Why Creating Change Is Like Planting Trees

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

– Greek Proverb

I stumbled across this Greek Proverb a number of years ago and it has been “growing on me” ever since. As I have walked through life, I have seen the truth in this statement. When I became a father, it became even more clear. It is through long-term investment in my children that I can best prepare them to live a life that matters. If I only focus on the short-term return, and the benefits I receive from it, the true impact will be minimized. Seeing life through a lens that extends beyond my actual, physical life reminds me to “play the long game”.

I have found this concept to be especially true when it comes to creating change and making a difference. The truth is quick, short-term results feel more rewarding, and even appear more effective on the surface, when trying to create change. The problem is they rarely are the right answer for making a long-term difference. Yes, they might solve the problem for a moment, but they often create other issues or are not sustainable.

Long-term investment is significantly messier and provides far less satisfaction in the moment. However, the results have the possibility of creating real change that could impact generations. It is a choice to exchange momentary pleasure for real significance.

This is certainly the case with poverty and the Lie of Hopelessness. Real change requires real commitment to provide real opportunity and a reframed identity. In both cases, this is rarely a quick and easy process. It is not to say short term needs do not need to be addressed–if someone is starving you give them a meal. The problem is created when short-term solutions are used to address long-term problems. Uprooting poverty by exposing the Lie of Hopelessness to the light of practical and spiritual hope is not easy, but it is worth it.

This is why a tree is such a great analogy. It takes time for a tree to become a source of shade. However, once it reaches it’s potential, the impact can last generations.

The question is do we want short-term satisfaction or long-term significance.

James Belt

How Understanding My Own Story Gave Me More Hope for Others

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

As I started to write Hope Realized, my book that is scheduled to be released around June of 2022, I began to better understand the role hope has played in my life. This discovery helped me better see and understand the role hope plays in working with impoverished communities. It was not that it changed the way I believed poverty should be address–functionally, I had been operating under this assumption for a long time. However, doing a “deep dive” on my own story reinforced my belief that we are all filled with God-given potential and created to thrive. The difference most often comes down to our access to real opportunity and the way our environment shaped our identity.

Understanding my story only increased the amount of hope I have for people trapped in poverty. If I can thrive, why can’t they?

This is why understanding your own story is a great place to start when it comes to making a difference of the lives of others. Seeing the ups and downs of your own story, and realizing how different it could have been if certain elements were present or absent, gives you a better appreciation for the stories of the people you are helping. Instead of seeing them as a project, you see them as a person. They begin to look a little more like you. Your stories may be different, but your value and potential are the same.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of another? Understanding your own story might just be the best place to start.

James Belt

Eliminating Limiting-Beliefs

Good morning and welcome to 2022 from Westminster, MD!

As a new year kicks off, I always find it valuable to reflect on where I have been and where I am going. This year in particular I am asking myself this question: Is there a limiting-belief about myself or someone else that will prevent me from living the life for which I was created? These beliefs are often formed in the past, but if we are not careful, will inform the future.

What do I mean by a limiting-belief? It might be easier if I start with what it is not. It is not accepting certain realities for what they are. In my case, believing I will never play in the NBA is not a limiting-belief. It may have been when I was a kid, but after I stopped growing at 5′ 9″ and decided that, no matter how many times I try (and I have tried a lot), I will never dunk a basketball, accepting that professional basketball is probably not in my future is wise.

However, what if I decided because I can never play professional basketball, I must be destined for a life of mediocrity? This would be a limiting-belief. Why? Because it is believing something about myself that is untrue and keeps me from reaching my God-given potential. I may not be able to play professional basketball, but I have been equipped with many other gifts, abilities, and opportunities that allow me to live a life that matters, in 2022 and beyond.

Do you believe this about yourself, or do you allow what you can’t do, or what someone once told you was impossible for you, shape your beliefs about the significance of your life?

