Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 5, 2016

The Family Dinner Table

One of the most enviable things I have observed on my adventures to some of the hardest places on the planet is how the absence of technology brings people together. Having visited so many places where people live without electricity or WiFi or smart phones, I have noticed a consistent pattern — people actually have conversations with one another.

The most meaningful conversations tend to happen in the evenings, the time of day when simple folk are no longer distracted by the demands of their subsistence lifestyle. Without the distraction of television and other technology, families and friends spend their evenings chatting around campfires or under the light of the stars. On a recent trip to a village along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the DR Congo, families gathered around their cook fires every evening.

In a recent blog entitled Campfire Conversations, I wrote 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.

Technology has unquestionably given us much, including the opportunity to remain in constant contact with loved ones and friends. But, many of us have allowed technology to rob us of something far greater than what it has bestowed — looking into the eyes of the person seated next to us and having a meaningful conversation. We have allowed technology to shift our focus from others to the devices in our hands.

In the absence of campfires, families today have the next best thing in their homes — the family dinner table. This is likely the best place in our homes to make a lasting impact on the next generation. Food has the power to bring people together. However, eating meals together around the dinner table requires that we be as intentional as if we were building an actual campfire. We must lead our families to meet at the dinner table and then we must have intentional conversations.

Intentional family conversations at the dinner table are not as hard as they might seem. Regardless of the ages of those seated around the table, each day provides enough conversation fodder to get things started, including important news events. Our conversations can help transmit our values to our kids and help them to process answers about hard or tough topics.

Faith Talk Cards
At Kingsland, we are committed to encouraging families to have intentional conversations around the dinner table. Among the resources we provide are our new Faith Talk cards. These decks of cards provide simple conversation starters that are tied to a daily passage of Scripture. The Wild Cards in each deck ask fun and random questions that should spark some interesting replies.

We also provide a weekly Faith Talk keyed to the Sunday sermon. You can subscribe to receive our Faith Talks in a nicely formatted email that you can use to guide your conversations around the dinner table.

Whatever you do, make it a point to make your family’s dinner table a meaningful meeting place. Set some rules about the use of technology while seated at the table. Surely we can all spend a few minutes without the distraction of our smart phones. And, for those occasions when you will be out of the house, take advantage of opportunities to have conversations with your family in the car, in a restaurant, or wherever you find yourself.

Don’t leave it to others to shape the values and worldview of your family members. If you are a parent, take ownership of your responsibility to be the primary faith trainer of your kids. Gather your family around a campfire or your dinner table and enjoy real face time, tell stories, laugh together, and pray for one another.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 1, 2016

Worth the Inconvenience

For years I have challenged myself and others to go beyond — to step across the line that defines the farthest we’ve ever been and the most we’ve ever done for God and His purposes. The only way to redefine the geography of our own lives and to contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom is by going beyond.

One thing is certain, everything changes when you step across the line. Going beyond is fraught with all sorts of new challenges and frustrating inconveniences. In reality, however, the kingdom of God only advances at our inconvenience, never at our convenience. God never promised a smooth path to those who venture to the other side of the line.

Every major discovery in the history of the world has been made by those who were willing to take risks and embrace inconveniences. Over the centuries, the map of the world was slowly redefined by those who lost sight of familiar shores in order to move toward uncharted lands. Their commitment to the bigger picture enabled them to press on in spite of inconveniences.

Venturing into a new context heightens our senses and causes us to think intentionally about how to adapt to strange surroundings. For example, a short-term volunteer or a career missionary who find themselves in the midst of a new culture should not expect that culture to adapt to their sensibilities. They must, instead, take on the role of a servant and adapt to their new surroundings, submitting their own needs to the needs of the lost.

Going beyond for the kingdom means that we must make the needs of the lost our primary focus. In his book “The Insanity of Obedience,” author Nik Ripkin wisely notes: “The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the witnesser.” I agree. Unless we make decisions based upon what lost people need instead of what saved people want we will fail to reach our generation with the good news.

Only heaven will reveal the unimaginable numbers of people who never heard a clear presentation of the gospel because of our failure to cross the line — because of our unwillingness to be inconvenienced. Life’s greatest adventures are always found on the other side of the line. What a phenomenal privilege it is to go beyond in order to participate in advancing the purposes of God. That is worth any inconvenience!

