Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 28, 2015

The Sum of the Details

Tonight is the eve of Kingsland’s 8th Annual Caring for Katy — the day when we close the doors to the church building and go out into the community to be the church. Tomorrow morning, Kingsland members will participate in almost fifty service initiatives in Katy and the surrounding communities. Projects include serving widows and single moms, assisting area ministries, beautifying local schools, leading worship in several places, delivering goodie packages to area hospitals and police stations, serving at the YMCA Day Camp, working with area food pantries, and much more.
CFK 2015 LoadingOver the past several weeks, all of our small groups have identified needs in the community and carefully planned how to meet those needs. Over the past few days, our team leaders have shopped for supplies and staged everything they will need to serve others on Sunday. This is a huge task. As teams have shopped for supplies at our local Lowe’s store, I have been impressed by their attention to a million details — everything from the dimensions of nails, screws, and lumber to types of paints, plants, and pots.

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There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in preparation for Caring for Katy. I am grateful for Terry Bryan and Troy Perry who have spent hours planning our projects at the YMCA Day Camp — and grateful to Jon Davis for serving as our consultant on these projects.

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I am also thankful for Greg Johnston who helped me sort through our inventory of supplies and helped me to load them into our Go Beyond van. Kingsland member and Lowe’s employee Amy Causey has been a lifesaver, running all over the store to help our teams find specific items.

Processed with MoldivAnd, of course, my assistant Amy Granger has once again done a fabulous job of managing special orders, schedules, purchase orders, and countless behind-the-scenes details. Her job will be just as busy after Caring for Katy as she sorts through and submits a mountain of receipts to our financial office.

IMG_5600Chris Schooler has spent the past three days with me at Lowe’s. He has helped our teams fill their supply lists and loaded approximately one millions bags of mulch and lumber and other supplies onto trailers and trucks. Chris and I have had a great time of fellowship together. We have enjoyed randomly blessing shoppers at Lowe’s, have cleared the parking lot of rogue shopping carts, and have spent quality moments having meaningful conversations with Lowe’s employees. Thank you, Chris, for hanging out with me this week. I am grateful to you for your friendship and help.

IMG_5636Caring for Katy is, essentially, the sum of all the tiny details — the myriad of things that must happen before Sunday morning so that those who participate can lend their strength to serve the people of our community and, by so doing, bring glory to God. I am excited about how God will use the people of Kingsland to demonstrate God’s love to the people of our community on Sunday, March 1. Like many of you, I am praying that the rain in the forecast will not come and that we will have a beautiful day to serve others. But, even if the rains come, we will still love and serve our community.

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Special thanks to all of the small group leaders and all of the Caring for Katy point persons who have worked so hard to make this year’s initiatives a success. I look forward to seeing our people in action as we care for Katy once again.

CFK 2015 Trio

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 21, 2015

Benefits of a Bicycle

When I was a kid, my bicycle was my passport to adventure. Back in those days bicycles pretty much came in one style — basically in some variation of the iconic Western Flyer style. Single speed. Big tires. Padded seat. A kickstand. And, of course, those colorful streamers on the handlebar grips. This was cool stuff back in the day. I still remember saving money to accessorize my bike. I bought a basket that attached to the front forks so that I could carry my books to school. Nerdy by today’s standards. Probably nerdy in my day, too. But, the good thing is that I learned some important things about the benefits of owning a bicycle.

Bike Benefits
This morning, the men of CityGates met at Handlebar Cyclery in Richmond, Texas to snack on some breakfast tacos and to load up eighteen more bikes for kids in Houston’s Third Ward. Our missions ministry and the men of CityGates have committed to buying and building bikes for every kid at the GenerationOne Academy in Houston’s Third Ward. The students at GenOne are from some of the poorest families in the Third Ward. These kids struggled in public school but are making great progress at GenOne under the guidance of some wonderful teachers and tutors.

At Handlebar Cyclery
Our men and the kids worked side by side to build the bikes. The kids learned some basics about how bikes are put together and what makes them work. Afterward, some of our guys took the kids who did not know how to ride to the parking lot for individual instruction on bike riding. The rest of our men took the kids that already knew how to ride on their first ride on their new bicycles. We covered a little more than 5 miles on a rails-to-trails trail that winds its way from the Third Ward to downtown Houston.

