Category Archives: Monthly Newsletter

Monthly Newsletter

“To Give What You Never Had” (Feb. ’13)

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 Aaron Roth – – “To Give What You Never Had – Feb. 2013

Hi family and friends, after almost seven weeks in Nicaragua, I headed up to Guatemala to be a part of a teachers conference organized by International School Project ( As part of my position, I’ve been participating in the conference to see how they teach a morals and ethics curriculum based on the Bible to about 500 Guatemalan public school teachers and directors. After this, I will head to Honduras, to continue visiting Christian schools. It’s been a wonderful journey thus far, and part of me thinks I’m just getting started. This email is about an experience I had in a school in Leon, Nicaragua. Blessings, -Aaron

Have you met someone recently that couldn’t read or write? I suppose if you hang out with small children, they get a pass, but I’m asking this question in relation to adults. When was the last time you met someone who was illiterate? It’s probably fairly uncommon for us Americans to run across anyone that has difficulties like that unless we work in education.

Working out of Managua, Nicaragua I have visited many communities where I meet adults that still cannot read and write. It’s quite common in the rural areas actually. In fact, the Nicaraguan government has a campaign called, “The Battle for Sixth Grade” which helps rural schools to keep children in education until at least the sixth grade and hopefully into high school. Apparently, in many rural communities, the dropout rate from first to sixth grade approaches 50%.

How can a nation develop if its citizens lack even the most rudimentary skills?

I replaFeb-13-News-02y that question over and over in my mind when I visit yet another private school and the teachers tell me that when students come from public schools and enter seventh and eighth grade and still don’t know how to read or write. It would be understandable if the children were in primary school, but to pass through seven or eight grades without learning, that’s alarming. In fact, much of the developing world, an estimated 793 million illiterate adults struggle with illiteracy.

Further still, as I have been visiting schools, I have met adults that lack those skills, but what’s amazing to me is that they show a sincere desire to break the cycle of illiteracy when they enroll their own children into a school. But the question remains, how did these adults miss out on education? What happened in their past?

“I couldn’t read or write until I was 16. I just didn’t have the opportunity. No one invested in me.” – Francisco, Director of “Lily of the Valleys Christian School” in Leon, Managua.

Francisco’s school, which was started almost 18 years ago, now serves 450 local children. His school is located in a poorer area of Leon, and meets the needs of many underserved children and families in the local area. Whenever I use the word, “poorer,” keep in mind that Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so while the “regular” areas are economically harsh, the “poorer” areas areFeb-13-News-03 a bit shocking.

Francisco’s passion for education came from his inability to receive even basic education as a youth. When he sees a young child enter his school without basic math or language skills, he seems himself as a young man with desires to learn and grow, just waiting to be invested into. I saw Francisco’s passion permeate the school, just look at this to the right, their focus on character formation. They know that if they aren’t the ones who take a stand in the development of a child, no one else will.

After explaining to me how they are able to provide education to over 450 students with only 10 classrooms in three daily sessions, he shares with me something he’s really excited about: free literacy classes on Saturdays for adults.

It had been a goal over the past 20 years. To arrive at a point in his life where he could receive primary and secondary education, and give back to the community that helped him become the man he is today. What’s even more amazing, is that his private school is self-sustainable and with its income it can serve the poor community with a lower tuition rate, pay for the church’s utility bills, and offer free weekend classes to adults. I’m blown away by the entrepreneurship and servant hood he has displayed, but he wants to show me something that means the most to him. As he walks away he says, “Let me show you what we just achieved . . .”

Feb-13-News-04Francisco comes back with a stack of certificates, newly stamped with the seal of approval from the Ministry of Education. His private Christian school is now recognized by the Nicaraguan government as meeting their national standards of literacy training. I’m flipping through the names on these awards and realizing that with each new name I see, this represents a new life for the individual. For a mom or a dad, they now have the ability to help their kids with their homework, find a better job, and read aloud to their kids at night furthering the beautiful bloom of knowledge in their household.

I look up and he is quiet; he’s humbled by all the names and certificates in the folder. He has helped make a way for twenty four adults to become true citizens of their country. I nod in appreciation, he smiles. We both seem to silently agree on the gravity of this achievement.

