Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Secret to Living Well

One thing you hope to find when you give up everything to take a life-changing trip is a secret or two about life. You know, the kind of thing world travelers write about in their diaries about their time with Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka or grandparents tell their children about growing up post World-War II while rocking away on the front porch.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to travel to Sri Lanka nor become a baby-boomer to find out firsthand one of the secrets to living life well. I didn’t read it in a book or see it in a movie or hear it in a speech, but I believe it now with such conviction that I don’t think I can ever look away from it’s brilliance. It’s completely obvious and surprising simple, but very few of us rarely do it, so maybe this is just a simple reminder. I’ve had such ordinary, life changing moments here that speak of it more loudly than I’ve ever experienced in my life. Here it is, in its simplicity:

Being present where you are so that you can appreciate what you’re experiencing.

We get so used to quickly consuming every moment that we never really take it in. We conquer hunger with expensive food cramming into our bellies, gulp down exquisite drinks for thirst, sprint out of theaters to find cell phone service to post our movie-going experience to Facebook, and turn away from a gorgeous vista to show all our friends the photos we took on a tiny 2 inch screen. In short, by trying to be ultra-present with our moments, we aren’t even present at all.

Life is better appreciated when the moments come to us in ebbs and flows, not a steady stream of  a quick-moving current. It is in the emptiness that we can appreciate what occupies the space. This may sound like Eastern philosophy, and yes, it is, but it’s also biological, our attention can only be attuned to so much in one given period.

So next time, you’re going to do something enjoyable, deliberately remove everything that distracts you from the moment so that you’re completely present.What follows are a few recent, ordinary moments that I’ve been present with.

#1 – I sat in the park in San Cristobal for a good 15 min waiting to be picked up. I listened to a town “waking up” instead of texting, reading, or playing music.











#2 – Donuts with friends. We got up early to try Dixie Donuts. Luxury donuts at a special sale price of $1 a piece. We took some time to sit outside and drink coffee. Time is precious before the day starts I realized. Also, raspberry creme is delicious.









#3 – Korean food. I normally eat a pretty simple diet most days. Something like rice, beans, and chicken most days. We went to eat Korean food in honor of our buddy Tae Seok. It had been so long since I eaten flavors like this, I felt like I was at a royal banquet.











#4 – Driving home to my parents house in VA I knew I had a few calls to make, a few new songs on my iPod to listen to, and some scheduling I needed to sort out. I turned everything off and just looked at the clouds.


A Chance to Play

I live two blocks from a park by the sea. It’s not a forest though, it’s more like a beach. A beach that’s open to everyone. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s family friendly.

I spend a lot of time there, mostly playing sand volleyball. You may ask why I don’t go there to swim. Nobody does, the water isn’t safe because of the amount of local pollution and runoff from the close proximity to the city. But that’s beside the point; I go there to play volleyball in my bare feet.

Onlookers marvel at the two pristine courts complete with poles, nets, and lined boundaries. Dominicans comment that in a city that struggles with immense traffic jams when there is even the slightest bit of rain, two uncompleted unsightly apartment/shopping towers nearby, and plenty of old buildings that should be but can’t afford to be razed, at least we have excellent sand volleyball courts.

Normally I just kick off my flip flops and get in line. Yes, you usually have to wait in line because someone is always on the court. I have a ball, which is an advantage for me, because it usually means I get to play, and even though I’m a bit taller than 6’3″ I still can’t spike the ball well. A local young women’s volleyball team has taken it up themselves to teach me how to “Matala, no son de tu familia!” (Kill it “the ball” they aren’t your family).

Most of those waiting in line are eligible volleyball players. They’re loud, aggressive, and fit the height requirements, but there are always those, usually small kids that are relegated to the sidelines to chase the balls. I’d be cast off as well if I didn’t have my height or my ball and a little bit of athleticism.

This past Tuesday night we had a group in town visiting the schools we work with. Even though it was late in the evening, we all went down to my second home, Playa Guibia, to play some volleyball.

Good thing I had my ball, because after a local crew bowed out for the evening, we were able to continue playing.

