Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 24, 2014

White Space

As with many of you who read my blog, white space is usually the scarcest thing on my calendar. Even though I intentionally schedule time to breathe, the busyness of life often sneaks in when I am distracted and steals precious white space from me. I have learned over the years that guarding my time is tantamount to guarding my life. That’s why when I have even the slightest opening, I like to get away — even if only for a few hours. Often that’s all it takes to refresh me.

O's Calendar
Because I am always surrounded by people, I look for opportunities to enjoy solitude. I regard solitude as a spiritual discipline — getting away from distractions in order to take time to reflect, to contemplate, to figure things out, and to more meaningfully connect with God. Charles Swindoll defined solitude as “a sabbath of involvements.” I like that. Even Jesus valued solitude. Mark recorded an occasion when Jesus got up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and “went out to a desolate place” to pray (Mark 1:35).

Solitude should not be confused with loneliness. Broadly and simply defined, loneliness is the absence of relationships. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely. Solitude is the intentional act of placing yourself in a context where you can “be silent before the sovereign Lord” (Zeph. 1:7). It’s important to find solitude because it can be otherwise difficult to hear the soft rustling of God (1 Kings 9:12) amidst the noise and the crowd.

This morning, I tossed my mountain bike into the bed of my truck and headed to Stephen F. Austin State Park, one of my go-to desolate and quiet places. While I always enjoy riding the single-track trails at the park with friends, I occasionally like to ride alone. These solo rides do a world of good for me. The fresh air clears my head, the beautiful vistas inspire me, and seeing the wildlife and listening to the birds makes me smile. I enjoy stopping at leisure to just take in the sights and to breathe and pray.

Mother Teresa understood the value of white space and the benefits of solitude and silence. “We need to find God,” she said, “and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to reach souls.” She was right. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy some white space this morning in the midst of the beautiful trees, flowers and wildlife at the park. I came home refreshed and thankful for the quiet hours I enjoyed.

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

Wordless Wednesday

Homemade checkers game. | 13 October 2014 | Los Amates, El Salvador

Homemade checkers game. | 13 October 2014 | Los Amates, El Salvador

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

Water for Los Amates

Los Amates, El Salvador

An amazing week. There are no other words to describe the experience of drilling a water well for the people of Los Amates. The people who live in this cluster of homes along a short stretch of an unpaved road near the Pacific Ocean have longed for a clean water source for quite some time. I must confess that more than once this week it looked doubtful that the people of Los Amates would have their well anytime soon.

Team w Community
This has been the week of unexpected challenges and setbacks. Just about the time it looked like we were making progress something would happen to shut us down. We felt like the itsy bits spider in the popular kids song: “The itsy bits spider climbed up the water-spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out.” But, the song continues, “Out came the sun and dried up all the rain and the itsy bits spider climbed up the spout again.”

Girls at Well
This morning we completed the water well for the people of Los Amates. For the first time this week the sun was shining bright with hardly a cloud in the sky. When we bolted on the cover to the pump and started to work the handle, we could hear water gurgling up the pipe. Within a few seconds a gush of cool, clean water spilled onto the concrete pad to the delight of everyone present. That single moment made the long days and late nights of working in the rain and humidity worth it all.

Dedication Plaque
I’m very proud of our team for sticking it out and working such long hours to make the dream of a water well in Los Amates a reality. I like Newt Gingrich’s definition of perseverance: — “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” Our guys persevered. After working themselves to the point of exhaustion in the heat and humidity of the day, they continued working several more hours into the night without complaining.

Gustavo Dedication
All the while that our team was working, the community was watching. They noticed the joyful attitude of our team members and our determination to keep going. This morning when we dedicated the water well, Gustavo Frank spoke on behalf of our team and reminded the people that the well was a gift from God. Two of the community leaders told the people how happy they were that we had not given up when things had gotten tough. One older man said, “We don’t have any money to give you for sticking it out and giving us the gift of this water well. But I am asking God to bless you for what you have done to bless us.”