Did you catch that? Sometimes we allow the beliefs and perspectives of others to become our own limiting-beliefs. It might be that you have everything you need pursue a certain dream in your life, but you are being held captive by something someone else told you. It might be time you do a “search and destroy” mission to get rid of the life-draining words you have allowed to take residence inside of your heart and mind.

It also might be time to determine if your limiting-beliefs about someone else could be making it harder for them to reach their God-given potential. It could be someone close to you or it could be a group of people you have more or less written off in your mind. The way you perceive someone will greatly influence the way you treat them. If you believe someone is hopeless, you will be less likely to invest in their future.

How are your limiting-beliefs impacting your ability to reach your God-given potential? How different would our world be if we rooted out and eradicated our limiting-beliefs about ourselves and others?

I have a feeling it would change everything.

James Belt

Some Kind of Light

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

With the Christmas season now fully upon us, I recently had the chance to reflect on that way John, one of Jesus’ disciples, writes about the moment Jesus entered the world in human form in his recording of the Gospel. While John’s rendition is different than what we typically think of as the Christmas Story, it provides a beautiful image of the significance of that moment.

In John’s account he writes, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (John 1:9, NIV) John describes Jesus as the “true light”, a light powerful enough to give light to impact everyone in the world. That is some kind of light!

Is this the picture you have of the small baby sitting in the manager? Yes, he was completely dependent on his parents, but at the same time he contained, and still contains, the power to provide light to everyone in the world, even those trapped in its darkest corners. This should not come as a surprise to us since earlier in John’s writing he says, “Through him all things were made.” (John 1:3, NIV)If he has the power to create the world, he certainly has the power to bring light to everything he created.

What kind of “light” is this? It could be described in a lot of ways, but for me it represents hope for what could be and will be, in my life, the lives of those around me, and the world. It is hope that change is always possible and that nothing or no one is too broken to be made whole. It is hope that one day all things will be as they ought to be and that our efforts to create restoration are not in vain. It is a light that says, “I am not finished with you yet.”

This why I have such hope for those trapped in seemingly hopeless situations, including those stuck in a cycle of poverty. There is a light that is stronger and greater than any circumstance and He came to share his light to us in that manger 2,000 years ago.

I hope you will experience the hope of this light this Christmas. It’s some kind of light!

James Belt

Where Are You Going?

Good morning from Westminster, MD! While I have written a lot about my time in Nicaragua, I have not shared as much about how and why I ended up living there.

If you have ever wondered how this journey started (or even if you haven’t), below is Chapter 1 of my book Hope Realized, which will be released in mid-2022. Enjoy!


I vividly remember the day I felt called to move to Nicaragua. It was all a little frightening.

In January of 2011 I traveled to Nicaragua on a mission trip with Crossroads Community Church. Wanting to spend additional time in Nicaragua and specifically at the Puente de Amistad orphanage, I decided to extend my trip by a few days.

I was out for a hike in El Cañon with a group of boys from the Puente de Amistad orphanage. This was a common activity for me when I was in Nicaragua. It was a beautiful January day, not too hot and not too humid, at least by Central American standards. El Cañon is literally at the bottom of a canyon, more or less invisible to the rest of the world. As you drive down the steep hill entering El Cañon, you feel a little like you are headed on a jungle safari. Palm trees and other thick vegetation line the side of the hills, with a canopy of large trees sprawling above.

As you move farther from the road, beyond the mix of modest concrete homes and makeshift shacks, El Cañon is lined with a mix of forest-covered hills referred to as “mountains” by the locals. The community of El Cañon is on top of the remnants of a coffee farm, which remains evident in some areas if you pay close attention. Agriculture was and continues to be a staple of this community, although significantly depressed in comparison to its heyday.

That day we decided to hike up one of the steep hills that has been cleared for cattle grazing. This hill is covered in long grass and the occasional tree or bush. From the top of the hill, you can see most of the lower half of El Cañon, as well as the main road, which sits a few hundred feet above the community. The view is inspiring. January in Nicaragua is windy as the seasons transition from the rainy season to the dry season. This day was no exception. I stood on top of the hill catching my breath as I stared at palm trees swaying in the breeze on a distant slope.

