Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 30, 2014

Serving at Christ Clinic

Sooner or later it happens to all of us — some ailment or ache or concern prompts us to make an appointment to seek medical attention. For those who have medical insurance and a family doctor, this is a no-brainer decision. However, for those who are uninsured or underinsured, the decision about where to seek medical attention is a bit more challenging. The options are not always as clear for the poor and the homeless. That’s why we are fortunate to have Christ Clinic in our community. Christ Clinic is the only Katy-based clinic that provides low-cost acute and chronic care for people without insurance.

Christ Clinic Adult HelpersOur missions ministry has supported and invested in the work of Christ Clinic for several years. Kingsland member Dr. Cindy Anthis regularly volunteers her time at the clinic along with others from Kingsland. Our members have served at Christ Clinic during our annual Caring for Katy day and at other times throughout the year. This morning, an assortment of volunteers from the Grace Awakening and Insula Adult Bible Fellowship groups and several girls from our student ministry served at Christ Clinic. Our assignment was to do a deep and thorough cleaning of the entire facility.

Processed with MoldivOur team did a great job this morning. We cleaned every room from floor to ceiling. We mopped and scrubbed and dusted. We moved every piece of furniture to clean under and behind and around. We wiped down furniture and shampooed carpets. We squeegeed windows and cleaned every door. Some stood on ladders to reach high places while others dropped to their knees to scrub baseboards and floors. By the time we were finished the entire clinic looked and smelled great.

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My friend Kara Hill, the director of Christ Clinic, stopped by to personally thank our team. I am grateful for Kara and her staff and the service they provide our community in the name of Jesus. The clinic is open five days a week and is usually packed with people in need of help. The staff at the clinic also compassionately care for any homeless folks in our area in need of medical attention. We are fortunate to have Christ Clinic in our community. I’m happy that we could serve and bless them today.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 28, 2014

Our TWS Training Begins

Preparing for the 2015 Texas Water Safari

After a one year hiatus from canoeing, Doyle and I are finally back on the water — and we couldn’t be happier. Early this morning we loaded our gear and strapped our canoe onto Doyle’s red truck, stopped by Whataburger for a quick breakfast taquito, and then headed West toward Luling to do our first training run in preparation for the 2015 Texas Water Safari. This 260-mile ultramarathon canoe race is billed as the world’s toughest canoe race. And indeed it is. Doyle and I crossed the finish line last year in a little less than 90 hours. We know that in order to compete in this brutal race you have to train, train, train.

Canoe on Doyle's Truck
Today we decided to paddle the San Marcos River from Zedler Mill Dam in Luling to the low-water crossing at Palmetto State Park, one of the checkpoints on the safari. This 15-mile section of the race course offers some technical challenges to paddlers. And, to make things even more interesting, the river here is littered with all kinds of trees and logs swept here by floods in recent months. We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of paddling around obstacles and seeing all of the changes on the river since we last paddled here.

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The section of the San Marcos River between Luling and Palmetto is also challenging because of the Son of Ottine Rapids. When Doyle and I did the safari last year, we arrived at these rapids late at night. We picked a good line, managed to avoid the rocks, and made it through without incident, saving us the time of portaging. Because the water level was a little low today, we bottomed out on the rapids. But, no problem. Doyle hopped out of the canoe, gave us a nudge, and we were on our way.

Ottine Dam Sign
Ottine Dam is located a few miles down from the rapids. There is a required portage at this dam because it is deteriorating and dangerous. A paddler from San Marcos died here on a training run a few years ago. Thankfully, the dam is scheduled to be demolished. When we arrived at the dam we pulled our canoe up the sandy bank, dragged it around the dam, and then lowered it back down to the water. Once we hopped back into our canoe, the skies opened up and it rained on us all the way to Palmetto. No problem. The rain was refreshing.