Feb-13-News-05I think it’s because we both realize a simple yet incredibly profound thing has transpired. Even though nobody was there when he was a child, he is present now for the children. Even though no one had the money for him to go to school, he has found a way to provide for others. Even though he and his family lived many kilometers away, they found a house closer to the school to provide weekend classes.

Even though he never had, he made a commitment to give what he never received.

He understood the profound journey he had to take and the cost it took to build a bridge across the deep gap of “even though.”

It hits me hard to think about how many times I think about my first response to a challenge or an obstacle is to give up, simply because something stood in my way, or the gap was too far to cross.

I’m so inspired by the people I’ve met who have overcome tremendous setbacks and have responded not with excuses, bitterness or weakness, but instead a positive, affirming, and courageous attitude. I think about the magnitude of such an obstacle – illiteracy – and what it would take to go from learning to read and write at age 16 and then go to school, university, and on to become a director of a school.

That is simply phenomenal.

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (NIV Proverbs 11:24-25)

Skype: aprothwm05

“Education is a Battle for the Mind” (Jan. 2013)

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 Aaron Roth – – “Education is a Battle for the Mind – Jan. 2013

Hi family and friends, I just celebrated my 30th birthday here in Nicaragua during the last week of January. I felt really blessed to be able to hike around a volcano and swim in a lagoon of a volcano crater. Yes, I realize that sounds pretty absurd and possibly like fiction, but Nicaragua is a beautiful country with many volcanoes and natural points of interest. If you feel like celebrating your birthday here, just respond to this email. Blessings, -Aaron

At precisely the moment the money changer was explaining to me where a large evangelical church was located in Granada, a woman and her daughter walked up to him and unrolled a $100 American bill. He pulled out his calculator, performed a calculation of the bank rate for that day and showed her the numbers. She nodded “yes.” Her face was downtrodden and her daughter looked ambivalent. The enormous stack of bills in his hand flipped back and forth as he plucked out the colorful currency from large denominations to small. It sounded like a oft repeated rhythm here on this busy street corner.

She received her Cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) and they walked away. He continued with the directions to “La Iglesia de Restauracion” (The Church of Restoration) as if nothing outside our innocent conversation had transpired.

IJan-13-News-02 don’t know exactly where this local woman had gotten such a large bill, but I think I can connect the dots in this particular situation. Like in many impoverished countries, with the high frequency of tourism and enormous economic poverty, women sometimes engage in prostitution. I don’t want to give you the impression that this is what Nicaragau is like throughout the country or what it should be known for. That would not be true, nor would it be a fair representation to the beautiful countryside and Nicaraguan culture I have come to enjoy over the past month. Indeed, it is a complicated issue, an economic pressure driven by the divide between the rich who are in power limiting free market commerce from taking shape and the desperate poor waiting for more jobs.

According to the UN, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere next to Haiti. Nicaragua struggles with unemployment, poor education, and a weak (but growing) economy. I do believe there is hope on the horizon though, as I’ve met with many churches, Christian missionaries, development organizations, and Christian and Catholic schools. They speak of a population moving out of poverty and the importance of the formation of good character as the nation continues to grow economically.Jan-13-News-05 Progress may be slow, but it is arriving.

I joined a group meeting last Wednesday of an organization called ACECEN (Association of Evangelical Christian Education Centers of Nicaragua) is proactive in it’s approach to changing the culture and the future of Nicaragua through education. They teach teachers how to educate children through learning modalities, technology in the classroom, and creating a curriculum that both imparts Biblical values and lives them out. I began to see what a powerful force education can be here.

Within their network, they deliver their program of training on a bi-weekly basis to schools and weekly to others. Many times they incorporate special subjects like preventing child trafficking throughout Central America in a partnership with Christian Reformed Church ( As you look to the map here on the right you’ll see that there are trade routes running in and out of this part of the country. As mentioned before, the drug trade, human trafficking, and illicit activities are not just problems of Central America, they are found in every part of the globe where there is poverty.

Jan-13-News-04With Edify I have been visiting schools and meeting with organizations like ACECEN to see if they’d be a good partner for Edify as they currently work with Christian schools in Nicaragua. ACECEN “promotes the development and improvement of Christian schools, preparing students to excel professionally based on biblical principles so that they become agents of transformation in society.”

