Category Archives: Dominican Republic

“Neighborhood Missionaries” – Aug/Sept. ’14

Aaron Roth – – “Neighborhood Missionaries” – Aug/Sept. 2014

I’m still in Peru working with the local partner to establish the first few schools of our Edify program in Lima. We had a big school conference last month where over 50 schools and approximately 240 participants came to learn about our program, receive business training and Christian development training for their school. I hope to update you all on our progress this coming month, but let me use this newsletter to talk about a family very close to me in the Dominican Republic. -Aaron

I have had many unique experiences over the past four years in Latin America and most of them have happened while living with a local family. “Live with a family” is usually the advice I give to anyone considering taking the time to study a language. I believe that language is really about living life, and there’s no better place to live daily life, than

with a family.So for that, I have to credit most of the Spanish I use every day, to the experiences from all the birthdays, church services, buying strange foods and eating them, and the endless cultural or language faux pas I’ve committed. But it’s not just words and phrases I picked up from them; I have learned a tremendous amount about local culture, and how to understand that very culture I intend to serve, and how living a life of witness goes even deeper than simply proclaiming those words.

Inside the American church, I had often felt like the perspective of a ready missionary was to “go, serve, and witness” with a heavier focus on the “witness” than on the “serve.” Christian witness of course is the application of the great commission of Christ, commanding us to go into the world and make disciples in the image of Christ. (Matt. 28:19) But what that often implied to me was that the people we were going to go witness to had no idea who Christ was and needed to be introduced to him through the formal methods of evangelism. Of course, as any short or long-term missionary can attest to, the ones being “sent” from the United States, end up “receiving” a good deal of the transformation themselves in the process of witnessing, or intending to transform the local community.

And so it was with me. I have had the great blessing of being able to live life with three different host families: in Guatemala, in Nicaragua and in the Dominican Republic, and I

 have been changed and transformed living with them and learning from them. My Dominican family has been the closest to me because of the long-term relationship I’ve been able to have with them. It was exactly four years ago that I went to the Dominican Republic and met Federico and Rebecca Moreta, and even after my two years with them, I was able to be a part of their lives when my work with Edify took me back to the island.Federico and Rebecca had been faithful members of their local church Luz y Vida (Light and Life) Mennonite church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and it was through this connection that I met them. My father knew of a missionary couple and asked them about a possible host family for me back in 2010. The couple contacted another American couple who informed me via email that while Federico and Rebecca had never hosted someone from the States, they felt compelled to open their home to me.

The reason why still fascinates me to this day. Apparently, about 10 years ago one of their children fell incredibly sick and needed better health care outside of the Dominican Republic. Through a sponsor, Rebecca was able to take her sick child to the United States and during the three months, a family from a church (I believe it was in Ohio or Michigan) took her and her son into their home. (Sadly, they lost that son to a terminal illness during that visit to the States). This family treated her like one of their own, and she knew that someday the Lord would call on her to do the same thing.

So there I was, “the caller,” in the fall of 2010, being welcomed in with open arms and being crawled over by their two sons, Josias of four years and Railyn of eight. Thus began one of the most remarkable periods of my life – living with a Dominican family in the ghetto – and experiencing all that happens on a day to day basis, just like another child of the family.

So let me tell a quick story: one day, I was at home and I received a knock at the door from Rebecca’s sister. She was in hysterics because her daughter was having complications during the delivery of her child and was losing blood rapidly. Because of the economic conditions in that area, the clinic where the girl was a patient would not dispense the necessary blood until an economic sponsor came to pay for the procedure and the blood. This is an all too common story in these tough areas: lack of insurance and lack of paying clients pushes these health clinics to accept these kinds of policies.

I told Rebecca’s sister that the boys and Federico would be home soon, and soon after they arrived, Rebecca came rushing in after leaving work early in the only car the family owned. Federico and Rebecca were calm, and even though I had only been a “son” for two weeks, they entrusted me with their boys, and raced off to the clinic to purchase the blood so that their niece and newborn would live.

There are countless stories that impacted me over the past four years with them, but maybe the most impressive thing was how a story like this was a regular occurrence where the family did what Christ called them to do. They consistently made the right decisions, to love, to not ask questions, to respect, to stand firm, to ask questions, to forgive, to be just, and to practice grace.

On my last visit with them exactly two months ago, Federico was busy in the men’s leadership of his church organizing and managing the disciplining program which paired up older men of the faith with younger men, some of who never grew up with their fathers. They also had a niece staying with them who has had some trouble at home. And like always, when we had a meal, instead of just the six of us, they prepared enough food for the three cousins, and two neighbors who just dropped on by.

You see, their definition of “family” and “witness” are one in the same.


What I believe happens overseas is that most of these heroes of the faith go unsung and their stories diluted. The American church gets the filtered and friendly stories from their representative abroad (like yours truly). While this isn’t optimal, it’s certainly not terrible, because I believe that the spirit of the story makes its way to you and people like Federico and Rebecca never go looking for any kind of acclaim. They just live their lives following the example of Jesus in the neighborhood where God has called them.

That I believe is what a true missionary is. Someone who listens to God’s voice in their life, relies on the Holy Spirit to guide them to live the life that Christ calls them to live.

So then, it is with incredibly sad news that I tell you about the death of a fellow missionary.


Last week, someone had emailed me that Rebecca was very sick. I didn’t know this person so I inquired with some friends to call the family. At just about that time, I received another email telling me that Rebecca was in grave condition in the hospital. It was

through a friend in Santo Domingo that I learned that Rebecca had died that very morning.Apparently earlier on in the week she had felt somewhat ill but continued working, and

Wednesday afternoon when it seemed more serious she checked into the hospital. Last Thursday morning she died in a hospital room a midst puzzled doctors and a flurry of medical equipment.I do not remember the last time I cried like that when I received this news.

Because you see, Rebecca, was my mother too. Her children were my brothers, and her husband was my Dominican dad. They were the people that helped to center me during my two years in the Dominican Republic and translated so many Dominican slang into common Spanish for me. They were the people that helped me understand that if you really wanted to serve people in the name of Christ it had less to do with shuffling papers and managing inboxes and more to do with being present in a community that desperately needed His hope.

Federico and Rebecca showed me that the first mission field is the family, and they have raised two great young men. On my last visit, their sons showed me their report cards from school, and told me how even though they didn’t like homework, they still knew it was part of their daily schedule. Josias was improving in his English, being quite the talker like his American brother (me), and Railyn had already memorized the books of the Bible and could recite to me memory verses from the past month.

What you also do not know is that while I have been working in microfinance for roughly four years, Rebecca was a branch manager of a microfinance organization for about 12 years. Often we talked about the need for access to credit for the economically poor, and how the follow-up after making the loan to continue with the relationship was more important than the loan itself.

She loved the idea of providing small business loans to low-cost Christian schools like what we do in Edify. She would have carried the banner for that idea in her organization, because she believed in education in the home.