Gen One Kids Downtown Ride
Riding with the kids was a bit like herding cats — but it was a blast. This ride also gave us an opportunity to teach the kids some basic safety lessons about how to approach and cross intersections and other important things. After our ride we enjoyed pizza with the kids. For most of these kids, this may be the only or the best meal they eat today. The best part about today was all of the encouragement and affirmation that our men shared with the kids. This is big stuff for these inner-city kids who face a variety of tough challenges every day of their young lives.

GenOne Bike Build 2015
I am grateful to the men of CityGates, one of our Men of Kingsland Men’s Ministry core groups. They meet every Friday morning to study the Scriptures, to pray, and to encourage one another. But, beyond that, they also actively look for ways to serve others — from Cambodia to Houston’s inner-city wards. These guys love riding bikes. Many of them are big into the local cycling community. They are also big into serving others in Jesus’ name and bringing joy and laughter everywhere they serve. Thank you CityGates.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

Cambodian Haircut

Village barber. | 09 Feb 2015 | Outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

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

Amazing Amazon Odyssey

I love a good adventure story — especially the kind that illustrate the depths of human endurance against seemingly impossible odds. The story of Isabel Godin is just that kind of story. She unwittingly became the first woman to travel the 3,000 mile length of the Amazon River, not because she was an intrepid explorer but rather because she was a woman seeking to be reunited with her husband.

Isabel’s husband, Jean Godin de Odonais, a French cartographer and naturalist, was a member of the world’s first geodesy expedition in the 18th century. His team arrived from France in what is now Ecuador to measure the roundness of the earth and the length of a degree of latitude at the Equator. In December 1741, the 29 year-old cartographer married 13 year-old Isabela de Casa Mayor, a well-educated young girl from a prominent family in Peru.

Jean and Isabel were happily married and had two children. When Isabel was pregnant with their third child, Jean traveled to French Guiana to look into options for returning to France with his family. However, because of political circumstances, the Portuguese and Spanish authorities in the region would not allow Jean to return to Isabel. One year of absence turned into ten and then into fifteen and more.

Without any means of communicating with his wife, Jean had no way of telling her that he was still alive. And, he had no way of knowing that all three of his children had died of smallpox during his long absence. Finally, in 1766, Isabel heard that a boat was waiting on a tributary of the Amazon to reunite her with her husband and take them to France. Isabel sent her servant Joachim on a reconnaissance mission to verify that the rumor was indeed true. Two years later Joachim returned with the confirmation Isabel needed.

Isabela Godin
On October 1, 1769, Isabel and a party of 41 set out across the Andes and down the Amazon River toward the boat she hoped would reunite her with her husband. The journey was beyond arduous. One by one, the members of Isabel’s party died. Somewhere along the way, Isabel sent Joachim ahead to secure extra transportation. When Joachim finally returned, he found that the members of the party had died. Unable to identify all of the bodies, he presumed that Isabel was among the dead and sent word to her father that she, too, had died.

Isabel, however, had not died. Nine days after Joachim had returned, four Indians found the half-crazed Isabel wandering alone and near starvation in the Amazon jungle. These Indians nursed her back to health and helped her to reach the waiting ship. The story of her incredible odyssey soon spread up and down the river. Finally, on July 22, 1770, after more than 20 years of separation, Isabel and Jean were reunited. They eventually returned to France where they both died within months of each other in 1792.

Isabel Godin did not set out to make a name for herself or to do something that no other woman had ever done before. She simply wanted to be reunited with the man she had married and still loved. Somehow her love for her husband kept her moving in his direction one painful mile after the other until she found herself once again in his embrace. In the process, Isabel accomplished something truly amazing by surviving one of the most difficult treks in the world. Love is indeed a powerful motivator.

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

Exploring Ancient Temples

Siem Reap | Angkor Complex | Cambodia

The temples of Angkor, the largest ancient religious complex in the world, are magnificent. I first learned about Angkor from my Uncle Phil when I was a kid. When he visited Angkor, tourists were allowed to make pencil rubbings of the bas-reliefs carved on the temple walls of Angkor Wat, the signature temple in the complex. Uncle Phil had these rubbings framed and then hung them in my grandparents’ home. As a curious kid, I was fascinated by the images and wondered what stories they told.

Bas-Reliefs
Over the years I have visited the main temples in the complex several times, including the famous Ta Prohm Temple featured in the movie “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.” There are, however, many more temples scattered and hidden throughout the surrounding jungle. Angkor must have been an absolutely amazing place in its day, bustling with activity as Hindus and later Buddhists worshiped here. If the Apostle Paul had lived in Southeast Asia, then Angkor would have been the Mars Hill of his day. This is likely where he would have come and initiated what is one of the most strategic dialogues in the book of Acts.