The ACECEN team was receiving this special training to impart their program of educational services to the 150 schools in their network. They will carry this message of justice, hope, and redemption to directors, teachers and students. By starting with the youngest children they are laying a platform to help them understand what is good and what is bad in the world and how to know the difference.

Isn’t it amazing that education can become a weapon in preventing things like the drug trade, child trafficking, and prostitution? It all starts with providing a solid foundation of values and one value that ACECEN continually promotes is that school is a safe place and the teachers are protectors and believe in the students ability to succeed.

I think sometimes we have this image in our minds that the evils present in our cities or in the developing worlds are always shady looking strangers that pluck out kids from their homes and put them up to selling drugs or get them involved in illegal activities. Very often, it’s not a presence or a force of bad examples, it can be simply a lack or an absence of the good ones. The values of culture, whether good or bad, are transmitted in the street, within neighborhoods, in markets, on TV and radio, all play a part in helping to form what is good and what is right in these young minds.

If we don’t help provide good solid examples of strong, loving leadership, children will find examples of it as soon as they leave school. That is what scares me. Haven’t we seen too many evils against children, and worse, youth against youth? There is a real and present battle for the minds of the youth, and I am encouraged to see organizations like ACECEN are out on the front lines loving children and teaching them how to live in this world.
That is our goal with Edify as well. We work with schools to help them provide a better education to their children, better routes to get sustainable employment through vocational training, and bring the hope of a real Savior who came to fight for them and defeat that which is evil.

I believe children need that.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV)

I pray that as you see opportunities to help the most innocent of our society, God gives you a way to participate.

Blessings to you and your families,
Skype: aprothwm05

“Feels Like Home” (Dec. ’12 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Feels Like Home” – Dec. 2012

Hi family and friends, sorry this email about December is coming so late. I think we all get super busy during the holidays and for me I was also preparing to go to San Diego with Edify and then onto Nicaragua where I am now. I hope to send out my January newsletter about what we’re trying to do in Nicaragua before January finishes. Blessings, -Aaron

I had a whirlwind tour of the US during my 11 weeks back home. While I spent four weeks on the road in various parts of the country living out of suitcases, it was still nice to be back in the company of friends and family and to enjoy the cold. I’m still surprised we had a white Christmas back home in Broadway with my family. Our Christmas Eve service was almost cancelled due to weather, but we trudged on and made our way to the celebration on that cold, snowy December night. I’m sure the infant Savior of the world marveled at our arduous commute of 45 seconds (we live across the road.)

Dec-12-News-02On Christmas Day I called my Dominican family on Skype. I lived with them in their small home in a ghetto of Santo Domingo for a short bit when I first arrived to the DR, but had visited them every two or three weeks for the two years I spent in the DR. Talking with them on Skype brought back so many memories of my time in Santo Domingo, and though it had only been two months, it felt like a long time since I had been at home with them.

When someone asked me in Richmond where home was now, I tried to modify the common phrase with “Home is where my passport is, and I have no idea where I put it.”

In truth, I knew where my passport was, and when I had to pack for Nicaragua it was in the top-most part of my backpack, like always. But for me, the concept of “home” has been an odd one over the past few years.  I got used to living out of two backpacks, packing, unpacking, saying hello and goodbye so many times that it became much like the stamps on my passport. Show up, say the usual things, and you’ll be able to pass through to the next destination.

Dec-12-News-03It hasn’t bothered me though. When I made the decision three years ago to serve overseas, I knew that I was changing some things that would remain permanent. Having a stable “home” would be a temporary enjoyment and a future plan. What became home to me was a mission, and that’s where I put my focus.

I have kept a journal for 11 years, and much of what I wrote three years ago, consisted of trying to live into the “large arc” of my life story. That is, what did I want my life to be about when it was all said and done. Some things on that list were:

  • To do something that was more about others than it is about me.
  • To put my faith in Jesus into action.
  • To dedicate myself to something I believed in.

Dec-12-News-04I’ve written many times about my belief in the efficacy and strength of what we do in Edify, and what HOPE International does around the world. We have been helping people develop skills to provide more employment opportunities and income for their families, providing them the financial capital to get started, and sharing the hope of a loving God who believed that to redeem the brokenness of this world was worth sending his beloved Son to this earth. (I think it’s always important to point back to the real meaning of the holidays you know?)

More than ever I believe in this kind of economic development. Microfinance is a good thing, and it works.

