Category Archives: Monthly Newsletter

Monthly Newsletter

“The Distance between Two Blocks” – Jan. ’15

Aaron Roth – – “The Distance between Two Blocks” – Dec./Jan. 2015

Greetings everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season and a great start to the new year. For the last three months I’ve been in constant travel, with three trips to Guatemala, one to both coasts of the United States and back to Lima Peru.

I have great news to report that we are gaining momentum with the program in Lima, Peru and have just signed an agreement in Guatemala! It’s been an exciting time with many new additions to Edify’s programs and teams, and transitions including my own upcoming transition from Edify to take some time off before I move back to the east coast to start graduate school this summer. I’ll cover that transition in the next newsletter, but in this one I’ll be writing about Guatemala in the newsletter below. -Aaron

In December, I was in Guatemala City working with our newest microlending partner FAPE (Foundation for the Assistance of the Small Business) and we had planned to work on the agreement between Edify and FAPE in the executive director’s home after a meeting. As we pulled into the residential community where the executive director lives I thought to myself, “Hmm, this place looks familiar. Why do I know this place?”

I asked Manuel, the executive director, for the address and wrote down “Zona 13, Aurora II” to research in the afternoon. For some reason, I thought maybe I’d stayed near this place when I first came to Guatemala almost five years ago. When I got back to my computer I went through my old emails to track down some of the places I’d stayed. Sure enough, deep into the archives I came across the very first place I stayed in Guatemala: a bed and breakfast (really a hostel) that had the address Zona 13, Aurora II. “But these areas are pretty massive anyway, it’s not like it’s that close to his house.” I thought.

So the next day, I asked Manuel, “Have you heard of this bed & breakfast?” and gave him the address.

“Well yeah, that’s just two blocks from my house,” he answered.

It was then that it dawned on me. In almost five years in my journey in Latin America I had progressed just two blocks!

Two blocks.

It felt odd knowing that I’ve gone thousands of miles just to arrive a stone’s throw from where I first began. It feels like I haven’t gone very far, like all the 3am-4am wake up calls for two and three connection flights, logging six to eight, even 10 hours on bus rides into distant communities didn’t add up to a grand total of anything. Maybe I felt a bit disappointed, like a hiker who prepares half a year for the difficult ascent, and arrives to find that they closed the trail and now  the summit is accessible by a 30 minute gondola lift.

But that’s not how it is right? There is an enormous difference between the 30 feet that separates the entry-level employee and the CEO. It’s not the measurement of the physical distance at all. If we were to extend out the years and the experience that separate those two positions the distance would be unfathomable.

Five years ago that first night in Guatemala, I was an anxious young man, fresh out of my corporate job, with feelings of excitement and uncertainty after realizing that the decision to go to Latin America could potentially shipwreck my career or carry me to a new, never before imagined destination. I couldn’t envision what the future would look like, it just looked like a never ending winding road clouded by fog and rain. My only real resolution was to just stay on the path, and try to maintain my momentum and excitement.

So then, five years later from that first night filled with uncertainty for the path laid before me, I was sitting a few hundred yards away, right next to the Vice President of Latin America for Edify, Luis Sena (appears above in the second picture) in the home of the executive director of the Guatemalan MFI discussing the details about opening up the Edify program in Guatemala.

In that meeting, I didn’t speak of conjecture, but rather from experience. Guatemala is the third country I have worked in, and my responses were from the decisions I have been a part of with my team based on experiences with schools with directors that I knew personally.

I’ve visited hundreds of schools over the past few years, spoken with 12 microfinance institutions and even more training and para-church organizations. I’ve helped write operating manuals for several microfinance projects, written dozens of reports, logged endless hours in meetings, and presented to leadership teams in English and Spanish.

If only I had known that five years later I’d be a more confident professional sitting with colleagues in a comfortable environment, I would have been relieved of my doubts and fears.

But I know now that in life there are many things that we don’t know at the time, and they aren’t for us to know in that specific time and place where we currently reside.

And that’s ok, the only requirement is that we have faith in the Maker of the paths. The paths of the past, and the paths of the future.

In Edify, we are incredibly excited about the future in Guatemala. We’ve met with two microfinance organizations and visited almost 30 schools around the capital and in three different regions to explore the potential for our microlending program to low-fee independent Christian schools.

It’s been such a blessing to work with our Guatemalan friends, Manuel Garcia and his team, from our first microlending partner in Guatemala. They truly share our mission to work in the economically poor communities to improve and expand these schools that want to serve the families in their communities.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (NIV Proverbs 3:5-6)

So I realize then, that instead of being disappointed in only traveling two blocks, I’m incredibly grateful to realize that the greatest distance the Lord ever required me to go was just two blocks.

If I had really known that and believed in His plan, I wouldn’t have been so worried about the great uncertainty that lay before me. Had I known it would have been just two blocks, I would have jumped out of my seat and started walking, relieved of any great doubts about the plan ahead.

From where I am today, I can rejoice in the great distance between two blocks: for this great adventure with the Lord and his people in Latin America. For all I’ve gotten to experience personally, walking with these school leaders, with men and women so passionate about impacting their communities because that’s what Christ called them to do. He knew that was what was up ahead, and I’m glad they trusted Him and I did too, with only small glimpses of the future he’s preparing. He was, and is, and will be, the Maker of good paths.