With the boys from the orphanage running all around me, I remember a thought popping into my head. It was almost as if someone was talking to me through my subconscious. “Where are you going?” were the words I heard ringing in my mind as I stood on the picturesque hill in Nicaragua that day. Believing that I was not losing my mind, I decided that the thought must have come from God, which scared and exhilarated me all at the same time.

This journey had started four years prior in 2007 when I agreed to join my family on a mission trip to Nicaragua. They had been a part of Crossroads Church’s inaugural mission trip to Nicaragua and the Puente de Amistad Orphanage the year before and had been coaxing me to join them on an upcoming trip. Between their encouragement and my own convictions as a Christian, I decided I should follow their lead. What started as checking a box had turned into a deeply held passion and love for Nicaragua, its people, and the possibility of change.

The question “where are you going?” meant asking if I was supposed to return to the United States to live my relatively easy and comfortable life, or decide to walk away from it to move to Nicaragua. Gulp.

I never had a desire to live in another country, much less Nicaragua. I enjoyed my week or so long trips to Nicaragua to participate in mission trips and visit friends, but that was in part because I was able to jump on a plane at the end of them to return to my comfortable life. Sure, I cared about the plight of the poor, but I always imagined myself as the guy who made money to give to missionaries who had dedicated their lives to helping them. I was a business person. The idea of becoming a missionary, for lack of a better term, was so far from my radar that I never saw this moment coming in my wildest dreams.

As a leader at Crossroads Church, I had been telling others that real life is found in following God’s desire for your life, wherever that may lead. That you had to “take a step into the river” without knowing the outcome to truly experience life as it was meant to be lived. I was now facing a “put your money where your mouth is” kind of moment. Did I really believe the words I had so easily proclaimed to other people?

It would have been easy to rationalize away what God was putting into my head. I had bought a house a few years earlier. For the previous nine years, I focused on building a client base in my financial advising practice. I was well established and respected in my social circles and church. Leaving would mean going to a place in which I was relatively unknown.

I could barely speak Spanish. Sure, I took Spanish classes in high school and college, but I had barely ever used it, sticking to the basics such as “how are you”, “hello”, and of course “where is the bathroom?”

What about starting a family? Sure, I had been dating, but what would someone think when I told them I was moving to Central America? The idea of living in a foreign country and the reality of it are two very different things. Moving would certainly limit my options.

Growing up in Maryland, I have always been a fan of seasons. The transitions from cold of winter to the blooming flowers of spring to the heat of the summer and then the crisp days of fall always seemed to come at the right time. Nicaragua had two seasons, hot dry season and hot rainy season. As someone who sweats a lot, this was not ideal. Even worse, I would generally have to live without air conditioning in Nicaragua.

As someone who lived in the same general area their entire life, I knew how to get around and knew where to find whatever I might need at any given moment. Moving to another state would have been bad enough, but moving to another country would basically mean living as a lost tourist. I could picture myself driving around Managua like Chevy Chase driving around traffic circles in European Vacation, never quite sure where to turn.

I had worked hard to build my little life and saying no to at the very least pausing it for a few years made complete, logical sense to me.

As that moment on top of that hill in the middle of a forgotten corner of Nicaragua passed, I honestly was not sure what I would do. I am not much of a “spur of the moment” decision kind of guy when it comes to life-altering choices. However, over the coming days, I began to realize that this might be an incredible opportunity to be a part of something that would really matter.

I did not know for sure how I would make a difference, or even if I could. However, I believed God was calling to follow his lead, much like my family had years earlier. As many reasons as I had to say no, I could also see how God had been preparing me for this moment. Through the opportunities I had been given to lead at church and my experience in working in my family business and financial advising, I had a unique perspective and set of gifts that could play a role in creating change in impoverished communities. Now with an adopted sister, Emelyng, from the very orphanage that had been my introduction to Nicaragua, a land that had once been strange to me had become more like family. The path forward was not completely clear, but I knew taking the step and trusting would lead to something that mattered for more than just me.