Cambodia 2016 Team
Please pray for our Cambodia team as they serve the needs of the least of these and sow seeds of life in Cambodia’s former killing fields. Our team will post pics and updates on our new Go Beyond Cambodia blog.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 27, 2016

The Death of Henry Worsley

Last November, I posted a blog entitled Across Antarctica Alone — the story of Henry Worsley and his determination to be the first person to walk across the Antarctic landmass, unsupported and unassisted. Worsley had a lifelong fascination with Ernest Shackelton whose failed attempt to cross Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration turned into the most epic survival story in the history of exploration.

Henry Worsley
Henry Worsley’s distant cousin Frank was the captain of the Endurance, the ship that carried Shackelton and his men to Antarctica. In December 1914, the Endurance became trapped in an ice pack in the Wedell Sea and was later crushed, leaving Shackelton and his men stranded. To make a long story short, Frank Worsley’s exceptional navigation skills were instrumental in the eventual rescue of every man on the team.

A hundred years after Shackelton’s attempt to complete the first crossing of the Antarctic Continent, Worsley set off on his commemorative Trans-Antarctic adventure. As a retired British officer, Worsley also used his expedition to raise funds for wounded soldiers. His goal was to raise at least a hundred thousand dollars to help his injured comrades. Worsley surpassed his fundraising goal.

For the past several weeks I have followed Worsley’s adventure with great interest. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I listened to his satellite phone dispatches from the frozen continent. I also followed his Instagram feed and congratulated him when he reached the South Pole on January 2. Worsley also used his satellite phone time to answer questions about science and exploration submitted by school children.

Henry Worsley Selfie
Last week, after pulling his supply laden sledge to within 30 miles of his goal, Worsley was caught in the teeth of a fierce snow storm. Exhausted, he made the tough decision to call Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request a rescue. “My journey is at an end,” the emotional Worsley said. “I have run out of time and physical endurance – the simple, sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to cover the distance required to reach my goal.”

Worsley was airlifted to Punta Arenas, Chile, where he was found to have bacterial peritonitis – an infection in the abdomen and indication that he had liver damage. Sadly, the fifty-five year old Worsley lapsed into complete organ failure and died on Sunday, January 24. Over the past few days the news of his death has prompted commentary and comments ranging from praise to criticism.

The reality is that men like Worsley and all who engage in extreme outdoor pursuits, from climbing rugged mountains to paddling down raging rivers, know that there is always a possibility that things can go wrong. And no matter how careful we are to mitigate risk, the unexpected can happen, even while on a leisurely stroll through a local park. The question is, will we allow the possibility of something bad happening keep us from risking and pursuing our dreams?

I personally admire Worsley for pursuing his dream to walk across Antarctica. Worsley reminds us that the only way to redefine the geography of our own lives is by pushing the boundaries. And even though he fell just a few miles short of reaching his goal, he got a lot farther than if he had allowed his fears to keep him at home. Ultimately, every one of us will either die in the stands or in the arena. Worsley died in the arena. He died while daring greatly.

As for Worsley’s critics, Teddy Roosevelt said it best in a speech that he gave in Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Rest in peace, Henry.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 22, 2016

We Have A Season

About mid-morning today, I set off on another of my Texas backroads adventures — aimlessly wandering off the beaten path with no specific destination in mind. After a couple of hours of windshield time and stopping to take pics of old houses, I turned north on Highway 71 and headed toward the tiny community of Altair.

South Point Baptist Church
I make it a point to drive the speed limit or slower whenever I wander down backroads so that I don’t miss anything. As I approached the intersection of County Road 111, I looked to the left and noticed an abandoned building with its doors wide open. It kind of looked like a church building or community center. I had to find out. So, I turned around to check things out.

South Point Cornerstone
The first thing that caught my attention was a cornerstone that indicated this now-abandoned building had once been a house of worship — South Point Baptist Church, organized in 1883. Wow! I wondered how many generations of folks had worshiped at this spot since the organization of the church.