Geremias y Gerardo
I am grateful for our hard-working team. I am also grateful for Geremias (lead driller) and Gerardo (assistant driller), the Agua Viva staffers who guided our work this week. These guys are amazing. We were privileged to share a great adventure this week in serving the people of Los Amates. We will return home on Saturday to all of the conveniences we enjoy and take for granted, especially the access we have to a seemingly unlimited supply of water. May the sound and sight of the water in our homes prompt us to pray for those who are still longing and waiting for a cup of clean water.

Pastor Marcos

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

Still Smiling

Los Amates, El Salvador

Determined is the word that best describes our drilling team. Like the waves of the nearby Pacific Ocean, we have had one challenge after another wash over us this week. We finally reached a depth of 240 feet last night on our third attempt at finding water for the people of the small caserÍo of Los Amates. Our team returned to our base camp tired and dirty last night but hopeful for what today would bring.

Agua Viva Guys
We returned to Los Amates early this morning, anxious to get started. Our first order of business was to run pipe down the hole to make sure that everything was still in good order. It was, so we pulled all 240 feet of drill pipe out and stacked it neatly next to the drill rig. The next step was to begin installation of the casing, the larger pipe that goes into the hole first. We made it as far as 30 feet before we encountered yet another brick wall. Apparently a large rock had collapsed into the hole. Yikes!

Pupusa Cooks
Lunch was a welcome break. After dealing with rain and mud and the unexpected rock in the hole we were ready for a delicious meal. Jennifer and Lorena, our hygiene team gals, joined local cook Yamileth to prepare pupusas, an El Salvadoran treat. In case you’re wondering, a pupusa is something like a round, flat tamale and totally delicious. We have all become pupusa addicts.

Guys at Work in ES 2014
After lunch, we returned to the drill site to pull out the casing and reinstall the drill pipe in an effort to break the rock in the hole. Success. But, we had to drill down all 240 feet again to make sure that there were no other obstructions — time consuming to say the least. But, no problem. Quitting is not an option for our team. We are here to do what it takes to provide clean water for the people of Los Amates.

Raising Pipe
Facing challenges is certainly made easier when you are surrounded by good and cheerful people. As tough as this week and this day has been, everybody is still smiling. The only thing louder than the drill rig is the sound of our laughter. We are having a really good time serving together. And the good folks of Los Amates continue to take great care of us, providing coffee and snacks and even a helping hand.

Smiling Face
Even though we are behind schedule because of the setbacks we have had to deal with this week, it looks like the people of Los Amates will have their water well after all. Tomorrow morning we hope to finish the final steps to bring water to the surface. We are praying that all will go smoothly since it is our last day here. In spite of all that has happened with drilling our thirteenth water well in Central America (fourteenth if you count the water well we sponsored in Nicaragua in August), we are all still smiling and looking forward to dedicating the well tomorrow.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 15, 2014

Brick Wall Days

Los Amates, El Salvador

The late Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture,” said something about brick walls that I have never forgotten. “The brick walls are not there to keep us out,” Pausch explained. “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

KBC Men El Salvador 2014
The past two days in El Salvador have been brick wall days for our team of drillers. We have faced one challenge after another. Yesterday morning we encountered problems with our first drill site and had to move the entire rig to a new location. Within a few hours we encountered the same problems at the second site and then discovered a broken component on the rig. After repairing the rig we moved it yet again to a third location.

Night Drilling
The only way to make up the time we had lost was to drill into the night. Everyone was filthy and sopping wet but determined nevertheless to press on. One of the families in the community provided coffee and the local pastor showered us with encouragement. The folks in the casarÍo of Los Amates need this water well. They have been praying and hoping and waiting for a source of clean water for a long time. We don’t want to disappoint them.

Three Amigos
Knowing we have lots of work to do to complete this water well, we got an early start this morning. Our goal for today was to drill to a depth of 200 feet. We were making great progress until we hit another brick wall — another broken part. This meant shutting everything down until we could get the part fixed. The delay also meant another night of drilling until we hit our required depth. No problem. Every person on the team is determined to get the job done.

Jim Hughes
I am very proud of our team. Every one of the guys is a hard worker and takes initiative. No whining or complaining from these guys. I have watched them work to the point of exhaustion and then give a little more. Jennifer Frank, Gustavo’s wife, is the only woman on our team. She has been working with Agua Viva staffer Lorena Perez to teach hygiene lessons to moms and kids. These gals have also worked long hours each day without complaint. Sharing this adventure with this team is an enjoyable experience.