I pray that even in moments of uncertainty you have reassurance to know that the Lord has planned out the path you’ll take — even if it is only just two blocks.

Blessings to you all back home,

“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.


“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.


“I am a Product of Education” – (Jan ’14 Newsletter)

I hope you all have had a wonderful start to the new year. I returned to Lima, Peru soon after our annual meeting with Edify in San Diego, California where our central office is located. Peru is in the middle of summer and it’s great weather (so strange to be on this side of the equator!). We’re really excited to start doing our first microloans here in Lima in the next few weeks because schools are out for the summer and are looking to expand their operations. Schools look for financing for their construction projects during this time period and often find loans from banks that charge them very high interest rates. For us, it’s an excellent opportunity to connect with them about our small business loans and business training, and to share with them our vision for education in Peru. -Aaron

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

I had the opportunity to reconnect with my colleagues in Edify early this January in San Diego. Because we work in six countries (seven, if you count our own country) we see each other but once a year. Most meetings are carried out via Skype, and the preferred method of communication is via email. Yet, we are all drawn to the organization for the same reason. As I talked with each colleague I realized that we really do believe in our mission: 

To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable, Christ-centered education in the developing world.

But why do we believe this, I thought, as we gathered around the table. I know that we use language like this all the time when we talk about improving the economic outlook of developing countries, and how we can help people out of poverty. Do we really believe that education can make a difference in this way and why does it matter that we bring Christ into the initiative of building better schools?

One night, we left the meeting rooms and went to a local restaurant to have dinner and to relax from the previous days’ meetings. I looked around the table and was amazed to see individuals from so many countries. We had Ghanaians, an Ethiopian, a Ugandan who now lives in Rwanda, a Dominican and Americans from just about every corner of our country, certainly every coast. I know this sounds like I’m about to tell a joke, but nope, that night we simply traded stories.

There’s one story in particular that I wanted to highlight. It’s the story of my colleague Godfrey, the Ugandan raised in Rwanda. I’ll summarize it now from my own notes and recollection, which will be a sneak-peek to the full story we’ll plan to release later in the year.

Earlier that day, in the morning, Godfrey shared with us his personal story as a devotional using Psalm 23.

Jan-14-News-02Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.”

(Biblegateway link: Psalm 23)

Godfrey started off by saying, (and I’ll paraphrase most of this that comes next)

“Now I’m not sure many of you have had an experience being a shepherd, (Godfrey is quite clever and quick-witted.) but I do.

My brother and I were shepherds growing up. We cared for many animals. And I love the stories of Jesus in the New Testament where he talks about being a shepherd, because I know what that is like. I especially like the part where Jesus uses an example of the shepherd who finds the young sheep and puts it Jan-14-News-03across his shoulders. I remember seeing my brother pick up a sheep and place it across his shoulders when it was weak. It is a true thing. Shepherds do that. . . . I love that story, because I have been carried by Jesus like that.”

“When I was very little, I was one of the few people I knew who was born in a hospital in Uganda. My father had a very good job at a financial institution, and we lived well. But when I was very young, my father lost his job and life changed dramatically for us. We had to move out from the city to the rural area.

There were few jobs. We were very poor. We tended animals because that was the only way we could make money. These animals were so valuable. They were our assets. They were worth more than our house. Once, when I was very sick, we couldn’t go to hospital, because we didn’t have the money, and my father would not sell an animal for the money.

“I did well in grade school. In fact, I did so well that I earned the highest marks on my national tests that I could attend an excellent private Christian school. The only problem was that we did not have money to send me there. I was so mad at my father for not selling an animal to pay for my schooling. I was devastated. I prayed to the Lord to help me study at this school. I tried everything I could to find a way to pay for the entrance fees and tuition. I spoke with Jan-14-News-04the director about a scholarship and he told me that the only way to receive a scholarship was to repeat certain grades of middle school and perform well so that I could attend high school. I was so disappointed, but I knew that this was the Lord’s plan for me and I should accept it.

“I repeated three grades so that I could attend this school. I was so ashamed to be seen by my classmates who were in the grades above me. They tease me, “Godfrey, if you are so smart, why are you three grades below us?” I kept praying to make it through because I knew that this was my way to a good education.

“Jesus carried me through this period, and I made it to high school, and I did well. I did so well that I got to go to University. I studied business and I got a wonderful job after University. My life was fully changed. I never stopped praying to my Lord, I never stopped being thankful for his faithfulness to me.

“The reason that I am standing here today is because I am a product of education. I am so grateful to be standing here before you. Grateful to the Lord for all he has done in my life, and grateful to Jesus, for his work and his life, and for his gift of salvation.”
[What’s equally amazing is that our Chief Transformation Officer and Vice President of Program Assessment, Mokonen Getu, was once a shepherd boy in Ethiopa. He has an inspirational story of his long journey from the pastures of Ethiopia to the halls of higher education. He got his PhD in International Development from the University of Stockholm, Sweden. His amazing journey is detailed in his autobiography. (You can read more about him in Edify’s 2013 annual report.)]

