Bringing Hope to Appalachia

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Often when we think of poverty and hopelessness, our minds go to developing nations such as Nicaragua or to communities in cities such as Baltimore and Detroit. However, that is only part of the story.

Once a thriving region in the United States due to its abundance of coal and lumber, Appalachia, which includes parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, has been in a state of poverty since the mid-1960s. While there are a number of factors that contributed to the poverty that exists, including the evaporation of jobs, corruption, and an opioid epidemic, it is the lie of hopelessness that allows poverty to continue to persist. With rampant drug use, unemployment and underemployment, and many other byproducts of poverty, hopelessness has ravaged many of the communities in the area. Written off or unnoticed by most of the United States, Appalachia is a stark example of the consequences of allowing the lie of hopelessness to fester.

This is part of the power of the lie of hopelessness. Not only does it convince those in the grip of poverty that they are hopeless, it does the same to those who are on the outside looking in. This only continues the cycle of poverty and hopelessness as we resort to sticking temporary Band-Aids on the short-term byproducts of poverty instead of addressing the long-term wound of hopelessness that gives it life.

The community of War, West Virginia is sad picture of this reality in Appalachia. Located in McDowell County, once one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, War has become one of the poorest communities in all of Appalachia. With an estimated 85% of the adult population addicted to opioids or methamphetamines according organizations addressing addiction in the area, death from drug-involved overdose is common place. It is easy to see why people would believe they are destined for a life of “less than” in a place like War, WV.

A New Beginning Community Center

Despite the incredible hold the lie of hopelessness has on War, WV, Rick and Mary Smith have a very different perspective. Rick, a home builder from Central Ohio, and his wife, Mary, decided hopelessness did not have to be the end of the story. Around 2015, the Smiths decided to pack up there stuff to move to War, WV to bring all-in spiritual and practical hope. Committed to long-term change in the community, Rick and Mary started A New Beginning Recovery Ministry and purchased an old Catholic Church in the town to turn into a community center. Undeterred by the challenges they face, A New Beginning Recovery Ministry now has a weekly kids ministry focused on breaking the intergenerational cycle of addiction and poverty by reaching out to the youth. The also host weekly recovery meetings, a weekly Bible Study, and a weekly church service on Sunday afternoons, the best time to reach the community. Additionally, the partner with the West Virginia Food Bank to distribute food to the community.

Food Distribution

In a confirmation of their call to War, shortly after Rick and Mary took the step of faith to move there, The State of West Virginia announced the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System, a popular destination for ATV enthusiasts, would run through War, WV. As a home builder this opened up an incredible opportunity for Rick, who started to purchase rundown houses to renovates and turn into rental properties for tourists coming through on the Hatfield & McCoy Trail. This has allowed him to provide significant funding to their ministry though the rental income generated by the properties, a great example of bring what you have to the table.

Through A New Beginning Recovery Ministry, Rick and Mary are creating opportunities for reframed identities through the power of spiritual hope, showing people they were created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them. They also come alongside people to provide the practical hope they need to escape addiction, a real opportunity to exercise their reframed identities. While the journey is hard and messy, they are beginning to see the power all-in hope has to change lives and overcome the power of hopelessness.

Take a man we will call John. After meeting John, a drug addict living in War, John and Mary were able to connect him with Justin’s Place, a Christ-centered residential recovery and transition program and affiliate of Crossroads Church in Westminster, MD. After completing the program, returned to West Virginia, has been clean from drugs for 5 years, and has started his own business.

Another beautiful picture of the power of all-in hope to create change in War is a twentysomething named Chris. Paralyzed from his work in the mines, Chris was not sure what the future held. While he avoided drug addiction, his disability left feeling confused and a bit hopeless despite his relationship with Jesus. After meeting Chris, Rick and Mary developed a relationship with him and began to disciple him. Realizing he had a gift to teach, they offer him a practical hope opportunity to teach on Sundays at church. Despite his challenges, Chris is now a beacon of all-in hope in War.

War, West Virginia once was a clear picture of the power the lie of hopelessness has to trap people in poverty and its byproducts. While there is still a long road ahead, Rick, Mary, the A New Beginning Recovery Ministry team and their partners are beginning to breakdown the walls through the powerful light of all-in hope.

