Anchored Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I shared my post two weeks ago, measures to control the spread of COVID-19 were just starting to be taken in my area. From a canceled 5k, to online-only church, to social distancing recommendations, the restrictions seemed more like short-term inconveniences than lifestyle altering changes. However, two weeks later, many businesses are not operating, grocery stores cannot keep items on the shelf, and going out to a restaurant is a thing of the past. Life has changed and uncertainty seems to rule the day.

Where does hope fit into all of this? That is the question that comes to mind as I ponder our current reality. In the midst of fear and uncertainty created by an unseen but real threat, how do we avoid a tailspin into despair and hopelessness? In some ways, that is the default path. If we allow ourselves to drift, we are very likely to drift into a path of anxiety, depression, and negativity. So how do we avoid the drift?

For me, it comes back to our anchor of choice. Much like a boat, our ability to stand strong depends on the ability of our anchor to hold up to the current. In other words, which force is stronger- our anchor or the current?

This is where hope comes in. If our hope is anchored to something that has been threatened by COVID-19 and the fallout it created, we are certain to drift. If your anchor is moving in the current, being pushed toward hopelessness and fear, you have very little choice but to follow. Whether it is your job, your health, your finances, or any other number of great, but temporary “hope anchors”, they are only as helpful as their ability to remain steady. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 has shown us, they are not nearly as steady as we would like to imagine.

I do not pretend to have this all figured out. Just like everyone else, I have dealt with anxiousness and uncertainty over the past two weeks. However, I have not lost all hope. This is not because I know what is going to happen or because I am ignoring the current situation. It is because my hope is anchored to something stronger than the “current” created by our present realities.

The longer I live, the more clear it becomes that anchoring our hope in the only truly solid foundation, the God who created us and love us, makes all of the difference. In moments when everything else is moving, we need something that holds strong. The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible wrote, “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” (Hebrews 6:19, NLT) The writer is saying that through Christ, we have access to the God who made and sustains everything, and desires the best for us.

Hope grounded in someone who does not change and always desires the best for us, no matter the circumstances, is hope that can sustain us through anything. Yes, the challenges are big and real, but they are smaller the God who anchors me so all hope is not lost.

There is light beyond the darkness of today. Let’s anchor our hope in the one Foundation that will allow us to stand strong and tall enough to see it.

– James Belt 

 

Practical Hope from Grandmom

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Last time we left off asking the question, “Why does practical hope make a difference?” We continue that discussion today with a story from my life.

When I was around eleven years old, my family moved from Columbia, Maryland back to the town in which I was born, Reisterstown, Maryland. This move meant a change of school systems. I was also moving from elementary school to middle school. This was a pretty traumatic move for a young, “husky”, self-conscious kid. I may have cried a time of two – or every day – at school for the first couple of months, but that is a different story.

School to this point had been full of ups and downs for me. I can still remember when my first-grade teacher told my parents that I was not a good student, basically insinuating that I was not very smart. Having been told this, I did not really see myself as someone who was exceptional at learning, although I did okay in school. My memories are not super vivid, but I do know that I saw myself as a mediocre student who just had to try to make it through school. I would never be one of the smart kids.

Going into middle school, the subject with which I struggled the most was English, specifically vocabulary, reading, and writing. The irony that I am now writing this does not escape me. In addition to seeing myself as an average student at best, I was also set back by the fact that the school system I came from was significantly behind in their English curriculum compared to my new school. To say that this did not help my self-confidence is an understatement. It seemed that I was destined to be a “dumb kid” (is that not PC? Oh well), a term mercilessly used by middle school kids.

It is amazing what experiences and thoughts like this can do to a person, especially a young person. I sometimes wonder why people who grow up in a caste system such as the one present in India just accept their “place” or “lot” in life. If the system says that they are worthless and below everyone else because of who their parents are, and their parents’ parents and so on, they never challenge that reality. The mindset, “I am who I am and will never be anything else” takes over. It is remarkable what the words and beliefs of others can do to our view of ourselves, both good and bad.

While I can in no way relate to a person who grows up in such an oppressive society, I can appreciate the impact being “slotted” has on a person. I was below my classmates and that was just who I was.

Thankfully, my parents and grandparents did not see things that way. Instead of accepting that I was destined to be a poor student, my parents decided I just need a little coaching. They saw me as worth the investment. This investment started with sending me to testing to determine how behind I actually was. After testing, not my favorite thing at the time, it was determined that I needed intensive tutoring from an English teacher. Fortunately, my parents knew just the person, my grandmother.

