The Real-Life Consequences of Circumstantial Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

I recently had the opportunity to speak on the topic of real hope, or “living hope” as Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers and a primary leader of the early Christian church, described it (see 1 Peter 1:3-8). As Peter characterizes it, living hope is not circumstantial but rather rooted in something far greater: Jesus, and his death and resurrection on our behalf. Sometimes we hear that and assume it is only referring to something that will really only make a difference after we die, or “for eternity” as many say. However, the reality is eternity starts today. Living hope is a hope that impacts your life, for today and forever.

Have you ever shared something with someone only to have the words you shared challenged in your own mind only a short time later? I feel like this has been a common experience in my life. I feel a great sense of conviction about something only to encounter a circumstance that gives me pause. Maybe I am the only one, but I doubt it. This was exactly what happened after sharing on living hope.

A week or so after my talk on living hope, a number of anxiety-inducing circumstances and possibilities came to light. Without getting into specifics, the situations vary as does my level of influence on them, but they all do the same thing: they create a lack of certainty about the future. To sat it another way, they disrupt the picture I have created in my mind of what the future should look like. Ultimately, what it reveals is that I am not in complete control of the outcomes, which is something I have written about previously(Thoughts from a Control Freak).

It also reveals another important commonality: they are all circumstances, which means they are all circumstantial. While I know that is a bit repetitive, it is an important revelation. In the beginning of this post I described living hope as not being circumstantial, or based on present circumstances and their outcomes. In reflecting on the anxiety I felt, it was a “warning light” that I was putting hope in something that was never designed to provide it–in the circumstantial rather than the foundational. Putting my hope in outcomes over which I ultimately have no control is a losing proposition.

I am not saying we should not care about our circumstances, the circumstances of others, or the outcomes that are produced. I am saying that our source of hope, and byproducts such as peace, significance, and joy, is designed to be in something greater. We are created to have a living hope.

What does this have to do with creating change and impacting the lives of others, especially those in really tough places such as poverty and homelessness? I will get into this more in the next article, but I will offer to you thoughts to consider in the meantime. First, creating change and impacting others is messy and challenging. If you put your hope in the outcome of your efforts you will not last very long.

Second, the people you are impacting and influencing need a living hope. The brokenness of this world creates incredibly challenging circumstances. It is the people I have watched travel through these circumstances and choose not to give up because of their living hope that reveals its life changing power. More on this next time.

After a few days of trying to rationalize away my anxiety, I realized I needed to change my focus. I do not have complete control of the outcome of most of life’s circumstances, but I do have control of where I put my hope. I can grab onto living hope and choose to live in light of it. Today is a new day. Where will you choose to put your hope?

James Belt

The Great Cost of the Opportunity to Fully Live

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

A couple of years ago, I wrote about two of my grandfather’s brothers (Living to Honor Their Lives), Claude and Edgar, who were killed in World War II and how I can honor their sacrifice by the way I live. Two months ago, I had the opportunity to write about my grandfather’s life (What We Can Learn from a Life Well Lived) shortly after his passing and the lessons we can take from the way he lived. As we approach Memorial Day, I am again reminded of my grandfather, who served in the Marines, and his brothers who gave so much so that I, and others like me, could live a full life. There is a lot of hope gain from grasping the weight of that gift.

Just to be clear, I did not serve in the military and I do not pretend to understand what it is like to be a member of the armed services. I also do not assume to know what it is like to lose a fellow team member in the line of duty and do not want to minimize the incredible pain that must come with that reality. While their willingness to put their life of the line for others should be celebrated, the loss of their life is still a reason to grieve, and leaves a hole in the lives of the people they left behind. I know for many Memorial Day is a solemn day, and maybe that is something we all should learn from and appreciate more.