I know what Rebecca would do if she knew I was writing about her. She’d smile and brush off the compliments with a simple response that she had told me many times:

“If this is who you are, then this is what you do.”

 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)”

She really did live like she had her heart on the things of heaven, and I know her family will continue her legacy.


Would you pray for her husband, her two boys, their niece, and all her family in their time of grieving?

Thank you for listening. My prayers be with all of you as well.



“Edify Family Experience Camp” – July ’14

edify_logoAaron Roth – – “Family Experience Camp” – July 2014

I’m back in Lima, Peru after almost five weeks in the Dominican Republic (DR). The weeks in the DR seemed to fly by very quickly because after the first week with two colleagues from ADRA Peru (our Peruvian partner), I headed to the eastern part of the island to work with the Edify Family Experience Camp for the following three weeks. It’s a really quick turnaround from week to week because we drop off families and pick others up at the airport in addition to working in three different schools in La Romana, DR.

Between week 2 and 3 I flew home for my dad’s retirement celebration. We celebrated his 34 years in the pastorate and 19 years at the Linville Creek congregation in Broadway, VA. As you can imagine, it’s nice to be back in Lima, Peru not having to travel for awhile. The following newsletter is about the three weeks of the Edify Family Experience Camp of 2014. -Aaron

Our purpose for having these family experience camps is to bring families from the US closer to the realities of the areas of economic poverty where we work and to celebrate with a few schools in our loan and training program in the Dominican Republic. We call our trip more of a “Vacation with a Purpose” instead of a “Mission Trip” because the week is geared toward a relaxed family environment where we spend part of the day in the school with children and part of the vacation time doing a book study using “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

By having the ability to experience different economic realities during the day and discussing these differences using a technical guide, we allow guests to learn the theory at night and see it in practice during the day. I believe this is very important for our guests – including our staff – because when you have an open discussion on what works vs. what doesn’t, and what helps vs. what hurts, everyone benefits and we reduce the tendency to think of ourselves as superior, wealthier Americans with a lot to give and foreigners who are just waiting to receive.

Instead, we’re able to sit at a common table where all of us see our areas of poverty: relationships, time, value, unhappiness and distance from God, and we seek solutions to alleviate these areas of poverty. We are very well aware that any form of development takes much longer than a week, including the development of a new perspective, so we really try to encourage guests to come with an open mind and plenty of flexibility, so that the Lord will show us what He desires we see. I like this laid-back approach much better than trying to mandate the feelings or conclusions people come away with.

When you push and you pressure, it’s less fun and less effective, so really what it comes down to is being open to see what God has for the week, and naturally relationships will form and flourish in that environment. In a way, we can learn how we can better treat the people we work and live at home by experiencing another culture.

Our theme for this past summer was a verse from the parable of the “Good Samaritan” in Luke where a man responds to Jesus’ question regarding what he must do to inherit eternal life:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

Each day we try to instill more applications of the principles in the verse to the students in the family camp. After each week, each participant collects their own stories from the previous week. Here are a few stories that I took away from family camp this past summer that demonstrated what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

Ruth & Esmerelda

In the first week of family camp, we worked inside a school called, “Paso a Paso” or “Step by Step.” I remember meeting Haidy, the director, over two years ago when we promoted business training for schools in La Romana, Domincan Republic. She is a mother of a special needs child and when she saw that no public school was giving him the attention he needed to develop, she created her own school to attend to students with certain development needs.

Now, more than 10 years later she has a school with over 100 children that come to receive a great Christian education, and not all the students are special needs, but it is quite amazing to witness how the other classmates treat the students with special needs.

Ruth, who has limited functioning in her hands and arms, and very limited ability in her legs, sits and draws with the other students in her class. When she needs to move to a new classroom, a student will pick her up, and when she needs to go to the bathroom a teacher or the director will help her. She’s quite intelligent and social, and is probably a little timid given her inability to run around with the other kids, but regarding timidity we could of course chalk that up to the fact she’s a 4th grader.

Meet Esmerelda, she’s just as sassy as any other six year-old Dominican girl. She wants to be a part of everything. Every game, every activity and every photo. You’ll take a photo, show it to her, she’ll shriek that it’s not her best, so you’ll have to take another one. At times, you can say she needs a bit more management because she has Down’s syndrome, but you could also say she’s tuckered out from being around so many people she wants to meet.

Ruth and Esmerelda are treated like their other classmates. Do you know how profound that is for a country that is still in its “developing” status? They are accepted and loved like they weren’t any different from the others – and hey, aren’t we all a little different anyway?

Willie and the Car Workshop

One day, after a few school visits, one of our transport vans didn’t start up. We loaded the rest of the guests into the other vehicles and they headed back home while I met up with a local mechanic to go see what we could do about the problematic van. I was dropped off at his workshop which was mostly a small parking lot with some temporary canvas awnings blocking the heavy sun off the workers. I counted about five mechanics ranging in age from 18 to 50 and two more young teenagers. 

As I stood there for about half an hour waiting for Willie to clear some time in his schedule to go visit the distressed van, I got to see the local operation of his car repair business. I must have seen seven or eight different conversations or transactions between the mechanics, delivery men and other visitors. I felt like I was in the middle of some shipping docks with a few ships of different shapes and sizes arriving and leaving at the same time, offloading goods, boarding passengers, repairing components and asking technical questions. I was amazed that no person nor transport collided; Willie had it all under control.

Finally we set sail for the van, and I got the chance to ask Willie about his fleet of workers. “ . . . and what about the two young men, do they work for you permanently?

“Well, half the time. They are in school during the year, so I only let them work with me half a day. They are crazy about learning about engines and components and repair. If it were up to them they’d sleep in the workshop. I told them they need to be in school. I won’t hire them full-time until they finish school. That’s the deal.”

I saw not only why Willie was a great manager, but also why he was a great man. Someone treated him just like he’s treating these young men: with guidelines and a gentle strictness to a good principle. Someday they’ll thank him when they are managers of their own repair shop yelling at young workers to stay on schedule or grab some parts from a supplier. They’ll see that he had their destiny in mind the whole time.

La Familia Ortiz

After a total of six family camps I am pretty sure that the oldest group, ages 12-13, is where I belong. Not because this is my actual maturity level, but because they are older and you can have real conversations with them. I normally refer to them as “Los Verdes” or “The Greens” because of the shirt color we give them, but I normally give them an option of choosing a new name. I try to convince the boys that they should think about really manly titles like “Little Rabbits” or “The Flowers.” They don’t usually go for those, so this year when I had the greens one week it was “The Disciples” and the other was “La Familia Ortiz.”

One of my common topics in newsletters come from the “things I don’t get used to” and how the green group chose “La Familia Ortiz” has its roots in that. I find that the young guys are really keen on knowing who I am and what I think about a variety of topics. It’s like they are looking not just for an older brother, but a positive male leader. I don’t think I’ll get used to hearing the young men tell me that their father left at such a young age, or they’ve never met him, or they only know him when he flies in by night usually with alcohol on his breath. I definitely am not used to that. I try to be different; I try to be a better man than they’ve known, even if it’s for a week.