Ottine Dam
Although Doyle and I have not been in our canoe for almost a year, we thoroughly enjoyed today’s training run. We talked a lot along the way about last year’s race — what we learned from it, what we need to do different in order to improve our time next year, and about our next training run. We understand what it takes to do the safari and are committed to intentional preparation one training day at a time. I enjoy the safari because it is hard, it stretches me, and there is always the possibility that anything can happen along the way to keep us from reaching the finish line. These are all ingredients for a great adventure!

Canoe at Buc-ee's

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 27, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Meat Market

A neighborhood meat market. | 15 March 2013 | Kolkata, India

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

Thank Your Teachers

Today is the first day of school — at least for the kids. Teachers, on the other hand, started preparing for the first day of school long before today. I drive past several schools on my way to and from work. For the past couple of weeks I have noticed all of the cars in school parking lots, cars that belong to teachers. My wife is a science teacher and clicked into teacher mode long before today. Along with others, she has worked hard over the past few weeks to do all of the stuff necessary to welcome kids on this first day of the new school year.

Mrs. Espericueta
While driving to work this morning I thought about several of my favorite teachers. In July 2010, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Mrs. Espericueta, my first teacher. She started the first Kindergarten program in my hometown of Mission, Texas. She had renovated a one-room building into a classroom at her own expense and used her station wagon as a school bus. I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank her for investing in my life. She died in January 2014.

Mrs. Cotton was the first teacher to tell my beautiful Mom that I had a lot of potential — and that I was really good at daydreaming. Mrs. Alden, my elementary school music teacher, played an old upright piano and taught us fun songs. My favorite song was “The Strawberry Roan.” Mr. Knipp made science fun and interesting. Mrs. Bowe encouraged me to write for school publications. She once told me that I had a good disposition, prompting me to look up the word in the dictionary. Mr. Boles, the high school clarinet instructor, was the most encouraging teacher I met in high school. And, I did not even play the clarinet!

I am grateful for all of the teachers that invested in my life. Like my wife and other teachers who welcomed students into their classrooms today, my teachers also spent a lot of time preparing their classrooms to welcome me on the first day of school. I wish I could find each of them to just thank them once more for their hard and dedicated work. Teachers really do touch the future. So, be sure to thank and encourage your teachers today and throughout the year.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 20, 2014

The Death of James Foley

American journalist James Foley disappeared on November 2, 2012 in northwest Syria. Foley had traveled to the war-torn region to report on the suffering of the Syrian people. Over the past few years, multiplied thousands of Syrians have been killed and millions have been displaced as a result of the violent civil conflict. Journalists, or conflict reporters, like Foley play an important role. They serve as a voice for the suffering and those forever silenced by the brutality of war.

James Foley

Image | New York Daily News

In an interview at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2011, Foley talked about how journalists who go to war-torn regions of the world help to shed light on realities that would otherwise never be known. “We’re not close enough to it and if reporters,” Foley said, “if we don’t get really close to what these guys … we don’t understand the world, essentially.” Foley was right. Unless reporters move in the direction of conflict, the world will not understand the depth of sufferings being experienced by others in our human family.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an estimated 20 journalists are still missing in Syria, all people who moved in the direction of danger for the sake of telling the stories we must hear. Foley was among them. Reportedly kidnapped by gunmen, he was not heard from again — until the moments before his execution at the hands of ISIS. This hyper-violent jihadist group continues to spread like a cancer across Iraq and Syria, leaving nothing but death and destruction in their path.

ISIS used Foley like a piece on a chess board in their efforts to try to coerce the United States to end current military airstrikes against them in Iraq. In keeping with their disregard for the sanctity of human life, they beheaded James Foley and then posted their evil deed on the internet for the world to see. The video of Foley’s execution is not the first and will not be the last to be posted by ISIS. This kind of violence is part of the DNA of these fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups and the kind of thing that causes many to question the fundamentals of Islam.

Although Foley’s voice has been silenced, others will speak for him and for his band of incarcerated brothers — all victims of a brutal group of lunatics whose actions show how impoverished their hearts really are. A statement attributed to Foley’s mother said that their family was proud of him for giving his life “trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.” The family appealed to the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages.