Betty Jean Belt, or Grandmom to me, had been an English teacher for many years before retiring to focus on a number of social projects. Grandmom was a strong woman who was up to the task of coaching a punk pre-teenager who thought he was destined to a life of “less than”. On a side note, if you had the opportunity to meet my grandfather you would know how strong and patient my grandmother truly was. People often say I inherited some of his personality. I guess it is good that my wife, Jen, has a lot in common with my Grandmom.

As you can imagine, I was not super excited about spending my afternoons studying the English language. I am still haunted by the strange plastic-like lamination smell that emanated from the flashcards in the back of the book. That did not discourage my grandmother. She believed in me and my ability to lean, and was committed to showing me that I should believe in myself.

Off we went- through more of those smelly flashcards than seems possible and enough workbooks to fill a bookshelf meant to hold a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Day after day, my grandmother invested in me and my future. Slowly but surely, I began to respond to her astute teaching. Our hard work began to pay off at school as I began to catch up to my fellow students. I began to realize that I was not destined to a life of being uneducated.

That does not mean it did not take a few years to fully take root. I was a bit of a terror in middle school, which was in part fed by my belief about who I was. However, I was at the beginning of a journey with a much different perspective as to the potential ending.

This change in perspective was challenged a number of times, but the most memorable came from my college professor. We will pick up with that story next time.

– James Belt 

Why Does It Make a Difference?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Last time we looked at an example of how practical hope made a difference in the life of Danilo, a bakery owner in Nicaragua. It is clear that practical hope makes a difference, but what may be less clear is why that is the case. Today we will begin to answer that question- Why does it make a difference?

As many Brendas, the young girl from the remote village of Albellanas, Danilos, the baker from Veacruz, and El Canon community members, the community garden entrepreneurs, as there are, there are far more people who live in similar circumstances and never escape the trappings of extreme poverty. Why? What is the difference?

The easy answer would be access to resources. These people were given the resources they needed to overcome their circumstances. The people coming from similar backgrounds, but without access to resources along the way are unable to advance for that very reason- a lack of money, education, or of some other tangible item. While there is truth in that statement it does not tell the whole story.

Question- does money solve all problems? We do not have to look very hard to find out that the answer to that question is no. How many people win the lottery only to end up broke and in the same situation years later? How many professional sports players declare bankruptcy after making millions of dollars over the course of their playing career? I could keep going, but I think you get the point. As someone famously said, and my friend Tim often repeats, “You can’t just throw money at a problem and expect to solve it.” Actually, I think Tim says, “All the money in the world won’t end the cycle of poverty, at least on its own.” If it is not only about access to resources, what is it about?

What makes Brenda, Danilo, and others like them different, beyond their God-given drive and gifts, is that someone invested in them, believing that they could succeed and break the cycle of poverty. Practical hope extends beyond the resource itself. Instead of “throwing money at a problem”, opportunity was given by investing in the long-term potential of a person.

I know the difference may seem subtle, but it is the difference between cutting a branch off of a tree to stick in the ground and planting a seedling. Stick (pun not intended) with me here. If you cut a branch off of a tree, stick it in the ground, and hope for the best, you are using a short-term approach to solve a long-term problem. If your goal is to have a healthy, growing tree in your yard, the branch may give that appearance in the short term. However, in the long term the reality will be revealed. It is a stick in the ground without roots and proper care. Eventually, the branch will turn brown and you will be back to where you started- with a bare spot where you wanted a tree.

Planting a seedling and properly caring for it looks a lot different. When you plant a seedling it starts out small, but it has what it needs to succeed, mainly roots. If you care for the seedling – watering it, fertilizing it, and not running it over with the lawn mower – that seedling has a great chance to become a tree and to last for years to come. You have provided what is needed to solve the problem. While at the outset both solutions looked similar from the outside, the reality is that they are very different with very different results. Full disclosure- some branches will grow into a tree in you put them in the ground, but let’s not get caught up in semantics.

I know that analogy may seem like a stretch, but it is a pretty accurate picture of the difference. Providing true practical hope is like planting the seedling and caring for it so that it reaches its potential. When the investment goes beyond the resource itself, hope for a different future is born in the heart of the person. Brenda was not just given medicine and a few dollars to further her education. Someone said, “I believe in you”, and demonstrated it by walking along with her through the journey. Yes, she was given resources, but more importantly, she was told that she was worth it.