The school we worked with told all the students that we were friends of the school, and these Americans were really more like uncles and aunts than guests. So with that warm introduction, they wanted to know who I am what I think about their community and if I’ve thought I could ever live in the Dominican Republic for a long time. They want to connect, so they asked me what my last name is to find their uncle, me, on Facebook. I joke with them that I don’t know it, and when I ask for suggestions for last names I ask them who some famous Dominican baseball players are.

After hearing a few examples I say, “Oh yeah, Ortiz! That’s it!”

They respond in disbelief, “Aaron Ortiz! Seriously? You’re Aaron Ortiz!?”

“Yes, so with a more Dominican last name I guess that makes us a little more like family right?”

“Yes! La Familia Ortiz!”

“Well, what do families do here?”

“We get together and have big meals. Big barbecues, everyone is invited.”

“I think that sounds like a fantastic idea.”

“Aaron, when you come back we should all have a big bbq for La Familia Ortiz!”

It crushes me each time when I think about how “coming back” is a promise that will be very difficult to fulfill, so I tell them that our organization works with the schools directly, and we have a lot of schools in the program in the DR, so really we are all family. So when we get together as believers in one faith, we get to celebrate with family. It doesn’t matter the country, the community, the language or the skin color. We’re all family.

They loved it. Every time we had to round up the groups, they shouted, “La Familia Ortiz! La Familia Ortiz!”

On the last day, they shouted that we needed our family photo. Many kids wanted individual photos with Uncle Aaron Ortiz. It was so fun. But then of course comes the part where the young men show their weakness. The same young men who tell me their stories, don’t just ask me, but really want to know, “So you’ll come back right? You’ll come back here for the bbq?”

What do you say to something like that? Normally, I’d say, “If it’s soon, or if it’s later, you know we’re still La Familia Ortiz right?” They smile and shake my hand, “Sí, somos de la Familia Ortiz.” (We are the Ortiz Family.)

Bernie and His Older Brother

One of our guests at Family Camp, a long-time Texas Rangers fan, and current little league coach, suggested to me that we should try to play a pick-up game with Bernie, a student from the school, and his friends. He had an eagerness in his request not just that he was interested in seeing the talent of Bernie, but that he and his son would enjoy a more personal connection with local students in a common passion for baseball.

We made the arrangements during the breaks of family camp with Bernie and assured him that we’d come ready to play, and yes, of course his older brother could come to. But why was Bernie so insistent on his older brother participating? As it turns out, Ernest, now 20 years old, just three years ago was selected into the development academy for the Baltimore Orioles, but unfortunately, on the day he was to sign his contract for a triple A team in the U.S., an all too common story occurred – they simply didn’t have room and he was dropped from the roster.

So on Thursday afternoon there we were, four Americans, with Bernie and friends catching fly balls and turning double plays in the scorching Dominican heat on a rocky and grass-barren field just outside the local stadium. What was amazing to note was that his older brother, Ernest was indeed talented, a true natural, but what impressed us most was his father-like care for his younger brother. I spent some time talking with Ernest asking him about his plans. He told me that he’s still playing baseball, and is hopeful to get picked up again by some scouts, yeah, he’s working a little bit, and really he should finish his degree soon.

I asked him about what he thought of his younger brother, “You know, he’s the real natural. When he gets his growth spurt, I think he’s got potential. But I don’t want him to go down the road I did. I want him to have a better future. I want him to finish school first.”

I played that conversation over in my mind, and a question stood out to me: “What do we leave, when we leave the island?” Do we come to see the sights and sounds and taste the local flair, and applaud the talented youth? Because we will come, and we will go, that much is true. But what impact will we make with our time, with our resources, with our energy? To a young man, who had seen the real promise of a dream on ink and paper, and in one day seen it taken all away, I see that he desires the surest route for a better future for his younger brother.

That I believe is what he wants us to cheer for, that is what he hopes we will bring to the island and how we will treat our Dominican neighbors.


I pray that you’ve been having an enjoyable summer and have had the opportunities to be involved in your community. Please pray for us here in Lima, Peru as we continue to implement the Edify school loan and training program.


Less is More

Have you thought about what really makes you happy? I mean, really makes you happy. I read a blog post some time ago where the author said that one way to find this you have to think about what is the perfect day to you. What happens in that day where everything goes right? You wake up feeling rested. You eat your favorite breakfast. Play some good songs. The sun is shining. You take a walk with a friend, or your dog. You meet some friends for lunch. You hike a trail, or go to the river, or go for a drive. You try some wine, or some beer, or you go to a baseball game.

I suppose your list looks a bit like that or something similar. What I find interesting about this exercise is that the list in itself is never complex. It’s composed of really simple things, and oddly enough, they aren’t very expensive. Then why, is happiness so expensive? Why do we buy so much? Or maybe a better question is, “Why do we buy so much but never really use what we buy nor remember what we bought?”less-is-more-dominican-baseball-july-2014

I think the point is clear, if you can’t remember how, when, or what really makes you happy then it probably isn’t a source of happiness.

Being in the Dominican Republic for me is a reminder of how easy it is to be happy without having to spend much at all. What made me happy were the times with friends, the laughter, the music, the small trips, the conversations with locals, being outside, walking around in beautiful areas, finding local fields to play with neighborhood kids. These are all elements of experience that costs so little, just some time and some up-front planning.

What I also realize is that if I spend my money on things not only do I have less money, but I have less time to do other things, and less space for the things I want. This may sound painfully obvious, but it’s really a change in perspective. To do things that make you happy you’ve got to stop doing the things that prevent you from being happy.

Doing less, buying less, occupying less is really more.

The joy of buying less, keeping less, owning less.

“Through the Valley” – (June ’14 Newsletter)

edify_logoI know it’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a newsletter. Initially, I had intended this newsletter regarding my mission work with Edify to be monthly, but the past five months have been really slow, and up and down in terms of our progress. I prefer to have some news or updates to convey when I communicate, and I hadn’t felt that I had some good solid news, until now. The past six weeks have simply been fantastic in terms of the progressJune-14-News-01 we’ve made and I’m glad to share them with you now. A quick note, I just recently arrived to the Dominican Republic to host an internship for our local Peruvian partner and work in our three week Family Experience program with some Dominican schools. More on that below. -Aaron

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8 NIV)

When you sign onto a new project or initiative you usually have some idea of what you’re getting into. It is pretty tough when a new, demanding responsibility takes you by surprise and you find yourself saying, “I had no idea it would be like this.” Well, for me, I suppose I had some idea that the process of starting something new would take some time, and June-14-News-02bringing a new program that has worked in other countries would certainly not be a cookie-cutter implementation in a new country. That’s all true, I knew that. But it’s been really difficult to be so patient, and I was not expecting it to be so difficult for me.