As we celebrate Independence Day on the United States of America this 4th of July Weekend, the hope Rick and Mary Smith have for War, WV speaks to the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which says, “We hold these truths to be 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.” While most certainly still a work in progress, the United States of America was founded on a belief that their is real hope for everyone. Like Rick and Mary, let’s continue to fight for a world in which hope wins the day.

Would you like to “get in the game” like Rick and Mary Smith, but you are not sure where to start? Click here for a free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. You will also be signed up to receive my newsletter and stay up to date on my upcoming book, Hope Realized.

Happy 4th of July and remember, no one is truly hopeless.

James Belt

What Visiting a Volcano Taught Me about Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Have you ever thought you understood something only to realize what you thought you knew was only a limited picture of a bigger reality? This was my experience with volcanoes. I have always found volcanoes to be cool. Like many kids, I built my own “volcano” with baking soda and vinegar, and waited with great anticipation to experience its “eruption”. I would see them on TV, in movies and books, and learn about the in school. I thought I understood volcanoes, until, I realized I didn’t.

On one of my early trips to Nicaragua, I had the chance to visit the Masaya Volcano with the rest of the mission team from Crossroads Church in Westminster, MD. Given my childhood love for volcanoes, I was pretty excited. However, nothing could prepare me for the real experience.

Driving up the winding road to the top of the crater– yes, I said the top of the volcano — you almost feel as if you are in another world due to the stunted vegetation and lava rock rubble in every direction. Arriving at the top, there are signs instructing you to back into the parking spots for a quick exit in case of a volcanic eruption. This made sense since all that separated the parking spots from the crater was a small wall.

Exiting our brightly painted school bus, we took in the view of this powerful natural wonder. While no lava was visible from the top of the crater, the sheer size and potential of the volcano was breathtaking. Staring into the crater, realizing the hole was created by an explosion from the depths of the earth, the power of a volcano goes from an interesting fact you read in a book to something real and perspective-changing.

This has been my experience with the word “hope” as well. I did not truly grasp its power until my eyes were open to a different, more significant picture of it. I needed to reimagine hope. Could the same be true for you?

The word “hope” can mean different things to different people, depending on the context and their life experiences. For some, it brings a certain level of joy and excitement for what is to come. For others, it is a reminder of failed dreams and disappointment. This is apparent from the many famous quotes about hope.

Desmond Tutu said that, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Conversely, Benjamin Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” Why the difference in perspective? Is it possible they were talking about two different kinds of hope?

There is a difference between hoping and hope. Hoping, or to hope, is a verb that doesn’t come with a ton of confidence. It is the, “I hope I pass this test”, kind of hope we feel when we aren’t sure we studied enough. Hope, on the other hand, is a noun. It is something with which we can be filled that is often fueled by confidence in something or someone, not a passing feeling. For example, I am full of hope because I know who created me. It is an all-in hope that has the power to create real change.

What is this all-in hope? It is a hope that comes from a reframed identity that says I was created on purpose and with a purpose. It is a hope that is fueled by a real opportunity to take advantage this belief that I was created for something more. When combined, this reframed identity and real opportunity, a powerful form of all-in hope is born that can overcome the lie of hopelessness that holds many captive. How do I know this? Because I have experienced it in my life and seen it in the life of others.

Consider Sofia, a relatively quite woman from the community of El Canon in Nicaragua who had little to offer beyond her willingness to work when the NicaWorks! staff met her when we started the El Canon Community Gardening Project. Honestly, I would not have picked her to be its most successful member. Living in a makeshift plastic wrapped house, Sofia did not let her small beginnings prevent her from making the most of the opportunity.

Seeing the possibility for a different future in her work with the community garden, Sofia asked if NicaWorks! would assist her in starting her own bean project. Believing in her potential, we enthusiastically agreed. Through hard wok and a willingness to reinvest in her own future, what started as a few hundred dollars investment in beans grew into a sustainable enterprise of beans, corn, chickens, and even turkeys. Sofia is now well on her way to changing the future of her family.

This is the power all-in hope has to create change in impoverished communities. All-in hope is both practical and spiritual in nature. Why are they both so important and are they both required? I will explore these questions in future posts.