I knew that the time I was in the States, I would be there temporarily, and in fact, I awaited the day where I could get back “home” – that is, where the mission is, to do good in the places that desperately need it. So when I arrived to the Edify training in San Diego, CA I knew that I was a few more steps closer to home. Seeing my good friends from the Dominican Republic, and the executive leadership that I have come to know over the past few years, was like walking back through a familiar door. These are the people I shared the mission with, anDec-12-News-05d those that I will continue working with this upcoming year.

A teammate asked me if I was worried about Nicaragua, and I said that as long as I had a clean, quiet place to sleep, I’d be fine. “That’s it?” They asked.

“Yeah, that’s usually it.” I responded.

Maybe now, I’ve developed the game plan for this kind of life. By no means am I perfect, but I’ve realized that as soon as I handle the few, crucial details I can focus on the bigger picture. And for me, this is working with Edify to see if we should enter Nicaragua, Honduras, and Peru and help to improve education for children in low economic areas, share the Gospel, and build more bridges out of poverty and into hope like we’ve been doing in Ghana, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic.

Upon arriving into Nicaragua, I was a bit overwhelmed. New culture, new city, new Spanish slang, and a new set of rules. When faced with so much stimuli it can be a bit shocking. I knew I had to keep it cool, because that’s on page one of the playbook. When we arrived to the house in Managua, Dec-12-News-06Nicaragua my host family showed me the room where I’d be staying. It’s separated from the house, has its own bathroom, and is clean.

Even though I’d never been here before, I had the sense that since this is part of the mission, and since this fits with the large story of my life, I knew that I was correct in saying:

“Feels like home.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26 NIV)

I pray that you are finding your way back to the home you are being called to.

Skype: aprothwm05

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

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 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,

“A Parachute for All” – (July ’12)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “A Parachute for All” – July 2012

Hi everyone, this newsletter is about the Esperanza-Edify family camp we had in a school called “Colegio Bethesda” in La Romana, Dominican Republic in July. As I mentioned earlier, 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.

My first experience with a parachute, thankfully, was not when I had to jump out of a plane. My mother had found an old Army parachute at a yard sale, and my siblings and neighbors and I played with it for hours during a summer in the early ‘90’s. I distinctly remember talking with our resident engineer, my brother, how much time (in milliseconds) I would have to deploy the old, tattered, white parachute if I were to jump off the roof of our house. Luckily, our mother caught wind of our plans, and disabled access to the roof and scolded us enough to dissuade us from taking such a leap.

What was your first experience with a parachute? My guess it was some form of summer camp when you and your friends stretched out around the edges of the colorful fabric and breathed life into the beast as you launched beach balls, water balloons, or maybe, just maybe, some young, lucky aspiring July-12-News-02astronauts that your youth leaders deemed rugged enough to survive a few test orbit missions from your summer camp launch pad.

Two weeks ago was yet another reminder to me that kids are kids, and that all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight.

In Microfinance, we don’t usually do summer camps for kids. We stress the importance in giving July-12-News-03people a hand up, not a hand out. We make loans to those who live in economic poverty to help them start sustainable businesses to help them improve their economic situation on their own.

In the partnership with Esperanza-Edify, we make loans to small, low-cost private schools to build more classrooms and computer labs; initiatives that increase a school’s income and improve the quality of teaching at an institution. We believe the best way to launch a child into success is with a solid education, but yes, for fun, on this particular occasion we did let the kids play with the parachute (but not physically launching them, don’t worry).

Colegio Bethesda is the economically poorest school of the 33 schools in our lending program in Esperanza-Edify. In the past 18 months we have lent over US $300,000 to projects relating to construction of new classrooms, infrastructure improvements, and computer labs. (Note: Microloans July-12-News-04are actively being paid back so that we can use this capital to lend to other schools. I love this aspect of how microfinance works!) We make loans with good interest rates and terms to projects that will help a school in providing a better education for the children of their community, and right now we have almost 7,000 children in our program of 33 schools.

Colegio Bethesda is a school that I’ve spoken about before in my newsletters and blogs; it’s a largely Haitian community, and this community is considered the economically poorest in La Romana, a large city in the east of the Dominican Republic. It’s a community where there is no regular access to water, July-12-News-08electricity, and just 2 months ago, they got their first paved road.

