus and decided to follow it.

Like the other wise men, Artaban purchased gifts for the new king — a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl of great price. On his way to meet the other wise men, Artaban stopped to help a dying man and, as a result, arrived too late to join their caravan across the desert. So, he was forced to sell one of his treasures in order to purchase the camels and supplies he needed to continue his journey. Sadly, he arrived in Bethlehem too late and discovered that the new King and his parents had fled to Egypt.

Artaban, undaunted by his late arrival, was determined to continue his search for Jesus. However, on the night when Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents, Artaban used another of his gifts to save the life of a newborn child. He then wandered and searched for Jesus for the next thirty-three years, performing many acts of charity along the way. Finally, he arrived in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion and realized that the One who was to be executed was indeed the King he had been searching for.

Artaban hoped to use his remaining gift, the pearl of great price, to buy the release of Jesus. However, as he made his way to Golgotha, he saw soldiers dragging a young girl in chains. “Have pity on me; save me!” she cried out. “I am to be sold as a slave.” The fourth wise man knew what he had to do. He took the pearl and exchanged it for the young girl’s freedom.

Immediately thereafter, when the earth shook, a tile fell from a roof and struck Artaban on the head. As he lay dying, he heard a gentle voice say, “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” Artaban’s journey had ended. His treasures were accepted. The fourth Wise Man had finally found the King.

May we not lose sight of Jesus this Christmas. Like Artaban, may we learn to see the King in the distressing disguise of people in need. And like this “fourth” wise man, may we do what it takes to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting, lonely, in pain, and in desperate need. Let’s help others to have a Merry Christmas and by so doing honor our King.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 7, 2014

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season, once again, when atheist activists bash the reason for the season. In previous years, atheists groups have targeted urban audiences in places like New York and London. This year, however, the group known as American Atheists have launched their anti-Christmas campaign in residential areas in Bible Belt states. Their signature piece this year is a billboard featuring a mischievous-looking little girl writing her letter to Santa. “Dear Santa,” she writes, “All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”

2014 American AStheist Billboard
Atheists are still under the mistaken impression that Christianity is about church or religion. Christianity is, instead, about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Of course, atheists believe that Jesus Christ is a myth. At least that’s the message American Atheists promoted in their 2011 anti-Christmas campaign. That year they featured billboards with images of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa, and a devil-like figure with the words “37 million Americans know Myths when they see them.”

Scholars Burridge and Gould, authors of “Jesus Then and Now,” comment in their book that respectable scholars do not deny Jesus’ existence (p. 34). James Hannam, a scholar who came to Christianity from a scientific background, said that to claim that Jesus never existed “requires selective skepticism about which sources are reliable and how others are interpreted.” He continues, “In the end, if Jesus did not exist, it makes Christianity a much more incredible phenomena than if he did.”

In last year’s “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” campaign, the American Atheists group included personal testimonies by atheists who declared that they needed neither Christ nor religion to enjoy the season. Ironically, the added testimonial element made this campaign feel somewhat religious. This year, they have taken things a step further by featuring a child in their campaign.

When I saw the child in this year’s billboard campaign, I thought about all of the things the kids at our church have accomplished over my years at Kingsland. Our kids have helped change the world for the least of these in our own community all the way to the ends of the earth. They have helped orphans and kids at risk and young girls rescued from brothels and unaccompanied refugee kids and raised funds to build schools and clinics and more. These are actual life-saving initiatives that continue to make a difference.

I have stated in previous years that I am neither offended nor threatened by these irreverent attacks on Christmas. Instead, I have come to regard them as opportunities for non-believers and believers alike to think deeply and to dialogue openly about the meaning of Christmas and the Person of Christ. And that’s not a bad thing. We should think and talk about Christ more at Christmas.

As believers we are called to love God with all of our mind, to own our beliefs, and to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). While we can’t stop atheists from exercising their First Amendment rights, we can use what they say as a springboard to share an opposing view. And, we can and should look for ways to continue teaching our kids to love a world in desperate need and to act intentionally and responsibly to make a difference.

The little girl featured in this year’s atheist campaign can write all the letters she wants to Santa. Her letters are not going to change anything. I remain committed to teaching our kids the value of loving and serving others and responding to real hurt and need in a compassionate way, just as Jesus would. These are the kids who are making a difference in our troubled and needy world. And, that’s no fairy tale.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 2, 2014

The Highest Point in Texas

Solo Hiking Guadalupe Peak

Today, I stood atop the highest point in Texas — and it was an awe-inspiring experience.

Atop the highest point in Texas.

Atop the highest point in Texas.

Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, is located where the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert meets the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. Rising a modest 8,750 feet above sea level, it is not high compared to other peaks in the world. And, it’s not even considered the signature peak of the Guadalupe Mountain range. That designation belongs to the massive 8,085-foot high limestone bulwark known as El Capitan. However, Guadalupe Peak is the highest place you can go in the Lone Star State — and that alone makes the strenuous hike to the top worthwhile.

The trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak.

The trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak.

I started my journey to the Guadalupe Mountains months ago when I started doing research on the highest point in Texas. I read everything I could find and watched a dozen YouTube videos posted by hikers who had made the trek to the top of Guadalupe Peak. I also studied trail maps to get a better understanding of the trail and its many switchbacks. I shared bits and pieces about my adventure-in-planning with my wife, Cheryl. After lots of conversations, she finally agreed to let me go and do this trek to the highest point in Texas even though I would do it alone.