I came to this realization when I visited Arlington National Cemetery with my grandfather in 2016 to visit the gravesites of his two brothers. This eventually led me to write the article I mention above about his brothers, Claude and Edgar. Seeing pictures of Arlington National Cemetery is one thing, but visiting it brings an entirely new appreciation for the price that has been paid for your freedom. Walking the grounds with someone who knew and loved someone whose body rests there makes it even more real. The picture included with this article is of my grandfather sitting between the gravestones of his two fallen brothers. This picture was taken on that day in 2016. It strikes me that my grandfather had probably sat just like that many times in his life–between his two brothers–when they were still living. Watching him sit between the stones that are a reminder of the sacrifice they gave brings to life the fact that they truly lived.

As I reflect on that day, and the life that my grandfather lived, something else is produced in me: hope. My grandfather lived a full and long life, but it could have been a different story. I do not remember the first time he told me the story, but I do know I have heard it many times. During World War II, my grandfather joined the Marines. His three brothers had also joined the military. In fact, all three of them spent time overseas in combat zones. As I already referenced, two them were tragically killed in action. Because his third brother, Buck, was deployed to a combat zone, the military would not deploy my grandfather. Similar to the story in movie Saving Private Ryan they did not want to take the chance that all four brother would be killed. By the time that his brother returned to the United States, World War II was ending so my grandfather never saw action.

I would imagine this could leave you feeling a number of different ways. You are the only brother who didn’t see combat in World War II, and two of your brothers paid the ultimate sacrifice. We never talked specifically about this, but the way that he lived makes me believe it made him see the value of his life even more. The deaths of his brothers provided him the opportunity to live a life of meaning and purpose. My grandfather lived with great hope and I can’t help but believe this is in part because he understood the expensive gift he had been given by the many who gave their lives on his behalf. While their lives may have been cut short, they were also full of meaning and purpose, which is why we have a national holiday to remember and celebrate the impact they had through their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that others could live.

This brings me back to the word hope. Someone’s willingness to put their lives on the line to give us the opportunity to fully live should produce hope within us. Great sacrifice demonstrates the great value of that for which it is given. This means your life and mine is of great worth and we should treat it accordingly. Someone was willing to die to preserve your ability to reach your God-given potential. What an opportunity that is. How much more hope-filled would you be if you approached your life through that lens?

On this Memorial Day, I hope we each get the chance to reflect on the opportunity we have been given through the incredible sacrifice made by those who died defending the United States of America. Like my grandfather, this expensive gift we have been given should give us hope and remind us to fully live these valuable lives we have been given.

Happy Memorial Day and thank you to those who died in defense of the United States of America. We are forever grateful for your sacrifice on our behalf.

James Belt

Teachers Bring the Hope

“Education is the great equalizer of our time. It gives hope to the hopeless and creates chances for those without.”

– Kofi Annan

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Education. Honestly, I think it is something I generally took for granted as a kid. While I did have moments of struggle, I always had the resources and encouragement necessary to keep moving forward. Now, having spent time in many communities in Nicaragua in which education is a luxury, as well as having two children at the beginning of their educational journey, I have become much more aware of its value and power. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week this week in the United States, it is important we remember the hope an education provides.

Kofi Annan, the Former Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “Education is the great equalizer of our time. It gives hope to the hopeless and creates chances for those without.” This is a beautiful picture of the power of hope to create change. When we think of the word “acquire” we often associate it with buying something, which requires monetary resources. However, acquiring an education, at its most basic level, only requires the God-given ability to learn. This is why it can be the “great equalizer” as Annan states. Yes, it requires funds and resources to educate people, but a person, regardless of there economic status, is capable of becoming educated. Whether starting from poverty or abundance, people can gain the skills necessary to reach their God-given potential.

This is why it is such a great source of hope. Hopelessness tends to foster a sense that life will never change. It can leave a person believing they were created for a life of “less than”. The reality is this is a lie and education can provide a picture of the truth. As a person begins to learn, they start to see themselves differently. Instead of only seeing their current reality, they begin to see what could be possible. This change in perspective can produce incredible, life-changing hope. As Annan said it “creates chances for those without”. This is because it opens doors that allows a person to begin to write a new story for themselves, their family, and maybe even their community. This is the story of my friend, Roger, as I share in my book, Hope Realized.