I noticed that our ball boy for the evening spent his time alternating between making sand angels and swimming in the sand, but when the ball rocketed past the boundaries from a spike or an errant hit (much more likely) – our friend immediately stood up and went on running for it. He sped off in its direction and returned with ball and looked like, well, you know, an 8 year old boy who’s overjoyed to have a chance to participate. I mean, each time he brought back the ball, it was like he was being given an opportunity to be involved in the game of adults. He had a job. He had a purpose.

I spotted him all over the courts. If he wasn’t making sand angels, he was building castles or subdivisions to those castles. (It was pretty clear he was astute in both ancient and modern residential architecture). He seemed very busy, but nevertheless he was happy to be interrupted, always happy to play with us.

As the night went on, I thought to myself that his parents must wonder where he is, and would frown at him dirtying up his pants with his chorus of angels across the sand, but then it dawned on me, that he didn’t have parents, or at least, ones that cared where he was at 11 at night. He asked me for 5 pesos (about 15 cents) and I told him he deserved more for being a good player and fetching us the ball.

So when the Americans finally got tired and started getting ready to leave, he came to collect his fee. But he wasn’t begging, no, he just wanted to be involved in the game, to be able to play like any 8 year old should. In total, he got 20 pesos, and turned down an offer for a bottle of water. He slinked away and headed back out to his vast playground.

I took a look at the ball I held. It showed signs of serious wear, in fact, the stitching started to bulge where the inexpensive ball took too many hits from my training session with the young women’s volleyball team, which for the record, are still trying to get me to spike it correctly.

I looked at the ball, and then my friend making the rounds in his subdivisions, fleet of angels, and castles in the sand. I called him over.

Holding out the ball, I asked, “Mira ‘manito, tu la quieres?” (Hey little brother, do you want this?)

“Que?” (What?)

“La pelota, tu la quieres? Te la regalo.” (The ball, do you want it? I’ll give it to you.)

Two dirty hands reached out and took hold of something so prized, so valuable, so unattainable for an 8 year old of his stature:

free admission to every future volleyball game.

. . .

A friend and I got a coca-cola and sat down before heading home.

I looked over to the court where we played and I saw a young man finally playing with the big boys. Half their size, he was dwarfed by giants around him, and even though he couldn’t get that ball over the net, it didn’t matter, he didn’t get booted off.

This was his game now, because it was his ball, and you know what? He looked like what an 8 year-old should look like: happy and playing with the big boys.

“Let it Shine” – (April ’12 Newsletter)


Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Let it Shine ” – April 2012

Hi everyone, just a quick note: I’m 70% of the way through my fundraising for the next four months that I’ll be serving with HOPE International until the end of August ’12. If you’d like to be a part of the mission that I’m doing here in the Dominican Republic, you can easily donate online with a credit card, or send a check with information listed here:

Have you ever met someone that within the first 30 seconds, you knew you were going to like them? Last week, I met a nine year old girl on a visit to one of the schools in our micro-lending program in San Pedro de Macoris. Within our program, we make loans to private schools to build classrooms or computer labs. By being a part of the Esperanza-Edify program, schools also have the opportunity to take part in business training focused on managing a school, and teacher training (www.AMOprogram) geared toward integrating Christian lessons into daily curriculum.

Apr-12-News-02While sitting in the office with the director, I noticed a young girl peeking her head around the corner, smiling and going back to her work. I’m not sure if she was in trouble and she was being disciplined by having to sit so close to the office, but I thought I would go and investigate. As part of my responsibilities with the program, I go and work with the school administration to develop a “school profile” which entails basic school information like classrooms and number of teachers, to more in-depth information like financial situation, Christian education, and future expansion plans.

Adriana was more than happy to be my tour guide.

The first thing you need to know about Adriana, is that you better have a strong defense for making a statement, because she doesn’t believe everything she hears. The second thing you need to know about Adriana is that her smile is contagious, and if we found some way to package it up and the gleeful chuckle that follows, we could sell it to everyone who needed sunshine on a cloudy day, and surely we’d be zillionaires.