So to celebrate the progress over the past 12 months of Colegio Bethesda with Pastor Wisley Denis and his school administration team, and their three new classrooms they built from the loan we made last summer, we wanted to do something special. Something that we don’t normally do.

With the 90 students, their parents and their community, we brought a summer camp full of activities of arts & crafts, English classes, and games. Within HOPE, Esperanza, and Edify, when we find an appropriate project to assist a school in a manner that is more donation based, we try to do it in a July-12-News-04way that empowers the community, instead of just a group of Americans coming and giving away large gifts. Pastor Denis found workers from his congregation that wanted to make an impact in the school in the community. He was looking for parents and workers that were invested in the importance of education, so local Haitian workers from the community finished the three classrooms during the camp.

Pastor Wisley Denis said,

“We are all very excited about this summer camp. For these children, they know that other kids get to go to camp, but they know they could never go. They simply cannot afford it. By showing up, by being present here, we are showing them they deserve to be special.”

I was the leader of the older kids, “Los Campeones,” (The Champions), pictured in the yellow shirts in various pictures above. Like most older kids, they were reserved, and a bit timid, just waiting for an excuse to run off some of their energy. So we passed from English and then onto crafts and finally to recreation. The chance to run and play had finally arrived. They were desperate to blow off some steam.

July-12-News-07Sometimes I have a moment where it all clicks for me, and when I find myself in an economically poor community, with parents struggling to make ends meet, the temptation of drugs, prostitution and crime, the sickness, grief and the pain, the need and the desire of the innocent trying to just be children, and then comes something that just covers the entire situation with a new face, a new hope:

outstretched in the courtyard of the church was displayed the color-filled canvas pulled taut by the joyous hands of 30 screaming Haitian children.

How beautiful.

The photo I captured here to the right reminds me of the spirit of joy found in children, no matter where they are from, or what color their skin is. They all just want an opportunity to play.

I believe that children deserve access to good education, a teacher that encourages them and cares about their future, an administration that promotes values and discipline, adequate facilities that promote their development, and an opportunity for higher education. July-12-News-05

And there, under the parachute was a common ground, a place where we could all laugh at the majesty of the colors of our make-shift tent. We all fit, we all deserved to be there, we were all special in the way we were made.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight.

I think most of the time in America, we worry about how much resources we have to make sure that all children are covered in the schools, lamenting that we only have room for so many. We cut programs that engender the creative prowess of our youth to make way for standardized tests and programs. Many times the kids that need it the most, don’t fit under the parachute, and sit against the wall . . . and learn that their only place is by the wall while the rest of the world gets to be underneath the glowing tent of colors.

I’ve got an idea, let’s find a way to make a bigger parachute.

Let’s find ways to make solid education available for more children and youth in our communities locally and internationally. It doesn’t have to be in a public school classroom, or a private school for that matter, it can take form in a church, even the courtyard of a church that’s covered in dirt and rocks. It just matters that we show up, that we make ourselves present, and that we make our youth know they too deserve to be there.  By making the investment in youth, we will see our communities grow and flourish, just like Colegio Bethesda in Villa Hermosa of La Romana.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Blessings to you and your family,


“Save a Dollar” – (June ’12 Newsletter)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Save a Dollar” – June 2012

Hi everyone, this newsletter is about June and the HOPE International savings groups in Comas, Peru, and the July newsletter will be about the Esperanza-Edify family camp we had in Colegio Bethesda in La Romana, Dominican Republic. On another note, although my final date was to be August, I’m planning on staying to early October to help with an annual HOPE event here in the DR. Do please continue to support me if you feel led. More on my Fall departure will come in the next newsletters, and on my blog.

“I didn’t know how to save my money, but now I do.” is what Olga, 52 years old, member of the “Good Seed” savings group in Comas, Peru told me. Have you ever said that to someone? (Or do you know how to save?) Has your budget ever come up short during a month? Have you ever wanted to buy something but felt that it was just out of your reach? These are the questions that I use daily when talking with people about their money and their hopes and dreams for the future. In Olga’s case, she has been excited about putting away $2-3 a week, something she’s never done before in her life, and is amazed to see her stock pile grow which she will use to make inventory purchases in the future.