El Capitan, the signature peak at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

El Capitan, the signature peak at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

El Capitan as seen from the top of Guadalupe Peak.

El Capitan as seen from the top of Guadalupe Peak.

I packed for my trip on Saturday night after a week of being out-of-town and headed for the Guadalupe Mountains National Park after church on Sunday. The drive to the park is almost ten hours so I spent the night in Sonora, one of those really small towns located along the portion of I-10 that has an 80 mph speed limit. The following morning I drove the remaining 5 hours to the park, registered, and pitched my tent. I met and talked to a nice couple from Munich, Germany who had just completed the hike. After talking to them I could not wait to get started.

It was a cold night in my tent. Temps hovered around 36 degrees.

It was a cold night in my tent. Temps hovered around 36 degrees.

On the trail to the highest point in Texas.

On the trail to the highest point in Texas.

After a very cold night in my tent with temperatures hovering around 36 degrees, I was up and ready to go before sunrise. I filled my hydration pack, tossed some Cliff Bars into my pack, grabbed my trekking pole and headed for the trailhead. The trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak is just over four miles, but it’s all uphill. The National Park Service has rated this hike as strenuous because the trail steadily rises 3,000 vertical feet along the way. They are not kidding when they say strenuous. It was very strenuous.

Part of the trail at higher elevation. Watch your step!

Part of the trail at higher elevation. Watch your step!

Every step of the way offers magnificent vistas.

Every step of the way offers magnificent vistas.

The first mile and a half of the hike is the toughest because of a drastic elevation gain. The guy from Germany had warned me that this section of the hike was the toughest. He wasn’t kidding. It was like climbing uneven stairs for a mile and a half. After that point, the trail has lots of switchbacks that steadily take you higher and higher into these mountains that were once the stronghold of Mescalero Apaches. The really cool thing is that every step of the way has views that absolutely take your breath away. Beautiful vistas.

I was thrilled to finally see the summit marker.

I was thrilled to finally see the summit marker.

The Guadalupe Peak Summit Log Book.

The Guadalupe Peak Summit Log Book.

After 2 hours and 50 minutes, I hiked the final switchback to the top and shouted for joy when I saw the marker at the top of the peak. No words to describe what I felt. I was a kid again. I spent about 30 minutes at the summit — enjoying the views, reading Scripture, praying, and signing the log book that is kept in an old ammo box. Like Peter when he was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, I did not want to come down. But, alas, the time came for me to start the trek down the mountain.

GP Summit Pic

A memorable day.

On the way down I met a guy named Chet, the only other person who hiked to the summit today. We had a nice conversation and thought it was cool that on this day he and I were the only two human beings on the face of the earth who stood on the highest point in Texas. I smiled all the way down the mountain and logged a round-trip time of 5 hours and 40 minutes. Not bad for a 58 year-old guy who is still wild at heart. Standing on the highest point in Texas today was an experience I will never forget.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 29, 2014

Toward the Ragged Edge

Imagine a new and different map of the world, one made up of a series of concentric circles with peoples and nations organized according to their access to the gospel. On such a map you and I would occupy the warm gospel-saturated center. People groups with less access to the gospel would occupy the concentric circles radiating away from the center. Those with the least access to the gospel would live on the cold and ragged edge — the outermost concentric circle on the map.

Losing sight of those who live on the ragged edge is easy, especially in our selfie-obsessed culture that tempts us daily to regard ourselves as more important than others. But that’s not what Jesus envisioned for His church or His followers. He called us to look beyond ourselves and take the good news to all peoples, including those who live in difficult places near the ragged edge.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, is one of my favorite authors. In his book entitled “Unfinished,” Stearns describes what a church on mission looks like. In part, he wrote: “We would be drawn to the cold places, the broken places, the ragged edges of our world. We would be drawn to the open sores of our societies: poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, and exploitation, becoming a healing balm to those who feel marginalized, excluded, and discarded.”

In recent years, missiologists have called Christ-followers to turn their attention to those who live on the ragged edge and to make these last places first. The majority of the unreached and unengaged people groups in the world today live in the 10/40 Window. This rectangular-shaped geographical area is located between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator and stretches from North Africa all the way to the Pacific Rim.

The people groups in the 10/40 Window live in broken and cold places that have yet to feel the healing warmth of the gospel. Our missions ministry is committed to moving toward those who live on the ragged edge. In cooperation with our partners, we are sharing the good news, planting churches, equipping church leaders, and battling on the front lines of poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, and exploitation.

December is month of missions at Kingsland. This is the month we contribute to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to support more than 4,800 Southern Baptist missionaries serving worldwide. And, your gifts to Kingsland’s Go Beyond Missions Ministry also help us as we labor to make last places first.

Ragged Edge
If you are a Kingsland member or guest, please watch your mailbox the first week in December. You will receive a special copy of our December Go Beyond publication that tells the story of how our missions ministry is engaged on the ragged edge. My prayer is that as you read this report God will inspire you to pray, give, and to consider engaging in one of our international missions initiatives in the coming year. Thanks in advance for making it possible for us to move from the center toward the edge — away from comfort to inconvenience and away from safety to risk. After all, movement toward the ragged edge is a matter of life and death for those still waiting to hear the joyful and good news that we will celebrate this Christmas.

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.

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