This is what makes teachers so important. Teaching a child is not just about imparting knowledge, it is about providing someone with a hope-producing tool that allows them to thrive. Do you see teachers this way? The impact each teacher has is exponential in our world. Without their willingness to do the difficult work of educating others, we would all experience a lot more hopelessness. Thank you to every teacher who chooses to be a source of hope to so many–you are making a difference!

This also creates an incredible and easy opportunity for each of us to make a difference. We may not all be able to be teachers, but we all can be a part of teaching others. How, you ask? Really, the possibilities are endless. If you are a parent, it starts with your own kids. It has be an incredible gift to participate in my children’s education and watch their faces light up as they learn. It can also look like volunteering with an organization committed to bringing the gift of education to people who desperately need it. Whether it is tutoring, a job placement program, or volunteering in a school, just to name a few, you can bring hope to someone else through your willingness to be available. It can also be as simple as bringing your resources to the table by donating to an organization that is committed to opening doors for others through an education.

As we recognize teachers this week, remember they are not just providing an education, they are providing life-changing hope and our world is different for it. Happy Teachers Appreciation Week!

James Belt

Click here to access to more resources created to help you make a difference.

What the Signs of Spring Can Teach Us about Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Spring. It is one of my favorite times of year, although it seemed to take a while to get to Maryland this year. There is something special about the transition from the gray, bleakness of winter to the colorful, vibrancy of spring. The moment when a small, barely noticeable bud begins to form on a tree branch. The small shoots of green that appear in the mostly brown grass. The Daffodils and other early spring flowers that break their way through the soil at the first sign of warmth. If you are not paying very close attention, it can seem like it happens overnight. However, the truth is it has been a process. As I reflected on spring, I realized it is the emergence of new life that is so energizing. In many ways, hope is the same.

The brokenness of our world can feel like a cold, bitter winter. Regardless of your point of view, we all know that our current reality is not the way it ought to be. We hear of children struggling with hunger and homeless, and it breaks our hearts. We pass someone with a cardboard sign on a street corner or intersection, clothes warn from the weather and their face downcast, and know it is not right. We hear of someone fighting through illness, whether physical or mental, and it leaves us asking, “why?” The news is full of violence and division, forcing us to wonder if the situation is hopeless. We may not all agree on how we got here or how we move forward, but we all know something is wrong.

This “winter” fosters a sense of hopelessness. The evidence of this hopelessness is easier to see in communities suffering from poverty and it’s byproducts such as homelessness, but the reality is it impacts us all. I may not wonder where my next meal will come from, but I do catch my self wondering if anything can ever change. This feeling of hopelessness can leave us feeling paralyzed, accepting that our only choice is survival in the midst of the deadness that surrounds us. Until that moment.

Something catches your eye. It is a glimpse of color in an otherwise black and white scene. Are your eyes playing tricks on you? No, there is something breaking through. There is a sign that winter might not last forever–that it might not win. In a moment, you are reminded that spring is coming. That new life is arriving. This is why I love hope.

As we look around and wonder if change is even possible, something catches our eye. It could be something small, but it breaks through the brokenness around us. It could be the story of just one changed life or one hungry child fed, but it speaks to something deep inside our souls. We often try to ignore the feeling, worried that we will get out hopes up only to have them dashed. This is usually a well-earned defense mechanism. But, what if change is possible? What if a new story of new life can be written? What if there really is hope?

We were created to experience real hope. This is why these glimpses of new life inspire us: It is supposed to. It resonates with our hearts and lifts our spirits. What if we leaned into these feelings? Much like spring, bringing and experiencing real hope is a process. What we often see is the end result of a messy journey forward to break through the hopelessness. Also, like spring, what starts as almost unnoticeable can turn into something vibrant and beautiful.

I know this is true because I have seen it. Over my many years of working in Nicaragua, and in communities in Maryland, I have seen real hope break through to create new life. I have seen people once trapped in hopelessness realize their God-given potential through the power of real hope. I have even experience the power of real hope in my own life and I am forever different.