Every time I have the chance to talk to someone back home, it’s always encouraging and reassuring to me. My friends, mentors, and family all remind me why I made the decision to work abroad and what it means for the local community here, and why I do what I do. I believe that God has a plan for redemption for these economically poor communities and a way to restore what was broken.

I know that this is a cohesive story that begins with love and ends in redemption. It’s a true story that we are all familiar with, and yet it is new every time we come back to it. This story is good and beautiful, and we love telling it. Hmmm, well, we love the beginning, and certainly the ending, and when we compare the before and after it makes the everything clearer and more meaningful, and brings a well defined conclusion to beginning. But I think there’s a part that doesn’t get much airtime, certainly it’s a part I had forgotten.June-14-News-03

The middle.

I’d been in the middle for about a year in Peru. I’ve had the great blessing to be able to work in Latin America with various Christian organizations that are committed to doing good work in the name of Christ. I have seen so much of the “before” – the brokenness of a community, all the pain and the suffering, and I have seen the beautiful “after.” Lives have been changed, students graduate, adults learn to read, communities become safer, families can afford to live better and healthier, and individuals learn that God has not forgotten them, and that life is much better trusting Him and knowing and living like Jesus. I’ve been a part of that story many times.

But the middle? I kind of wanted to skip over that. Go around it, jump over it, race through it, but I’ve realized that sometimes you just can’t. You can’t really be past something unless you pass through it first.

June-14-News-04Honestly, the middle was hard. It was hard for the simple reason that I came with a purpose, and I hadn’t been able to fulfill it. Let me remind you though, that this is kind of an American struggle. Many of my Latin America friends do not usually align their feelings of spiritual fulfillment with career success. (I’ve often said to many of my friends back home that Americans aren’t really fulfilled unless they are slightly dissatisfied with their progress. How can we ever find peace with this kind of mentality? Anyway, that’s a topic for another newsletter . . .)

Throughout all the months, the visits, the calls, the emails, the meetings, what has continually motivated me is that I have seen the program work. Knowing that our program for low-cost Christian schools has impacted more than a quarter of a million students in Africa and the Caribbean inspires me to take this program into the communities I’ve visited in Lima, Peru.
As I’ve seen now, sometimes to really have a breakthrough you’ve got to try to step back, analyze the situation, pray about it, and make a new plan. That’s just what we did. Together with the Edify team we put forth a grand effort the past two months to make this work in Peru. I’m glad to tell you today, that we are finally on our way here in Peru. The past two months have been a tremendous amount of work. With a signed contract, transferred funds, and a pool of schools that have loan applications in progress, I feel like we’ve crossed through the valley, and I am more excited than ever to see this program work in Lima.

You know what I think helped us get to where we are? I believe it was our commitment to walk through the middle with our partner.

The past few months we’ve worked so hard to build up the technical aspects of the program, with a future goal of a week-long internship in the Dominican Republic with our Peruvian colleagues. What I understand from last week is that there is nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, walking in the same communities, talking with the local staff and being inspired by the men and women of the Edify-supported schools in the Dominican Republic. Our local Dominican staff have been amazing. They have been so hospitable and welcoming to our PeJune-14-News-06ruvian colleagues. What I’ve seen in the past week has been a visible ascent of coming out of the valley.

From a wider perspective, when you look at both sides of a new partnership, both parties have their own questions, doubts, and processes for which they need time to understand. I think I was ready to push this program through all the way to the communities in Lima that I had visited because I was confident, I had seen it, and touched it. But in order for others to be in this same place, you’ve got to take them on the journey as well. The feedback from our Peruvian colleagues has been incredibly positive. I really feel like they’ve caught the vision, and are more equipped than ever to bring this program to Peru.

There have been so many people who have walked through the middle with me this past year. My colleagues at Edify, my friends, my family, and of course I’ve felt the presence of the Lord more than ever.

June-14-News-05Thank you to all of you who have supported me over the past year, and get ready to celebrate with me when we get our first few schools in the program in Lima in the next few weeks!

For now, I’ll be in the Dominican Republic, celebrating with my Dominican colleagues for what the Lord has already done here with our family experience camps. That’s what I’ll write about in the next newsletter.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

I pray that you maintain the vision you have, and that you don’t let go of what you know to be true.


My Spanish is not “Perfect” – but I Know What You Mean

Where I work on a day to day basis I’m usually the only white person, and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who speaks English. It’s funny sometimes to see the expression on the school directors face when they fear that they are about to have a conversation with a Gringo. They worry that they’ll have to use their rusty English to communicate. I tell them “Don’t worry, I speak Spanish.”

Usually at that moment, the loan officer or person I’m traveling with will chime in: “Yes, he speaks Spanish perfectly, you’ll be fine!”

I know this is not the case. I recognize my own grammatical errors, but frankly I’m too tired or too unwilling to stop them. My accent needs a lot of work, and I usually choose the easier phrase rather than the most adequate because I don’t want the hassle. It’s kind of like I ask myself, do I want to cook something on the stove, or just heat it up in the microwave? I’ll tell you honestly, the mornings are better for stove cooking. Afternoons, well, I’d just like to punch in some numbers and wait for the “ding.”

I realized though, that more often than not, when people describe my Spanish to other people, they use the word “perfect” and in fact, they use the word “perfect” to describe other things, like when a plan goes well.

I think as Americans, we’re obsessed with perfection. Beauty in youth, 100% grades on report cards, and flawless victories in sports. Often, it’s what people aim for even if they aren’t saying it.

Maybe here, in my travels, perfection means “done well” or “good enough.” I’d consider my Spanish more of the latter, and yes, I know sometimes, I do it well. I really have come to accept that my Spanish is good enough. I have friends who only speak Spanish, I make phone calls to strangers, and I conduct business meetings in Spanish. It gets the job done. It’s fine. It’s good. Here, it’s perfect.

You know, there are a lot of reasons why people travel: to get away from work, to explore foreign lands, to have an adventure in a place they’ve never been, to meet fun and exciting people, to stretch themselves, to become something different than they have been before.

For some of us seeking perfection, it’s a lot closer than anticipated.

“La perfección se logra al fin, no cuando no hay nada que agregar, sino cuando ya no hay nada que obtener.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“The Joy to Continue” (Nov. ’12 Newsletter)

HOPE International  edify_logo

 Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “The Joy to Continue” – Nov. 2012



It’s been just over six weeks since I left the Dominican Republic, and some part of me is still figuring out which country I’m actually in. After spending the past two years in a hot, humid climate, it’s more than the physical change that I’m trying to process. To think that I was able to spend my daily life with some of the most passionate and joyful people I have ever met, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived, still astounds me and fills me with gratitude.

Thanksgiving has always been important in our family. A few years ago my cousin Andy commented about the nature of Thanksgiving having much less expectation than Christmas, “At Thanksgiving, you just Nov-12-News-02show up, and it delivers.” The last time I had sat at the family table was 2009, and I simply felt content to be there a week ago. To be around people that I loved, that loved me, and with whom I could share stories and crack jokes without having to fill in any back story or translate an unusual phrase was a blessing.

