Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 26, 2015

An Audacious Undertaking

Every now and then I come across a story that is so inspiring that I just can’t stop thinking about it. That’s what happened this past week when I read through the latest issue of Backpacker magazine. The story that captured my attention was about a young man with terminal cancer named Andy Lyon. “What would you do if your doctor delivered the scariest two words in the English language?” the lead page asked. “Andy Lyon went on a hike.”

Twenty-something year old Andy Lyon did not just go on any hike. He set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail — a 2,650 mile trail that winds its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. This is a huge undertaking for any hiker and a boldly audacious one for a young man who knows he only has months to live and whose health is rapidly deteriorating.

Lyon was first diagnosed with cancer while studying astro-physics at the University of California at Berkeley. His first round of chemo seemed to work, but the following year a PET-CT scan revealed the cancer had returned at Stage 4, dropping his chances of survival. Over the coming months the cancer aggressively spread throughout his body. Prognosis. Two years.

With no time to waste, Andy outfitted himself with ultralight backpacking gear and took his first steps on the PCT on April 7, 2012. “I knew that … whatever happened on the trail, even if I died on the trail, that would be the right thing. That would be my time and place to go, and what better way to go than on an amazing mountain?” And what an amazing attitude. No whining or complaining. Just a determination to redeem what little time he had left on the planet.

The trek was not easy for Andy. When he was only 350 miles away from the end of his epic adventure, his right leg began to collapse under him. He had no choice but to leave the trail and go to the nearest hospital in Yakima, Washington. A full battery of tests revealed a large mass pressing on his spine — a new tumor that was responsible for the weakness and numbness in his right leg.

The doctors at Yakima prescribed pain meds and gave Andy a recently approved new chemo drug that specifically targeted his type of cancer. It would buy him time. As word leaked out about this young thru-hiker who was battling cancer, people offered all kinds of help, including providing Andy with a horse to make it to the trail terminus. “If I’m going to finish the trail,” Andy told his mom, “it’s going to be with these feet.”

After completing a round of chemo treatment at the hospital in Yakima, Andy hit the trail for the final push to Canada. On October 19, 2012, Andy woke up, packed his backpack, and hiked the final fifteen miles to the forest clearing with a wooden monument marking the end of the trail. At 5:00 PM Andy approached the monument, leaned in, and kissed it. He had made it.

On August 30, 2013, ten months after completing his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, Andy’s mother woke him up to watch the dawn. This was Andy’s last sunrise. His remarkable and audacious undertaking will continue to inspire many others who will hike the Pacific Crest Trail for years to come. And his story should inspire us to wring as much life as we can from every single day.

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

While We Live Our Lives

When we go to bed at night, many of our missions ministry’s global partners are just starting their day. I know that I should turn off my phone at night but I just can’t do it. I generally receive several messages a night from our partners around the world, many of whom need a timely reply. So, I keep my phone on my nightstand and have grown accustomed to hearing the messages ping into my inbox. This is all just a part of my routine — and that’s ok.

Most of the messages I receive are either ministry reports or questions about strategy or budget. However, occasionally I receive one of those dreaded emails telling me about the death of one of our partners. I received news earlier this week from one of our key partners in Bangladesh telling me that one of his church planters was killed by extremists. He was abducted on his way home from a meeting and was stabbed to death. My friend included a photo of the body. Sobering.

Shirajul, the man who was attacked and killed by a group of violent men, had been a Christ-follower since 2000. He leaves behind a wife, a 4 year-old son, and a 2 year-old son. He had led most of the families in his village to Christ and was effectively sharing the gospel in neighboring villages. On his way home from meeting with a house church in a neighboring village, he was attacked, beaten, and stabbed in the head. Like our other partners who serve in nations that are hostile to the gospel, Shirajul knew the risks and had counted the cost.

The reality is that while we live our lives in relative safety, many Christ-followers in the world today will never know what it means to live a single day without the threat of violence for no other reason than they are Christ-followers. The task of reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be accomplished without the blood of the martyrs. More Christians have been martyred in the last one-hundred years than in the previous nineteen-centuries combined. But, as in Bangladesh, no act of terror will halt the advance of the gospel.