As signs of spring reminds us that winter will end, the breakthroughs of hope remind us that overcoming hopelessness is possible. The only question is will we grab onto it? Will we get in the game and play our role in making what starts out small into a tree of hope that could change the world? You can make a difference. We will all be more hope-filled for it.

James Belt

The Multiplied Impact of Volunteering

Good morning form Westminster, MD!

Did you know April is National Volunteer Month in the United States? More specifically, the third week in April was designated as National Volunteer Week in 1974. Honestly, I was not aware of this until recently. The reality is there is a day for everything these days. In fact, many days are “the day” for many different things. Take April 6th, for example. In 2023, April 6th was National Burrito Day, National Employee Benefits Day, National Sorry Charlie Day (huh?), and National Caramel Popcorn Day, just to name a few. While there is nothing wrong with celebrating (I love burritos!), the volume of celebrations can make us numb to their existence. Could this be the case for National Volunteer Week? Does it really matter?

Volunteering is something many of us have been told we “should do”, but fewer of us have the burning desire to do. There are many reasons for this, but for many people it comes down to time and impact. The truth is life is busy. When we are young, we believe life is busy until we get older, accumulate more responsibilities, and realize life really wasn’t that busy. Like money, most of us figure out how to spend the “free time” we have, regardless of its abundance or scarcity. However, also like money, it is more of a question of priority than availability. We may be very busy, but more than likely we could make the time to volunteer if we saw it as a priority. This is certainly true for me.

This really speaks to the second reason: impact. We are not sure if the time we give is really going to make a difference. This is a fair question. Can one person really create change? It would be easy to point to people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa and say yes, but most of us do not live in that space. For most people, volunteering looks like an hour on a Saturday or Sunday, not a lifelong dedication to enacting change. What about the rest of us? Is our hour meaningful?

The best answer might be another question: what if everyone said no? What if everyone decided their hour didn’t have a big enough “return on investment” and stopped volunteering? The impact would be devastating. People and communities would suffer as hunger increased, homelessness grew, and educational services became scarce among many other consequences. Does the impact one person has make a difference? Yes, because it is an important part of a collective effort. Without the willingness of individual people to say yes to volunteering, the larger impact we often point to would cease to exist. Taking a single step makes a big difference.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“Everybody can be great.” Deep within us, we all want to live a life of significance. We want our lives to matter for more than just ourselves. Who can be great? Who can live a life that matters? According to Martin Luther King, Jr. the answer is “everybody.” This is the other impact of volunteering. Not only do we make a difference in the life of someone else, we discover greater significance ourselves. Volunteering has a multiplied impact and creates a cycle of love and significance. Our collective effort changes our communities and the world for the better and reminds us that our lives truly matter. I believe this is by design. We were not created to live only for ourselves. We were created by a God who love us on purpose and for a purpose. When we give our lives away, we are reminded of our inherent, God-given value.

I have found this to be true myself. I have been able to make an impact by bringing what I have to the collective table. My individual effort is multiplied by the efforts of others. I have also found greater significance in serving others. As I have brought others hope, I have found more hope for myself and the world. I believe the same can be true for you. Why not use this National Volunteer Week as an opportunity to get started? You can have an impact and discover greater significance in the process. Do you need help getting started? Click here for other resources to help you take your next step.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

James Belt

What We Can Learn from a Life Well Lived

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I explored the power of real, all-in hope to create change, I discovered the role it had played in my own life. I talk about this in my book Hope Realized as well as encourage people to “mine” their story for the ways in which hope has played a role in my free guide 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. Oftentimes, for good or for bad, it comes back to a person. One of those people in my life was Jim Belt, or as I called him, Granddad. As I write this, my family is preparing to celebrate the very full 98 years of life he lived following his passing earlier this week. This has reminded me of the hope he has brought into my life and what we can learn from as we seek to live meaningful lives.

Granddad was larger than life in many ways. He lived a full life–maybe enough for 3 or 4 lives by any normal measure. He was a Marine, an All-American soccer player among other sports accomplishments, a beloved physical education teacher, a Mr. Softy ice cream truck operator, an advocate for the mentally disabled including his own son Bobby, a painter, a pool manager, and so much more. More importantly, he was father, husband, friend, grandfather, and great grandfather to people who loved him dearly, even if he drove them crazy sometimes. Reflecting on the many roles he has played and the many stories I have been told, one common theme sticks out to me: he saw the God-given potential in people, even when they didn’t see it in themselves. To say it another way, he brought hope to many people, including me.