Maybe it’s odd to say this, but to me the best part of Thanksgiving is precisely when you’ve assembled that “perfect bite” on the fork, complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and gravy fighting gravity. You take ready aim and as you anticipate the cornucopia of flavors just seconds from hitting a sea of taste buds, you see the rest of your family in various stages of meal-making, eagerly awaiting to dig into their plated constructions, eyes fixed on assembling their own perfect bite.

Nov-12-News-03That memory is full and recent, and I can still taste it.

But just six weeks ago, I spent much of my life around people who didn’t have enough to eat. I played with kids with bloated bellies from parasites, orange reddish hair from iron deficiency, and sores on their legs from bacteria that could be wiped away with medicine that costs a few bucks.

I don’t bring this up to make you or me feel guilty. We are blessed to be where we are and live how we live, and I believe the right and mature response is to make more room at our tables. Poverty is still a crushing reality for millions of people in this world, and indeed, probably a few minutes from where we live. Unfortunately though, it can be an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing, where as soon as the image disappears, so does our preoccupation with doing something about it.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve been concerning myself with trying to keep warm and getting all my ducks in a row for my next stage of life which includes Central America for eight months, and hopefully graduate school. What’s funny to me as I read these application essay questions about “a time in my life where I’ve been challenged” I’m a bit frustrated not over “what do I write about” but with “which story do I pick?”

Nov-12-News-04Questions like these, give me cause to think about how my experience over the past two and a half years might help make me a better candidate for the application committee. And certainly, if I get an interview, which would take place in Nicaragua or nearby Costa Rica, that would probably help my odds. But now I ask myself, “Is this why I did it? Did I do this for my resume, for my grad school application, for a great ‘life story.?’”

Many of the visitors to the Dominican Republic would comment on just how happy people were even though they were living in rudimentary or even ghetto-like areas. I would often hear the comment “They don’t have much, but they’re so happy!” Now, being back, it’s even stranger to think about that contrast in respect to our modern day life with that of a developed nation. I suppose we could say, “We have so much, and we still aren’t happy!” (Sounds weirder doesn’t it?) I would suggest that even with our piles of things, and credit card debts to fund them, we have trouble seeing that “things” still don’t make us content, like solid relationships with people we care about.

What I think we see behind the façade of material poverty are people who live more connected to each other. They have to. They have no choice. Poverty does not allow for separate bedrooms, individual computers, or text messaged reminders to sit down at the table. Consequently, relationships are stronger, people deal with conflict, because they have to, and something honest and pure emerges Nov-12-News-05when people find a true source of happiness.


It’s such a small word. It can get lost behind the big words of materialism or self-actualization. It’s so miniscule, but if you’ve ever seen it, if you’ve ever felt it, if you’ve ever tasted it at Thanksgiving because you were just so happy to be home with the loving people who raised you to be the person you are today, you’ll know exactly what it is. Joy carries a tremendous significance that is worth giving up the pursuit of things in the modern day race to the top.

Even experiences or hobbies, accomplishments or current positions in an organization can fall into the category of “things.” Where if we buy and show off what we’ve got, we’ll be happier overall. I mean, look at my previous question about what being abroad could do for me professionally, and what I really experienced over the past two years. It’s like I can separate “career moves” into two categories.

I look ahead to six weeks from now when I’ll begin a new assignment. One that will bring great challenge, and one that will test my strength and my commitment to what I believe. I think it would be silly to say that I’m Nov-12-News-05going to beef up my resume or grad school application in Nicaragua and Honduras to help Edify build up and empower small, affordable schools. Truly doing something good in life is worth more than a few lines on a piece of paper.

Maybe it’s a fear of inadequacy that makes us tirelessly climb the corporate ladder, speed up just because everyone else is speeding, or fixate on the the huge advertisements to keep up with the Joneses that diverts us from a true destination as we travel. I’ve learned that sometimes the best destinations on the highway are pointed to not with the most audacious lettering but often by meager, modest signs.

Joy is something so tiny, so pure, so innocent that once it makes an appearance its little light can destroy what once were monstrous distractions. You’ve seen it before haven’t you? In your kids, and in your spouse, in your family, in a job well-labored and well worth it, in a celebration of what is good and right, in a victory that comes after months or years of struggle and despair. I think when we see true joy we throw off all that slows us down.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)”

I want to continue God’s work with our local brothers and sisters in Nicaragua and Honduras to help children receive a better education, helping to make a place at His Thanksgiving table for everyone.

That is the joy I want to taste and see.

I pray that you are able to see the things that distract you and steal your joy, and that the Lord would help throw off the things that hold you down.

Blessings to you and your family,


“One of the 10 Reasons I Started this Journey” (Oct. ’12 Newsletter)

 Hi everyone,

After almost two years in the Dominican Republic with HOPE International, I am now back in the States. My specific projects: working in community banking with Esperanza (the local microfinance institution), and working in the lending program to small, affordable Christian schools with Edify (a partner microfinance institution), have come to a close, but my journey isn’t over.

After many meetings, conversations, and prayer, I will continue serving in the area of Christian microfinance with Edify coming up in 2013 in Nicaragua and Honduras. I am hoping to dedicate the November newsletter to this next stage of my life so stay tuned for details, but for now, if you have been financially supporting me in the Dominican Republic, this remaining funds will transfer over automatically into my support fundraising for 2013. You are also welcome to close that support as of this month or the end of the year, but I will keep you on this monthly newsletter as I make the transition to serving in Central America.

On my last trip in the DR, I gave a small talk to an audience of HOPE International partners during our annual President’s Trip. I thought it’d be a fitting way to share my thoughts as I draw a significant chapter of my life to a close this month. See below.

(This is my prepared speech transcript for a talk I gave from this past weekend during a “TED Talks” session at the HOPE President’s Trip)

I used to tell people that there were about 10 reasons why I quit my corporate job in Marketing to go learn Spanish in Guatemala and volunteer with HOPE International here in the DR two and a half years ago. One of those reasons was so that I’d find something to write home about. It was kind of a sheepish way of saying, “I want to find some good writing material so that I can practice.” But let me tell you, it is a dangerous thing to open yourself up to a blank page especially when you’re giving the pen to the Lord.

Oct-12-News-02If you’re like me, then you like to read and write, and take pictures of your travels. You aim to have good stories, or at least a point of reference so that when people ask you, “So, what did you do in the DR?” You can provide them with answers such as: I went to these economically poor communities, met amazing entrepreneurs who live on $2-3 a day, served with some solid Christian leaders with the local lending partners Esperanza and Edify, and I visited some picturesque beaches and areas of natural beauty, some of which are displayed here.

Sometimes it can feel like we need to check a box, and don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of using “checklists” in microlending, but I don’t feel like we should need to check a box when opening up our travel journal and conjuring up an episode of inspiration just so that we can tell people that we did something.