I am still in awe when I think about Godfrey’s story. When I hear about the valleys he walked through to make it to where he was, it makes me proud simply to know him and have him on our team in Rwanda. I told Godfrey how amazing his story was. He is very humble and approaches everything with a smile. He brushed off my compliment and said he enjoyed my presentation on Peru.

A little later on in the meeting he told us that he wants to get more involved at his church. While he does music and Jan-14-News-06evangelization, he’d like to get back in the pulpit. (What a guy!)

But right now, let me return back to us sitting around the multi-international table at the restaurant:

Later on in the meal Godfrey turns to me and says, “Aaron, may I ask you a question? I need your help.”

(I wondered what came next.)

“It is my first time in America and I think right now I want to order a hamburger. But we are at a fish restaurant. I think I should order fish.”

“I think that’s a good call. Do you like fish?”

“Yes, I like fish. In fact, I ate shark in Colorado. Have you eaten shark?”

“Wow, you had shark? How was it?”

“It was good. It tastes like chicken. But I don’t think I want shark right now.”

“How did you eat shark in Colorado?”

“We made a stop for Edify for two days for some meetings, and I got to visit a University.”

I tried not to laugh at the strange connection of those statements, and when he saw me smile he said,

“Yes, it was strange. I believe there are no sharks in Colorado. Nowhere close.”

We both laugh about it. I walk him through a few “American” choices. He continued later telling me that part of the reason for the stop is for him to see the university and sign up for the online MBA program at Colorado Christian University.

“It is such a great opportunity Aaron. I am so excited to start. I love education.”

. . .

Godfrey’s story and Makonen’s story are yet more reminders of why I work for Edify, and why I am excited to open the program here in Lima, Peru. Their stories are incredibly unique, yet share so many common threads with stories of adults I’ve met throughout the past three years working in Latin America. To believe there is hope, to believe that there is a God who has a plan, to believe that there was a man Jesus, the Great Shepherd who walked among us – who carries us when the burden is too great – is to know that Jan-14-News-07there truly is a pathway out of poverty.

I know there are still millions of children here in this country of Peru who walk through valleys and are looking for a pathway up and out.
. . .

I pray that we would all see the value in education, and that we would find ways to take advantage of the opportunities that we have.

Blessings to you all,
Skype: aroth.edify

“Highlights from Edify Family Camp” (July/August ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “Highlights from Edify Family Camp” – July/August 2013

Greetings family and friends, I had traveled quite a bit this past summer. That’s the reason the July/August Newsletter is coming so late. In one month this summer, I had been to the Dominican Republic for Edify’s Family Camp, to Guatemala for more feasibility study meetings and back to the states for Edify team meetings. I’m happy to report that I’ll be staying put in one place as I just arrived to Peru to begin work on the pilot program for Edify. Our intention is to start the micro lending program for small, affordable Christian schools here in the capital, Lima. The following newsletter is about our Edify Family Camp experience in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Blessings, -Aaron

The Edify Family Experience is a way for families from North America to experience the work that we do in Edify in a school that we support with micro loans and training. We bring families with children that are interested in learning how the model takes shape on the ground and want to participate in a camp that involves the whole family.

For us, family camps are a unique experience because normally our operations involve making small loans and doing business training for these schools. Fortunately, the camps of years past have been a huge success with everyone involved, from the North American families to the local staff and the children in the schools.

July-13-News-03So this past July we spent two weeks in a city in the East of the Dominican Republic called La Romana. Each week we had five different families participate in a four-day camp that involved a work project, English classes, crafts, recreation and a devotional. The final day we had a celebration, like a carnival, where we invited the parents and the siblings of the students. You’re probably very familiar with this description of this kind of camp as it sounds like many short-term mission trips that churches typically do.

At the outset, we explain to our guests that Edify normally doesn’t do trips like this and we’re very clear that the week is about partnership and celebration. We want to build onto what we’ve started with the school. Usually this means that schools come to know us through a small loan for building new classrooms or computer labs, or through business training where they learn to manage their finances. Most often, the relationships we have with the schools are kind of like a business/client relationship, and much like in American business, you don’t always take your friends to see your clients, unless there’s a really good reason.
Over the years we’ve developed great relationships with our schools; many really feel like our brothers and sisters, and we want to be intentional about who we introduce to our Dominican family just as they would be intentional about who they introduce to us. As you know, the normal mission trip from  the North American church usually means a large amount of money spent on short-term mission trips where large groups descend on a local community, bring truck-loads of donations, do a bunch of fun activities, and leave the week after.

July-13-News-02We’re trying to build a program with these schools that doesn’t fade away after the week that the teams leave or the funds dry up. Now, we’re not perfect by any means, but we are trying to do things differently, and we consistently ask our partners and people we serve how we can improve what we do in the communities where we work.

Before any of the families come down to the DR, we ask them to read the book, “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It details how poverty is much more than the lack of economic resources, that we can, and many times are, all “poor” (disconnected, hurt, broken and sometimes powerless) when it comes to these core relationships: with God, with our community, with our family and with own selves. We all emerge out of poverty when we start trusting  Christ and begin the process of restoration beginning first with our Heavenly Father.