Gustavo and Jennifer
Having led several teams to drill water wells in partnership with our friends at Living Water International, I can honestly say that this team has hit more brick walls than usual. In addition to starting over three times, dealing with broken parts, and moving lots of equipment more than once, this team has had to do most of this in the rain. We have worked long hours soaked to the bone. But again, no problem. This team wants to bless the people of Los Amates with clean water and is not about to let any brick wall stop them.

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

Time Poverty

Los Amates, El Salvador

The caserÍo of Los Amates was a muddy mess today. The main road through this jumble of ramshackle houses is not paved. Recent rains have turned the road into a muddy slip and slide. And to make matters worse today, it rained again. The people who live here, however, have learned to live with inconveniences like mud and heat and inescapable humidity and muddy shoes and feet. Inconvenience is a way of life here.

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience at Los Amates is the lack of access to reliable sources of water. This morning we walked down to Rio Sonsonate, the river that separates the houses of Los Amates from the cane fields. The river is indeed polluted. Local leaders told us about the health problems and skin rashes that the people constantly battle because of the filthy water. And, the shallow hand-dug wells are no better than the river.

We met a fourteen year-old girl named Alma at the river. She was one of several young girls doing laundry there. Alma and the other girls in the area spend several hours a day on water related tasks. They have to walk long distances from their homes to the river to fetch water for daily needs, sometimes several times a day. Like other women around the globe who devote untold hours a day doing the same, Alma and her friends suffer from time poverty.

Drilling a water well for the people of Los Amates will do more than provide clean water for the families in the area. The community water well will give all of the families a reliable source of clean water that is closer to them than the river. That means that young girls like Alma will not have to walk as far to fetch water for their families. This will free up time for young girls to go to school and for mothers to spend with their children. And, the clean water should alleviate a number of health issues.

The rain today did not slow down our team. We are determined to provide the gift of clean water for the people of Los Amates. The local pastor who prayed for our team this morning is doing a great job of telling the people about Jesus, the Living Water. This week, we are working together to improve the lives of the people who live here. After our team returns home, the pastor will continue his work of telling people how their deepest thirst can only be quenched by the Living Water.

Please pray for Alma and other young ladies like her. Pray that the water we provide will help her out from under the debt of time that is impoverishing her life and keeping her from reaching her highest potential. Today was a hard day of drilling, literally hard as we hammer our way down through lots of rock. But we will work as hard and long as we have to this week to answer the prayers of Alma and others in Los Amates to give them the gift of clean water and to give them back their time.

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

He Rules the Waves

Playa Salinitas, El Salvador

I have returned to El Salvador — to a familiar place along its magnificent Pacific coast that I have come to love. The two-plus hour drive here from San Salvador winds its way through beautiful vistas. The ragged cones of sleeping volcanoes tower above blankets of green vegetation that cover everything in sight. This tiny country is blessed with more than its share of natural beauty.

I am here once again with friends from Kingsland to drill our thirteenth water well in Central America in partnership with our friends at Living Water International. This week we are the answer to the prayers of the people of Los Amates, a tiny place named after one of the largest trees that grows in El Salvador’s volcanic enriched soil. Not big enough to be designated a village, Los Amates is instead a casarÍo — a jumble of homes.

Los Amates is home to 109 families and their 90 children who subsist as sugar cane growers. Their only source of water is a polluted river that runs nearby and carries waste and garbage toward the Pacific. All of the shallow wells in the area are also tainted with impurities. But, when these are your only sources of water, you learn to adapt — and you learn to pray for something better.

Hard Hats
Eleven months ago the prayers that ascended from Los Amates reached the ears of our friends at Agua Viva El Salvador. And now, we are here under the leadership of a sovereign God to be His hands and feet to help the people of Los Amates. We have a big week ahead of us as we will endeavor to drill a deep well that will reach the purer waters that lie beneath the filth, waters that hold the promise of making life better for the people we will meet this week.

After we arrived, I ventured over to the shoreline to gaze out at the vast Pacific Ocean. I stood there for a while, looking at the waves, feeling their pulse. The waves at high tide are magnificent as they chaotically swirl and rise and then fall with an ominous thud against the shore before reluctantly retreating back to the ocean. Waves are the heartbeat of the restless sea.