Oct-12-News-03Rather, the experience of opening yourself up to a blank page is something that can, and maybe should be, overwhelming. Through these two years that the Lord has guided me, I’ve realized is that even after thousands of written words, there are so many experiences that I’m still not fully able to write about. I’m not able to communicate the depth or the gravity of the feeling with words or pictures. These are things that have the power to move, to shift and to shape.

How can I explain to you, for example, what it’s like to have two Dominican brothers with whom I only speak Spanish. They love me like a brother even though I’m white, twice their size, and 23 years older than the youngest of the brothers, Josias. Having a family take me in and treat me like a son is an experience that I couldn’t even begin to write home about. It is a strange and beautiful thing. And that’s how most of my stories began.

Public Cars in Santo Domingo: The First of Several Hundred

For example, on my very first week in the country, I was uninitiated to the informal public transportation system in the capital, Santo Domingo. They have these “public cars” which run common bus routes throughout the city. You pay your fare, you squeeze into the car, and you yell at the driver when you want to get out. Simple and effective.

So I’m smashed in the back seat next to a heavy set Dominican, so close, I can’t really tell who’s sweating. I have no idea how in-car cash transactions work, but luckily my new neighbor, who I still have great trouble in understanding his accent is smashed up next to someone in the front and is going to help me out. He reaches his arm through his headrest and forms the number “two” with his hand, which means I guess I’m paying for him. I had some bills in my hand so I take out 100 peso bill, reach it Oct-12-News-04through the window on the outside. He grabs it from the outside of the car, makes the transaction with the driver (whose driving this beat up car at about 40 mph making change), hands the coins to the guy sitting in the middle on the gear shift box who then hands the change to my large seatmate next to me in the back.

Now, I’m stuck with heavy, sweat-laden coins in my left hand. I’ve got no room. Can’t flex my arms to put in my pocket. Just plain stuck. I realize, that this is how I have to sit for the next 10-15 minutes . . . and little did I know, this is what I’d be doing a few hundred times for the next two years of my life. 

The Multitude of Shoe Shiner Salesmen

Another side of Dominican culture that you’ll quickly discover is that men here always have nice shoes. Consequently everywhere you go in the city you can find shoe shiners. Well, one day as I was walking home from work I saw two young boys, probably ages six or seven carrying their shoe Oct-12-News-05shiner boxes toward me. With smiles on their faces, they were bouncing along headed up the street talking to each other, and the one closest to me approaches my path with a little bit of swagger.

He sees me looking at him, and yells up to me, “Hey American, give me five pesos!”

I respond to him, “No, I’m sorry little brother I . . .”

He interrupts me and looks up at me with a huge grin on his face, sticks his finger out and says, “Malo!” (You’re bad!)

He and his buddy laugh as they scamper off.

I thought to myself, “I really don’t think he’s going to make a lot of sales with that attitude.”

Contrast this with the experience with one young gentleman on the streets of San Cristobal. Ariberto (pictured below and to the left) shines shoes to earn money for his breakfast. He sat down next to me while I was waiting to get Oct-12-News-06picked up and asked me “Why are you here? What are you doing?”

From that point on, we talked about life and faith, and the fact that his dad has diabetes and can’t work. His mom works outside the home during the mornings, so he’s out on the streets shining shoes for money and to buy breakfast. He talked about how his life was hard and that he felt alone in his life. I asked him if he believed in God and if he thought God cared about what he did with his life. I shared more with him about how the Lord really cares about him and we know that because He sent His son Jesus to us to guide us, live among us, and be our way to enter Heaven. He agreed and then smiled and I urged him to keep praying. After a short silence, I said to him, “Well, my shoes could use a shine.”

The 65 Year-Old Entrepreneur

Just last week, I got to hang out with one of my favorite people in the DR. Her name is Elena and I first met her as she was running to the houses in her community to get members to show up for Esperanza’s presentation to the communiOct-12-News-07ty. Running! A 63 year-old Haitian woman running to tell the good news to her neighbors that Esperanza, “Hope,” had arrived.

I spoke with Elena back then and she told me that she helped to start nine banks of HOPE. She was so well-respected in the community that she was (and still is) a prominent leader in a large Haitian population in an area called Villa Mella. Now, Elena has three children of her own, but I can guarantee you that she is a mother to many more women that in her community.

So last week I caught up with her. She was in typical form. Carrying around her cell phone. This time with a charger. That should tell you how much she talks! Within a minute, she was on her phone again yelling at a friend of hers to repay back her debt to Esperanza. When she finally sat down, I returned to that same question I asked almost two years ago to get the math straight: how many banks she had helped to start. We counted together. From the nine there were 11 more, for a total of 20 banks. That’s about 300 people she’s helped to get loans. 300 women who trusted her, and believed in her.

Oct-12-News-08With her most recent loan she paid off a truck that she uses to buy coconuts from the country and sell them in the market. Her next purchase: land to grow the coconuts. Sixty-Five years old, 20 banks, and a new smile from a dental trip two weeks ago that gave her eight new teeth.

The Power of Story

See these are some of the stories I’ve written home about, but what I found was that I could never fully capture these moments in words, nor in pictures.

In truth, maybe they captured me. Because these stories aren’t just what I wrote about, they are what I am now.


After being jostled and crammed in hundreds of rides in Public Cars – I am more patient.
Hearing hundreds of shoe shiners pitches – I know when to listen.
Seeing true faith, passion, and dedication – I know who I want to be when I grow up.

Thank you for your time.

(end of speech)

Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter on more of what I’ll be doing in 2013.

I pray that you would see how God is using your skills and abilities to be involved where you are in your home, your community, and your church.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

Blessings to you and your family,

kype: aprothwm05

“A New Stamp, A New Story” (Sept. ’12)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International
“A New Stamp, A New Story
” – September 2012



After being on the island for nearly two years, I finally made the journey to

Haiti, and crossing the border into Jimaní, Haiti I received my first stamp in my new passport. It’s significant to me that the first stamp in my new passport represents the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. To me, it was a great challenge to travel to there, to go to a hard place, an uncomfortable place, and a very dangerous place. I believe that at our core, the big decisions we make hold great significance, and we often mark our experiences with placeholders that help us remember how we arrived at those Sept-12-News-02decisions and what they really meant to us. This is one of the many things that this first stamp in the new passport means for me.* Let me explain . . .

Maybe some of you have been to Haiti, and have traveled there with relative ease, so hearing that I call the place dangerous may strike you as odd, especially knowing that I was only in Haiti for less than a week, but let’s be honest here, it’s not a destination for a weekend getaway. My purpose was to join a HOPE International trip to look at our savings groups we helped to start with Esperanza Internacional throughout the country.

