Monthly Archives: January 2012

Friendship is Realizing You’ve Been Riding the Same Guagua

I had been riding a guagua for about 15 min with the same folks up front when I saw something that made me smile.

“Guagua” is the name for a bus in the Dominican Republic, but just here in this country. You won’t find it elsewhere, and you shouldn’t try to use it either. For example, in Chile in means “baby” and you can imagine the consequences when you ask the locals “If I go to the city center, can I take a guagua toward the West?”

Sometimes a guagua route can take a while. With all the stops of people getting off and on, inevitably the time spent on a broken uncomfortable “seat” will be doubled, even tripled. (Don’t ask me about the heat of summer, that time gets exponential.) But this afternoon, we didn’t have that many passengers coming and going, the route was simply a long one. We had just turned a corner onto La Avenida Bolivar and a gentlemen on the left reaches over across the aisle and smacks the arm of the guy sitting on the right.

“Oye! Hermano! Como te va!? (Hey brother, how’s it going!?)

“Ay, yay, yay! Dimelo ‘manito! Que lo que!? (Tell me little brother, what’s up?)

“No sabia que tu estabas en esta guagua!” (I didn’t know you were on this bus!)

“Jajaja, pues si, aqui estoy!” (Haha, well yea, here I am!)

“Ay, que bien! Y, la familia? (Ha! That’s great. How’s your family?)

“Bien hermano, estamos bien.” (Doing well brother, we’re all doing fine.)

Turns out, these two friends had been riding the same guagua for awhile, headed in the same direction, and didn’t even realize it. Their exchange of words were simple in their content, but the tone of brief conversation revealed that they had known each other for quite awhile and judging by their age, possibly years of friendship.

I believe you can always tell when you’ve got a good friend, in that you never need to work for conversation, and indeed it was this way with them. And similarly, with good friends, you may not even need to talk so much. For these gentlemen, the length of conversation wasn’t important, both were satisfied in their happenstance meeting, and didn’t worry themselves in creating a big reunion anymore than any other day. After all, they were on the same route home. There would be plenty of time to catch up later.

All these details pooled together to give me better definition of how I think friendship can be expressed:

When you realize you’ve been headed in the same direction for quite some time and one of you has to smack the other one to get them to recognize that you indeed have been friends for the whole journey.

I know I’ve got a few people I need that I need to lean over and smack, so before you think I have to apologize, get ready to say thanks.

She’s Been Waiting to Share So Many Stories

Grandpa made this stained glass hummingbird.

Six years ago when my grandfather passed away, my grandmother requested her grandsons to carry the casket of her husband, 87 years of age, and 60 years of marriage. It wasn’t just that she wanted the strongest, most capable men to carry it; rather, she said that it was the most fitting.

Albert had loved each of us dearly when we were babies. He held us as he rocked back and forth in his chair, carried us around the home, and even changed our diapers. He used to call me “little pumpkin head;” my guess is my siblings and cousins had similar nicknames befitting of their early physical condition.

Now, on that cold, January day in the small town of Warren, Illinois, his grandsons, men of post graduate degrees, working young professionals, and university students would carry the man who once carried them.

How beautiful and mysterious life is, that me, a baby of 7-8 pounds and some ounces, small enough to fit in a wash tub, could grow  to be 6’3” not able to fit into a bathtub. Once, completely dependent on those that provided for every need, I was innocently incapable. We were all like that though, my brother and my cousins, dependent on love to sustain us, for without it we would perish. We were vulnerable and weak.

At 22 years old, tears stinging my eyes as I held them back, I waited to see if my cousins let theirs go. Yes, strangely, I was still vulnerable and weak. I felt like that was ok though. I think Albert knew we had become strong men, both in will and stature, strong enough to carry the man who once carried them. He was dependent on love to sustain him.

I never got to tell him that I set sail on the greatest adventure of my life, but my grandmother knew.

She told me several times that her Albert would be proud of me. I know she had been carrying many messages for him. She had been saving them up for six years now. To think she’d lived more life with him, than without him – 60 years of marriage.

I can’t imagine all the things she’d been waiting to tell him, things like the accomplishments of her grandkids, new sewing patterns or quilting ideas, corn that needed shucking, and the plans for the big Thanksgiving dinners. When he passed, she said she just wanted to be with Albert up in Heaven. She was really ready to go.


Two weeks ago a stroke set in motion the rapid decline of her health.