Blood of the Martyrs
The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the church. The work will go on — in Bangladesh and wherever people who love and serve Christ are martyred. Acts 7:56 records the last words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr: “Look, he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” This is the only time the Bible speaks of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Perhaps He stood to welcome the first martyr into heaven. I’d like to think that Jesus also stood to welcome Shirajul home and to thank him for his faithful service.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 16, 2015

The Dawn Wall

The Dawn Wall, also known as the “Wall of Early Morning Light” on Yosemite’s famous El Capitan mountain, is regarded as the most difficult climb on the planet. And rightly so! This 3,000-foot granite monolith offers climbers scant options for scaling its sheer, smooth face. That’s what has made it so attractive to climbers. And that’s what inspired Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson to spend years in preparation to free climb the Dawn Wall.

Free climbing means that a climber uses only hands and feet to ascend a rock’s natural features while employing ropes and other gear to stop a fall. Ropes cannot be used for upward progress while free climbing. Caldwell and Jorgeson scaled the Dawn Wall by locking their bandaged and bloody fingertips onto razor-thin granite holds along the route and pulled themselves skyward one painful handhold at a time.

El Capitan Yosemite Climbing Route
The two intrepid climbers started their ascent of the imposing wall on Saturday, December 14, 2014 and reached the summit yesterday evening. They spent a total of 19 days on the wall, sleeping in their suspended portaledge tent — barely the footprint of a twin mattress. They spent each day inching their way up. Their progress on some days was akin to the itsy-bitsy spider trying to climb up the water-spout only to get washed back down. But, these guys never gave up.

When Caldwell and Jorgeson started their ascent, the climbing community followed their progress — much of it posted on social media. However, it wasn’t long before their attempt to make climbing history captured the imagination of a broader, global audience. In a day when social media seems dominated by selfies and all sorts of insane and inane stuff, it’s refreshing to follow a couple of guys doing something really tough. Their accomplishment has pushed the sport of climbing to the next level.

The Dawn Wall
This historic climb started long before Caldwell and Jorgeson started up the wall on December 27. Caldwell began studying the Dawn Wall seven years ago, believing that there had to be a way to free climb the imposing granite monster. Climbers considered the wall too steep and lacking in sufficient cracks or seams in the rock for free climbing. Caldwell’s dream to free climb the wall would not allow him to give up and, eventually, to find a way to do what others considered impossible.

On Tuesday, Jorgeson posted a Tweet from 2,000 feet (610 meters). He said, ”This is not an effort to conquer. It’s about realizing a dream.” I like that. And I like the fact that the two climbers reached the summit — their summit. They are an inspiration and a reminder that we should not allow prevailing belief about how difficult this or that might be to stop us dead in our tracks. Sometimes the prevailing belief is dead wrong. The path to fulfilling our dreams can be painful and hard but worth it all when we reach our summit.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 11, 2015

On Refinishing

My son Jonathan called this afternoon. He’s currently working on refinishing a piano  — a project that he expects will take several months — and wanted to chat about the project. The cool thing about doing something like this is the opportunity to see new life being breathed into something old so that it will be around for yet another generation.

Jonathan and Piano
We recently found a photo of Jonathan (with his cousins) at two years of age sitting in front of that same piano at his great-grandmother’s home. And now, twenty-eight years later, he is carefully restoring the piano back to health. Over the next several weeks the faded and weathered finish on the old piano will be cast aside like a shabby old coat and replaced by a brand new finish.

Talking about the old piano started me thinking about how our own lives can become weathered and worn and nicked and gouged. Not unlike the old piano, we too can lose some of our luster, especially when we go through seasons when life seems more abrasive than abundant. We have all experienced those seasons when our keys seem a bit out of tune because of repeated use or abuse. Either way, the music of our lives somehow just doesn’t sound the way it should.

As a Christ-follower I am assured that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). The One who is working to conform me into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29) is committed to seeing the project through to completion. So, like each of you, I am a work in progress. In the words of a children’s song, “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.”

Old Piano
The process of refinishing can be is painful. The old must be stripped away before it can be replaced by the new. And that means that God will have to use some forms of abrasives to remove the ugly stuff. There is no other way to do it. But we can rejoice that God works in a purposeful way in our lives and toward an end that is better than we can imagine. I’m determined to allow Him to do a really good work in my life this year. I encourage you to do the same.