Do you want to dig even deeper into the power of all-in hope, stories of change that have come from it, and the role you can play in bringing it to others? Be sure to check out my upcoming book, Hope Realized. If you would like to stay up to date on the book, receive more thoughts on these topics, sign up click here to sign up for my newsletter. You will also receive 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life, a free resource I created to help you jump into bringing hope to others.

Remember, no one is truly hopeless.

James Belt

The Dump and The Lie of Hopelessness Behind Poverty

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

What comes to mind when you think of a trash dump? This is not a trick question. For most people the answer is trash. However, in many corners of the world you will find something you might not expect: people. The fact that there are people in a trash dump may not surprise you, but that there are people, including children, scavenging the dump for recyclables they can sell to earn enough money to barely survive probably does.

I encountered this reality on my recent trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua. Sadly, this was not the first time I had seen this heartbreaking picture of poverty. I had gone to La Chureca, an even larger dump in Managua, many times before it was cleaned up and turned into a recycling plant. This didn’t make our visit to the dump in Bluefields any easier. Seeing people standing in the midst of trash and smoke from small fires throughout the dump is a reminder of the brokenness in this world.

Imagine if you believed your best chance of feeding your family was to dig through trash? How would this impact the way you see yourself and your future? While I can only speak for myself, one world would probably comes to mind for most of us: hopeless. Unable to see beyond your current circumstances, you may begin to believe you are as worthless as the trash around you.

Many people wonder why poverty continues to persist despite the incredible amounts of resources committed to ending it. The problem is we often stop at the surface and miss the root that is feeding it: hopelessness. When someone believes they were created for a life of “less than” and the lack of opportunity they see around them reinforces this belief, hopelessness often becomes their default setting, making it incredibly difficult to escape poverty.

In an article published in The Akron Beacon Journal, Jim Mullen says hopelessness is a “mired sense of futility that spreads among those people barely keeping afloat” and that it keep those trapped in it, and those around them, “bonded to poverty” convincing them it will never end.

So is there hope in the midst of the hopelessness? Is there hope for the people living in the trash dump in Bluefields, or is hopelessness a permanent state?

The answer is yes. Why? Hopelessness is a lie. While powerful, hopelessness can be overcome with real, all-in hope. What exactly is all-in hope? Check back next time for a different look at hope and its power to diminish poverty by exposing the lie of hopelessness.

Would you like to read about the power of hope to create change and the role you can play in overcoming issues like poverty? Click here to sign up to receive my newsletter as well as a free bonus resource, 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. You will also receive updates on my upcoming book, Hope Realized.

No one is truly hopeless.

James Belt

Sargent Pushup’s Million Pushup March to Feed Children and End Bullying

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

“Sargent Pushup is trying to catch up to you”. This was a text message I recently received from one of my coworkers. Confused, I responded, “Sargent Pushup? Lol”. I had no idea who Sargent Pushup was and why he would be trying to catch up to me. Honestly, I thought it was a joke. “Yeah. Look him up.”, he responded. So I did. Sargent Pushup is not a joke.

Patrick Parker, also known as Sargent Pushup, is an United States Army Veteran who, in his words, believes his call to serve is a lifelong commitment. After discovering that over 13 million children go to bed every night without a meal and over 3,000 children attempt suicide daily because of bullying Patrick decided he needed to do something. Having experienced bullying himself as a child, he knew the toll it could take on a child. With a desire to make a difference, Patrick sold his Ford Mustang GT to start his campaign and set off to make a difference, and make a difference he has.

Through his children’s books on bullying and germs, and his partnerships with organization such as the Maryland Food Bank to raise funds to feed children, Sargent Pushup is changing lives across the United States. “Why is he called Sargent Pushup?”, you might ask. Because of the pushups. He does a lot of pushups. In fact, Sargent Pushup’s goal is to do 1,000,000 pushups as he seeks to feed 1,000,000 children and get his encouraging books in the hands of as many children as he can. As of the day I met Sargent Pushup, he had done over 600,000 pushups, raised funds to feed over 600,000 children, and received sponsorships to give away thousands of books while putting more than 300,000 miles on his Sargent Pushup van. This is how I met Sargent Pushup.