South Point Interior
Inside, the building was filled with jumbles of junk — odds and ends no longer of any use. A few remaining seats on the left made it easy to visualize what this place must have looked like at one time. I noticed all sorts of stuff among the debris, including old Sunday School quarterlies. One quarterly, dated 2010, led me to conclude that this place was abandoned only a few years ago.

South Point Debris
I lingered for a long time, looking at and absorbing everything around me. I closed my eyes for a minute and allowed my mind to imagine this place filled with the faithful. I wondered about all of the sermons and weddings and funerals preached from the now-quiet pulpit. How many weary and parched souls had found refreshment here? Who had left this place with greater resolve to live out their faith at home and in their community?

South Point Envelope
As I waked toward the door to leave, I turned around for one last look. This old building, I thought to myself, will not last much longer. The years have clearly taken their toll on this place. As I looked back I noticed a brown envelope among the debris. It was an offering envelope complete with the name of the giver and the amount of their gift. I wondered how those funds might have been used to advance God’s purposes.

South Point Covenant
Once outside, I reflected on the scene before me. This place is a stark reminder that we only have a season in which to serve God’s purposes. In reality, the only thing of lasting value to come out of South Point Baptist Church was what the folks who worshiped here invested in the kingdom of God. Churches come and go over time, but the kingdom of God remains. It is the only constant.

South Point Interior B
South Point Baptist Church must have been a very nice place in its season. But, its season is now past. What the folks here invested in the kingdom of God, however, will never be corrupted by the moth or rust that is slowly reclaiming the old structure. Every kindness shown to others, every need met in the name of Jesus, every soul delivered from the domain of darkness, every parched heart refreshed — these are the lasting treasures forever safeguarded in heaven’s storehouse.

South Point Clock
I drove away from South Point Baptist Church with a renewed awareness of the fact that I only have a season. That’s it! And that’s why it’s important to invest wisely in God’s purposes and the advancement of His kingdom. I can do that by being the primary faith trainer of my children, by being the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world, and by inviting all people to experience true fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The clock is ticking. I am determined to make the most of my season while there is yet time.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 17, 2016

The Moments of Our Lives

I grew up in the days before smart phones put a camera at the disposal of half the people on the planet. Some of you remember those days of old when taking photos actually involved loading film into a camera. Because taking photos was a big deal, most folks did not bother to waste film on candid shots. Posed shots were the order of the day. And, when our film was developed, we posted our favorite pics in photo albums or photo frames and archived the rest in old shoeboxes.

My Dad was an avid photographer and took lots of family pics when we were growing up. We have shoeboxes full of old photos ranging from grainy black and white photos with serrated edges to those early low-resolution color photos. Because film was costly and no one carried a camera with them everywhere they went, my generation does not have archives of hundreds of candid photos — and certainly no selfies to look back on.

Today, technology has made us all photographers. We are, in many ways, fortunate because we have the capability to take everyday candid shots — the kind of pics that capture the moments of our lives in an instant. And, we can instantly post our favorite pics to our social media accounts and then invite the world to peruse our albums.

Smart Phone Pics
There is also a downside to living in a world of instant digital photography — and that is that we can take too many photos of special moments and actually miss what makes those moments so special. I confess that too often I have fallen victim to seeing life through my smartphone instead of through my own eyes.

I love capturing moments on my camera but in recent years have also opted for just enjoying more of those special moment sans camera. There is something to be said for what Mary did when the shepherds stopped by to see the baby Jesus. Without a camera to record the moment, she did something better. According to Luke, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

What started me thinking about the candid moments of our lives was another old photo that made its way out of a shoebox into my sister’s hands. The photo was one of several taken at my grandparents home around 1960 when my cousins traveled to South Texas for a visit. This was a very special occasion, so the family got together to pose for photos.

Havice Family Pic
What I especially love about the photo that surfaced this week is what is happening in the background. While my cousins and their folks posed for the photo, my mom and I are seated in the background — a candid moment unintentionally captured on film. I wish I could go back to that moment and eavesdrop on whatever it was my beautiful mother was telling me as she looked in my direction.