Omar at Crumbling Temple
I am still fascinated by the temples of Angkor. Our team had a free afternoon today before we fly back to the States tomorrow, so I decided to head into the jungle to explore Angkor’s hidden temples — places far off the beaten tourist path. This is my second excursion into the jungle on a mountain bike. I hired a guide to lead me down the winding and sometimes technical single-track trails that lead to some amazing temples. Over the course of 24-miles we stopped at several of these sites that are under constant threat of being reclaimed by the jungle.

Canal in Angkor
Understanding Angkor is key to understanding Pol Pot, the genocidal leader who orchestrated the brutal murder of half of Cambodia’s population between 1975 and 1978. He gleaned many of the torture methods employed by his sadistic troops from the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat. Somewhere around 10-miles into my excursion today we came across a large canal. I stopped on the bridge and asked my guide if this was the work of those held captive by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. “Yes,” he replied. “Many died doing this kind of work under harsh jungle conditions and with little food.” His uncle was among those who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Omar at Jungle Temple
The ancient temples of Angkor are a reminder that God has indeed set eternity in the hearts of people (Ecc. 3:11). Christian philosopher Blaise Paschal understood that. He said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Angkor is a place that reminds us that throughout the centuries, people have searched for that something or someone to fill that God shaped vacuum. Throughout the world today, people are still searching for the same answers as those who built and once worshiped at Angkor.

As a Christ-follower, I am in agreement with Paschal. I believe that the God shaped vacuum within us can be filled only by God, made known through Jesus Christ. And, like the Apostle Paul, I believe that I am under obligation or in debt to those who do not know Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:14). I do, in fact, owe Christ to every person who does not know Him. I’m grateful to have had another opportunity to visit Angkor’s hidden temples and to reflect on the fact that each of us have only a single lifetime in which to connect with the only One who can fill the void in our hearts.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 8, 2015

Keeping Evil at Bay

Poipet, Cambodia

Keeping evil at bay is a common concern worldwide — both from seen and unseen threats. As a result, security is big business all over the globe. People in the West pay to have security systems installed in their homes and pay even more to have those systems monitored 24-hours a day. People in the East are no less concerned about the security of their homes, but are more concerned about unseen threats.

Spirit houses are a common sight in Cambodia and other countries in Southeast Asia. A spirit house is a security system that people believe will keep evil at bay. These small shrine-shaped houses are generally placed in front of a home or inside the doors of a business. Homeowners place food offerings in these often colorful houses to satisfy protective spirits and to appease any spirits that could cause problems for the family.

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While walking through the slums of Poipet yesterday, I noticed that even the poor are concerned about mitigating the threat of evil spirits. Those who cannot afford to buy a colorful and elaborately painted spirit house will make their own. While walking through the slums I noticed one of these home-made spirit houses complete with a fresh offering of food — a reminder that many people here live with great fear.

Spirit House and Scarecrow
Yesterday, I noticed that one family took a more creative approach to keeping evil at bay. In addition to their colorful spirit house guarding one side of their property, this homeowner made a spirit scarecrow looking thing and placed it on the opposite side of his property. We stopped to talk to him, curious about the motorcycle-helmet clad effigy brandishing a wooden sword. This man really believes that this object will keep evil away from his home.

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The truth of the matter is that in spite of all of the spirit houses on display in Poipet, this remains one of the most dangerous places on the globe for children and those who are weak and vulnerable. This is a devil’s playground where the truth of Jesus’ words is evident — the evil one has indeed come here to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. And no spirit house or goofy-looking scarecrow is going to frighten him away.

As long as we live and breathe on this planet we will have to deal with fear generated by seen and unseen threats. That’s a part of life. As a Christ-follower, I am assured that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world. I don’t take the threat of evil lightly and refuse to allow fear to immobilize me. As one of my mentors often reminded me, “You are immortal until God is through with you. Therefore live and labor with the strength God provides and with the confidence that He will watch over you.”

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

Going Beyond Words

Poipet, Cambodia

Foot washing was a common practice in Bible times. People wore sandals and walked along hot, dusty, and sometimes muddy roads and paths. Generally, a host assigned the menial task of washing the feet of guests to the lowest servant in the house. Failure to wash a guest’s feet was considered a breach of hospitality (see Luke 7:44).