May the death of James Foley remind us that we must continue to pray for and to act on behalf of those who are caught in the clutches of evil and unprincipled men — extremists who are unrestrained by any consideration for the sanctity of human life. Their own day of judgment will come. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Ultimately, no one sins with impunity, including ISIS.

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

Look, Daddy!

A very important component of our missions ministry is to fulfill our church’s purpose statement of “equipping the next generation, one home at a time.” We are intentional about providing opportunities for even the youngest among us to use their little hands to serve others. We want to help equip a generation of kids who love God and love people — who understand the importance of not merely looking out for their own personal interests, but for the interests of others as well.

Heather & Ben Parnell
This morning, the Joshua House Adult Bible Fellowship met at the new campus of Bethel Bible Fellowship, our third daughter church, to do a lot of painting and landscaping. I love these opportunities to lead parents and their kids to serve others. The Parnell family showed up with all of their kids, including little Ben hitched to his mother’s back and sporting his cool sunglasses. As I painted near the Parnell family, I overheard their daughter Emma saying, “Look, Daddy! I am doing what you’re doing.” Jeff explained to his daughter Emma that what they were doing was volunteering to help others. Great teachable moment.

Joshua House Girls
I never tire of seeing our Kingsland kids and students participate in our weekly Saturday morning service initiatives. These initiatives are designed to help families make special memories together while serving others. More than one parent commented on how much they enjoy serving with their kids. These Saturday service initiatives give moms and dads the opportunity to lead by example. And, I am always encouraged to see kids who don’t mind spending time serving with their parents and who are not afraid to get dirty.

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This past week, Chris Kincaid and Lindsay Crisanti, two of our student ministry staffers, led a team of Kingsland students to do a Vacation Bible School at Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church in Houston’s Fourth Ward. So many of the students who participated in leading the VBS already have a history of service with this community. Most have a long personal track record of participating in Saturday and summer service initiatives. Amanda Caffey first ventured to the Fourth Ward years ago with her fellow 6th grade friends at the time. What a blessing to see her back in the Fourth Ward, loving and caring for kids.

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I am glad that Kingsland is a missional community — that we are concerned about what we can do to impact the world for the cause of Christ. We don’t just consume Bible calories, we burn off those calories by loving and serving others in practical ways. By encouraging even the youngest among us to serve, we are raising a generation of kids who will develop what Martin Luther King Jr. called “a dangerous unselfishness.” This is the kind of unselfishness that God can use to change the world. That’s why we must lead our kids by example so that they will one day say, “Look, Daddy! I am doing what you are doing.”

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 13, 2014

ISIS is Like a Darkness

In recent months, Christians in Iraq have become the target of persecution by a group called ISIS, an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This hyper-violent Islamic jihadist group is considered much stronger and better funded than Al-Qaeda. ISIS is intent on creating an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria. They have imposed Sharia law in the towns they control — law that covers both religious and non-religious aspects of life.

Fueled by absolute hatred for all non-Islamic peoples and unrestrained by any regard for the sanctity of human life, ISIS continues to commit unimaginable atrocities against the innocent. Disturbing reports of children being beheaded, people being buried alive, and entire families being killed in public continue to flow out of the regions that ISIS has swallowed up like a darkness.

Thousands of Christians in Iraq have fled their homes and the cities where they have lived for generations in order to escape this pervading darkness. Most have escaped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Other minority groups in the region, like the Yazidis, have also fled their homes in search of safety. Thousands of Christians and other minority groups have sought safety in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. The Kurds are a people who understand persecution.

Missions Emphasis Week Missions Week
I recently contacted my friend Heather Mercer to ask about what Global Hope, her organization, was doing to help the displaced Iraqi Christians. I had the privilege of visiting Heather in Kurdistan in the Fall of 2008. Heather’s ministry is based in northern Iraq and recently completed construction of the Freedom Center, a beautiful facility designed to reach out to college students. Heather loves the Kurdish people and is committed to spending her life among them.