I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Granddad when I was a kid. We did a lot things together, but more often than not it revolved around sports. As an athlete and former physical education teacher, he saw the value in athletics and wanted to pass that along to me, his grandson. We played many sports together from soccer to baseball to golf to tennis to basketball, just to name a few. Always the competitor and teacher, he would push me to give it my all and refused to just let me win. In fact, he told me many times that I would finally be able to beat him in basketball when he was 90. I never did beat him, and he was smart enough to stop playing me before he was 90. In the end, his goal was always the same: to help me be the best that I could be.

When I was an awkward middle school kid, I was lacking in self-confidence. Despite my lack of self-confidence, my grandfather believed in me. In almost every sport I played, Granddad told me, “if you keep at it, you could be a pro one day.” Looking back now, I am not sure I would have had the same opinion of my athletic potential, but my grandfather was unwilling to give up on me. He had hope for my life and my God-given potential. I never did become a professional athlete, but the words of hope my grandfather spoke into my life helped to shape the person I am today. I see my life through the lens of hope in part because of Granddad and others who believed in me and decided I was worth their investment. I am incredibly thankful for the hope Granddad helped to foster in me, and I know many others would say the same.

What can we learn from the life of Jim Belt and the role in played in my life and the lives of so many others? Many things, but one sticks out to me more than the others: we have an incredible opportunity to make an impact by bringing hope to others. In a world that struggles with hopelessness, we can be beacons of hope, seeing the God-given potential of the people in our lives. I am a testimony of the power this can have in the life of another person. In fact, it has helped to shape the way I see others and my passion for helping people reach their God-given potential.

Maybe you find yourself reading this and thinking, “sounds great, James, but I could use some hope myself.” Well, the great news is, I have found that bringing hope to others produces more hope in me. Our willingness to believe in the God-given potential of another helps us to rediscover the God-given potential that lives inside of us. I never asked my grandfather, but I would imagine he would have said the same.

Jim Belt, my Granddad, lived a full life that was meaningful not just because of what he did but also because of the hope he inspired in so many others. I can’t think of a better legacy. This same opportunity exists for each of us. We can be beacons of hope and in-turn become more hope-filled ourselves.

Want to find more hope and meaning? Take a page out of Jim Belt’s book and start bringing hope to others.

James Belt

If you would like pick up Hope Realized or the free guide mentioned above, click here for more information.

How Can I Help the Homeless Near Me?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I would imagine is true for you, homelessness is an issue of which I have been aware for most of my life. I remember riding in my parents’ car as a kid passing someone on a corner with a sign or pushing a shopping cart containing everything to their name. I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but their weather and life worn appearance told me our life circumstances were very different. I would come to understand that this was because, for whatever reason, they did not have a home.

During my teenage years, I had the opportunity to volunteer at feeding programs, or “soup kitchens” as we called them at the time. This literally put me face to face with an issue I had only viewed from a distance to that point. While I still did not know their life story, I began to see people struggling with homelessness as just that: people not just a societal issue. This was reinforced one day when my dad decided to give the family tent to a homeless man he often passed in our town. I have no idea what happened to that man, but I do know it taught me that people have value, no matter their circumstances.

Despite these lessons, homelessness continued to be an issue for someone else to solve in my eyes. Sure, I would occasionally put money in the cup of person as I drove or walked by but I didn’t see their problem as my problem. The truth is I also believed their choices had landed them in that position and different choices would allow them to escape it. Whether or not this was true in every situation, it allowed me to rationalize my tendency to look past the person living in homelessness.