Before the family camp begins, we discuss the first few chapters to lay the groundwork for the week ahead. We talk about how we are so similar to our Dominican brothers and sisters, even though we’re materially rich, we have all been damaged by the consequences of sin in our nation and in our relationships. We can start restoring this brokenness by restoring our relationships – first with our CreatoJuly-13-News-05r and then onto each sphere of relationships. So when we go into these schools we must treat each other similarly: as broken as we may be, we know that the path out of it is led by our redeemer, Jesus.

It really changes our perspective when we enter a school as equals. We see smiling children laughing and playing with their friends, hugging their parents goodbye, some are looking shy and apprehensive, and even little ones start crying because they’ll be away from their parents for a few hours. Those are just like children from the United States, and even though these local ones attend schools with uncompleted walls, broken fans, and unpaved roads, they are all here because they believe that Christ has prepared for them a brilliant future through good education. That’s what we believe too as North Americans right? We all want our children to have the best opportunities available and we try to make that a reality in our communities.

In short, it was a very full two weeks full of experiences, trials, and joys, and I couldn’t possibly write all that transpired, but I will share with you a few stories from our Dominican friends and family:

July-13-News-09One of our guests had decided to join the work project during the first week. He and his family have done a lot of work with a missions organization that builds houses for economically poor families in Mexico. He’s pretty good with tools, and has a lot of experience in construction, so it seemed like a natural fit for him to join the Haitian and Dominican workers in building onto the school’s wall during the first week.

It was fun to see the North Americans interact with the Haitians and the Dominicans. They all had a similar purpose in constructing the wall and got along really well. During one of the mornings, a Haitian worker was shoveling concrete when he immediately yelled out and grabbed his back. Our North American guest quickly went to his aid and helped him lie down in a classroom. As the Haitian man lay there wincing in pain, our guest came to ask me to help him translate. We walked into the classroom together and he wanted me to help assist the Haitian man. Now, I don’t know if the Haitian man was moaning from pain, or from the fact that he would probably be unable to work for a few days.

Our guest wanted me to speak to the Haitian man (in Spanish) and tell him that he had the same injury from shoveling concrete and a doctor showed him some exercises to relieve the pain. Almost immediately, the composure of the Haitian man changed as he saw someone not only willing to help him, but relaying to him that he had gone throughJuly-13-News-07 this pain, and had found relief. We all crouched there for a few minutes as our guest helped this man breathe through his pain, and gradually the wincing and the moaning stopped. There wasn’t any language spoken in these minutes; it was as if we were all just teammates trying to help our buddy out.


For our final day celebration, we had a carnival where schoolchildren could win tickets from various games. We rented a bouncy castle for the children to play in. Knowing that these children hardly ever get to jump around in this inflatable house, we made a few decisions to manage the flow of traffic. First of all, to spread the number of children around, we started them off at different stations, and made the bounce house free. As soon as a reasonable number had passed through the house, we July-13-News-10set the bounce house ticket price at five tickets (well below market value). And as many more, almost too many children wanted to go through it, we raised the price to 10 tickets (approximate market value). One young man who had to decide between waiting in line at the free bounce house and playing tic-tac-toe bean bag toss with no line, first chose the bean bag toss to earn tickets. Upon arriving at the entrance to the bounce house, he was told that it now cost five tickets. He left to go earn more tickets and came back with eight. Unfortunately, for him the price had just been raised to 10 tickets.

This same young man, at seven years old, looks up at the bounce house attendant and as politely as he could muster he explains his strife: “This bounce house started out free, later it was five tickets, and now it’s ten. What’s going on here? Are you all crazy?”
To reward his patience, we let him in for eight tickets.


The orange team, composed of children ages 8-11, had a young man named Stephen who showed signs of mental retardation who, being a few years older than his peers, joined this group because his brother was in it. During the recreation portion of the day, the group split into two teams to do an obstacle course than involved hopping on one leg through a series of cones and passing through an old tire set up on the playground. It was his turn to go, and Stephen had trouble with his coordination and struggled to hop around the course. When he finally reached the tire he hesitated at first, because he was very tall and knew would struggle getting through the tire. As he struggled, his teammates started cheering him on, and began chanting his name. Limb by limb he labored on getting his elongated frame through the old tire, but as soon as he emerged, he raised both hands above his head and yelled. Both teams, teachers, and the North Americans erupted in a victorious cheer.


July-13-News-08To finish out our final day each week, we had a celebration with the parents of the schoolchildren and friends and family in the neighborhood. We ordered enough food to feed over 200 people during the lunch break. After the big celebration of the games and the tickets during the carnival, it was a time to reflect on just what community means, and what it can mean for people like us, North Americans, and those who live in more economically impoverished areas. We had a really simple message that the director of the school (pictured left) gave us.

She talked about the importance of family, and how we should treat each other in a way that welcomes them into the family. It was one of those moments that Jesus describes in the Gospel of Matthew:

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (NIV Luke 14:21-23)

So we sat down, all the colors of the age group teams, all the North Americans, all the teachers, and all the people of the neighborhood. We came with the intention of having a common table, and we feasted like family.