Check back in next time to continue answering the question, “Why”.

– James Belt

Full of Life and Bread

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

In December we started to explore the story of Danilo and his brothers, and their bakery, Pan de Vida. Today we continue the journey.

Some time later, Danilo found out that the Nicaraguan government was offering a very favorable loan program for small bakeries like his. This program would lend the bakery the funds they needed to significantly improve and expand their baking equipment. While they had reached the point of making ends meet, an investment of this sort was necessary if the business was truly going to be successful. The problem was the program required bakery owners to have a reserve of about ten percent of the $15,000 they needed to borrow. The bakery had taken great steps forward, but it did not have anywhere near the $1,500 necessary to move forward. This is a common problem for small businesses started by under-resources people in developing countries like Nicaragua. The resources they need to move beyond poverty are just outside their grasp.

Danilo and his brothers do not have the typical background of successful business owners. In fact, quite the opposite. Raised in a small, remote village near Albellanas in the north-central region of Nicaragua, most people spent life just trying to survive. Similar to Roger, Danilo was given the opportunity to finish his secondary education at the Veracruz orphanage. People from remote villages that grow up in orphanages do not start successful businesses in Nicaragua. This is typically left to people from well-resourced, well-connected families. This “ceiling” is the perfect breeder of hopelessness.

For most people this is the end of the story. The business either struggles to make it, barely providing enough funds to live for the business owners, or fails, not because of poor management or strategy but because of a lack of resources for those without resources to begin with. Danilo’s story would be different.

Due to his time living and working at the Veracruz orphanage Danilo had many contacts in the United States. Two of these people happened to be Cal Covert and Tim Adams. Cal and Tim, both on the NicaWorks! Board of Directors, had followed Danilo’s journey and desired to see him succeed. Taking another risk, Danilo approached Tim and Cal about his problem. Wanting to have a better understanding of what Danilo needed, Tim and Cal asked me to meet with Danilo as I was living in Nicaragua at the time.

Arriving at Danilo’s bakery, a small house converted into a business, I could smell the distinct scent of fresh bread. Given that I was hungry, this probably increased the odds of NicaWorks! developing a partnership with Danilo (only half kidding!). After receiving a quick tour of the small operation, and a Pico, a sweet pastry-like bread, I sat down with Danilo.

Danilo explained that business was really good, but that they needed to expand in order to take the next step forward. This had led him and his brothers to apply for the government program, but they had been unable to come up with the $1,500 of reserves required to receive the funds. After exploring other personal options, Danilo decided to reach out to his NicaWorks! friends to find out if they would be willing to help. Danilo explained that he developed a small proposal that showed why taking this step would benefit the business long term. When it came down to it, Danilo was asking if NicaWorks! believed in him- if they believed there was truly hope for the future.

NicaWorks!’s answer was yes. Reviewing Danilo’s plans, Tim, Cal, and the NicaWorks! team decided to lend Danilo the $1,500 he needed to receive the funds from the government program, and to lend it at zero percent interest. In doing so, NicaWorks! offered tangible hope to Danilo, his brothers, and his family.

Today the “Bread of Life” bakery is full of life. After receiving the loan, the bakery was approved to receive the new bakery equipment. This allowed them to significantly increase their production as well as add to their product offering. Of course, they still have the Picos and they are as delicious as ever.

Hope in a tangible form took what could have been a dead-end and made it a road of endless possibilities. Danilo and his brothers have now paid off the $1,500 loan from NicaWorks! and are planning on further expansion, including the purchase of their own location. Danilo has come a long way since life in the village and hope has played an integral role in propelling him there.

– James Belt

 

From Tragedy to Unity

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Toward the end of my college years, I became a fan of Kobe Bryant. While Kobe has had his ups and downs, like most of us, I have always appreciated his passion for winning and living. I admired his drive to be the best, not just because of his natural gifts but also through his incredible dedication to improving. As an outside observer, it always appeared that Kobe believed he was created for more.

As I heard the news of the helicopter accident that took his life, the life of his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others, a sense of sadness and shock came over me. My reaction seemed a bit surprising to me given the fact that I do not and have never known Kobe, or any of the other victims, personally. This feeling of sadness has popped into my consciousness at various moments over the course of the past week.

The reality is that this has been true for an incredible number of people in the United States and around the world. This loss of life has created a collective sense of sadness for the lives that were cut short, for what could have been. In a country and world seemingly more divided than ever, this tragedy has brought many people together. In a real way, it has reminded us that what brings us together and makes us more intrinsically similar than different is greater than what divides us. Love, hope, life, family, and the like far outweigh our differences.