This all changed when one day in my twenties I decided to go under the bridge. Well, it was more of a group decision. I was a part of a group of guys, a discipleship group as we often refer to it in the church, who were challenging each other to live more intentionally into the life God had given us. Like most people, we were just going through the motions of life. However, we believed it didn’t have to be that way. We could actually follow the Jesus we claimed to trust in and love people the way he calls us to. This led us to decide to venture under a bridge in our town to love the people who lived there. That’s right: people lived under the bridge.

I tell the full story in my book Hope Realized, but this step turned homelessness into a problem with a face and a name. It was no longer just “someone else’s problem”. After going under the bridge, we found out about the local cold weather shelter, an overnight shelter where many people would stay when sleeping outside in the elements became particularly uncomfortable and dangerous. Energized by the step we had taken and the people we had met, we decided to find out how we could become involved at the cold weather shelter. What started as a single step, grew into a weekly volunteer opportunity at the cold weather shelter, and now many years later has become a part of the DNA of Crossroads Church: loving and serving our homeless neighbors is just a part of who we are.

“How can I help the homeless near me?”

It is the title of this article and a question many people ask. So, what does the story above have to do with how you can help the homeless near you? It is a picture of what it often looks like to get involved and the power of taking one step. For most of us this is the problem: we haven’t taken the first step. We care enough about the issue to “Google it”, but are unsure of what to do next and how we can make a difference. I will speak to the first concern momentarily, but as you can see in my story, one step can make a huge difference. This has really been the story of my life: When I have been willing to take one step, it has almost always led me to the next one, and opened up opportunities to use my gifts and experiences to make a difference in the life of someone else. I just had to be willing to get started.

What should you do? The good news is there are many ways you can help someone struggling with homelessness. There are opportunities to address immediate needs such as serving at an overnight shelter or a feeding program of some kind. While this is not the ultimate solution, it is a real need and often a starting point for the homeless.

Once someone’s immediate needs are addressed it opens the door to moving beyond their current circumstances. As I talk about in my book, it is addressing the need for practical and spiritual hope, or a real opportunity and a reframed identity. You can use this frame of reference to guide to an opportunity for you to make a difference. Consider your gifts and experiences. Is there something you bring to the table that would create a real opportunity for someone else? Could you play a role in helping someone see that they are not hopeless but rather created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them? Practically, this could look like serving at a job training center, or a recovery program. It could also be taking a chance on someone by providing them a job, or becoming a mentor of sorts, walking along with someone to encourage them as they take steps to move beyond the hopelessness that is holding them captive. Next, find an organization or person who is currently serving the homeless in your area and could benefit from what you bring to the table.

Whatever step you decide to take, I would challenge you to take this one as well: ask yourself if you believe there is hope for the homeless. In a previous article, I talked about the role our perception plays in the way we treat someone. This is something I had to as well. Do I truly believe this person was created for something more? Working through this question will prepare you to truly make a difference in the life of someone who is homeless. In fact, it is one of the steps in the free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. Click here if you would like to learn more about this resource.

How can you help the homeless near you? Determine what you have to offer, take a step, and consider what you believe about the people you are serving. It might sound too simple and maybe even too small, but my experience tells me it could make a life-changing difference.

James Belt

What Nicaragua Taught Me about Living with Purpose Daily

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel like you are just drifting through life? Like a sailboat that has lost its rudder or a leaf floating down a stream, pushed by the current with any particular aim, you wonder if your life really matters all that much. I have found myself there from time to time. It is that feeling that life is just happening to you. It can leave you feeling a low level of hopelessness.

I was reminded of this less than ideal mental and emotional state during my recent trip to Nicaragua. It wasn’t that I felt rudderless while in Nicaragua. Quite the opposite, actually. It was the fact that I was living with purpose that shed light on how easy it is to find yourself drifting without clarity on where you are heading and why. This is typically how it happens: unintentionally.

Rarely does anyone choose to live without purpose. It can be a product of a busy life. As a parent of two young kids, it is easy to get caught up in the urgent while letting the important fall by the waist side. The reality is many of the urgent issues that arise have to be addressed. If my kids are hungry or need help with something they are unable to do, I don’t have much of a choice but to take care of them. The urgent items do matter. The problem is they can slowly steal our ability to focus beyond them if we are not careful. This can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of someone’s character or intelligence. The more urgent matters that vie for our attention the harder it becomes to keep our eyes on our purpose. Many times, it isn’t until we are further downstream that we realize we have gone off course. Sometimes it is when we get out of the flow of our normal life that we remember the importance of purpose.

