Good morning from Westminster, MD!

In my last post I wrote about my new perspective on the phrase “Black Lives Matter”. I also referred to quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in which he quotes the Declaration of Independence. The referenced line from the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In his speech, King says says he dreams of a day when our nation will live out this beautiful statement. As the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States, approaches it is a great time reflect on the profoundness of this dream- A country, and maybe even a world, in which all people have equal opportunity to thrive. Why wouldn’t we want this dream to become a reality? What a picture of hope.

The hope found in this statement from the Declaration of Independence drove our Founders to put everything on the line to create a country that demonstrated these truths. For many it did and it created incredible hope. Unfortunately, for others it did not and it fueled hopelessness.

Instead of enjoying the benefits of new found freedom, the abuse of African-Americans through the system of slavery persisted. Unfortunately, even after slavery ended, systemic and systematic racism continued to put this freedom and the “American Dream” out of reach for most Black people. The land of opportunity was not, and in some ways, is still not the land of equal opportunity. However, the story is not over.

As I reflect on Independence Day as the “self-evident truths” found in the Declaration of Independence, I share the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe in the power of real hope, both spiritual and tangible. I want to live in a country and a world filled with that real hope. I want to live in a world that reflects my belief that each of us were created on purpose and for a purpose. I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make that dream a reality.

This is why our current moment in history is so important. We cannot let this opportunity to affirm the God-given value of all people by standing with our Black brothers and sisters pass us by. As a Christ Follower I cannot stand on the sidelines while fellow Creations of God are treated as “less than”. As an American, I cannot claim the words of the Declaration of Independence without seeking equality for all people, regardless of the color of their skin.

This Independence Day, let’s resolve to make the beautiful picture painted in the Declaration of Independence a reality, bringing and restoring hope to all people. Let’s create a world in which Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness is equally available to all. Let’s make Dr. King’s dream come true.

James Belt

My Dangerous Scarcity Mindset

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

This morning I would like to invite you to join me on a journey. It is my personal journey as a white male living in rural Maryland and it is not complete. It is a journey of questions, self-reflection, and discovery. It is not a judgement of anyone, but rather an opportunity to share my own internal wrestling match in hopes that it can help someone else.

Black Lives Matter. It is a phrase that has become a lightning rod in many ways. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it seemed exclusionary and divisive. Yes, Black Lives Matter, but so do White Lives, Latino Lives, Asian Lives, Blue Lives and so on. Shouldn’t we be proclaiming All Lives Matter instead of only shining light on the value of one people group, I thought. Doesn’t this create a greater chasm between people than what already exists?

This was my thought process until recently. However, following the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed, I have forced myself to ask some hard questions. Why does the phrase Black Lives Matter offend me, or at the very least why do I assume it is meant to divide? Why do I assume saying Black Lives Matter means All Lives do not Matter?

As I self-reflected the word “scarcity” entered my mind. Scarcity is generally thought of as the limited availability of resources. We typically think of it in the tangible sense such as a lack of food or money. Scarcity can sometimes lead to positive results evidenced by the business phrase, “scarcity drives innovation.” In other words, scarcity sometimes forces you to discover a new way of doing something because you have no other choice.

However, there is another type of scarcity, a scarcity that lives inside our mind. This is the scarcity with which I have been grappling and it is dangerous.

If I am honest, Black Lives Matter bothered me because I was living with a scarcity mindset. I, somewhere in my subconscious, believed there was a limited supply of significance and value. For Black lives to matter, my life would have to matter less. I was viewing it as a Zero-Sum Game. For their lives to gain significance my life would have to lose significance. Houston, we have a problem.

The trouble with this mindset is it flies in the face of what I say I believe at my core. It is contradictory to my belief that God created us all equal and with equal value and significance. If I believe in a God who desires the best for us and created us to live lives of value and significance, I cannot believe the supply of value and significance is somehow limited. I cannot believe in a tiered system of value and significance. I cannot believe it is a Zero-Sum Game. God is a God of abundance, not scarcity, and created an abundant supply of value and significance.