When Jesus and His disciples met for the Passover meal, no servant was available to do this humble service — and none of the disciples volunteered to do it. So Jesus did it Himself. Jesus quietly got up, removed His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, and took on the role of the lowest servant.

Imagine the hush that filled the room as Jesus knelt to wash the filthy feet of the first disciple. Perhaps the others looked at one another in wide-eyed amazement. Peter thought this task was beneath Jesus but didn’t offer to take His place. In fact, none of the disciples offered to take His place.

Ironically, prior to the supper the disciples had been arguing about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom they expected Jesus to establish (Luke 22:24). Jesus’ humble service definitely stood in contrast to their ambition and desire for places of prestige.

Kara Washing Feet
As a final act of service to the women who attended our first women’s conference at The Hope Center, our ladies followed the example of Jesus by washing the feet of those who attended. I don’t think any of us expected what happened next. Our new Cambodian friends began to weep, repeating that no one had ever treated them so kindly.

Janet Washing Feet
And then, our women began to weep. At one point, one of our ladies came to me in tears. She said that her new role was to wipe away the tears of our women as they sat and washed feet.

Mary Washing Feet
This simple act of service did more than wash away the dirt caked on the feet of women who daily walk along dirt paths, many in their bare feet. Washing their feet validated what we have taught all week — that these women are created in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.

Teaching with words alone isn’t always enough. Sometimes you have to go beyond words in order to effectively write your message on another’s heart. Washing feet proved to be the quickest path to hearts aching for affirmation. Jesus was right. By touching and washing feet we were able to touch the hearts of our Cambodian friends — and, in turn, they touched our own hearts.

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

This Humble Work

Poipet, Cambodia

I have often wondered about the hands of Jesus and what it must have been like to feel His touch. His hands figure prominently in almost every episode of healing in the Gospels. Although He could have healed with just a single thought or word, He often stretched out His hand and touched those in need of a miracle.

Touching others was something that set Jesus apart from the religious leaders of His day. He touched and helped people that nobody wanted to touch — lepers, sick people, poor people, blind people, outcasts, and children.

On one occasion, when He came across the funeral for the only son of a poor widow, Jesus actually stopped the funeral procession. And what did he do? He touched the coffin, commanded life to re-enter the boy’s lifeless body, and then gave the boy back to his mother. Jesus understood the power of a touch and there was certainly power in His touch.

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In his book “Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity,” author Mark Batterson observed: “Research has shown that touch has the power to fight viruses, relieve stress, improve sleep, and help us recover more quickly from injury. … The power of touch, even on a human plane, is an amazing thing. But when you add the power of God to the equation, it sets the stage for something supernatural.”

Leslie Holding Hand of Child
As Christ-followers, we are the hands of Jesus today. I observed this truth in a meaningful and practical way throughout the day. Leslie held the hand of every single child and adult who sat in the dentist chair while Dr. Walker did his work. Our women held hands with or embraced the women who came forward for prayer after today’s teaching sessions. Even the stray dog that wandered into the room became the beneficiary of a tummy rub.

Kara Praying with Women
At the end of the day we drove down the road to the Imparting Smiles Children’s Center where we held and embraced the kids we have grown to love over the past few years. Holding hands is important to these kids. They flocked to us and fought for position to have us hold their hands or give them a hug. Even they understand the importance of a human touch.

Kim and Kids
Mother Teresa taught the world the value of touching the least of these. She often reminded her Missionaries of Charity about the importance of a human touch. She insisted, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do this humble work.”

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Mother Teresa was right. There is something both humbling and tender about touching those who are hurting, frightened, or in desperate need. In his book “Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches,” author Johnnie Moore points out that touching others is a sign of intimacy. “It is a bridge not just from a hand to a shoulder,” he writes, “but also from a heart to a heart.” May we always look for opportunities to build bridges by allowing Jesus to use our hands to do His humble work.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 4, 2015

When Jesus Came Near

Poipet, Cambodia

The thread is consistent throughout the Gospels — things changed for the better whenever Jesus came near. When a women caught in the act of adultery was dragged through the streets by a self-righteous mob intent on stoning her, the presence of Jesus changed everything. Both the mob and the woman became acutely aware of their sin. The men in the mob dropped their stones and the woman dropped her self-destructive ways.