Heather replied that her team is coordinating efforts with the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations to meet the humanitarian needs of the displaced Iraqi Christians. She said that they are converting the Freedom Center to serve as housing for displaced families. “We hope to be able to house up to 1000 women and children,” she wrote. Heather added that an estimated 5,000 people entered their city this past weekend. These families are in need of food and other daily living necessities.

Our missions ministry sent an initial financial gift to Heather to help her and her team address the needs of the displaced families seeking refuge in Kurdistan. We will continue to monitor the situation and do what is necessary to help provide for the needs of these suffering Christian families. In addition to having some of their practical needs met, these families will be encouraged by the knowledge that we are standing with them in prayer and that they are not forgotten.

Heather added, “The Erbil airport is closed now. Lots is happening and people are scared. The Christians have given up hope for Iraq and are all trying to leave. We are praying that this will be the beginning of a spiritual awakening and that God will use us for such a time as this! Thank you for helping us help refugees. The need is dire.” While ISIS is spreading darkness, I’m glad that we can help Heather and her team to push back that darkness by bearing the burdens of our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Ultimately, the darkness will not overcome the light.

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

Whitewashing a Fence

One of my favorite stories from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, is the account of Aunt Polly assigning Tom the responsibility of whitewashing a fence. When Tom surveyed the fence, “all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.” Tom reluctantly dipped his long-handled brush into a bucket of whitewash and began the arduous task of painting “the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence.”

Not long after Tom started painting, his friends happened by. When his friend Ben stopped by on his way to the swimming hole he asked Tom, “Why, ain’t that work?” Tom continued whitewashing the fence and replied, “Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.” One by one, Tom convinced Ben and other friends that whitewashing a fence was not work but fun and that they should want to get in on the action. And, indeed they did. Aunt Polly’s fence got whitewashed by an army of painters.

Team
This morning, volunteers from Unidos en Cristo and Faith and Fellowship, two Kingsland small groups, helped to whitewash the fence that borders the newly purchased property of Bethel Bible Fellowship. It really did not take much convincing to get these folks to paint the fence at the future home of our third daughter church. They showed up ready to serve in spite of the heat and humidity. With paint rollers and brushes in hand, our small army of volunteers made quick work of painting the fence.

Fence Painting
What I enjoyed most about this morning’s service initiative was how much our volunteers enjoyed serving. As I walked along the fence dispensing paint, I listened to conversations in two languages, lots of laughter, and witnessed really good fellowship among everyone at work. And, because we are committed to equipping the generations, I enjoyed watching kids work alongside their parents. These kids will grow up with special memories of having served others with their parents. And that is a very good thing.

Bethel Fence PaintingWe will continue our work of fence painting at Bethel and also some landscaping with next week’s group of volunteers. I am grateful for our small groups and their willingness to serve others in our community. We have a full calendar of initiatives scheduled for this Fall that will give our small groups opportunities to serve throughout our community. If you are a Kingsland member, I hope you will join us on one of our Saturday service initiatives in the coming months. I guarantee you that “it ain’t work” and it sure is fun.

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

The Art of Letter Writing

While rummaging through a drawer of keepsakes last night, I came across a bundle of letters from my childhood. What a treasure. I learned the art of letter writing from my grandfather. He taught me how to write letters and the importance of doing so when I was still in grade school. He encouraged me to write to family members, folks in political office, and chambers of commerce to request copies of maps.

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In my early years of letter writing, I used my grandfather’s post office box as my return address. From the time I could walk, I accompanied him to the post office to get the mail. More than once we opened a letter and read it on the spot. Going to that post office with my grandfather was always an adventure. P.O. Box 507 became my connection to the world beyond my small town.

When I turned twelve, my grandfather encouraged me to write to those in public office. He told me that it was important to write letters to express encouragement for a job well done or to express concerns. So, I wrote a letter to Senator John Tower and thanked him for his public service. To my surprise, Senator Tower answered my letter, now framed and on the wall in our guest room.