I pray that you would see how God can use you to invite more people to the table.


“A Culture of Value” (June. ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “A Culture of Value” – June 2013

Hi family and friends, I had an excellent two weeks back in Nicaragua and Guatemala doing some follow-up research on small, low-cost Christian schools for Edify. I was also able to help with a project with starting savings groups in local churches for HOPE International in those areas as well. I’ll be in the States for about two weeks before heading to the Dominican Republic to work with some family camps for Edify. We are going to be working with a few small Christian schools in the Dominican Republic with a few churches and families from the United States. This newsletter is about my experience in Guatemala, a country I have really grown to love over the past three years. Blessings, -Aaron

My return to Guatemala last week was a homecoming to where the adventure began almost three years ago for me. I learned to speak Spanish in the school of San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. This lake, considered one of the 10 most beautiful in the world, still holds the same enchanting beauty as it did when I arrived almost three years ago. It is where I first learned to value the experience of living with a Mayan family that spoke only Spanish and Tz’utujil. I learned that we valued the same things in life: family, relationships, and dinner around a common table.

As I’ve written in previous newsletters, with all the traveling I’ve done in the past three years, there are a set of behaviors and beliefs I’ve gotten used to. I consistently abide by the same rules for safety, pack my suitcase and backpack the same way, and continue to galvanize my stomach or local foods. But every once in a while I get caught off guard by a statement or a view of something so unusual, it makes me feel I just stepped off the plane from the US for the first time.

“After the girl fell and bumped her head, I remember a woman telling me not to worry; if it had been a boy, it would have been a problem, because a boy needs to take care of his brain for thinking and studying, with a girl it’s not so necessary. Girls don’t need to use their minds.”

June-13-News-03This statement was retold to me by a loan officer of a local Guatemalan Microlending Institution who was teaching rural women about the inequality of gender, and how they should value the female gender and should stand up for the rights of their little girls to attend school and seek educational and vocational opportunities. Inequality still exists in many parts of the world, not just in money or power, but in gender. Very often, when we think of poverty, it’s a description of inequality in economic class, education, or opportunity, but I’ve come to see poverty also as a lack of values or appreciation of life.

June-13-News-02Now keep in mind, even in the tiny rural village where this training took place, culture is a behemoth that everyone can see, but very few can move on their own. It takes years to form itself, and sometimes it sets in like concrete, which means it takes years to reform or change. When any development or missional organization talks about transformation of any sort, be it economical, behavioral, or spiritual, they are entering into a long term process. I’m always hesitant to speak of rapid transformation in the work we do with microlending to schools, because when we try to improve the quality of education, and build on projects to schools, we’re talking about beginning a process for change with a diverse group of individuals who carry their own vision for the school.

June-13-News-05I think it’s better to say that as a development or missional organization from the States we are joining a team with a common goal. When we work together for long-term results, not just short-term projects that look good on powerpoints and photos, real transformation is possible. Real culture change is possible.

Last week, we met with an organization that is committed to long-term change. La Casa de Alfarero (The Potter’s House) is a local Guatemalan ministry that provides health, training, education, vocational, and spiritual empowerment to families that live in and around the enormous landfill of Guatemala. They told us that the community is made up of almost 3,000 people that work in the trash as “scavengers” looking for any material or item of value, and almost 9,000 people that work in and around the landfill. Families make at best $5 a day, with an average of $2-3 for a household.

As the director, Hector Rivas, explained to us, trying to reshape the culture of those who live in the trash is a difficult one. With their programs, clinic, and school, they consistently impart values to the students, by starting June-13-News-05primarily with telling the students that they themselves are valuable. He elaborates:

“We meet people all the time that say ‘Soy basura porque trabajo en la basura.’ (I’m garbage because I work in the garbage). We know that we can’t take these families and move them to another place because there would be no work or emploment there. What we try to do is simply take the garbage out of the person, knowing we can’t yet take the person out of the garbage.”

Culture change takes time, and Potter’s House has been working near the landfill for almost 20 years. Scavengers in the garbage dump know that the people from Potter’s House who come to serve them and educate their June-13-News-06students in the school value them because they came to help, and because they stayed. They invested in the community, and the community trusts them.

What we do in Edify is invest in local leadership and local communities. In every country I’ve been in over the past six months, and in every school I’ve walked into I usually say, “Our desire is to invest in this community, and you will work with people of your community, and we, the Americans, want to be part of the team.”

I believe that by truly investing in the local community, fully investing in the long-term change necessary to help change the mindset that all children, all boys and all girls, should be able to go to a good school and develop their talents as God gave them. This is a culture change of value. That we were all made with value, and that we all deserve to be valued, and to be valuable members to the communities where we live.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (NIV: Jeremiah 1:5)

I pray that God would show you how you can help shape positive values in your community.