Waves are often used in Scripture as a metaphor for trouble in our lives. The people of Los Amates know all about waves. They understand what it means to have the relentless breakers of trouble repeatedly wash over them as they struggle from day-to-day, a struggle made harder because they do not have access to clean water. But, there is hope. “You rule the raging of the sea,” the psalmist wrote, “when its waves rise, you still them” (Ps. 89:9). And indeed He does.

Our prayer this week is that God, who rules the waves, will still the waves that have troubled the people of Los Amates by providing for them life’s most basic necessity — access to a reliable source of clean water. Please keep our team in your prayers as we begin the drilling process tomorrow. And please remember to pray for the people of Los Amates, the beneficiaries of the kindness of those who have given financially to make this well possible.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 10, 2014

Fishing Matagorda Bay

Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, said, “There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.” I tend to agree with Irving. There is indeed something therapeutic about being outdoors — especially casting a line into a body of water and the accompanying anticipation of catching a fish. Being outdoors is good medicine and even more therapeutic when you share your outdoors adventures with good friends.

I recently read The River of Doubt by Candice Millard, the account of Theodore Roosevelt’s epic journey to map an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil. “Throughout his adult life,” Millard wrote, “Roosevelt would relish physical exertion, and he would use it not just to keep his body fit and his mind sharp but as his most effective weapon against depression and despair.” Dr. Christian Scirica, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital would agree. He believes that “exposure to natural environments … improves physical and emotional health.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Holloway Sinclair and his son Paul invited me and Pastor Ryan to join them on a fishing excursion to Matagorda Bay. Everyone in the large Sinclair family loves the outdoors and often share adventures together. More than that, they love to bless others. I’m grateful for their kindness in inviting our new senior pastor and me to spend the day fishing with them at one of the most beautiful coastal areas in the Lone Star State.

I was also excited about the opportunity to reconnect with Captain Keith Phillips of Red Fish Matagorda. I met Keith on a previous excursion to Matagorda Bay with the Sinclair family. He is an expert fishing guide with a great sense of humor. Laughter was a big part of our day, thanks in large measure to Keith. And, we could not have been as successful without his guidance. He knows the coastal waters and he knows where to find the fish.
Foursome FishFor an occasional angler like myself, I am amazed at Keith’s attention to detail. He looked at the water, the currents, the wind, the marshes, and everything about the environment to determine where to find the fish. He knew exactly where to cast each line. And, with a single glance at the finest movements of my fishing rod, he knew before I did that a fish was about to take the bait. Although I was a bit clumsy in setting the hook a few times, I did manage to reel in my limit.

The fishing today was fantastic. But the fellowship was even better. Sharing today’s adventure with other men made the experience far more meaningful and fun. And, like Irving said, spending the day fishing produced “a serenity of the mind.” Breathing the fresh gulf air, getting soaked by a sudden rain, catching our respective limits, and enjoying laughter and conversation with friends had a very therapeutic effect on me. I returned home refreshed and ready for the week ahead.

I encourage you to find time to get outdoors with family or friends. Enjoy the serenity that comes from taking in beautiful vistas, breathing fresh air, waiting for fish to bite, or whatever you enjoy doing in the great outdoors. You’ll be glad you did. And, if you want to enjoy a really fun fishing adventure, then give my friend Captain Keith a call. You’ll definitely enjoy your time with him and you will definitely catch fish!

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

It’s Only 260 Miles

Preparing for the 2015 Texas Water Safari

If you ask me why I will put myself through the torture of competing in the Texas Water Safari for the third time I will tell you it’s because I love my son (and my daughters and wife who share the safari experience), because I enjoy adventure, but not necessarily because I love canoeing. Canoeing can be torturous, especially paddling the 260-mile race course from San Marcos to Seadrift. Anything can happen along the way, and usually does, to humble you and make the task even more arduous. But, that is ultimately what makes the Texas Water Safari so appealing. It’s hard … very hard!