This is what happened to me in Nicaragua. While traveling around Nicaragua with our NicaWorks! team it was clear why we were there: to be a catalyst for practical and spiritual hope. I was in Nicaragua because I believe in the God-given potential of all people, even those being held captive by the lie of hopelessness. This is my purpose. Not just in Nicaragua but in every role I play in this life. I find great purpose in helping others discover and live into their God-given potential–in helping others grab onto the all-in hope available to them. This is why I wrote Hope Realized and it is what gives me clarity about why I do what I do. So, does it take traveling to Nicaragua, or some other place that removes us from our normal life, to rediscover our purpose?

As helpful as it can be to do something or go somewhere that allows us to focus completely on living with purpose, it should’t and really can’t depend on it. The truth is we need to be able to find purpose in our daily life. The good news is it is possible if we are intentional. Earlier, I mentioned that I find purpose in helping other discover the God-given potential. This certainly happens when I am in Nicaragua, but I have this same opportunity when I am at home with my wife and kids, at work with my team, and in the many other opportunities I have to interact with people throughout my life. It is not a lack of purpose but rather a lack of intentional focus that leaves me feeling rudderless. The purpose is always there. The question is will I see in the midst of all of life’s distractions, both good and bad.

The same is true for you. I do not know what your purpose is, but I do believe you have one, whether you know it or not. We do not have to go anywhere to live with purpose. In fact, living with purpose happens when you discover how to see your life through the lens of your purpose and act accordingly. It can be with your kids or your coworkers. It can be in normal interactions as you go throughout your day. Purpose is not found in a specific location, it is discovered in the way we choose to see our life.

You have a purpose. It is just waiting for you to discover it.

James Belt

Great Hope in the Midst of Brokenness

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

In the past two articles I have discussed how our perception of someone impacts how we treat them, and the need to expand our view of poverty and how to effectively address it. I recently had the opportunity to spend time in Nicaragua with some of our NicaWorks! team members, which only reinforced these two realities. It was also a great reminder that in the midst of brokenness there is great hope.

During my time in Nicaragua, I had the chance to visit many NicaWorks! projects, as well as program with which NicaWorks! partners, focused on bringing practical and spiritual hope through real opportunities and reframed identities. As I visited the Frutivera sweet corn project in Veracruz, now successfully in constant production and harvest due to improvements to the water system and a lot of hard work, I became even more excited about the impact it could have in Nicaragua as it continues to grow. With 17 people already on the team, Frutivera is in a great position to continue to create opportunities for people and their families to experience practical hope. With a focus on also helping them see that they were created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them, Frutivera is a picture of the power of all-in hope to create change.

The small team and I had the chance to visit Club Esperanza, a school operated by Open Hearts and located in one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Managua. While there are many signs of poverty and hopelessness in the neighborhood as you drive around, you wouldn’t know it when you enter the school. With kids laughing and smiling as they run around the schoolyard, play on the playground, and participate in class you can see the impact the Club Esperanza staff is having on the kids and their families. Through the sowing vocational program, NicaWorks! has had the opportunity to partner with Club Esperanza to provide school uniforms for kids who can’t afford them. Club Esperanza is a beacon of real hope, providing children both the opportunity of a education and the perspective that the were created for something more.

I was able to spend time with Oscar and Febe in Nueva Guinea, where they continue to transform the property into a beautiful farm. We went to Bluefields for a couple of days, where Ed, Ligia, and their team continue to provide hope to the community through their project and church. We visited the NicaBike Shop, the used bike shop launched by NicaWorks! in 2014, and discussed the possibility of expanding to another location. While I could go on, the underlying theme is the same: there is hope in Nicaragua.