In many ways it was the chance to put into action the epiphany I had while running on a treadmill a couple of years earlier—that hope was the key to changing hopeless situations. In the end, it was my belief in the power of spiritual hope that answered the question for me. Where was I going? I was going to live in Nicaragua.

James Belt

What Icebergs Teach Us about Poverty

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Sometime in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to the full picture of an iceberg. Of course, this was not the first time I had heard about or seen a picture of an iceberg. However, it was the first time I truly understood how massive they are despite the small point of ice you often see above the surface.

I learned only ten percent of the iceberg (I think I used to say twenty to thirty percent so I apologize to everyone I misled) is actually visible about the surface, leaving an incredible ninety percent below the water. I learned this is a perfect analogy for us as humans, the parts we reveal about ourselves only a small overflow of the ninety percent of us that lives below the surface in our hearts. I came to understand that true change only happens when it occurs below the surface, in the places we rarely reveal to the world or even acknowledge ourselves. As many can attest, this became somewhat of an obsession for me. In fact, I have a t-shirt to prove it (Thanks, Bill!), and more than likely have written about it in many previous blog posts.

It turns out, this concept of an iceberg might be more of a general truth than just an analogy for our internal and external “selves”. This is certainly the case with poverty.

When we look at poverty, we see hunger, unemployment, homelessness, education and healthcare issues, and so much more. We attempt to address these issues by devoting time, energy, money, and other resources, and yet they rarely seem to change in the long-term. It can almost leave us with the impression that poverty is winning and the battle to eradicate it is hopeless.

I know I have found myself feeling this way. I can remember many days while living in Nicaragua when I was not sure I was actually making a difference. I would give what felt like all I had only to see what started with great promise end in apparent failure. It was in part because of these experiences I began to understand poverty is much deeper than what we see above the surface.

Instead of seeing the societal issues we often think of as poverty itself, I started to see them as outflows, or symptoms, of something much deeper. Like an iceberg, there was something much larger propping them up from beneath the surface. What is this underlying sustainer of one of the world’s greatest problems? It is what I call the “Lie of Hopelessness.”

What is this lie? It is the belief that people, and the communities they live in, are truly hopeless. The lie is perpetuated by a lack of both practical and spiritual hope, or to put it another way, a belief that someone is destined for a life of “less than” combined with the inability to access real opportunities to move beyond their current reality. This is the deep root of the extreme poverty that continues to infect our world today.

So what do we do? We need to cut off the root! It is in eradicating the Lie of Hopelessness through the infusion of real practical and spiritual hope that poverty as we know it begins to lose it’s grip on the world. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely. More on what this might look like in future posts.

James Belt

Living Like a 4-Year-Old at 40

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Well, I am officially 40-years-old as of yesterday. When I was 20, this felt like a far away milestone I could barely see in the distance. Now, standing at the post, looking back to what has past and forward to what is to come, I realize it was really just around the corner. Life truly is like a mist. This is why we often fear these milestones–they remind us of how finite we truly are. However, we do not have to let this define us.

As I thought about how I want to live my 40th year, a thought popped in my head–I should live like my 4-year-old. I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. While there are many good elements to growing up and maturing, there is one attribute we often “grow out of” to our detriment. We lose our sense of wonder and sense of “anything is possible” in this life. We trade dreaming in for being pragmatic. It is not to say being pragmatic is bad, it is a necessary trait. The problem is we tend to let it push out our ability to see beyond our current reality.