I’d like to think she just started packing her bags.

It had been a very difficult two weeks for the entire family. Many tears.

I think she was just firming up the details of her departure.

. . .

Sunday night she left to go be with Albert in Heaven.

. . .

I imagine her with pockets full of letters, stacks of photos with rubber bands wrapped around them, and printed emails from the family at home and abroad.

She’s coming home grandpa, so make sure the kitchen is clean.

I love you Grandma 🙂

Still an American in the Dominican

So the guy at the taxi stand asked me when I arrived. “Cual hotel?”  I couldn’t understand why he would ask such a weird question. I had told him my address in Gazcue, and he asked me again, “Cual hotel?” I was perplexed. Then I dove into my library of Spanish nouns, verbs, and growing lexicon of Dominican slang trying to find what he could have meant.

My mind was racing, I was ready and prepared to throw out any number of local qualifiers, the proximity of the Bellas Artes Museo (Beautiful Arts Museum), the intersection of Maximo Gomez y Independencia, my joy at the opening of the new public park close to where I live, which is a great place for families, a haven for surfers, and a safe place to walk around at night.

I was ready for all that, but “Which hotel?” I started going through the conversation in my mind: “I dunno which hotel you mean. Which hotel are you talking about, and why are you talking about a hotel when I told you where I live? Is there something I should know about a hotel? Do they have fresh baked cookies like DoubleTree?”

It makes me laugh because when they think I don’t know Spanish, they act like it, and then I act like it, and because they see that I’m acting like it, then I get confused, and then they’re confused, and then we’re both confused. As a last resort, we both start looking for someone else to translate. Naturally though, that’s just what it is.

I’m still American, they tell me, but it doesn’t feel like it anymore. I guess I just don’t think about when I walk around the city of Santo Domingo, but apparently to everyone else, I’m still a 6’3″ white dude who’s sporting a brownish/blond beard. That’s certainly not the appearance of a Dominican, but to me I’m not phased by it. To me, “that was so last year.” But to them, that is the now, right in front of them, a strange looking dude with light eyes is going to open his mouth and speak something that isn’t Spanish.

I think that’s another small reason why it’s still awesome to be abroad. You’re consistently reminded that the perspective that you walk around with is not the perspective that everyone else has. Maybe, that’s part of the lesson that traveling and being abroad gives you. You start to see your context in the world, and start viewing your perspective as unique. Before you never really questioned what you thought, or what you did, because really, “That’s just what everyone does, right?”

That’s how you had been living, that’s how you had been thinking, and wow, there was a world out there wasn’t there? And now you’re in it, the new world, the world that is new everyday.

So I finally told the taxi driver that I live here and that I was confused at his question, maybe he thought a hotel was a better option than where I was living. We both laughed and I got in the taxi.

Aaron Roth Support Letter for HOPE International 2012 (January Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth Support Letter for HOPE International 2012

A day before I left the Dominican Republic to come visit for Christmas, I had the opportunity to enjoy a Christmas celebration meal with the HOPE’s on-the-ground partner,  Esperanza Internacional. I was sitting next to the staff that works in the northern part of the capital. Ramona Gonzales had just been named loan officer of the year for the country, and in her acceptance speech she said, “None of this has been my own effort. I am grateful to the Lord for his strength and his grace, and also to my teammates, my friends and coworkers of my office.” Ramona visits all her 500 microfinance clients on a bi-weekly basis. She was my first microfinance teacher, and most importantly, taught me that it’s not just about making micro-loans.

January 2012 Support - Meeting.jpgYes, we provide small loans to individuals, but I believe, just as Ramona does, that the real work comes in the relationships we build. The real work of Hope is forged in friendships, in conversations, in prayers, in walks to and from home. I have met hundreds and hundreds of people that rely on our financial and educational services, and they are incredibly grateful for our partnership as we work together to overcome the crushing force of poverty. Quite often we are the only organization that travels to these remote communities to visit them because HOPE believes in this work, and I do too.

What the Lord has taught me over the past year serving in the Dominican Republic (DR) would be impossible to condense into a letter, but I believe it’s important to highlight a few lessons:

1)     The Economic Need is Enormous, and We Can Help.

It is true, we live a nation that is blessed with economic prosperity. Even in our darkest economic slumps, we are still better off than 80% of the rest of the world that try to live on just a few dollars a day. We have the ability to attend good schools, walk around our neighborhoods safely, and drink water from the kitchen tap.