“Press on Toward the Goal” (May. ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “Press on Toward the Goal” – May 2013

Hi family and friends, it’s been a whirlwind trip through Latin America these past five months. After being in Peru for almost two months, I returned briefly to the United States two weeks ago for a few meetings in Texas. Now I’m headed back to Nicaragua and Guatemala to help HOPE International with a few projects relating to savings groups. This newsletter is about one of the schools the Edify team and I visited in Peru. Blessings, -Aaron

“They told me ten years ago that there was no way anyone could start a school in this area with all the dirt and dust. It was too poor of a community and people wouldn’t pay me. In those days, I used to invite people to the area where I was planning on starting the school and they told me I was crazy. Even my family. So I stopped inviting people.”

His humor fills the room as he recounts the early days of starting his school named San Benito. Our team of four Americans and two Peruvians sit in his small office that is decorated by Catholic iconography, professional certifications, and a few trophies from his school’s soccer team. Florentino is so animated telling his stories, you really don’t need to understand much Spanish to follow along. I get so caught up in the energy of the room that I forget to translate a few phrases because it seems like my team is understanding what he’s saying.May-13-News-02

Florentino is the director and owner of his school, San Benito, a low-cost private school located in Loma de Carabayllo, a very economically poor district of northern Lima. Florentino is from the jungle in the northern area of Peru. When people describe Peru they list four areas: the mountains, the jungle, the coast and the central area. If you don’t live in the central area or by the coast, there aren’t many opportunities for jobs or for education. Parents will do whatever they can to ensure that their children receive the best possible education.

In Florentino’s case, his parents worked diligently to send him to a university in central Lima because that’s where the only universities were. After working for a few years in the city to make money, he came back to the jungle to start a bilingual school. It’s not the traditional sense of a bilingual schoolMay-13-News-02a as we think of it being English and Spanish. Instead, his bilingual school was Spanish and Quechua, the native language to those who live in the rural areas and the jungle.

After his success with the first school in his hometown, he wanted to pursue his dream of starting a large school in one of the northern districts of Lima. With his experience as a director and an entrepreneur, it may seem like he would have no problem being equally successful in this endeavor, but trying to start a school in a poor area like this can be incredibly difficult.

He told us that in Loma de Carabayllo, land was going at approximately US $5 a foot. That may seem like a deal to us, but it also signals that the area is so poor, that any new business, let alone a private school, would have difficulty securing solid income. When you look around this area you can see why the land prices are so cheap. There is nothing but dirt and rock. It’s not suitable for farming or mining or any other activity. The land is cheap because it’s a desert.

May-13-News-04Florentino has a unique story to us, one of a true entrepreneurial bootstrapper, but his journey from the jungle to the center of Lima has become more common over the past few years. As the director of a local microfinance organization told us, “Lima is our ‘American Dream.’ To get a job and raise a family in Lima is what millions of Peruvians aspire to do.”

With Lima being a capital of 8-9 million people, there are an incredible amount of opportunities for work and for education, ones that simply do not exist in the areas outside of the major cities. During the past 30 years, there has been a tremendous influx of immigrants to the central region because of terrorism in many of the surrounding provinces. Initially, this terrorism was caused by two anti-government groups: Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Shining Path (a leftist military group ) and they were so destructive and intimidating in the outlying provinces, that many of the inhabitants fled to Central Lima. Even now, it’s easy to notice how the rapid emigration has left many without permanent homes as many people are still living in makeshift structures that consist of wood or scrap materials.

As families try to move out of poverty and want to grow their families, they move to areas where they can afford the land. That’s why they come to places like Loma de Carabayllo, and in this area, the population has grown so quickly that the government can’t keep up with ample space in the schools for all the school children. So when May-13-News-05Florentino opened up his school ten years ago, more than 50 students were initially enrolled, and his staff tried to keep up with demand. He tells us that the parents wanted their kids in schools but didn’t want to pay the $8 monthly fee for a private education. Undeterred, Florentino didn’t give up, and persevered in the first few years to enroll more and more students and work with parents to pay an adequate amount so that he could staff the school.

Today, Florentino’s school has 275 students and it continues to grow. It is known as the most affordable and best quality school in the area. What impresses me most about Francisco is not only his perseverance, but his commitment to doing things well. When we asked him about his plans for the next five years, he laid out his desires simply:

May-13-News-05“I’m not so worried about getting to a specific number, or having another school. I want these children to have a quality education, and that means finishing the science lab. Later, I’ll continue to expand the computer room. It’s my duty to provide them with a solid education.”

Essentially, his vision has remained unchanged since the beginning. He’s never given up despite what detractors had said (even his family!) and has persisted year after year to do what God has called him to – press on toward the goal of good education in the community where he’s called to be.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Philippians 3:12-13 NIV)

I pray that you are pressing on toward the goal that the Lord has given you.

Blessings to you and your family,

“The Breaths We Take” (April ’13 Newsletter)

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 Aaron Roth – – “The Breaths We Take” – April 2013

Hi family and friends, I’ve been enjoying Lima, Peru. It’s nice to not have to repack my backpacks every three or four days. Progress with Edify has been going well; I’ve visited many schools and organizations that operate in the economically poor communities surrounding Lima.
They generally refer to the three areas of Lima: North, East, and South. I sheepishly asked, “And the West of Lima?” – “Well, that’s the ocean.” was the response. Forgive this obvious pun, but Edify is not yet interested in schools of fish. It’s nice to be at sea level though, as this newsletter will expand on. Blessings, -Aaron

Almost two weeks ago, I went to explore a place I had only dreamed I’d be able to visit: Machu Picchu.