While I was too young to remember whatever it was my mom or I might have talked about as we sat side by side on my grandparents back porch, I absolutely love this photo. It reminds me that even when I was a child, my sweet mother was always looking in my direction — a thought that comforts me still today. I wish I had more candid shots like this but am more than content to have this photo to treasure and to ponder in my heart.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 11, 2016

Rough Edges

Rough edges — most folks don’t like them. There is something terribly annoying about these irregular surfaces that irritate, scratch, snag, and cut. Our determination to smooth rough edges and surfaces has spawned all sorts of products to mitigate and eliminate these pesky annoyances. If we can’t smooth them out then we do the next best thing — we look for ways to avoid them. That makes sense.

Faith also has its rough edges — troubles, persecution, suffering, and even death. Our tendency is to mistakenly assume that rough edges like these are a sign of God’s disfavor and that we must, at all costs, cleanse our faith of these troublesome annoyances. But, could it be that by so doing we are diminishing something at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. After all, He Himself said that the world would hate, exclude, and revile us.

Behind Bars
Years ago, one of our national partners was arrested and imprisoned in Bangladesh on the charge of spreading Christianity. My immediate impulse was to smooth out this rough edge. I emailed an ex-pat friend in the country and asked him to look into the matter. I told him that we stood ready to provide whatever funds were necessary to get our friend out of jail.

A couple of days later I received a reply. My ex-pat friend had indeed visited our imprisoned partner and told him that we stood ready to arrange for his freedom. But, our friend refused our help. He explained that he understood his imprisonment to be a part of God’s divine plan for his life. “I have a captive audience,” he added, “and have already led some to faith in Christ.” He asked that we just leave the matter alone.

Like the Apostle Paul, my friend’s imprisonment had turned out “for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12-14). I had mistakenly thought that my friend’s personal safety was of paramount importance. My friend believed that the purposes of God were of greater importance than his own welfare. He was already accustomed to living with rough edges and remained obedient in spite of any fears he might have had.

We can certainly learn a thing or two from those who understand that we cannot cleanse our faith of its rough edges. We tend to pray for what’s best for us and our families and our nation and assume that what’s best will have no rough edges. Those who live in hard places understand how God uses rough edges to advance His purposes. My friend obeyed God in spite of the rough edges. Our tendency is to shy away from obedience unless God eliminates the rough edges.

Rough edges — Jesus said that we would have them. But, He also promised that we would never have to deal with them alone. Following Christ is not about eliminating the rough edges of our faith but rather about choosing to obey Him in spite of them. The greatest thing we can give Satan is our fear. The greatest thing Satan fears is our obedience to Christ in spite of the rough edges.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 8, 2016

Joy in Udayan Pally Slum

Pastor Rudra is a man who is living his dream among some of the most impoverished people in Kolkata. His highest ambition is to become a man of no reputation by serving God’s purposes in the obscurity of a squatters’ slum called Udayan Pally. I first met Rudra five years ago at the canal that separates an upscale development near Kolkata’s International Airport from the slum that has captured his heart.

Pastor Rudra
Rudra and his wife are both educated and very intelligent individuals who were on career paths to make lots of money and live comfortable lives. But then, God turned Rudra’s world upside down when He tapped him out for a tough assignment. Rudra and his wife both quit their jobs and started down a path of living by faith in order to devote full-time to caring for the people of Udayan Pally.

This week, Kay Smith and a team of women from Kingsland are in Kolkata serving with Pastor Rudra at the school he started in Udayan Pally slum. Kay is our missions ministry’s point person for our justice initiatives in India. She is no stranger to the challenges of serving the least of these throughout the City of Joy — from Mother Teresa’s homes to the slums to the aftercare homes where we care for young girls rescued from the commercial sex trade.

Rudra's Smiling Kids
Earlier this week, Kay posted a photo on our Go Beyond Kolkata blog site that brought a smile to my face. The kids in the photo are dressed in lab coats we provided for them to wear while our team teaches them science lessons. They will learn some basic lessons this week about how they are fearfully and wonderfully made. And, best of all, the kids in the photo are all smiling.

The smiles on the faces of the kids are in stark contrast to the ugly and dangerous context in which they and their families struggle to survive. Their smiles brought a smile to my face. As I studied the photo I thought about another contrast. Whenever Christ-followers arrive on the scene to serve others, their labors of love tend to make even the most desperate people smile. This is indeed in stark contrast to what happens when terrorists, like those who have dominated the news in recent months, arrive on the scene.