This has brought new meaning to Martin Luther King’s quoting of the Declaration of Independence in his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. King said, “I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” If I claim to agree with these words, I cannot live with a scarcity mindset when it comes to the value of people’s lives. By saying Black Lives Matter it does not mean my life matters any less. There is enough significance for all of us.

Why not say “All Lives Matter” if they are all of equal significance? The unfortunate answer is, for generations, we as a world have lived with a scarcity mindset, and degraded and underestimated the value and significance of Black lives. As I have gone on this journey of learning about the roots and history of racism, I have been saddened by what I have discovered. The narrative promoting the inferiority of Black people has been a part of society for longer than I ever imagined. This has shaped our world and impacted the value attributed to Black lives. For us to one day be able to say “All Lives Matter Equally” we need to bring the value of Black lives up to their rightful, God-created place.

This is why I can now say Black Lives Matter and feel no offense. All Lives do matter and if that is true we need to eliminate our scarcity mindset and be willing to lift up the values of Black Lives without fearing anyone else’s life will somehow matter less. We need to shed light on how we have undervalued Black Lives so that we can equally value All Lives.

– James Belt

Will We Choose to Do What Is Right?

Good morning from Westminster, MD.

As I write this I do so with a saddened heart for where we find ourselves today. The unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN is heartbreaking. What happened to George Floyd was wrong. There is no excuse for the actions taken by the arresting officer. While George Floyd may have deserved to be arrested, there is no justification for his death and the lethal force taken against him. To unnecessarily ignore a person’s plea for help demonstrates a disregard for the sanctity of life.

This should make all of us pay attention and ask ourselves some questions. Why did this happen? How did we get here? Where do we go from here? What responsibility do I have in the creation of a different future? These are not easy questions and the answers are more complex than we would like to admit.

I do not pretend to have these important answers. However, I do know finding them requires confronting the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and having real and challenging conversations. The truth is systemic racism does exist and we are all impacted by it.

I do not know if the policer officer who killed George Floyd has racist leanings, I do not know the man, but I do know distrust between communities of color and the police has been fostered by the systemic racism that has existed in this country and around the world for generations. This certainly played a role in George Floyd’s death. Systemic racism through the suppression of opportunities for communities of color has created intergenerational poverty. Many people in these communities feel hopeless because we have not taken the steps necessary to correct the issues created by systemic racism.

I am impacted by systemic racism. I wish that was not true, but if I am going to be a part of the solution, I have to own my part in the problem. While I believe all people are created equal with a purpose and for a purpose, I cannot in good conscience say I never make assumptions about a person based on the color of their skin. I am most certainly still a work in progress.

In spite of these uncomfortable and ugly realities, all hope is not lost. In his I Have a Dream speech Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The pain of today can be a catalyst for the change of tomorrow. However, this will require much of us.

In his book Strength to Love King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Driving out the darkness and hate of current racial divide will require us to choose to be a light and to choose love over pride. We need to be willing to own our part, both individually and institutionally. Owning our part, no matter how uncomfortable, will put us in a better position to find a way forward.

We also need to be willing to put aside our preconceived notions about people and communities that are different from us and instead take the time to truly understand each other. Knowing someone and their story completely changes the narrative. This was my experience when living in Nicaragua. Instead of seeing people as a project, they became fellow creations of God, as worthy and capable as I was of living a life of meaning but without the same opportunities I have been afforded. Getting to know people and their story allows us to love and understand them. Through mutual love and understanding, a common solution can be found.

The tragic death of George Floyd can just be another step toward hatred and division, or it can be a turning point toward love and change. The choice is ours. Will we own our of part in the problem? Will we lay down our pride, walk across the line, and begin to understand each other? Will we work together toward a better future?

In a speech given at Oberlin College, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Will we choose to do what is right today?

– James Belt

A Dangerous Four-Letter Word

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

As I type today, we are coming up on two months of living in the COVID-19 reality. It feels both longer and shorter. Some days it is hard to remember what life was like prior to the global pandemic. Did we really go to restaurants and actually eat on-location? Did we go into stores, or anywhere else, without a facemask? The world has certainly changed and in some ways it will more than likely never be the same.