Sitting at my desk the next day, I heard a knock on my office door. Looking out, I saw a very in shape man in camoflage pants, a t-shirt, and a camoflage hat. “This must be Sargent Pushup”, I thought. Welcoming him into my office, Sargent Pushup greeted me and told me, “Kevin sent me”. Kevin, a friend and fellow business owner, had sponsored 100 books to go to local children and had sent Sargent Pushup to ask me to do the same. Sargent Pushup went on to explain his program and the calling he felt on his life. As someone who believes in the power of real hope and the ability each of us have to make a difference, his message really hit home. Never one to back down from a challenge, I told Sargent Pushup I would match Kevin’s 100 books and tack on another for good measure! Now it was pushup time!

Gathering a few of our team members to be a part of the fun, Ross, the coworker who had sent me the original text, and I proceeded to do a 2 pushups with Sargent Pushup after which he did 52 more. While I would have been exhausted, he appeared to be just getting warmed up. Sargent Pushup also had our team gather to say, “NaturaLawn says, “no more bullying!'” This would have been the end of the story had I not randomly run into both Ross and Sargent Pushup at the local bank. After saying he, Sargent Pushup asked if we would be willing to do a few more pushups. We proceeded to do 10 pushups in the bank lobby, and were even joined my another bank patron who volunteered to join in the fun.

Why tell the story of Sargent Pushup? Besides the fact that it is just a good story, Sargent Pushup is another example of someone who has taken what they bring to the table to make a difference in the life of people who need it. Seeing the opportunity to bring hope to others, Patrick Parker decided to jump in and many lives are better because of it. I have no doubt that Sargent Pushup will reach and exceed his goal. For more on Sargent Pushup, go to his website http://www.sgtpushup.com.

Now it is your turn. What do you bring to the table? How can you make a difference in the life of someone else? You have far more to offer than you probably believe. Living a life of significance does not have to be complicated. It just requires to to take a step. Just ask Sargent Pushup. Would you like a resource to help you get started. If you haven’t already, click here to download 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. It is a free resource I created to help you get started. When you download it, you will also receive updates on my upcoming book, Hope Realized.

Hope will the day.

James Belt

Hope Breaking through in The Quarry in Bluefields, Nicaragua

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

“The Quarry”. The name is both descriptive and deceptive. The Quarry, as its name suggests, is a place in which rock harvested from the ground, broken into pieces, and sold for construction material. However, this quarry located in Bluefields, Nicaragua is nothing like the quarries I have grown up driving by in Maryland.

Instead of deep holes dug with large equipment in search of rock deep beneath the earth, rock is strip mined by hand from the surface of the hill by squatters. Rock is then broken by hand with small hammers to sell to builders. It is dangerous and exhausting work for minimal return. Sadly, children are often engaged in the work alongside their parents to help their families survive. This means they may or may not go to school, limiting their ability to escape life in the quarry.

The Quarry in Bluefields, Nicaragua

The families who work in the quarry often live next to the slowly disappearing hill in makeshift shacks built from plastic, tin, and whatever other materials they can find. While it allows them easy access to their means of survival, it also puts them and their homes at risk of being harmed or destroyed by mud slides from the strip mining.

As you can imagine a feeling of hopelessness permeates the quarry. Breaking rocks in the quarry allows the families to survive, but never move beyond that point. It is as if they are trapped. If they do not break rocks all day, every day they will not be able to eat. However, if they continue to break rocks all day, every day they will never move beyond surviving to reach some level of thriving. This is especially sad for children who have their whole life ahead of them.

This is the power of the Lie of Hopelessness. It creates a sense of “stuck-ness”. A sense that someone is destined for a life of “less than”. If you believe you are hopeless, the battle to just survive today becomes the dominant theme of your life. If hopelessness is all you see, why would you believe otherwise? I am sure I would be in the same spot if our roles were reversed.

I have visited the quarry a number of times, including on my most recent trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua in April of 2022. It would be easy to write off the people living and working in the quarry as an outsider—many do—but not Pastor Ed Jaentschke. The pastor of the Verbo Church in Bluefields, Ed sees hope where others only see hopelessness. Visiting the quarry often, Ed takes the time to invest in the lives of these overlooked people, demonstrating that they do matter. By encouraging them, praying with them, and assisting with their physical needs, Ed provides a powerful picture of spiritual and practical hope to the people of the quarry.