January 2012 Support - Colmado.jpgThis is not the reality for the rest of the world. I’ve sat in bank meetings and spoken with our clients of HOPE about the consistent challenges of trying to provide three meals a day for their children, the expensive costs of going to clinics for medicine (usually just a few dollars), and saving enough money to send them to good schools (about $7-9 a month). They have told me, that simply by me being present with them, working with them directly and also with the people who sent me – you, my friends, my family, my church – it is an honor for them, and our work makes tangible improvements in their lives and makes them feel connected to the communities where they live.

2)     We All Work Best With Inspiration.

The work of God’s kingdom, whether locally or internationally thrives on inspiration and encouragement. Shame or guilt serves no purpose in motivating those to participate in overseas work. I know that I get to shake the hands of the grateful clients and see their smiles, but I wish that you could as well. I am grateful to be the messenger, to be your hands and feet on the ground, knowing that we all do this work unto Jesus.

35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Mathew 25:35-36)

3)     The Local Church Accomplishes God’s Work, Home and Abroad.

We meet in local churches and homes all across the country. In 10 offices in the DR and four in Haiti, we have impacted more than 50,000 people this past year in 2011. On the ground there are over a hundred local staff of Dominicans and Haitians and just five Americans. Working together as God’s local church, we believe in the mission that God wants to redeem all that is broken and hopeless, that all may know the hope manifested in his Son, Jesus who came to this Earth, and that we should shine with the joy of the Lord.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mathew 5:14-16)

4)     When Traveling, Eat at the Local Cafeterias with the Longest Lines.

Slight change of topic: by sticking to venues with long lines, it’s a signal that the locals approve of the food; it’s affordable, safe to eat, and most likely delicious. Many foods and fruits are seasonal, and half the joy is hearing how they describe the sweetness of a ripe mango, or the succulence of savory “mofongo” with roasted pork 😉

5)     Hearing Someone’s Dreams for the Future is all the Motivation I Need.

Sometimes I find myself spending an extra hour in a school talking with a teacher or a student about their goals and aspirations for the future.  I’ve realized that there’s something contagious about hope. When I hear someone really share what’s on their heart, I too get a taste of the joy and excitement for that day when they graduate from high school, make a better home for their family, or even attend a university. Hope keeps us all moving forward, you know?

My Role as a Dominican Fellow in 2012

January 2012 Support - School.jpgAs I have mentioned in my monthly newsletters, I have been working in the area of educational program for Christian schools throughout the island of the DR. My role with HOPE in 2012 will be to continue to work in the partnership with Esperanza Internacional and a Christian Microlending organization called Edify to help build more classrooms and computer labs in Christian schools throughout the poorest communities in the DR.

We have built classrooms and made improvements in 20 schools and have started programs for Biblically-based curriculum and training resources for administrators and teachers throughout the country. Over 2,700 children have been impacted by our work and thousands more will have the opportunity to attend a good school, learn about the love of Jesus, and learn the skills they need to thrive in school and beyond.

Timeline & Resources

As I prayed about my plans for 2012, I was led to continue serving in the DR as a full-time volunteer. HOPE has established a budget for the 8 months I will be in the country. I will need $900 a month for living costs in the capital city of the DR, Santo Domingo. I am asking friends and family to prayerfully and financially support me in this opportunity to participate in the work of the Lord.

I’d like to follow up with you about this letter within two weeks. Any amount you give is tax deductible, and you can find information about writing a check or donating online listed below. Some of my supporters have found it easier to make a small donation ($15, $25, or $50) with their credit card that recurs every month, you can find out about that below. If you’re interested in knowing more about HOPE International’s work in the world and the Dominican Repubilc, I’d love to talk with you about it over email, Skype, or a fresh cup of Dominican coffee – I know a great spot!

I hope you’ll consider coming alongside me in what God is continuing to do in the DR. I am excited for the opportunity to serve again with HOPE International in the Dominican Republic in 2012. My prayer for you is that God would encourage and inspire you every day, like He has this past year for me, and that you will listen to His Spirit moving in your life.

Bendiciones y que Dios les bendiga mucho,
-Aaron Roth
(540) 421-8683
Skype: aprothwm05

More than a Number (December Newsletter)



   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – December 2011

Kickstarter-560x420-LOGO-2-300x225Last week, I was working on a special project that brought me face to face with many of the people that we’ve served over the past year. Come to think of it, I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people in 2011. All very different from me. Teenagers with children, married, and working manual labor jobs. Single mothers supporting their family of four on a couple dollars a day who smile and ask me about my family, and where my children are (not if I have children, but actually, the location of them). Haitian church choirs of women who need to dance when they sing. (How else can you stay on beat?)