At the same time, this period of staying home and taking extra precautions has flown by. It is hard to believe we are approaching mid-May after enduring this new reality since mid-March. Despite the shutdown, life, and the days, continue to move forward.

Despite being months into this worldwide crisis, there are still a lot of unknowns. When will this end? What will life look like on the other side? Will there be a resurgence of COVID-19? Will I or someone I love get sick? The uncertainty leads us to a dangerous four-letter word: FEAR.

Fear can be crippling in many ways. As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I have experienced the adrenaline, discomfort, and panic fear can create. It can hijack our minds and pollute our thought life. Fear can keep us from moving forward, making the next step unclear and seemingly fraught with danger. Fear is a powerful emotion and destructive to our wellbeing if it becomes our default setting.

While fear is a dangerous four-letter word, it pales in comparison to another four-letter word: HOPE. Hope, like fear, is a dangerous word. In fact, it is far more powerful and, therefore, far more dangerous. Hope can kick fear’s butt (yup, I said it). Where fear cripples us, hope reenergizes and renews us. When fear tries to destroy us, hope can give us the resolve we need to fight on. Hope is a dangerous word.

How do I know this is true? Well, personal experience in my journey with anxiety, but it would be easy to dismiss that as unique to my situation. However, there are far more convincing arguments. Throughout history, when people have been attacked and held captive in one way or another, one of the first order’s of business for their enemy is to destroy their hope. From slavery to war to genocide to prisoner-of-war camps, eliminating hope and spreading hopelessness has been used to gain great power over others. This strategy has been used over and over again because of how effective it is at crippling its victims, holding them captive in a mental prison of despair. Fydor Dostoevsky said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.”

Fear is not the end of the story. Despite its power, hope can overpower it every time. While fear has been used to hold people down, hope has been used to break those chains and create a new tomorrow. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

While both men did not live to see the ultimate impact their hope would have on their battles, King against racial injustice and FDR in World War II, the end result is undeniable. Facing fear, they did not lose hope. In hope they attacked the fear that opposed them and overcame. The hope they held provided hope to others and changed the world.

This is a great lesson for us as we navigate this global crisis. Fear is rampant, but it does not have to win. We are a resilient people created with intention and for a purpose by a God who loves us. We have faced great enemies before and overcome. We will do the same with COVID-19. The pandemic of fear created by the global pandemic may want to hold us captive, but it has a stronger enemy. Another four-letter world. Hope.

– James Belt

The Journey Requires a Choice

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

The definition of the word “journey” as stated by Merriam-Webster is, “something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another.” We often use this word to describe life and rightly so. Whether it is a particular period of time in our life, or the entirety of our life, it does feel like a journey.

Sometimes we are passing through an easy stretch of the road- the sun is shining, the path is clear, birds are singing, and the scenery is beautiful. Other times the journey feels a little more like driving through the mountains in a snow storm- the wind is blowing, visibility is near zero, every inch of the road is a battle, and it feels like it might never end. Then, there are the moments when the journey is just confusing- it does not feel particularly difficult, but the next step is not particularly clear. Of course, there are about a million other scenarios I could use to describe life, but the fact is it always feels like a journey.

As we collectively go through a particularly challenging stretch of the “road” created by COVID-19 and its impact on our lives, it has led me to reflect on this idea that life is a journey. If life is a journey, what can I learn from this leg of trip? What can it teach me about how I approach the rest of the journey?

First, no matter where we are on the journey, “we” are always on the journey. In other words, we are one of the few constants on this journey called life. Whether easy or hard, smooth or rocky, enjoyable or painful, we are a  always a part of the story.

Second, we do not have to travel alone, even in the age of social distancing and quarantining. Community is incredibly important to the human soul, especially when passing through the challenging moments in life. One of the primary impediments to real community and connection is the inability to be authentic and vulnerable. This has been a huge struggle for me over the course of my life, and often unintentionally. Vulnerability is not easy and authenticity requires you to be self aware, which can be a struggle. However, true community can make all the difference in the journey.