Where this was most evident was the faces and words of the people I spent time with in Nicaragua. Projects are great, but it is the impact on people that truly tells the story. Talking to Josh, Field Director for NicaWorks, and his wife and fellow NicaWorks! team member, Flavia, and many others, I found myself encouraged by their hope for the future. While they are not blind to the brokenness in Nicaragua, they do not believe it is the end of the story. Through the practical and spiritual hope provided by real opportunities and a reframed identity, real change is possible through the power of all-in hope.

The same is true for you and me. Brokenness is a reality but it does not have to stop there. There is real hope and I believe in its power to create change more than ever. That is why I wrote Hope Realized and why I continue to write about it today.

I find one of the best ways to remain hopeful is to live with purpose. I was reminded of this as well in Nicaragua and will share more about it next time.

James Belt

Could You Be Putting Poverty in a Box?

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

Have you ever thought you had the solution to a problem only to realize your viewpoint of the problem was unknowingly limited? It is like believing you had found the last piece to the puzzle until you took a step back and could see that you were only working on one small corner of a much larger picture. This has happened to me many times in life. It is not typically because I do not want to see or understand the entire picture, although I am sure I could think of a few moments that would fit into that category. In most cases, I had no idea that the small mental box I had put the problem in was obstructing my view until something came along and expanded my box. Can you relate?

Could this be the case for many of us with poverty? I know it has been for me. I used to believe I had a clear understanding of poverty, why it exists, and how to solve it. While I certainly believed environment played a role, it often boiled down to better decision making. In other words, I saw poverty as primarily an issue of personal choices. My thought process was their, or maybe their parents’, bad choices landed them in poverty. Had they made better decisions, they would not be in this situation. The solution? Make better choices. If the person in poverty wants to escape, they just need to make better choices.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you even find yourself agreeing with the statements above. However, what if the box in which we put poverty is far smaller than the reality, obstructing our view and preventing us from truly understanding this issue? I found this to be true for myself.

When I started to become more curious about the poverty in Nicaragua and how I could make a difference, I was still viewing it through the small mental box I had unknowingly put it in. In my recently released book, Hope Realized, I tell a story about a trip I took to visit a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua and my “accidental promise” to solve their sales challenges. I believed I had the answers. While I am sure my ego played into it, it was my inability to see the entire picture that ultimately made me believe I could quickly solve a very nuanced and deep problem. This experience made me take a step back and begin to ask if there could be something I am missing. It was the moment I began to see that I had put poverty in far too small of a box.

This is the issue for most of us. It is not that we do not want to understand poverty, the reasons it exists and persists, and how to help people overcome it–all of us would vote “yes” to a world with less poverty and more universal flourishing. It is that we do not know we have put it in a box, limiting our perspective and leading us to make assumptions about why people are in poverty and the simple steps they need to take to escape.

It was when I moved to Nicaragua that my “box” and understanding of poverty began to change. As I developed relationships with people in impoverished communities and gained a better understanding of their story, I realized that they were a lot like me. This forced me to ask why someone with the same God-given potential and desire to thrive would live in such a different reality. My box now expanding, I realized that while everyone is born with incredible God-given potential, not everyone has the same opportunity to exercise it. I started to see that there was something much deeper perpetuating poverty than the symptoms to which we often point.

This journey led to me to the lie of hopelessness and its role in allowing poverty to persist despite the resources committed to overcoming it. It also revealed that overcoming a lie of hopelessness that is both spiritual and practical would require real hope that is both practical and spiritual. To say it another way, it is a reframed identity and a real opportunity that produces the all-in hope necessary to create real, sustainable change in impoverished communities.

One of the best byproducts of expanding my box and gaining a fuller picture of poverty is I am more hopeful than ever about our ability to create change. When we clearly understand a problem we can confidently take steps to move beyond it. While I am sure I still have a lot more to learn, I believe real change through real hope is possible.

Do you want to gain a better understanding of poverty, how to overcome it, and the role you can play? Check out my book, Hope Realized. You can also download a free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life for a few practical steps you can take today. Click here to sign up to receive the guide.

Want to created a more hope-filled world? Move beyond your box.

James Belt