Apr-12-News-03Within a few minutes of small talk, it’s clear that Adriana doesn’t believe my name’s lineage can be traced to the brother of Moses, so Jose, part of our team, goes and fetches a Bible. He flips to Numbers, and in chapter 20, we find my name displayed in the title of verse 22. “But Aaron is dead!!!” she exclaims. I am quick to point out, that “this” Aaron is still alive. She laughs, I laugh, Jose laughs. Jose adds that his name is also found in the New Testament, and just like I told you earlier, she doesn’t believe him either. But as they study the genealogy of Jesus, she yells her new discovery, “But you’re the father of Jesus!!!”

Adriana isn’t afraid of asking questions, nor of challenging people to explain their position to fill in the gaping holes in their logic. She wants to know if I’m a Christian, and I say “yes,” she says “How?” (Haha!) and when I asked her if she was a Christian, she assuredly replies that “Two years ago, when I was seven, I was baptized in the water at the beach.” I have no doubt that there may have been a theological tussle with her pastor as he led her out to the water.

With such abundant joy and vitality found in a young lady like Adriana, my mind quickly turns to a few likely outcomes for someone like her in the community where she lives. I noticed on the way in that her neighborhood doesn’t have paved streets, there are no visible places of work aside from the tiny corner stores selling basic food items, many men young and old are sitting around without jobs, Apr-12-News-04much of the houses have walls and roofs of sheet metal, and in fact, this particular community is called “Death Beach.”

I know, not just from the statistics, but from people I’ve met how easy it is not to succeed in a place like this. It’s not just because of laziness or lack of opportunity. There are real and evident forms of destruction in the community. It’s almost as if the environment is actively working against those doing good. If you’re not involved in black market activities, drug sales, or prostitution, then you’re going against the grain.

These are not simple temptations. They are better expressed as “pressures.” Compare, for example, you’re on a diet and the ice cream aisle is tempting, or you’re at a friend’s birthday party where someone hands you a plate full of cake and ice cream. You can glide on by that freezer door, but a plate in your hand is much more difficult to toss away. Or compare this, seeing the new clothing your neighbors are wearing purchased with money that comes from illegal activities, to the situation where someone in your family asking you to deliver a package and accept the money when a buyer comes to the door.

This is the reality for someone like Adriana. The above mentioned activities are not mere temptations, but rather, here in this community, people actively solicit the youth to participate. One example of this comes from talking to a pastor a few months ago, when he explained to me that he has seen many teen pregnancies in the community as a result of economic pressure. Apr-12-News-05When I asked him to elaborate he says, “When a young girl doesn’t have money to pay the bus driver to go into town for work or school, he simply tells her, ‘You can pay me in different ways . . .’”

Can you imagine this being a reality for the children in your family or your neighborhood?

I find myself thinking again and again to how we can fight the rising tide of violence, drugs, and prostitution at ‘Death Beach’. How can we provide safe places for these children to grow up and live? How can we partner with schools to bring them quality education, give them access to create a world different from the one they are living? How can we continue making micro-loans and providing business training to relieve economic pressures for moms and dads? How can we continue to let the light of bright students like Adriana shine?

As we’re preparing to leave, Adriana wants to know when we’ll come back to visit.

We assure her that as part of the program, we check in with the schools regularly. Her school is deep into the series on the wisdom of Proverbs, and we’ll be back to see how the lessons are progressing. They’ll be using this curriculum for the next year and her teachers will attend our teacher training workshop in the summer. We’ll also be notifying the director and administrator of our business training coming up soon, and we’ll include them in other activities to connect them with other Christian schools in the area.

Apr-12-News-06She and 20 other children wave goodbye as we drive away. To be honest with you, those hard questions are ones we wrestle with everyday, and we do have the opportunity to answer them with HOPE International and their on-the-ground partner Esperanza and Edify, and we are making real and tangible efforts in communities like this one.

Thinking about children like Adriana, I do feel at peace knowing that the Spirit of the Lord is upon her, protecting her and guiding her. She wears her joy ostensibly and she shares of it freely. Her charisma makes me think of this passage:

“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.” (Luke 8:16)

and this song we sang as kids:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.”

I pray that we continue to help these lights shine brightly in the communities where we work. Please pray for that too.

Blessings to you and your family,
(540) 421-8683
Skype: aprothwm05