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

The House of Joseph

Helwan, Egypt

Without the Zabbaleen, Cairo would eventually drown in its own garbage. The industrious people known as Zabbaleen are always in constant motion — transporting Cairo’s garbage to their homes, sorting through it, bagging up recyclable items, loading their salvage onto trucks and carts, and finally transporting their goods to market. This is the lifecycle of the Zabbaleen.

South Slum Trash Men
Being among the Zabbaleen is like visiting a colony of ants. They work hard in order to survive. They have no choice. And because sorting through mountains of garbage yields barely enough for families to subsist, every family member must pitch in and help, including the kids. No child labor laws. No holidays. No paid sick leave. No health care plan. Only hard work.

South Slum Trash Boy
For the children who must work alongside their parents, education is a pipe dream. Although a few families manage to send their kids to school, most are unable to afford the costs associated with an education. As a result, many Zabbaleen kids remain trapped in a cycle of generational poverty. Unless something happens to free them, these kids will grow up unable to read or write.

A little more than two years ago, our missions ministry explored the possibility of making education accessible to one of several Zabbalen villages. After lots of prayer and discussion with our friends at Global Hope Network, a faith-based humanitarian group, we decided to take on the challenge of giving Zabbaleen kids a hand up and a way out. And, we looked to our own children as the way to kickstart this initiative.

Orange Girl
Every year we challenge the kids who attend Kingsland’s Vacation Bible School to help change the world for kids in need around the globe. Two years ago we asked our kids to raise funds to help build a school for Zabbaleen kids. We want for our kids to understand that they do not have to wait until they are grown-ups to make a difference but that God can use them to change the world now.

Team in Garden
Our kids accepted the challenge and raised the funds to get things started. With the help of our partners in Cairo, we secured a piece of property and hired local labor to construct a simple three room building that is contextually consistent with the surrounding construction. Our little campus, which our friend Jamal Hashweh, the Middle East Director of Global Hope Network, has christened the House of Joseph, will be a game-changer for the kids in the village.

Yesterday, we officially opened and dedicated the House of Joseph campus. Ryan Rush, Kingsland’s new senior pastor, had the opportunity to speak to parents about the role they must play in order to help change the future for their kids. Kingsland member David Budke, our missions ministry’s point man for our work here, set up a distribution of solar lights for the homes in this sans-electricity village.

David & Pastor Ryan
In addition to outfitting two classrooms, we have set aside one room as a clinic — the only access to medical care in the village. I am grateful to David for his hard work in establishing this clinic and for serving as our liaison as we move forward with education and medical initiatives. David will return to Egypt with Kingsland volunteers twice a year to serve at the House of Joseph.

Pastor Ryan in Home
As Pastor Ryan and I walked through the village with our partners, we stopped to visit with a single mother of three who is struggling to eke out a living. She told us that her son’s behavior has already changed for the better as a result of attending classes and Bible club sessions at the House of Joseph. Her story is the first-fruits of many more good stories to come from this village of garbage collectors. Her story is also a reminder that the real treasure in the sea of garbage surrounding the House of Joseph is the next generation of children. Thanks, Kingsland kids, for helping to change the world for Zabbaleen kids.

Asmi w Kid_____
Please follow the adventures of our women’s justice team currently working with our partners in Kolkata, India at

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 1, 2015

Listen Thru the Bible

Many Christ-followers begin each new year with a plan — or with the best of intentions — to read through the Bible over the course of that year. Reading through the Bible in a year is a worthy goal. Bible reading is essential for moving beyond merely knowing about God to knowing God on a more personal level. Bible reading is also a key to discovering God’s will for our lives and to being able to intelligently articulate what we believe.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy, his young protégé, that Scripture “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). To state this another way, the Scripture teaches us the path we should walk (teaching), convicts us when we get off the path (rebuking), shows us how to get back on the path (correcting), and helps us to stay on that path (training).