June-12-News-02 Last month, I had the opportunity to go work in Lima, Peru for six days during June 20-26 to help a volunteer from HOPE, Cindy Kalinoski,, do a series of interviews of the savings group members, the program team, and the local church that was implementing the project.

As a translator, it was my job to schedule the trips to the local market and facilitate the interviews while Cindy carried out the content of each meeting. Our work took us through three local markets of three districts of North Lima. Lima, Peru has a population of nearly 30 million people, and roughly nine million of those live in the capital in one of 36 districts. It was interesting and very enjoyable to be in another Latin American country that spoke Spanish, but instead of sea-level plains and Carribean plants, I was surrounded by mountains and the noise and hustle and bustle of the city.

In North Lima, our home base was a district called Comas where HOPE International has a partnership with the local church Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera de Comas ( to carry out a savings group program. Members of the group make weekly savings deposits when they meet in small groups of their local June-12-News-03congregation, and the groups save their funds together as a form of accountability and support. This similar savings model is what HOPE savings programs look like in Rwanda where we have more than 100,000 members with a partnership Urewego Bank (, and in the Philippines where we have more than 200,000 members with a partnership with CCT ( 

In speaking with Pastor Angel Barriento, senior pastor of the Comas church, he relayed to us the state of the local economy: “Most of the local commerce in the area can be classified as “informal” meaning that the people are out in the streets and in the markets selling goods, instead of office buildings and corporate parks like you all might be used to. For those at the bottom of the social class pyramid, there are relatively few or no options to have banking services or basic savings programs.”

The Comas church has been excited about this project because by offering this savings tool coupled with a financial ministry they are able to reach people they would never be able to meet by traditional methods. A basic strategy of finding new clients is to walk around through the markets (pictured June-12-News-04right) and ask them where they do their banking and where they go to church. A member of the leadership team can then invite them to church and to the savings groups they are promoting. Simple and effective.

In Comas, Peru, in South and Central America, and indeed here in the Dominican Republic, you’ll see in most economically poor areas that there is a basic lack of financial services: checking accounts, savings accounts, and reasonable rates for loans. In America, we don’t even think twice about not having access to these services. With advertisements on our local streets or arriving in the mail, we are inundated with offers.

June-12-News-05But in talking with the members of these seven savings groups in Peru, getting a savings account is pretty tough with the account requirements, distance to local banks, and the limited service hours. This is why HOPE promotes savings groups, and their specific strategy is managing these programs through an established community like a church.

I believe now more than ever that in order to have overseas development work well, we have to partner with local leaders. I was overjoyed to meet Pastor Roberto Peche and his family (pictured above wearing a tie with the leadership team). He’s in charge of the men’s ministry for the church and the financial ministry with the savings groups. He has such a passion for teaching and discipleship and this program allows him to go out into the communities to give them financial tools and training to prosper in their businesses.

Take for example the case of Milagros (pictured right.) She joined this savings group from the church about 10 months ago, when Pastor Roberto and his team came through the market where she was working. Through the savings group she learned how to manage her money, create her own budget, make plans for a future business, and was given a position of leadership and responsibility as the secretary of the group. What’s most exciting is that recently, when the group was mature and built up its savings funds, the group gave Milagros a loan for $75. With that $75 dollars she was able to buy more inventory for her store.

June-12-News-06I love this idea that this business that you see in the left picture did not exist 3 months ago, but with this loan from her savings group, a community of her friends, she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream – owning her own store. This store provides the necessary income for her and her three children, and since it is the only one in the local neighborhood she is helping her community have better access to needed goods.

For us, maybe the idea of saving a few dollars isn’t anything special, but if you were to put yourself in the shoes of someone like Milagros or Olga, people who have no easy access to financial services, saving money was hard. But now, even these few dollars can make a big difference in their lives. They began trusting in the promise of savings, the promise of the solidarity and community that they find in their group, and a new hope in the truth they are finding in the church community, as many of the women in the group were not active church goers in the past.

I think so often that for us, we put so much stock in what we make, or what we are able to earn and buy. It can represent the value we have for ourselves and what we show our friends and family. We can get lost in what the role and the utility of money should be, and make it something more important than it is. By talking with these members of the savings groups, I see the value in appreciating money in the right way and by trusting in the promise of the Bible.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 NIV)

I pray that you would see the value in saving your money to save for the good purchases in life, and that stockpiling or making money would not distract you from what is really important.