This is why I want to be more like my kids. They constantly dream and see the possibility in life. They are not discouraged by the obstacles in front of them. In fact, they don’t even see them. This is the beauty of being a kid. At 40 years old, it is impossible for me to ignore the obstacles, but it does not mean I cannot see beyond them. It does not mean I cannot dream and believe, against all odds, they can be overcome. Does this make me naïve and ridiculously optimistic? Maybe, but I would rather live there than wonder what could have been.

So, here is to the next 40 years of living a little more like a – year-old. Living with ridiculous optimism, believing what seems impossible today could become reality tomorrow. Dreaming with a sense of wonder for what is ahead. I am sure I will be disappointed along the way, but I have a feeling the journey will be a lot of fun!

James Belt

Making My 14,611 Days Count a Little More

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

When I started traveling to Nicaragua in 2007 on mission trips with my church, Crossroads Church in Westminster, MD, I had no idea how much Nicaragua would impact my life. Now fourteen years later, I have an amazing adopted sister from Nicaragua, I lived in Nicaragua for three years to work in small business and community development, built more friendships with people in Nicaragua then I can count, and continue to travel and volunteer there today. Nicaragua, and its people, are both literally and figuratively a part of my family.

As my 40th birthday drew closer, I began to consider how I could make this milestone count even more. I wondered, “how could I make my dash count?” This birthed an idea inside of me: what if I raised a dollar for Nicaragua for every day I have been alive, and ran a triathlon, a long-time goal of mine, on my birthday to celebrate.

So, I set out to figure out on how days there have been exactly in the past 40 years. How, you ask? I “Googled It” or course! It turns out, according to our friend Google, there are exactly 14,611 days between September 30th, 1981 and September 30th, 2021. That’s a lot of days!

My days now counted, I have officially kicked off my trek to raise $14,611 for Nicaragua for my 40th birthday! Donated funds will go to NicaWorks!, the organization I work with in Nicaragua. NicaWorks! is committed to bringing real hope to hard places through community-led change. With no paid staff in the United States, 100% of donations to NicaWorks! are used to make an impact in Nicaragua. This has always been the heart of Tim and Katie Adams, the founders of NicaWorks!. More information about NicaWorks! can be found at nica.works.

In addition to raising funds, I will be completing a self-created triathlon of 14.611 miles on my birthday, September 30th. I decided 14,611 miles was a few too many!

Why raise a dollar for Nicaragua for every day I have been alive? As I have considered my past 40 years, I have realized how incredibly blessed my days have been. Yes, they have been full of ups and downs, but I have always had what I needed to live out my God-given potential. This has not been the case for many people living in Nicaragua. This has been made even more clear as they have suffered the impact of a COVID-19 outbreak over the past month. It has been heartbreaking to watch friends get sick, and lose friends and family members because of a lack of access to resources we take for granted. I see this as an opportunity to “redeem my days” on behalf of the people who have not received the opportunities I have simply because of where they were born. I dream of a world in which that is no longer the case. On a side note, please be praying for Nicaragua.

Why complete a triathlon? I do not have a profound explanation for that one. It’s just something I decided I should do…I might be a little crazy.

If you would like to find our more about my fundraiser and follow my journey, please check out my fundraiser page on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/donate/346966440461961/.

Thank you for helping me Make My Dash Count!

James Belt

Don’t Call It a Waste

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

The situation in Afghanistan is incredibly heartbreaking. I feel a sense of heaviness in my heart when I think about it and all of the people impacted by it. When you listen to the news or scan headlines, it is easy to come away feeling hopeless about it. In fact, there have been quite a few people who have referred to it as a “waste”. However, is it truly hopeless and has nothing really come from the sacrifices made over the past twenty years? I think it might be time for a closer, more careful look.

Before I write another word, let me first say I do not truly understand the situation in Afghanistan. I have not been there, I have no inside knowledge of the complexity of it, I do not have the understanding to dissect the military strategies employed, and I have not given my sweat, tears, and blood on behalf of the people of Afghanistan. As someone who lived in Nicaragua for three years, I understand that there is more than meets the eye. However, even as an untrained, unqualified observer, I can identify something incredible that has sprung out of the sacrifices made by both the people of Afghanistan and those like the Members of the U.S. Military who have served alongside them–hope.