In previous years, I have followed a variety of read-thru-the-Bible plans. I have two good options on my Bible Teaching Notes website. I also keep a One Year Bible next to my reading chair in my office. I like this Bible because I can check off the passages I have read. Some years I have concentrated on reading a particular genre in Scripture. Whatever plan you choose, the important thing is to stick with it and not give up if you happen to get behind.

Listen Thru the Bible
This year I have decided to do something a little different. Instead of just reading through the Bible, I have decided to also listen my way through the Bible. Thanks to advances in technology, it is easier than ever before in the history of the world to listen to the Scripture being read on our phones or other devices. Listening to the Scripture adds a dynamic dimension to engaging with God’s Word.

In order to make my listening plan more effective and meaningful, I have set the following ground rules.

First, I want to give God my undivided attention. One of the most important things we can give others is our attention — and God is certainly worthy of that. In order to give God my undivided attention I need to find a time to listen and a place that will allow me to remove or minimize distractions.

Second, I want to do more than just hear words being recited, I want to listen. Listening is more than just hearing words. Listening is an active process by which we make sense of what we hear, consider it carefully, and respond accordingly.

Third, I am prepared to rewind and listen to the same passage again and again if necessary in order to get a better grasp on God’s Word. While I fully expect to listen my way through the Bible in 2015, my ultimate goal is not to get through the Scripture but to allow the Scripture to get through to me.

I encourage you to read or listen your way through the Bible this year. And, be sure to ask God to help you burn off the Bible calories you consume by putting what you read and learn into practice.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 31, 2014

Temporal Landmarks

Regardless of how you personally feel about New Year’s resolutions, many people will give some consideration to how they can make a fresh start at the beginning of the new year. We tend to be more open to making resolutions — those decisions we make to do or not do something — at certain times on the calendar like the start of a new year, a new month, a new week, or even a birthday. These temporal landmarks beckon us to refocus our thinking and to reflect a little more deeply about how we can and should reorient our conduct.

Temporal landmarks are important because they give us the opportunity to reflect on the actualities of the past and the possibilities of the future. January 1 is a significant temporal landmark. The month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors and gateways. Janus was usually depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions — one to the past and one to the future. The first day of the new year invites us to look back to take inventory and to look ahead to consider how the future can look different than the past.

Temporal landmarks are also important because they offer us opportunities for fresh starts, second chances, and new beginnings. Fresh starts have a way of giving new meaning to life. Second chances can invigorate us with the resolve to do better and go farther than we ever have. New beginnings can infuse us with purpose, energy, and the determination to walk through doors and gateways that lead to new challenges.

We should keep in mind that a temporal landmark is simply a starting point from which to begin anew but not a guarantee that we will actually follow-through on what we resolve to do. If we make a resolution to do or not do something, then we must intentionally make the choices that keep us on track. At its core, life is about choices. If we make resolutions, then we should also consider what it will take to maintain them.

In just a few hours, we will step across the threshold into a new year — a blank slate on which to write the next chapters of our respective narratives. Regardless of whether you make a single resolution, a list of resolutions, or no resolution, determine to at least observe these simple guidelines to ensure that you make good decisions throughout the year. Determine to always honor God, love others, take risks, do something hard, consider how you can encourage others, don’t make excuses, and don’t waste time. Make the most of every opportunity to seize the day throughout the new year.

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

A Collection of Stories

This past Saturday, our family held a memorial service for my father-in-law, Gene Crane. We dedicated a part of the service to sharing stories about Gene. Although I have known Gene for 36 years, I heard several stories I had never heard before — heartwarming stories about acts of kindness he had quietly done as well as other reflections that gave me greater insight into how he lived his life as a Christ-follower.
Family Pic CollageI love listening to stories. Each of us have our own stories — those narratives that define and give context to our lives, that give listeners clues about our existence, frustrations, hopes, and aspirations. Our lives are, essentially, a collection of stories — the personal accounts, however mundane or exciting, of our days.

If you want to get to know someone well, then listen carefully to their stories. Ask questions that prompt the telling of stories because stories are the keys that give us access to the innermost parts of a person’s heart. They bring clarity and sharpen our understanding about the people we know and those we would like to know.

Over the years I have made numerous trips to India to serve at Mother Teresa’s homes. Mother Teresa understood the importance of being a part of God’s story. She once said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” Mother Teresa believed that her life was a part of a grander and divine narrative. She was right.