One of the powerful ways Ed and his church make a difference in the quarry is by opening the door for the children of the families to attend school at the Verbo School in Bluefields, one of the best schools in the area. By covering their tuition and other educational expenses, Ed opens a door to a significant source of practical hope for the children. Beyond the education itself, the investment made by Ed and his church shows the children that they are worth it and not destined for hopelessness. It is a tangible way of saying we believe God created you on purpose and with a purpose.

Has it made a difference? On my recent trip to Nicaragua, Ed told me about a number of kids from the quarry who have thrived at the Bluefields Verbo School. In fact, one child from the quarry graduated from the Verbo School and is attending college in the United States. That is a far way from a life of hopelessness. Through investments of practical and spiritual hope, Ed and his church are changing lives in the quarry, opening the door to a life of thriving for the next generation.

While not all of us will have the opportunity to invest in the life of someone at the quarry in Bluefields, Nicaragua, we can each take a lesson from Ed and apply it to our community. Who in our community has been written off and is seemingly stuck in a cycle of hopelessness? How can we invest what we bring to the table to open the door for them to discover the reframed identity and real opportunity created by all-in hope? We all have what it takes to make a difference in the life of another.

Unsure how to get started? Sign up to receive free resource I created, 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life, for some tips on how to take the next step. Sign up by clicking here. As Ed shows us, no one is truly hopeless.

James Belt

Appy Time is Filling the Gap with Hope

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Access to quality education is a big part of practical hope. Sadly, there are many places in the world, including communities in the United States, with a significant academic achievement gap. As you may imagine, the gap tends to be the worse in communities impacted by poverty. Often, these communities are under-resourced and written off by many on the outside, and have been for years. This reinforces a feeling of hopelessness, creating unnecessary barriers for children to reach their God-given potential.

Is change possible? Is there hope for children growing up in these communities? Patricia Mack-Preston says yes! A veteran teacher with over thirty years of experience, Patricia sees what many see as hopeless as full of hope. As the Founder and Executive Director of Appy Time for Learning, Patricia and her team of volunteers are partnering with schools and organizations in Baltimore City and Carroll County, Maryland to close the learning gap for children who desperately need it. They provide 1:1 support, iPad technology, and educational apps chosen to meet each child’s individual needs. They also provide other opportunities to learn such as the recent Earth Day Celebration at Mary Ann Winterling Elementary in Baltimore City, an event I had the privilege of participating in.

In the heat of the COVID-19 Pandemic, schools went to virtual learning, which was particularly challenging for children in impoverished neighborhoods as proper technology was not easily accessible. While Patricia and her team were not able to provide their usual in-classroom support, they were undeterred, providing school supplies and even volunteer-made desks for their homes to give the children the best chance to succeed.

Beyond the educational resources, the Appy Time team provides something equally critical to the children: a change in perspective. In a world that often tells them they are forgotten, Patricia and her team are able to communicate, “I see you, I believe in you, and you are worth the investment”. Through their investments of hope, they are helping to create a new story for future generations and the communities in which they live. To learn more about Appy Time for Learning and support their incredible work, click here: Appy Time for Learning.

Patricia is a beautiful picture of a person who took what they had to offer and used it to bring hope to people who desperately need it. Imagine a world in which we all make this choice. How different would it be? Bringing hope and creating change does not have to be complicated and you are more equipped to you realize to make a difference in the life of someone else. You just need to take a step.

If you would like a free resource to help you discover how you are uniquely equipped to make a difference in someone’s life, sign up here: 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. If you have already downloaded it don’t forget to walk through the steps. You also will be signed up to receive more thoughts and ideas on creating change and bringing hope to others.

James Belt

* Information on the Appy Time for Learning program is from Home (appytimeforlearning.com)

Justin’s Place Brings the Hope

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Have you ever written someone off as hopeless? Has anyone ever done this to you? Have you ever done it to yourself? This can be the story for many people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Their sickness and its consequences have led them to a place of isolation from the people they love and who love them. The inability to escape its grip reinforces a feeling that nothing can ever change.

Is all hope lost?

Tito, Walter, and the Justin’s Place team say no. Justin’s Place, a Christ-centered residential recovery and transition program in Westminster, Maryland is a beacon of practical and spiritual hope for men caught in the trap of alcohol and drug addiction. Through two phases, the Justin’s Place team attacks Lie of Hopelessness with real, all-in hope.