As the world continues to process this tragedy, I hope we can hold onto that lesson and in doing so honor those who lost their lives. Our differences can be an asset when we remember that it is ultimately what unifies us that matters. Instead of dividing us, we can learn from each other and be better for it. When we unify around what makes us the same we can better understand and appreciate the parts of us that are different.

If we can come together to grieve, we should be able to come together to live. Life is short and too valuable to live divided. We have the opportunity to create a different future, but it will require us to not forget the moments that have brought us together and provided us a glimpse of what that future might look like.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy to remind us of this, but let’s not waste this opportunity created by the unity we have found in the tragic passing of someone who believed we were created for more.

– James Belt

2020 Clarity

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

As I have heard quite a few people say over the last week, this year is our one-time only chance to use the phrase “2020 Vision” when referring to our vision for the next 365 days. Given it is a one-time opportunity I am going to “jump on board” as well so here we go.

We all know that 20/20 vision refers to what most call “perfect vision” or “ideal vision”. In the end, it all comes down to clarity. Can I see clearly or not. The same can be said for 2020 Vision. Having a “vision” for the next year is all about getting clear on my “why” for 2020, or on what I hope to be true of true of me when I look back on this year.

My personal 2020 Vision is to be even more clear on my “why”, not just for this year but for my life in general. I believe God made me for a unique purpose (I believe the same is true of you, by the way) and I desire to have 20/20 clarity on that purpose and what it looks like to live it out. This is most certainly a life journey, but I do not believe I have to wait until the end of my life to begin living it. The more I understand and embrace my truest self, the more I will be a blessing to the world around me.

With that in mind, in the name of vulnerability, here is my “work in progress” Vision or why- To help people discover and achieve their truest identity. I do not believe I can give someone an identity or even identify it for them. However, I can be a part of creating environments and opportunities that move people closer to understanding that they were created on purpose and for a purpose, and discovering what that purpose might be.

This is what Hope Realized is all about. Hopelessness is a product of forgetting or not ever realizing that you were created for more than just existing. Real hope, both spiritual and practical, brings into clarity this reality. God created you on purpose and for a purpose. Sometimes people just need an opportunity realize this for themselves.

I hope you think about your 2020 Vision. What are you going to gain 20/20 clarity on this year?

– James Belt

Bread of Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Before Thanksgiving, we last left off with the story of the Community Gardening Entrepreneurs from El Canon, who had found tangible hope in the form of beans and tomatoes. In today’s post I will focus on a friend of mine, Danilo, who found and spreads tangible hope in the form of baked goods.

Pan de Vida, “The Bread of Life” in English is the name of Danilo’s bakery. The business, shared between Danilo and two of his brothers has become a place of life and growth, but it has not always been that way.

Danilo, a Nicaraguan with a heart for people and a desire to make a difference, observed his brothers’ small bakery from the outside and wondered what it could become. At the time, Danilo was working with an orphanage in Veracruz, a town on the outskirts of Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. Danilo loved serving God and investing in people, but he wondered if working in the orphanage was the way he was supposed to do it. With a wife and kids, the job provided a place to live and a salary to sustain his family. At one time Danilo thought that he might be a pastor, but there was something about that small bakery just a couple of hundred yards from the orphanage gate.

Danilo’s brothers had learned how to make bread, but not necessarily how to make baking bread into a business. The truth was their little bakery was barely surviving and needed some leadership. Was this how Danilo was supposed to serve?

Leaving the orphanage would mean losing a steady income and a sense of security for Danilo and his young family. In a country where a good job was hard to come by, this was a serious choice with real consequences for Danilo.

Despite the risks, Danilo knew this was the choice he was supposed to make. Who better to serve than his own family?

Danilo’s decision to leave his job to work at a struggling bakery surprised many. Yes, he was a good leader, but the bakery needed physical resources to grow and none of the brothers were blessed with access to these types of resources. However, Danilo had a plan. He would take the government mandated severance from the orphanage and invest it into the business. Another large risk, but Danilo had a different kind of hope.

With this small investment, Pan de Vida was able to improve their baking operation and means of transportation, a critical step for a business focused on distribution to commercial customers such as schools. Against all odds, the bakery began to grow. This was just the beginning for Danilo and his brothers.

Check back in next time to find out how this story of hope grows.

– James Belt