What hope, you say? You can see it in the faces of the women who have been interviewed as they express their concern about losing the rights they have gained over the past twenty years. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned, but their concern is actually a byproduct of the hope they have gained. Their freedoms may be able to be taken away, which would be tragic, but the internal hope they have built up cannot so easily be stolen.

Increased literacy rates, improved educational opportunities, the chance to participate in the political process, and many more gains are evidence of the changes that have taken place in Afghanistan over the past twenty years. These all add up to a greater sense of real hope. While it is a fair argument that many of these positive steps could be erased or minimized, the hope gained by the people of Afghanistan because of them is not so easily eliminated.

This is why I believe calling the sacrifice made by so many a “waste” is incredibly short-sighted and completely false. The sacrifices of so many created opportunities and hope for so many more. While this may not have been “the ending” we would have chosen for the war in Afghanistan, the fruits produced by the sacrifices of so many live on. This gives me hope that we have not seen the end of the story in Afghanistan. It is a much different country than it was twenty years ago.

Thank you to all who have served and sacrificed for the people of Afghanistan. What you have done matters and still makes a difference today. I believe the future of Afghanistan will be different and more hope-filled because of your efforts. I believe the hope that lives on in the hearts of the Afghani people will aid them in rising up and writing a new story for their country in time. You have been a part of overcoming hopelessness, and there is nothing wasteful about that.

James Belt

Emerging as New

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Last week I had the chance to spend time in Nicaragua for the first time in almost two years. It was truly a gift to be able to spend time with friends and see all that God is doing through NicaWorks! in Nicaragua. In addition vocational training, agriculture projects, the school uniform project, and more going on in Nicaragua, they have been experiencing a ton of spiritual renewal. It was an encouragement to experience this in person. It was also a great reminder of an important reality–finding new life in Christ is not just to save us from an eternity without God, it is an opportunity to live fully today.

In his Gospel recording, John wrote down these words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) In the Evangelical church, we often fixate on the eternal consequences of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is certainly of great importance. However, we sometimes sell Jesus’ work short by not focusing on Jesus’ promise for today of a “full life” as it says in John. Jesus offers us new life that starts immediately–we do not have to wait until we go to heaven. Certainly, life will still be full of challenges. We live in a sinful world. At the same time, finding spiritual hope in Jesus, and his promise of the Holy Spirit, can provide us with a renewed perspective as we approach the brokenness we encounter on a daily basis. Instead of finding ourselves trapped in hopelessness, we can find hope in the truth that God’s desire is for us to live fully.

A beautiful picture of this is the act of baptism. I have been baptized twice, once as a baby and once as an adult. However, I have been growing in my appreciation for the power of baptism in a person’s life from the experiences of my friends in Nicaragua. While I have always believed baptism is important and an outward expression of my faith, I do not know that I fully grasped it’s significance. Instead of just a symbol, the act of baptism is burying your old self (who you were before trusting in Jesus) in the water, and emerging as your new self (who you are in Christ) as you come out of the water. While I knew this intellectually, I am not sure I understood its full implications at a heat level.

Do you see how this relates to the opportunity to live a full life today? Instead of waiting until “God takes us home”, we have been born new to begin living a new life today. The act of baptism gives us a marker to look back on when we begin to lose site of this new life. We can remember we buried our old self and no longer have to live as if life is hopeless or meaningless. We now have an opportunity to live fully into the life for which God has created us.

This is having an incredible impact in Nicaragua. In a place where hopelessness is easier to see due to the poverty that exists, people are finding hope for today. However, the message is not just for Nicaragua. My prayer is that I can begin to view my life through this lens more regularly. If I have been given a new life, why would I not live fully into it?

What about you? Do you want to live a full life? Maybe it is time to take a new look at new life offered through Jesus.

James Belt