“First” Hotdogs

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Following the first church service I attended in El Canon, the team I was with from my church began to prepare for a community hotdog lunch, a tradition the team had started the year before. I would later learn that the “hotdog lunch service” was the most well attended service of the year at this small church in a forgotten canyon on the outskirts of Managua.

A line of hungry people is a great place to study the human condition. No matter the age group, you can almost always find the full spectrum of character traits- patience, greed, thankfulness, frustration, and selfishness to name a few. Our particular line contained people from every age group, family structure, and, of course, character make-up. One might say it was an anthropologist’s dream.

When the line began to move and we started serving hotdogs to what appeared to be a very hungry group of people, something interesting began to develop. Instead of scarfing the hotdogs down like I typically do when I am hungry, many of the people wrapped them up with whatever they could find so that they could take them home. This also lead to many “repeat customers” in the line seeking their “first” hotdog. Some of the people were a little more strategic, sending their kids instead going through the line again personally. I am not sure if you have ever tried to say no to a small child staring up at you with open hands, but it is really hard, if not impossible. Let’s just say many kids ended up with three or four “first” hotdogs.

However, even more than the children, one person sticks out in my mind more than anyone else, Gladys. Gladys, probably in her late sixties but with the appearance of someone in their eighties due to the effects of poverty, is the definition of a little old lady. “Towering” at what can be no more than 4′ 10″, Gladys always came to church with more barrettes in her hair than what seems humanly possible, and a dress with more pockets than what can be counted. Despite her small stature, Gladys is very bold and a go-getter. This would be demonstrated many times over the years that followed, but probably never more than at the hotdog lunch.

The lesson Gladys taught me that day influence me even today. More on that next time.

– James Belt

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The Other Canyon

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Hotdogs- they have never struck me as more than a food of convenience. I have eaten my fair share of them over the years, but I have never gone somewhere because of them. In fact, I have often tried to avoid this mystery meat with the exception of backyard cookouts. However, I would come to understand that I have never truly been hungry.

El Cañon is a place that is unknown to most of the world, Nicaragua included. When referring to this small community, most Nicaraguans assume I mean El Cañon de Somoto, a much more well known canyon in the northern region of Nicaragua. After explaining that it is a small community on the outskirts of Managua they are quite surprised. More often then not, people do not know that a community exists in this canyon off of the South Highway.

The obscurity of El Cañon is not limited to its physical location. A community created in the midst of a coffee farm following the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, El Cañon is a picture of intergenerational extreme poverty juxtaposed with the wealth center of a country.

High unemployment rates, rampant teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and makeshift homes are just a few of the obvious signs of poverty in El Cañon. Unfortunately, this is not a unique description in Nicaragua. El Cañon is one of many communities suffering from the effects of intergenerational extreme poverty. In some ways El Cañon is better off than other communities I have come to know in Nicaragua.

Being poor is one thing. Being poor and overlooked is an entirely different story, and sadly the story of many impoverished communities in the world. El Cañon and many other poor communities in Nicaragua have not escaped this reality. There are many reasons for this, but in the end the results are the same- the rest of the world keeps moving forward while the people of these impoverished communities continue the cycle of brokenness and suffering. Ignored by the rest of the world, places like El Cañon remain the clearest picture of hopelessness.

It is in the middle of this brokenness that I learned that a hotdog is more than a hotdog. More on this next time.

– James Belt

We All Need to Eat

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Our need for the most basic tangible items is something that has long been recognized. In 1843, Abraham Maslow proposed his now famous and widely recognized “Hierarchy of Needs”. I do not necessarily ascribe to every aspect of the theory, but it would be very hard to argue with the idea that certain physiological needs are at the most fundamental level of life. It would be hard to even consider our need for anything else without first quenching our need for water, food, and rest.

This is easy to recognize when we look at children. Their world revolves around their need and desire for the satisfaction of their tangible needs. However, our affinity for the tangible does not end when we leave childhood. While this desire can certainly be taken to the extreme, it is innately part of who we are given that we are tangible, living things.

Maslow, of course, was only observing what has been clear since the beginning of time. One only has to read two sentences after God created humankind in the book of Genesis in the Bible to find that he also provided food. In fact, the food was so important God created the sources of food before he created the people who would eat it.

It is easy to take this most basic level of human need for granted living in a First-World, Developed Nation like the United States. However, it probably should not be. While most people living in the United States are more worried about what they are going to have for dinner than whether they will have it at all, there are still many who do not have this luxury.

No matter where you live in the United States, you more than likely live within a thirty minute drive of entire neighborhoods that live in poverty. For many of these people the question of where the next meal will come from is very real. This can have a great impact on a person’s outlook on life.

The reality is this socio-economic divide is a huge issue for our world today. There is much debate as to how we reached this point, and how much worse it actually is now in comparison to the past, but there is no debate about its existence. Two kids might go to the same school, but that does not mean they live the same life with the same opportunities. This gap has many physiological and psychological consequences that has the potential to shape a person’s life.

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, I had some exposure to this reality. This was primarily because of my parents’ willingness to expose me to it in the form of serving with my church. This opened my eyes to the fact that my margin for error when it came to meeting my most basic tangible needs was far greater than that of many other people in this world.

Those moments played an important role in my understanding of how similar we are despite our differences. I realized that I could have easily been on the other side of the serving line at the shelters and meal distribution programs at which I served had my life or the lives of my parents gone differently. Our most basic tangible needs were the same, but our opportunity to fulfill those needs were very different.

Nothing revealed this reality to me more than my first time in Nicaragua. More on that next time.

– James Belt

Fully Realized

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Has what you believe about reality and the future ever been challenged? Mine certainly has. I think it would be hard to answer no to that question in today’s world of constant information flow. We often think of these challenges to our way of seeing the world as a negative, but that is not always the case. Sometimes challenges to our reality can open up new doors of belief about what is possible for our lives.