You can probably search the internet for a better guide and a more exciting recap of one of the seven wonders of the world, but I’ll tell you that my friend Clint Barnes, from HOPE International, and I both had the same, slightly unusual, commentary. Actually, the idea was proposed to us by a British Muslim from Liverpool, who, as he finally caught his breath at approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, told us this:

“You know it’s odd that we need a sign of humans’ remarkable innovation and ability to create advanced civilization to come and appreciate the nature of creation.”

Apr-13-News-02Clint and I, both sitting down to rest our lungs, commented on how true that observation was. Machu Picchu sits on a small mountaintop in the cradle of the behemoths surrounding it, a man-made anomaly almost eclipsed by the view of towering giants. You really have to hike up a ways to see this and appreciate the true nature of its location. We started out with the intention of reaching the Machu Picchu Mountain summit, but chose to return after more than an hour of steep hiking. We had already climbed 1,500 feet in 40 min at about 5:00am earlier that morning and we needed a break.

The day after, we were joined by Clint’s friend Ben, an Army doctor, and his friend Travis. We were going to attempt to do the Salkantay glacier trek, a journey of five days, in only three – and backwards. Tour operators consider it possible, but don’t advise it. If you do the regular trip forwards, you have a total elevation gain of 2,300 feet in five days, not bad to get adjusted to the altitude, but if you do it backwards, that’s an elevation gain of 8,530 feet in three days. We didn’t have porters or donkeys to carry our 40 lb packs either. Ok, yes, it was kind of ludicrous. I admit it. I’ll save the full trip summary for my blog, but suffice it to say, I have never, ever in my life struggled so hard to Apr-13-News-03breathe as I did walking up that mountain.

As we approached 14,000 feet, I’d have to take a break every 10 or 15 steps to let my lungs refill and my heart to slow down. It’s basic biology: the lungs need more air and heart needs more beats to compensate for the scarcity of oxygen. By 15,000 feet, I was just ready to reach the summit and begin the descent. My head was hurting, my legs were tired, and it was hard to concentrate on anything other than breathing normally.

Clint and I, the two  sea-level guys, finally made it to the summit. We rejoiced and reveled in the accomplishment and marveled at the massive blue-ish Salkantay Glacier another 1,800 feet above us. It was simply incredible. Breathtaking in both senses of the word. Soon, we descended and my lungs began to operate normally and my heart slowed down. We had achieved the seemingly impossible, overcoming mental and physical barriers to rise to the summit.


This past week I spent some time in the outlying districts of Lima. For the work we do in Edify, we seek out schools in impoverished areas, and provide them with small loans to build more classrooms and computer labs, and provide them Biblical business training to manage their schools more effectively. In addition to Apr-13-News-04those initiatives, we also provide teacher training so that the schools improve their level of education and stay competitive nationally. Most of these schools charge about $25-40 a month, or roughly $1-$2 a day. This may not sound like a lot to us, but this is an enormous struggle for parents. They pay it because they know the alternative is that their child will be crammed in a classroom with 35 to 40 other students. Very little attention will be paid to their son or daughter, and they probably won’t progress even in the most basic of subjects: reading and writing.

What strikes me about these districts, Callao, Ventanilla, Carabayllo is that it’s hard to breathe. Not like 15,000 feet hard to breathe, because these districts are mostly just a few hundred feet above sea level, but it’s so dusty you end up coughing a lot and worrying about what’s entering your lungs. I notice this while I’m watching students run around an unpaved recess area kicking a ball to each other. The public school director laments that with such overcrowding (more than 1Apr-13-News-05,000) students, they’ve run out of adequate bathroom space and finances to build more bathrooms, which also means the children will wait another year or two before they can pave the recess area to deal with the tremendous amount of dirt and dust kicked up in the air.

The parents tell us that a striking number of these students have respiratory problems like asthma and other health issues caused by the poor air quality. They tell us that if they didn’t water the dirt roads in the morning you wouldn’t be able to see the houses or the schools; the dust cloud would cover the community of nearly 50,000 residents.

I think about our previous accomplishment of completing the ascent to the glacier and how hard it was for me to breathe and how proud I was that I overcame my anxieties and fears to complete the challenge. It feels a little strange to revel in the victory of the self-imposed trek in harsh air conditions, when all these children want to do run around with clean air in their lungs on a soft, safe surface like grass. They probably don’t think about it that much, but their parents, who grew up in the same community, know the long term dangers of consistent exposure. They mention health problems like the kind that miners in coal towns can develop.

What comes next for me, and for this newsletter to you all is just a question: “What is our response?”
I don’t believe we should feel guilty for taking trips to Machu Picchu or the Salkantay Glacier (forwards or backwards) or putting ourselves in conditions where we must push ourselves to overcome our limits. No, I believe the response is to carry out the words we use to describe our identity. When we say we are the kind of people who care about making a difference in the world, who care about being light and salt of the Earth, who care about those without hope or a future, who care about sharing the hope of Christ here and now, and in heaven – we must do the simple things to follow through.