I took the bus from Santo Domingo and after nine hours through strange and unfamiliar territory including a three hour stop at the border I finally made it to Port Au Prince. Arriving in the capital, I was happy to be outside, only to be greeted by a noisy street full of commerce, people yelling, and traffic zipping down the roadway. I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was, and neither of my cell phones worked. Still, I knew I had a small plan. Fortunately, after a short while, familiar faces showed up, Dan Williams, who speaks Creole, and Clint Barnes, also serving with HOPE arrived to the bus station. Sept-12-News-03After two years being on the other side of the island, and nine hours on a bus, I made it to my destination. This stamp* is for persistent courage.

From my arrival to the next four days, I had many wonderful experiences in Haiti. So often, we can get caught up in the stigma or label of a country or a people. We tend to associate Haiti with extreme poverty and general disorder. They haven’t recovered from the earthquake in 2010, and indeed even before the earthquake there was a tremendous lack of infrastructure. Sadly, there are people still living in tents in communities that look like tent cities. For awhile, the threat of cholera was spread all over the news as thousands of people had died from an easily preventable disease. But should we let an image like that define the entire state of the country, or its people? Threats to health and safety can be scary and overwhelming, and we can let the overrule other significant details.

What’s important to know though, is that there always has been, and still is, an incredible amount of beauty in the nature of the Haitian people and in their country. We cannot overlook the presence of wonderful things simply because of some negative stereotypes. Indeed, that became abundantly clear on a visit to a savings group in the small village of Sodo. We Sept-12-News-06felt like we were a world away from some of the chaos of the capital. Look at this picture here to the above and to the right, and realize that this is still Haiti. This stamp* is for modest tranquility.

A daughter of one of the leaders of a savings groups kept inching her way toward me as I was snapping pictures of the meeting. At first, she was extremely shy towards the camera. She hid behind the wall of her home, but as time went on, she not only loved seeing her picture on the camera, but to bring other people into the activity as well. It was clear she had a natural gift for leadership and an affinity for connecting people. Pretty soon, she had gathered by the side of her house almost every neighborhood kid in the local vicinity. She even helped me set up the groups. I appreciated her art direction, but more so the way she was able to persuade others with her smile. I asked her to smile for the camera, but she couldn’t keep a straight face! Neither could I. This stamp* is for infectious laughter.

As we began to hear the stories from two leaders displayed below, my picture of Haiti became brighter and brighter. These were two strong leaders. Men who were dedicated to their family, to their community, to their church. They exuded strength and determination, efficacy and pride. Sept-12-News-05When we asked them what were there desires for the savings group that HOPE and Esperanza helped them start, they asked for more educational materials. They asked for direction and wisdom. They asked for prayer. Ready and capable men. Men willing to accept responsibility and carry out the plans for something they believed in. This stamp* is for persevering honor.

We left Sodo on a high note, commenting on how kind and generous the local people were. As we were admiring the natural landscape leaving town, some of the locals asked us if we had seen their waterfall. “A waterfall?” We asked, stumped by such a suggestion (turns out, the name “Sodo” means “waterfall” in Creole). Making a u-turn we zipped back into town and following the directions and hand gestures we made our way to the top of a fairly large hill on one side of the community. They had set up a small entrance to guide visitors to the attraction. We jumped off the truck and sped down the newly constructed pathway to find the source of the sound of falling water, and we were overjoyed to find not just one, but two active waterfalls. This stamp* is for hidden beauty.

Sept-12-News-07I noticed that my view of Haiti and my preconceptions were fading away and new ones were being ushered forth like the morning sunrise. I was happy and refreshed to see so much goodness and light in a country that has had such a dark history. It was like hearing a song reach the bridge (the musical term for a transitional section taking the listeners into a the final chorus) and break into new verses, filled with hope, a joyous melody, and believe me, the Haitians are excellent singers!

Our final stop in our HOPE trip was to visit a small community outside the town of Belladare. There we were to visit a savings group that had been together for over a year and had enough deposits to make loans to members. I had to take a moment and think about what was happening. In the small outcropping of a large town that had no commercial banks, here was a group of committed believers that had been gathering together saving their monSept-12-News-09ey together and now loaning it to each other. It was an organic savings and loan organization. In the absence of structure and institution, here were individuals moving forward in their lives. This stamp* is for quiet, powerful growth.

When someone asks you whether you’d like to walk 15 minutes into town on a dimly, or non-lit road, to get some Haitian street food when you’re experiencing an extremely intense headache, verging migraine, what do you say? I said, “Heck yes.” I wouldn’t miss it, I couldn’t miss it. After coming this far, I wasn’t going to let a crushing pain behind my eyes stop me. A minute into the walk, the road turned eery and calm.

Houses looked like mirages with small candles lighting up their facade, and other pedestrians walked past us like Sept-12-News-08ghosts. We arrived to the center of the town among yet more ancient relics of a town that “once was” with its dilapidated castles reminding us of an earlier age. Inside the cavernous building, many Haitians could be heard laughing, singing and telling stories to their neighbors. Without light, there was still life. After getting food, our friend encouraged us to take motorcycles back to the guesthouse. Now that dark road back took on a new form as viewed from a single headlight. This stamp* is for every-ready adventure.

In my experience, it has been true that every time I come back to the States, I feel the culture shock. “Reverse culture shock” as it’s called, hits me harder than going to a foreign country, because when I go I expect everything to be strange, but not when I return. No, home is a familiar place, and it should feel familiar in the heart and in the head, and I never expected to feel the reverse shock upon crossing back into the Dominican Republic from Haiti. But I did.

Sept-12-News-10Traveling from the Haiti, a nation trying to make its way out of serious infrastructure problems, I was so surprised to achievements of modernity in the DR: stores, churches, paved roads, cars, and trucks and things that go; so much order and organization. I saw Dominicans; now friends and neighbors. I heard songs blasting through speakers; the latest hits eminating from car stereos. I smelled cooking food; and I knew just what I had longed to eat. This stamp* is for home sweet home.

Throughout my journey overseas the past two years, I know that God’s continued plan has been to redeem all that seems dark, broken, and disheartened. That was always His plan, and when He sent His son Jesus to this Earth, He brought the light of salvation to us, and showed us in living flesh that God wanted to put right all that was wrong through the sacrifice of His own son. He fulfilled a promise and brought hope to what seemed hopeless. Throughout my journey, I have had these consistent reminders that God has a way of breaking assumptions, preconceptions, and stereotypes. He did this in my journey, He did this for my experience Haiti, and I know He will continue to work to set things right. This stamp* is for redemption.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV)

I pray you would see the New Light that shines forth and redeems the darkness. May God give you a reminder to carry with you on your journey.

Blessings to you and your family,


“Believe in What You Sell” – (August ’12)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Believe in What You Sell” – August 2012

Hi everyone, we had a successful day of business training for school owners last week even though Hurricane Isaac was picking up speed here in the Dominican. This upcoming weekend I’ll be heading to Haiti for the first time. Please pray for safety and our work there with the savings groups. Also, as a reminder, I’m planning to stay here in the DR until October 11th to help out with a HOPE event here before returning to the States this fall. Do please continue to support me through the fall if you feel led.