What an amazing opportunity each of us have to be a part of the love story that God is writing — that divine narrative that will outlast us. Our own lives and the lives of others are enriched in proportion to how much we allow God to write His love story through us.

That’s why it’s important that while we are alive we willingly submit to God’s hand and allow Him to guide our movements. If we do so, then we will leave behind a beautiful story that will continue to inspire others.

The fact of the matter is that, one day, our lives will come to an end. And when we die, we will do so “in medias res,” a Latin phrase that means ”in the middle of a story.” However, although our lives will one day come to an end, our stories can continue to speak to the world.

In Psalm 30, David complained to God, saying, “What will you gain if I die, if I sink down into the grave? Can my dust praise you from the grave? Can it tell the world of your faithfulness?”

We will never be able to answer the first of those questions on this side of heaven. Because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours we will have to wait until we get to heaven to understand how our death fit into God’s greater plan and purposes. However, we can answer the last questions in David’s complaint — “Can my dust praise you from the grave? Can it tell the world of your faithfulness?” Indeed it can.

My father-in-law’s story is not over because when he was living he wrote a beautiful script for his dust. For years to come Gene will indeed continue to praise God from the grave and tell the world of God’s faithfulness. He lived wisely so that his story would continue to honor God, even from the grave. We should seek to do the same while we have opportunity.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 21, 2014

A Father’s Legacy

My wife Cheryl and her sister Cindie are eight months apart. God providentially brought them together under one roof to be raised by a loving couple who could not have children of their own. Cindie was adopted first and then Cheryl. Their adoptive parents, Gene and Frances Crane, provided a wonderful Christian home for these girls.

Cindie and Cheryl have always believed that God brought them together because it was His special plan for them to be sisters and to have Gene and Frances as their parents. God gave them to Gene and Frances and also to each another. As sisters, they have shared a lifetime of experiences from childhood to their respective marriages to having kids of their own in the same hospital where they were born and given up for adoption.

I have known Gene and Frances for 36-years. They embraced and welcomed me into their family and have been among the most treasured encouragers in my life. I can’t recall a time when I did not leave their presence more encouraged than when I arrived. They both just have that special knack for making folks feel at home. And, I have learned a lot from Gene about what it means to trust and to wait upon God — no matter what you are facing.

This past Thursday morning, Gene took his last breath as he slept peacefully in his bed. Cindie called me with the news and then I drove to the school where Cheryl teaches to break the sad news to her. Gene’s health has deteriorated rapidly the past few months and we had hoped he would be with us for one more Christmas. Instead, Gene will spend his first Christmas in heaven this year. We already miss him.

Cheryl and I have been in Corpus Christi for the past few days to help Cindie with all of the funeral arrangements. We are spending every spare moment with Frances and have done lots of reminiscing. We are fortunate that our every remembrance of Gene is good. We have looked at hundreds of family photos and Gene is smiling in every one of them. That’s no surprise to us. He was a glass-half-full kind of guy who looked for the silver lining in everything.

There are easily a hundred good things that I could write about Gene. However, there are two things at the top of my list that say volumes about his legacy. First, Gene loved Frances. I am a firm believer that one of the greatest gifts that any father can give his children is to love their mother. And Gene loved Frances — no question about it. Married for 68 years, they hardly spent a night apart.

The other thing that I am most grateful for is what Gene invested in the hearts of his daughters. From the day Cindie and Cheryl were adopted to the day Gene died he did something of immeasurable value. He would take his girls by the hand, look them in the eye and tell them how much he loved them and how thankful he was that God had given them to him and Frances. He always believed they were meant to be a family. And he was right.

The greatest gifts that any father can give his kids and grandkids are the kind that moth and rust cannot destroy and that thieves cannot steal. For any child to know they are of immeasurable worth is a gift that can and will sustain them through whatever they encounter on their respective journeys through life. I am also grateful for the words Gene spoke to me when I visited with him at Thanksgiving. “I’m glad you came to see me,” he said. “I sure have missed you. I love and appreciate you.” Thanks, Gene, for loving and encouraging us all. We will miss you.

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

Losing Sight of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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