The Lie of Hopelessness says you are worthless, destined for a life of “less than”. Through spiritual encouragement, loving mentorship, relationship building, and Biblical training, the Justin’s Place team help the men reframe their identity as someone created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them and sent Jesus to die for them. No longer self-identifying as hopeless, the men begin to see that they were created for something more. This is the power of spiritual hope.

The Lie of Hopelessness is reinforced by a lack of opportunity. The Justin’s Place team comes alongside the men through medical care, legal assistance, vocational training, and assistance gaining employment to open the door to real opportunity. Once written off, the men are now equipped to exercise their God-given potential. There is real power in practical hope.

It is not easy, and messy at times, but the Justin’s Place team is seeing real change take place in the the lives of men once seen by many as lost causes. This has also brought hope to the community, and the many who serve and support Justin’s Place, including Crossroads Church and other churches and organizations in the Carroll County, Maryland area. For more information on Justin’s Place visit Justin’s Place | Crossroads Recovery.

Do you want to be a part of bringing hope to others? It does not have to be complicated! Find someone, like Justin’s Place, who is doing it well in your local community and get in the game. This is one of the steps I encourage you to take in the 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. If you haven’t signed up to receive this free downloadable guide go to 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life to get it today.

James Belt

* Information on Justin’s Place and it’s program is from Crossroads Recovery | Crossroads Missions (crossroads140.com).

Someone Needs What You Bring to the Table

What do I bring to the table? This is a question I have heard said in a frustrated tone by many people with a desire to make a difference, but with the limiting belief that they do not have much to offer.

Have you found yourself at this spot? I certainly have. Issues such as poverty and hopelessness feel so big, and they are in many ways, what I have to offer feels so small in comparison. As I began to explore my role in community and economic development, I wondered if there was something of value that I brought to the table. Asking this question allowed me to see how my experiences in business, leadership, and spiritual development could make a difference in the lives of people in impoverished communities in Nicaragua.

So, what do you bring to the table? This is a great question to ask yourself as you seek to make a difference in the life of someone else. In fact, it is one of the steps I recommend taking in 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. If you have not received this downloadable guide, you can sign up here: 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. When you work through this step, I believe you will discover you are more equipped than you realize to create change and bring real hope to others.

Take the story of Mark, a carpenter from Pennsylvania. Mark travelled to Nicaragua on a mission trip with a friend unsure of his purpose for being there. Over the course of his few days in Nicaragua, he began to wonder if his carpentry skills could make a difference in the life of someone in the impoverished communities they visited.

After returning to the United States, Mark began to share this thought with others and, amazingly, was able to secure a donation of $10,000 worth of commercial-grade carpentry equipment for Nicaragua. He shared this exciting news with Frank, his friend who had taken him on the mission trip to Nicaragua, and expressed a willingness to travel back to Nicaragua to train people. This was no coincidence–Frank knew just what to do with what Mark brought to the table.

For a number of years, NicaWorks! had been providing carpentry training to young people in El Canon. They had a desire to expand the training to more of the community, but did not have the right tools to make it work. Knowing about this need, Frank connected Mark to NicaWorks!. Mark became excited about the vision and not only provided the equipment for the carpentry shop, he traveled to Nicaragua to help set up the shop and train the local Nicaraguan carpenter who would, in-turn, train others in El Canon.

Now, a few years later, there is a carpentry shop and vocational training center all because Mark asked, “What do I have to bring to the table?”

Now it’s your turn. What do you have to bring to the table? There is someone out there who needs exactly what you have to offer! If you would some tips on determining what you bring to the table, and other steps to help you make a difference, don’t forget to sign up for 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life.

James Belt

What Ukraine Has Taught Me About Hope

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Watching the events in Ukraine has been heartbreaking. Hearing stories of lives being taken, communities destroyed, and children displaced unnecessarily has left me feeling angry. This act of evil reveals the level of brokenness that exists in our world. The truth is it can leave you feeling hopeless.

