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

Why Creating Change Is Like Planting Trees

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

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

– Greek Proverb

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Belt

How Understanding My Own Story Gave Me More Hope for Others

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

James Belt

Eliminating Limiting-Beliefs

Good morning and welcome to 2022 from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a feeling it would change everything.

James Belt

Some Kind of Light

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Belt

Where Are You Going?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Belt