I became a fan of Mother Teresa when I first read about her in the December 29, 1975 issue of Time magazine. Since then I have had the privilege of serving in her homes in India and my respect for her has deepened. Why? Because things changed for the better when she was in the neighborhood. Mother Teresa followed the example of Jesus and embraced the least of these. This diminutive nun clad in a white, blue-trimmed sari affirmed the dignity of Dalits — people despised and rejected because of a caste designation that devalues them as human beings.

Like Jesus, our presence in the messiness of people’s lives should matter. We are, after all, His hands and feet in this world. Mother Teresa understood that and, more importantly, she lived it out. That’s why things changed for the better when she showed up in difficult places. She learned to look for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and then to do for that individual what Jesus would do. When she came near she made a difference in the lives of others.

Leslie and Allen
We have traveled far in order to come near to the poor of Poipet. And we are already seeing things change for the better because we are in the neighborhood. I was especially moved by a sweet little six-year-old girl who came to the dental clinic. Dr. Walker, our dentist, was moved to tears when he looked in her mouth. The little girl was in pain. Understandably so because three of her teeth had abscesses. She received the help she needed because we came near.

Kim
More than 60 women arrived today to take part in our seminar for women. The women of our team taught about the dignity and worth of women and all people in the eyes of God. Kim Heston, one of our team members, shared the moving account of her special needs son and what she has learned from him about the value of all human life. Her story resonated with the women in attendance. They thanked us for coming so far, for coming so near, and for affirming their own worth as poor women.

The Girls Cambodia 2015
Ultimately our presence as Christ-followers should matter when we come near to those in need, and it should make a difference. In a day when militants in ISIS are beheading, burning, brutalizing, displacing, and torturing people we have the opportunity to show the world something higher and something far greater by simply following the example of Jesus. When ISIS comes near they multiply the pain and suffering of others. There is no virtue in that. Jesus taught us a far better way when He came near to us. May we do for others what Jesus would do wherever God leads us.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 2, 2015

In His Nearness

Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the things I admire most about Jesus is that He moved in the direction of people in need. He cared deeply about the disenfranchised and the desperate as well as those whose lives were marked by disease and utter desperation. Jesus moved in the direction of people in need in order to do something to help.

If we want to become more like Jesus, then we must learn to move in the direction of people in need. We must close the gap that separates us from those in desperate situations and offer them the healing balm of grace and truth. Demonstrating kindness is one way to show people in need that God loves them, believes in them, and has not forgotten them.

Our team of volunteers arrived in Siem Reap late last night. We are here to invest in women and children and to alleviate some suffering by offering a free dental clinic to the poor of Poipet, a town on the western frontier of Cambodia and a hotspot of human trafficking. We moved in the direction of those in need in Cambodia to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

On the long flight over I had plenty of time to disconnect from media, to rest, and also to reflect on Jesus. As I meditated on the movement of His life toward those in need, I also reflected on how those in need moved in the direction of Jesus. Whether a leper, a blind man, a father desperately seeking help for an ailing child, or the multitudes who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36) — the Gospel accounts reveal that hurting people moved in the direction of Jesus. They wanted to be near Him.

Let me write those words again — those who were hurting and in need wanted to be near Jesus. What a beautiful thought. There are things that can only be found in His nearness. Those in despair can expect to find peace in His nearness. Those who are broken can find the healing and help they need in His nearness. Those who don’t know which way to turn can find direction in His nearness. Only those who draw near to Him will truly understand the depth of who He is and how much He loves and cares for us.

Inside Your Hug
A friend who survived Stage 4 breast cancer recently told me that she learned that when things were the darkest is when she knew she was the closest to Jesus. “He drew me into the safety of the shadow of His wings,” she said, “and I learned that the darkest place was also the safest because that is when I knew I was completely enveloped by His wings.” She found comfort in His nearness.

As we move in the direction of those in need in Jesus’ name over the coming week, my prayer is that those in need will move in the direction of Jesus and find in Him what they are longing for — that which can only be found in His nearness.

I love what Ravi Zacharias, the renowned Christian apologist, wrote about coming to Jesus. He found something in His nearness that he could find in none other than Jesus.

“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I have remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.”

I choose to draw near and to stay near to Jesus. I am determined, weak and human as I am, to so live like Jesus that those in need will move in my direction. And when they do, I want to be His hands and feet and to compassionately care for them as Jesus would. I invite you to join me on this journey of discovering the beauty found only in His nearness.

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