It means that for the thousands of school aged students in places like Loma de Carabayllo, we must find ways of providing better education and a more healthy educational experience. In short, it means being involved in local government, paving roads, providing loans to build better recess areas, and educating children and parents the importance of health in the young body.
I thought about this on the long bus ride back, about the dust, and the wind, and the breaths we take. It made me think about these verses in the Bible:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (NLT Genesis 2:7)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (NIV John 6:63)

I pray that we are being filled will the breathe of life, and with the breaths we take we can share words of the Spirit and life.

Blessings to you and your family,

“Peace is a Possibility” (Mar. ’13 Newsletter)

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 Aaron Roth – – “Peace is a Possibility – Mar. 2013

Hi family and friends, I’m now in Lima, Peru. After traveling through Central America: Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras, I’m now in Peru to investigate potential partnerships and explore urban/rural communities looking for small, Christian schools that would fit the Edify school program. It’s been two weeks so far in Lima and its been a wonderful experience. After three months of constant travel, I’ll stay here for awhile. Blessings, -Aaron

Honduras was rough for me. Probably the rockiest two weeks I’ve had in the past three months. The bulk of my journey has been a wonderful experience, pleasant and easy to get around, but for some reason, Honduras was very different. Now that I’m in a safe country, safe neighborhood, with plenty of options for transport and mobility, I look back on what made Honduras so different from the other three countries I’ve come to know:


I didn’t feel it in Honduras. I have traveled in some dangerous places in the past few years, and I have lived in each of those so I know that it is my own responsibility to create a sense of stability and Mar-13-News-02safety where I live, but I just found that difficult in Honduras. For one, everything closes at 6:00 or 7:00pm due to the danger of theft or robbery in the evening. Banks stop taking deposits at 4:00pm, and close their heavy doors at 5:00. Everything is guarded by private security with weapons, even the Burger King.

All those characteristics of a place still don’t bother me. It’s par for the course when you choose to live and work in developing countries. Indeed, in the countries where Edify works, safety and security are consistent issues for us and our staff. What I think bothered me the most about my time in Honduras is how people talked about the place even before I got there, and the daily conversations they had in relation to the country. It was all negative, all about the violence and the danger, and the possibility of getting robbed, maimed, or kidnapped. I was like, “Seriously? All of that could happen?” I thought to myself that in regards to statistics, I’m just as likely to be the victim of an assault in one of our large cities in the US.

It bothers me that so much of the language about developing countries is so negative. Indeed that’s what you see published so often in the news or on the internet. Stereotypes are incredibly powerful and they can shape our understandings and expectations of a place. Take for example these two pictures:

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The picture on the left is of Guatemala. One of the many Mayan communities that preserve their history and tradition, and welcome travelers like me. This is San Pedro La Laguna, on Lago Atitlan, where I studied Spanish for almost four months. The picture on the right is from a food court in a mall in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I was watching the Honduras national soccer team play Mexico. I was celebrating the second goal that Honduras scored with more than 500 Hondurans. It was one of the most enjoyable soccer experiences I’ve had in recent memory. Now look below at these two pictures:

guatemala-city san-pedro-sula

The picture on the left is from Guatemala. It’s what you’ll find when you do a Google image search and what you’ll most likely find if you want to learn about Guatemala’s safety. The picture on the right is from Honduras, and you’ll find these gang members in most Google image searches and articles about Honduras.

Which series of pictures sticks out in your mind? It’s a good question, right? For me, the second series were the first pictures I encountered before actually visiting the countries. It would have been a shame to think that these countries could only be represented by their problems with the drug trade and gang members.

You may remember a previous newsletter about Haiti (“A New Stamp, A New Story” – Sept. ’12) Sept-12-News-06where I encountered similar initial negative stereotypes:

“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.”

I do abide by good Christian council that says “Trust in God, and fasten your seatbelt.” So I’m not saying we should do away with the precautions given to us by the international organizations that monitor statistics of gangs and violence nor our embassy. What I am saying is that for precisely the Mar-13-News-05reason Honduras is a difficult place to live and travel gives us even more cause to help bring hope and Christian witness to difficult areas.

On one such occasion in the capital of Honduras, visiting a local Baptist school talking with Pastor Manuel, I asked him about the violence in the community. He said, “Well, thanks to the Lord we haven’t had one instance of violence or robbery to any one of our 275 students in the 10 years we’ve had this school. The community knows and respects this place of worship and education. It is a light in the community and they want to preserve and protect it.”

I believe Pastor Manuel has a vision for what Christian witness looks like in places that are so dangerous most people don’t even want to go visit. Two verses come to mind when I think about the need for the light and hope of the Gospel and what we are doing in Edify:Mar-13-News-06

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 NIV)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

It is not easy the work that we do, but it is work that can turn not only the perception, but also the reality of communities to be ones of prosperity and goodness.

I pray that you are finding ways to turn what is broken in your community into what is healing and inviting so that more will see the good in dark places.

Blessings to you and your family,