TWS 1963
The first annual Texas Water Safari was held in 1963. In those days the race was a grueling 500-miles from San Marcos to Corpus Christi. Fifty-eight boats and 120 participants competed in the first race. They battled the same things that teams today must face — currents, flat water, rapids, portages, heat, mosquitos, snakes, alligators, wind, waves, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and more. The picture of the first finishers tells it all. Lynn Maughmer (with canoe) and Jimmy Jones (lying on the beach) were the first to cross the finish line in boat 102 in 1963.

TWS Route
Although today’s TWS is only 260-miles (did I just write “only”) it is just as grueling and designed to whip you every paddle stroke of the way. That’s why teams must do three things in order to compete: train, train, train. Beyond the physical preparation, however, there is the mental preparation to consider. In some respects, doing the Texas Water Safari is 90% mental with the remaining 10% being mental as well. It’s not enough to be in decent shape to paddle the race course. It takes a 100% mental commitment to not give up, to paddle through the pain, and to persevere to the end.

316 Along River
Doyle and I each took vacation time today to do our second training run in preparation for next year’s TWS. We departed Katy while it was still dark and drove to City Park in San Marcos. Our plan for today was to paddle 26-miles from City Park to the Highway 20 bridge at Fentress. I’m happy to say that we paddled at a good pace in our Alumacraft canoe — not the lightest boat in the fleet but certainly a sturdy one and well-suited for the safari. This is the same boat we paddled in the 2013 TWS.

Cummings PortageOur plan is to do at least two training runs each month between now and June of next year. While we wish we could get out on the water more often than that, we are determined to make every training opportunity count. Since we have both finished the TWS before, we are signing up with our eyes wide open. We know what to expect. We know it’s going to be hard. But we will give it our all and hope to reach the finish line once again.

We enjoyed our time on the river today and know that on the day of the race we will not get to come home after only a few hours of paddling. Knowing that anything can happen along the way to knock us out of the race, we are nevertheless determined to paddle the estimated 250,000 paddle strokes that will take us from San Marcos to Sea Drift. After all, it’s “only” 260-miles.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 4, 2014

Thanks, Cross Trainers

Serious athletes understand the benefits of cross training — the practice of combining exercises of other athletic disciplines in order to build strength and flexibility in muscles that their preferred sport does not utilize. Cross training keeps athletes from developing and using just one set of muscles repeatedly, something that can increase the risk of injury. The bottom line is that cross training can improve the overall fitness of an athlete.

I invested the first twenty-seven years of my ministry in Christian education and loved everything about it — equipping leaders, starting small groups, vetting curriculum, strategizing for growth, and more. One of my top priorities through those years was finding creative ways to encourage folks to apply what they learned. Ezra 7:10 was a guiding verse for me: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra set an example of what it means to cross train, to exercise a wide range of spiritual muscles.

It’s not enough to study or to teach, we must actually apply or practice what we know. If all we do is consume Bible calories and never do anything to burn off those calories, then we actually risk becoming spiritually unfit and ineffective. If all we do is consume Bible facts and truths, then we will not make much of an impact in a world that needs to see the transforming power of God’s love in action in ways that are personal, practical, and measurable. We need to incorporate the principles of cross training.

NKC 2014 Cross TrainersThis morning, Kingsland’s Cross Trainers ABF served at Neighborhood Kidz Club at the Western Pines Mobile Home Park in our community. I really respect this small group because they consistently live up to their name. They regularly serve through our Saturday initiatives and know that if they are going to become spiritually fit, then they need to do more than study together, they need to serve as well. They know what it means to burn off the rich Bible calories they regularly consume when they study together.

I appreciate the good work that the Cross Trainers did this morning to help Neighborhood Kidz Club, one of our favorite local partners. They cleaned carpets and tables and chairs at the Kidz Club and the Western Pines Community Church. The group also blessed a family in the park with needed repairs on their mobile home and some landscaping. And, they had a great time as they served others together. The volunteer service of groups like Cross Trainers is important to local partners like Neighborhood Kidz Club.

Thank you Cross Trainers for your good work and for exercising your spiritual muscles by serving others this morning. Keep studying and growing in the faith and keep burning off those Bible calories. You are setting a great example for your kids, helping to make God’s name famous, and making our community a better place in which to live.

PS | Watch for the October issue of our Go Beyond newsletter. This issue is dedicated to celebrating the good work of Neighborhood Kidz Club.

GB News NKC 2014

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