Kay’s photo of the smiling kids reminds me that worldview matters. Among all of the worldview issues that impact whether people smile or weep is the sanctity of human life. As Christ-followers we value life and believe that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity. ISIS and their ilk have shown the world what little they have to offer and how they devalue life. We are committed to showing the world the joy that is found only in Jesus.

In addition to serving in the slums, Kay and her team will hold worship services in the midst of one of Kolkata’s most notorious red light districts. And, they are also reconnecting with several of our justice ministry partners in Kolkata. Follow the adventures of Kay and our team at our Go Beyond Kolkata blog.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 2, 2016

Own Your Generation

Each of us are stewards of our own generation — essentially a narrow slice of time in which to serve God’s purposes. After that, we die and return to dust. However, what we do in our generation does not have to die with us if we will own and responsibly serve God’s purposes while we have opportunity.

In a sermon that Paul preached on his first missionary journey, he said, “”Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” (Acts 13:36). But, what David did in his generation impacted the course of redemptive history because he served the purpose of God.

In order to serve the purposes of God, we must know His purposes and make them a priority in our lives. As we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year, every Christ-follower should seek to know and understand the purposes of God. Here are three to consider:

First, we must love God and love others. This is known as the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-40). Like Jesus, if we will live lives “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), then we will find favor with God and man (Prov. 3:3-4). Grace often opens the door for the truth.

Second, we must share the good news about Jesus with the entire world. This is known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). God never intended that we keep this good news to ourselves. Those of us who know Christ do, in fact, owe Christ to all who do not know Him (Rom. 1:14).

Third, we must champion the rights of the oppressed, express kindness to others, and walk in dependence upon God. This is known as the Great Requirement (Micah 6:8). Not a day goes by that we do not read or hear about terrible injustices in our world. Christ-followers must be on the front lines of the war against injustice, exploitation, and oppression.

As we venture ahead into the new year, we must embrace and faithfully live out these purposes. Our walk and our talk must match. The world will never see the gospel as good news if the messenger is bad news.

In order to serve the purposes of God in our generation, we must also understand our generation. In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read that the men of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” 

We too, must understand the times in which we live in order to know how to serve God’s purposes, extend His kingdom, and bring glory to His name.

We live in the best of times and the worst of times that present us with both great opportunities and intimidating obstacles that can only be faced by those with the requisite courage and audacity to fulfill the purposes of God. May we live each day of this new year in such a way that it will be said of us that we faithfully served the purposes of God in our generation. Best wishes for a blessed New Year.

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

Defining Moments

Defining moments — we all experience those points in life that reveal something about who we are and that have a profound bearing on what we become. In one sense, life is a series of defining moments that alter the course of our lives one small degree at a time.

I once asked an agnostic college professor to tell me about the turning point that caused him to abandon his faith. “It was not a single turning point,” he replied, “but a series of turning points.” The course of this man’s life had been altered one degree at a time by a series of small defining moments.

St. Francis and the Leper
Mother Teresa once spoke to a reporter about a defining moment in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the well-known Catholic saint. The young Francis, son of wealthy Italian parents, once encountered a leper by the side of the road. Like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Francis saw the man, was repulsed by him, and continued on his way.

As Francis walked away from the leper, he realized that if he was going to devote his life to the poor then he had to move in the direction of lepers. So, he turned around, returned to the leper, and embraced and kissed him. As he rode off, he turned around and noticed that the leper had disappeared. Francis concluded that embracing the leper was a test from God. His compassionate response defined a moment that ultimately defined him.

Mother Teresa believed that the encounter with the leper made St. Francis. Like St. Francis, Mother Teresa’s selfless encounters with “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor” revealed who she was and impacted what she became. Each encounter became a defining moment that kept her life oriented toward people in desperate need. These are the encounters that made Mother Teresa.

As we come to the end of 2015, this is a perfect time for looking back at the defining moments of the past year. Looking back, after all, is important. We understand life by looking back but we live life by moving forward. So, take some time to reflect on what the moments of the past year revealed about your life. Were there any moments when you should have stopped to embrace a leper?

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

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