Grandfathers that lived through two dictators and chuckle about the problems of the current administration. Small children playing with broken two liter bottles as toys. Grandmothers that emigrated from Haiti 70 years ago. Men working 10-12 hours a day cutting sugar cane by hand six days a week and earn $2.50 for 2,000 pounds of sugar cane. Aggressive bus drivers weaving through busy city streets that come to a complete stop, turn and face their passengers to bid farewell with “Vayan con Dios” (Go with God) to which I think: “We’ve already being going with God, because I’ve been praying we’d make it here alive.”

And all of these people just knew a couple words of English.

I am grateful to God for this opportunity to serve with such inspirational people and for learning the Spanish language. I’ve realized that Spanish was the key that unlocked this opportunity to serve and to meet such amazing people over the past year. I am grateful that even “starting late” in life for attaining fluency, I am now able to tell my stories and jokes in Spanish (I’m still working on my delivery in both languages though). Most of all, I’m grateful for being able to participate in the work of HOPE International and especially for their local partner in the Dominican Republic (DR), Esperanza International. Here in the DR, we have been able to impact over 50,000 people this past year through our community banking services, medical, dental, and educational programs.

Dec-News-01So, as I was working on this project last week I was thinking about these people that we serve; and I was doing it rapidly. With the new launch of Esperanza’s web site: we have been uploading all the client photos so that they will be integrated into the online donation system. Since we have thousands of clients, we had to work quickly to format them to upload them to the site. I could do a photo in a little over a minute and I was flying through the folder shown here in the picture to the left.

What you’ll notice is that all of these women have a numbered title for their photo. The sequence is representative of the national ID number system called the “cedula” – it’s a lot like our Social Security system. What I saw in this group of photos was that the three letter prefix began with “999.” I remember early on working with some of our loan officers that we recorded the national ID number of the client, and if they don’t have a national ID number, we give them a number starting with “999.” I asked, “Why don’t they have a national ID number.”

Dec-News-03“Well, it usually means they emigrated here from Haiti.”

If you don’t have a “cedula” (a national ID) number you cannot get a job and are therefore disqualified from any government services. What it means is that as far as the level of poverty is concerned, these “999” women are the poorest of the clients that we serve. They have no official documentation and when they become a client with Esperanza Internacional, it is the first official document with their name on it that they receive. It is a way of recognizing them as a unique individual, someone who is publicly recognized in the community where they live.

Our photo upload project requires us to look up their number. Let’s take for example the woman in the top left of the picture in the group of six above. You cannot see her face that well, because of the light streaming through the door in the background. The light interests me as I log onto the system and check out the details of this woman. Turns out she’s not just a number, she has a name, like you, and like me, and like every single person I’ve met this past year.

Dec-News-02Her name is Franchesca Ramirez and she is a member of the community banking group called Bendiciones de Dios (Blessings from God). She’s my age, married, and has two children. Her microloan was for $160 dollars over six months for her small business of selling clothing in her local community. Immediately, a story fills in the details of her life, much like that light in the background fills up the room where she sits.

This is the same manner in which I’ve met everyone over this past year: It first starts with a face, then a name, and then a story. The light moves from one detail to the next and gradually presents a story of a life, of a woman providing for her family, making them meals, sending children off to school, and singing them songs or telling stories to them before tucking them in at night. She’s one of the hundreds of people I’ve me this past year, one of the thousands that we’ve impacted in 2011. Her story reminds me of one of the truths I have learned over this past year:

Each one of us has a story to tell.

I think about that light behind Franchesca again. The light of the sun that rises and sets for us, those who speak English, those who live in America, those who have children, and those who work during the day to put food on the table and spend time with those they love before retiring for the evening. It’s the same light that shines for the millions of people throughout the world day in and day out. It is the light that shines for everyone and gives us each a story.

I am grateful for the light that shines behind each us helping to illuminate the details of our life. I am grateful for the Light that was given to us and that which we celebrate this Christmas season.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.(John 1:1-5)

Blessings to you and your family,
Skype: aprothwm05

*Update: I’ll be sending an email about coming back to the Dominican Republic in January in a few weeks.