Spiritual community is another important element of my journey. Having community with the God who created me has altered my journey in ways I cannot even describe, including the ability to have hope in challenging moments such as our current reality.

Third, every moment on the journey presents an opportunity and a choice. There are many elements of the journey that we cannot control, both good and bad. Many of the circumstances we encounter in life are not chosen. No one would have chosen to go through the COVID-19 pandemic. No one chooses to lose of a loved one or to experience loss and failure in some other way. Many good moments in life are outside of our control as well. I do not “choose” the sunny day at the beach, but I do experience it.

However, we do have a role to play in each of these moments. Whether good or bad, each leg of the journey provides an opportunity to make the most of the road ahead. This opportunity requires us to make a choice. How will we choose to walk the path ahead? What will we carry with us from the stretch of road we have already taken? How will we emerge from our current section of the journey? This choice is not always easy and, many times, does not come without pain, but neither does the alternative. This is because we are always making a choice. Whether you choose to make the most of it, or to drift through it in hopes of survival, you are making a choice.

The question then is why not take this opportunity to choose to come out of this challenging stretch of the journey even stronger and more prepared for the road ahead? You are on the journey, whether you like it or not. It might, and probably will, require some authentic community defined by vulnerability to make it happen. You are making a choice, standing still is not an option. What will you choose?

My hope and prayer is to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic even more hopeful and excited for the journey ahead. I hope the same is true for you!

– James Belt

Easter Hope in Quarantine

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

I have always looked forward to Easter. If I am honest, it probably has a lot to do with the amount of candy involved in the holiday celebration- I LOVE jelly beans! I also have very fond memories of hunting for Easter Eggs. Again, the candy was a draw, but so was experiencing the newness of spring that surrounded me as I searched for pastel-color, plastic eggs. The grass was newly green, trees and plants were blooming, the rays of sunshine were seemingly a little warmer than they were just a few weeks prior. There is something special about the emergence of spring and all that comes with it.

Now with a 3-year-old daughter and a 18-month-old son, Easter 2020 was going to be another joyful occasion full or Easter Egg Hunts, family and friends, church, good food, and, of course, jelly beans! Enter COVID-19. Everything changes. Most of the world is effectively on lockdown. Social gatherings are severely limited to not permitted. Easter Egg Hunts are still possible, but now significantly toned down from my childhood memories of me and my many cousins descending on my grandparent’s yard like a bunch of ants. Thankfully, jelly beans are still in the mix and church is available online, but most of what defines Easter for me looks a lot different in 2020.

Interestingly, there is one element of my Easter experience that has not been impacted by COVID-19 and its fallout- the newness of spring. Trees and flowers are still blooming. Grass is turning green. The sun feels a little bit warmer. The rebirth that happens to the Earth in my part of the world in spring continues on, unencumbered by the chaos that surrounds it.

This picture of encumbered newness and rebirth provided by spring is a beautiful reflection of something else that has not changed this Easter. Despite the chaos, fear, and uncertainty present in our world today, the message of Easter has not changed, and has maybe even been highlighted.

Easter is the ultimate picture of undeterred newness and rebirth. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he wrote, “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person some might possibly dare it die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) Paul is saying Jesus came and died so that we could live a new life. He was not deterred by our imperfections, the pain and suffering required, or the plans of others. Jesus came to offer a broken world newness and rebirth, and nothing was going to stop him.

This is what we celebrate at Easter. At a time when very little appears to right in our world, we can know that God’s love for us never changes. With or without COVID-19, God desires us to experience the new life that is found in Christ. As you look at the rebirth happening in the trees and plants around you this spring, be reminded that you have the same opportunity to find newness and rebirth in Jesus. Maybe in 2020, when most of what we know appears to be broken, we can find even more hope, peace, and wholeness in the message of Easter.

Happy Easter!

– James Belt

Anchored Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– James Belt 


Practical Hope from Grandmom

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– James Belt 

Why Does It Make a Difference?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– James Belt

Full of Life and Bread

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– James Belt