It’s easy to sell something that you believe in.

If you’ve ever had an experience selling, whether it’s lemonade from your lemonade stand, magazine subscriptions door to door, or fundraising booths at a public event, you know you have had a lot more success when you truly believe the product you’re selling is good and people want it. On the other hand, when you have to peddle some sort of snake oil that you don’t believe in, sales are hard to come by. It’s just a simple rule of business and of life.

Riding around on a motorcycle taxi through La Romana and San Pedro inviting school directors to our business training workshop was probably one of the easier sales calls I had to make in my life. For example, I would show up with a letter of invitation, and explain to the administration that they were invited to a four hour training Aug-12-News-03session led by a CPA with 15 years of experience working with small, affordable, private Christian schools. Immediately their faces showed interest and they were expecting the huge price to come next, but I continued on, explaining that with his financial advice, he would walk us through how to prepare an operational budget for the upcoming school year. We’d have coffee, drinks, and sandwiches. Best of all, it would be free.

You can imagine the look of disbelief on their faces when I mentioned the word “free.” Even more, I went on to say that we are doing a series on business trainings this upcoming fall covering areas of financial sustainability in our  Biblical business training curriculum. Part of our program with doing microlending to small, Christian schools in economically poor areas includes doing Biblical business training and teacher training using the AMO program:

It was an easy sell. I was met with smiles and handshakes and a gracious disbelief of the free offer.  And then, on training day, we had 43 people attend from 26 schools.Aug-12-News-07


Maybe, if you’ve read my previous newsletters you think that this will be the point where I break in with the bad news. Well, don’t worry, there isn’t. Not even the rain of Tropical Storm Isaac stopped us. It was an amazing experience to see the good inputs turn into great results.

Katia from Centro Educativo Agape (God’s Love Education Center) said “I wish I had heard this information four years ago when I started my school.” Haidy from Colegio Paso a Paso (Step by Step School) expressed, “Now, this makes sense why my income has to stretch to cover the expenses at the end of the month, I should be charging 10-15% Aug-12-News-05more.” It was a simple recipe: quality material, easy to understand examples, relevant training for school leaders.

Economically, these are poor schools. They charge anywhere from $7 to $12 a month for students to attend and even to parents who struggle to afford this money, they pay it, because they know the alternative is unsatisfactory. Their children will be crammed into a room with 50 other students in the public school, and they won’t learn anything. No parent would want that for their child.

But for us, as an American organization, when we think about aiding this economic situation, to subsidize the education for these Dominican children would simply be ineffective and very expensive. It’s not feasible for us to fund the 6,600 public schools or the 4,200 private schools. We don’t have the money, but maybe more importantly, when we prevent local leaders like Katia or Haidy from being able to teach students from their own knowledge and skills, modeling good behavior and hard work, we prevent raising up local leaders, thereby limiting long term development and success. We do business training because we believe in local leaders to accomplish the role of education in the communities where they live.

Aug-12-News-04It really makes me think about a key point, through all of my mission work down here: It matters what we believe, it matters what we do, and what we dedicate ourselves to.

When we try to build up our own success, that’s a small victory. But when we turn and seek out these educators, leaders, and entrepreneurs, and partner with them, they win, their teachers win, their students win, the whole community wins and so do we. When we believe that there are 43 leaders who can educate their children well, it will change what we say and the confidence we feel when we ride around La Romana and San Pedro inviting schools to a business training. I believed, and they believed as well.

Aug-12-News-06For me, I gave up a lot to be here in the Dominican Republic to serve with HOPE International and Esperanza International. I don’t make a salary here. I have been supported by my church, friends, and family. They believed in what I was doing because I believed in it myself.

This is still what I believe in. I believe that those affected by economic poverty deserve an opportunity to climb up and out of the depths of financial despair, and I believe fundamentally that there are better ways of doing economic development. Here at HOPE, we believe that to ensure long-term success, we have to give a hand up, not a handout. When you give people the right tools, when you partner with them in the right way, when you believe in the right things, you will see success far beyond what you could have ever anticipated.

He replied, “. . . I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

I pray that you will believe what is good and true and that you will speak boldly from what you believe.

Blessings to you and your family,

Passport, A Renewal – Part 1

A small part of the American dream sits patiently in an enormous waiting room of  high ceilings, six foot fans, and factory-style fluorescent tube lights. Lines swirl around the inside, and the outside, seats for the lucky or elderly, but no matter who you are, or when you arrive, all must pass through security. No cell phones, please. A noticed presence of aspiration and perspiration hangs in the air.

For non-citizens in the waiting room of the US Embassy, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or at least, a once a year application maximum. Many people are dressed in their Sunday best, hoping for a positive first impression with the officer administering the visa interview. Forms stacked on forms, collated, stapled, and 2×2 photos done while you wait. It feels clinical. Like someone’s going to probe further into your inner ear, to listen in on your nervous chatter.

I wasn’t so nervous, no, this to me was not my last hope, nor my first step in making it to the New World; I was already a citizen. Along with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, one thing we extend to all foreign nationals interested in becoming citizens is the right to wait in line. In some ways, I missed the familiar bureaucracy, the silly red tape, and yes, the policies and procedures of controlling the masses.

As I stood in line for over 2 hours for an application drop-off of 5 min, I heard many conversations surrounding questions of history, questions of interview strategies, and plenty of answers to proposed destinations. It seemed to me, truly, that everyone had an American Dream. My dream amounted to hoping that the simple renewal of my passport would happen without a hitch as it’s set to expire one month from this week. Yikes. That simple crucial piece of  travel documents that you can’t leave home without. (As my uncle Lyle joked, “If you’ve got a credit card and a passport, you won’t have any problem getting anywhere.”)

I know, I should have gotten this passport thing done when I was home in the States this past year. Really, it’s just a simple “mail it and wait” process, but I wanted my new passport to come from the part of tremendous journey beginning more than two years ago where I set sail to learn Spanish, explore Latin America, and volunteer for a cause I believed in.

President Obama congratulating the new President Medina

In October, I’ll be saying goodbye to almost two years in the Dominican Republic. It’s been more than two years away from normal American life. In some ways I’m tired of living withing a paid job, tired of consistent cultural challenges, and tired of being “another gringo” walking around the commercial areas of Santo Domingo. It’s not that I want to unplug from expatriate life, it’s that I want to plug in to American life.

But as I look at the stamps  in my old passport, I’m filled with a sense of duty to carryout the mission I started. By no means do I want to call travel or serving overseas a closed chapter of my life, or a “I got it all out of my system” kind of thing. I don’t want it to be all said and done, because I don’t believe it is.

I left the embassy without a passport feeling confident that at least for my part of the process, I was finished. But I don’t want the feeling of adventure and exploration to end, and I know it won’t be.

I believe it’s just time for renewal.

Maybe then, that is what I hope for, and maybe it’s safe to stay, I still have an American dream.