That is, until you see how the people of Ukraine have stepped up in the face of hopelessness. Over the past few weeks I have been struck by the incredible resolve and hope of the Ukrainian people. From President Zelenskyy to normal people on the street and everyone in between, they have decided all is not lost. The hope they have has inspired the world and allowed them to stand up against the attacks of a more powerful opponent by all earthly standards.

It would be hard to find a better picture of the power of hope. It is not a wishy-washy “I hope this works out” kind of hope. It is a foundational “we were created for more” kind of hope that allows a person to see beyond their present circumstances. It calls everyone, from the most to the least powerful, to decide it does not have to be this way. It creates an almost beyond human understanding ability to fight for the life for which one was created. Real hope is a powerful force.

Real hope turns “regular people” into world changers. Take the story of Olena, a Ukrainian woman and friend of a friend, who has taken it upon herself to buy supplies, transport people, and provide assistance to disabled orphans who had to flee their orphanage, all while putting herself in harms way. Olena has nothing to gain and everything to lose, but her hope for herself, the people she is helping, and her country has called her to something more. Olena shows us that we all have what it takes to make a difference and bring hope to others. While I do not know Olena personally, the way she lives tells me she has a hope that propels her beyond her current realities. Thank you for inspiring me, and so many more, Olena.

Stories like this gives me hope for the future of the people of Ukraine. I do not know what the short term future holds, but I do believe their hope will endure beyond it. The present darkness will not be the end of the story. The light of hope that lives inside of them will, one day, allow them to write a different ending.

This should force each of us to ask ourselves how we can make a difference. The inspiration we gain from the people of Ukraine should drive us to action. You have what it takes to make a difference. Olena shows us this. Patricia and her family, my friends who have been raising and sending support to Olena shows us this. It is “regular people” with irregular hope who change lives, communities, and the world.

It is time for you to jump in! If you are looking for an easy step, send a donation to my friend Patricia to support Olena and the critical work she is doing in Ukraine (just comment below to receive more information on donating!). I have also created a free resource to walk you through steps I took in my journey to live a more impactful, hope-filled life. Just click here to sign up to get the 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life.

There is hope for Ukraine and it should produce hope in each of us.

James Belt

Getting Unstuck from the Making a Difference Starting Line

Good afternoon from Westminster, Maryland!

I was recently thinking about what keeps people from taking a step to make a difference in someone else’s life. There are a lot of answers to that question, but I think the most common is they just do not know how to get started. In my experience, most people have a desire to live an impactful life. This does not necessarily mean they want to do something many would describe as “big” such as becoming a missionary, but they do want to experience the significance that comes from helping someone else. The problem is we often get stuck at the starting line wonder how we are “supposed to do it”.

While there are certainly good and bad ways to help, I have found the best way to discover how you can uniquely make a difference in the life of someone else is to just take a step. What do I mean? I mean to keep it simple and find an easy way to get engaged. While it might not be the ultimate way you make a difference in the lives of others, by getting in the game you have started a journey that will allow you to see how and where you best fit in.

This was the case for me. My journey did not start by moving to Nicaragua. It was the many times I had served, including on week-long mission trips to Nicaragua, that led to me ultimately spending three years of my life living and working in Nicaragua. It started by serving food at a homeless shelter with my youth group when I was in middle school. Taking this step encouraged to continue to engaged and removed the pressure of wondering how to get started. I just took a step.

What could your step be? The possibilities are endless, but it could be as simple as finding a way to support an organization that is making a difference in your community or around the world. For example, NicaWorks! is currently hosting an online auction (Click to Check Out the NicaWorks! Online Auction!), which provides a fun and easy way to get involved.

Maybe you have watched the tragic events happening in the Ukraine and feel compelled to help. In addition to praying, you can search for people and organizations that are engaged in helping the people of the Ukraine. For example, there are organizations that are helping to evacuate children from orphanages as well as families who are adopting and receiving the kids. You could look for an opportunity to support this important work.

It could also be as simple as finding a way to assist someone in your neighborhood. For example, I have spent a Saturday afternoon doing yard work for someone who was unable to do it themselves at that moment. Really, the possibilities are endless. The key is to just take a step and get started.

In addition to taking a step, I have discovered a few other steps that can be really helpful when trying to make a difference in someone else’s life. If you would like to know more, be on the lookout for a soon to be released resource that walks you through these steps!

James Belt