Family Letters

So, when I found my bundle of letters last night, I had to take them out of their respective envelopes and read them again. I had three letters that my mother had written to me when I had traveled away from home as a teenager, a letter my uncle had written when he was stationed with a scientific team in Antarctica, a letter from a cousin who lived in Ann Arbor at the time, a letter my grandfather had typed on his Royal typewriter, and a few other miscellaneous letters.

As I held the old letters in my hands, I breathed a sigh of thanks that I lived a good part of my life in the days before email and text messages — the days when you expressed yourself on a blank sheet of paper with your favorite pen and then stuffed your letter into an envelope and sent it off on a grand adventure of its own. Letter writing, for me, was always an exercise in expression.

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Today we live in a world where we are constantly emailing, texting, tweeting, and chatting. We send and receive these emoticon-accented messages at the speed of light, sometimes while doing other tasks. Some might argue that very little is actually being said and that we take too little time to reflect before tapping out our replies with lightning-fast thumbs.

Letter writing is a dying art. Handwritten correspondence has been tagged with the ignoble moniker “snail mail.” The post man who once delivered handwritten love letters and all kinds of meaningful correspondence has been reduced to a carrier of bills and junk mail. Post office boxes may soon be a thing of the past. But what will be the legacy of the digital age? What correspondence will we set apart as meaningful and bind it with a ribbon for safekeeping in a box or drawer to be savored again in the future?

Antarctica Letter
Journalist Catherine Field wrote an excellent op-ed piece on letter-writing featured in the New York Times. Field observed: “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.” I agree.

As for me, I will continue to write handwritten letters, notes, and cards while living in this digital age. I have already written and mailed three notes this week. This afternoon I received a text reply from someone to whom I had sent a handwritten card: “Thanks so much for the kind and thoughtful card. You are much appreciated.” I don’t know if my card will be a keeper or not, but I am glad that I took the time to write and mail it and to know that my effort was appreciated.

I hope you will occasionally take a break from digital communication conveniences to send a personal handwritten note to someone. I can almost guarantee you that you will be much appreciated for your efforts.

Letter Box at a home in Sova Bazar. | 16 March 13 | Kolkata, India

 

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

Hiking A Legacy

The Triple C Trail at Hunstville State Park

In keeping with my restless nature, I packed up my gear this morning and drove to Huntsville State Park to do some solo hiking. My goal for today was to hike the Triple C and the Chinquapin Trails at the park. These two trails wind their way through one of the most beautiful forested sections of the park. I was especially excited to hike the Triple C Trail — named in honor of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was formed in March 1933 when our nation was in the grip of the Great Depression. With more than twenty-five percent of the population unemployed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took decisive action to help the unemployed. The CCC was one of Roosevelt’s first New Deal programs and harnessed the strength of our nation’s youth to help conserve our natural resources.

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Operating from 1933 to 1942, the CCC engaged in conservation initiatives in national and state parks around the nation. Today, the CCC is recognized as the single greatest conservation program in our history. The conservation initiatives of the program not only developed young men through disciplined outdoor labor, they also fueled concern for our natural resources and laid the foundation for the tenets of modern conservation.

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I couldn’t help but wonder about the young men who had labored during the Great Depression in the area near the trail that I hiked today. Their boot prints are no longer visible in the East Texas soil. Their names are not recorded on any plaque. The only thing that remains are remnants of their labor along a trail through the woods — one that has given countless numbers of people across the years access to one of the most beautiful places in the Lone Star State.

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When you think about it, we are all the beneficiaries of the labor of those who came before us or those who worked to make something that we enjoy. Whether a hiking trail or a home or even the car that we drive, our lives are made better in many ways because of the labor of others.

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Today, I enjoyed some much-needed quiet time on a beautiful hiking trail in a remote section of Huntsville State Park. And, I thought about the young men who lived during the Great Depression and were a part of a program that inspired the preservation of our natural resources for the enjoyment of generations to come. May we too, labor to leave a legacy that can be enjoyed by future generations.

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