Hope is this way. Hope, both spiritual and practical, that is fully realized does this very thing. It challenges a person’s belief about who they are, how they got here, and why they were created. It births the opportunity for a different future by changing a person’s view of what is possible, why it’s possible, and who are can become.

Real hope contains real power. I do not say that from a theoretical perspective, but rather from someone who has had their worldview changed by hope. My journey to this place has been filled with good and bad life experiences, complicated questions with, in some case, more complicated answers, and gleaning from people far smarter than me. My journey to realizing the power of fully realized hope is my own, and I cannot guarantee that you will draw the same conclusions. However, I can share my path to this place with you and you can draw your own conclusions.

Does spiritual and practical hope really make a difference? Let’s find out together.

– James Belt

Fully Aware

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

I can remember when I truly realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my wife, Jen. My realization changed the trajectory of my future (for the better I might add!). Saul, our friend from the last post, had a realization that not only changed his name to Paul, it completely changed the purpose of his life and his beliefs about God. When I realized that God was asking me to spend three years of my life living and working in Nicaragua it turned my view of the future upside down.

What does it mean to realize something? Our friends at Merriam-Webster say that it is, “To understand or become fully aware of something.” In many ways, it is a lot like waking up when you didn’t even know you were sleeping. Your eyes slowly open as your mind groggily connects with the fact that it is a new day, and that yesterday is forever a part of the past. The day has changed and there is no way to go back.

Coming to a realization is much the same- it changes your reality and the way you see the world forever. Whether you like it or not, your eyes have been opened to a new “day”, making it impossible to live in yesterday’s reality. In the moment that something is realized and we become fully aware of what it really is, we cannot go back. Sure, we can deny its truth, but we cannot put back in the “box” what our heart and mind have discovered. When something is realized it challenges everything we believed before and creates the possibility for a different future.

If you were living in hopelessness, what would it mean to truly realize that there is hope? Would it change the way you live? Might you see the future with new eyes? I hope you will continue on this journey as we continue to explore the power of realized hope.

– James Belt

 

In a Flash of Light

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Before Paul was Paul, he was Saul. Saul and Paul may have been the same person physically, but they were hardly the same person in almost every other way.

Saul was on the “fast track” to pharisaical fame and power. A movement referred to as “The Way” had emerged as a threat to mainstream Judaism, claiming that a rebel Rabbi named Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. The ruling Jewish authority thought they had eliminated the threat by convincing the Romans to crucify this Jesus. The problem was Jesus’ influence was only growing on claims that he had risen from the dead.

Saul saw this as an opportunity. The cream rises to the top and Saul was convinced that we was the cream of the crop. “Stephen couldn’t spread his message of ‘false salvation’ if he was dead,” Saul thought. The Talmud was very clear- heresy must be stamped out by stoning, and stoning they did. As the rocks flew, Stephen declaring that he was going to be with his Messiah Jesus and pronouncing forgiveness on his killers with his last breaths, Saul supervised, approving of the end to the threat. This was exactly what Saul needed. Symbolically appointed the guardian and enforcer of the truth, he was charged with abolishing “The Way” by the High Priest himself.

Saul has played the political game perfectly and was on his way to Damascus with the blessing of the High Priest to take care of the followers of “The Way” by any means necessary should they dare to stand up to him.

Have you ever noticed that God often allows us to get to the very place we pridefully desire before reminding us who is in control? Saul’s namesake had experienced this reality hundreds of years before. Let’s say building statues to himself didn’t work out so well for him.

Saul rode along on his “high horse” figuratively, and possibly literally (okay, more likely high donkey, but still). What could possibly go wrong? Enter the “Hope”.

In a flash of light, Saul went from being the next “IT” to being a blind man on the ground, hoping he would survive this encounter with the very person he thought was a messianic fraud.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, Jesus asked. (Acts 9:4, NIV) Saul was unsure of who or what was talking to him. Hoping “eating dust” was quite literally the worst consequence of this surprise interaction, Saul cautiously asked who it was that had abruptly entered his path.

“I am Jesus, who you are persecuting”, he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6)

Saul, the ultimate zealot for God, had come in contact with the ultimate challenge to his reality. It was in that moment, and the moments that followed, that Saul realized the very truth he sought to protect was found in the light he desired to extinguish. Saul became Paul, and the rest is history.

A realization can change everything. More on that next time.

– James Belt

 

 

 

Who am I?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Who am I? It is a question that has been asked for all of time. The idea of discovering our “origin” and what that says about us is an elemental desire humans have, whether they admit or not. The success of services like “23 and Me” should be no surprise to us- we have been tracing our ancestry for generations upon generations. All the way back to Ancient History, the lineage of a person has mattered. “Who am I?” is more than a question and the answer is more than a list of names or genetic markers.

The question of who we truly are is really a question of do we really matter. Does my life have value? Am I an accident or was I put here on purpose? As much as the “collective we” tries to deny the need for an answer to this question our actions give us away. We want to know why we exist and if existence is more than just existing. Who I believe that I am shapes who I believe I am becoming.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13, NIV) Those words were uttered by David of “David and Goliath” fame, and tell us how David answered the question, “Who am I?” David saw himself not as a cosmic accident, but rather a creation created by the Creator of the Universe with great intentionality. This perspective provided David great hope, especially when he faced devastating circumstance. Who David believed that he was shaped what he believed was possible for his life.

The same can be said of us. Our answer to the question “Who am I?” can bring us great hope or lead us to great despair. To know you were created by a good God who desires the best for you changes the way you see your world. What was once hopeless can become hopeful. What was once meaningless can become full of meaning.

Your life is meaningful. Do you believe it? The answer matters.

– James Belt