Blessings to you and your family,


“A Thirsty Community” – (May ’12 Newsletter)


Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “A Thirsty Community” – May 2012

Hi everyone, quick update on my whereabouts: this Wednesday (tomorrow) I’ll be going to work in Lima, Peru for six days. I’ll be working with a savings and credit program with a local church called “Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera de Comas.” ( I’m sorry for how late this newsletter is coming through; I was at the HOPE International Leadership summit in late May, and since coming back I’ve had a whirlwind tour of the interior of the island for work. Do pray for our trip with HOPE in Lima, Peru, and look for my June newsletter about Peru at the end of this month! 

Humidity was at about 70% when the newspapers said that at least 70% of the capital would be without water for the next four days. Ironic right? All that water just lingering up in the air and not running through the capital’s pipes. That’s about 2.1 Million residents without access to running water. Even though the temperature read 90°F which “felt like” 97°F, ask any local, and they’ll tell you what it really felt like. (Cover your ears.) It felt so sticky, so sweaty, so stinky, so dirty and you couldn’t even wash your hands.

May-12-News-01We lost water on Saturday in my apartment, and when no water came from the bathroom sink, I thought to myself “Oh, I’ll just try the kitchen.” That’s the thing about an infrastructure problem – it’s everywhere. It’s inescapable, and you can’t just turn it back on when you want to. Someone else decides that, and when there’s no water and you’re incredibly thirsty, well, that’s a hard thing to swallow.

I found it coincidental that for my assignment following the weekend of drought I was to visit two Esperanza water projects that are capable of producing 3,000 gallons of clean water a day for the communities in which they live. When I arrived, they had water, plenty of water, and people came in droves when the city could finally turn the water back on.

May-12-News-02Esperanza’s main ministry to the people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti are through the micro-loans in their community banking lending program. They also do larger loans to schools and loans for building and maintaining commercial grade water systems that we call “water loans.” These water loans go to churches who build a small storefront at their church location to sell the water to the community at a much more affordable price than the local corner convenience stores.

I love the example of a ministry providing clean water to the community. Think of all the ministry opportunities to connect with someone who is thirsty and being able to provide a cold glass of water and a listening ear. I think of the passage in John 4, where Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman:

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15 NIV)

May-12-News-04What I also love is that from an organizational standpoint we make loans and provide business training to these small churches to help them make the right financial decisions for their enterprise and for the community.

Since partnering together is such a large part of our philosophy, we deliberately choose the kinds of clients we work with who share our same mission and vision for impacting the local community and improving the state of health and well being of the local area.

My first water stop was at the Iglesia Celestial Vision (pictures above), and I learned a great deal from the associates who’ve been selling clean water for a year and a half. Right now, they are in plans to upgrade the equipment to produce more on a daily basis, from 3,000 gallons a day to 5,000. For them though, water is also a way to get people to church. Many new members of the congregation have come from the community nearby simply because of the water project outside the church.May-12-News-05

I moved onto a second water project to speak with Juan Menas Castillo and his wife, Evelyn, about their water businesses. They’ve been operating now for about four years after Juan, a water technician and engineer, decided to start his own business with his wife. Through the counsel of their pastor and other members of their church they started off with a small system and one delivery truck and called it “Meta Agua” (could be translated to “Goal Water” or “Water with a Purpose”). Now, they have three small delivery trucks pictured below and one delivery motorcycle that can hold three five-gallon bottles of water.

When I asked Juan about his motivation for starting his business, Meta Water, he simply replied that “Water is basic to our lives. Everyone needs to have clean water. Everyone deserves to have clean water. What I do isn’t that special, God gives us water to live, and we make it available to the community.” I responded by saying that the work he is doing is good, it’s a way of providing a tangible form of the blessings we all receive from God. He’s humble, and he May-12-News-06didn’t respond in kind, but said that he is happy that he is able to employ five more people from the community. “Wow! What an amazing man.” I thought.

I think water project is a beautiful thing in itself. It’s a way to serve hundreds of families of a community by providing something they really need. Water is something so basic, so miniscule, and yet we overlook it frequently. That is of course until 70% of the capital doesn’t have it, and then you can’t even wash your hands.

Juan filled up my water bottle before I left telling me that one of the most important things a person needs to know before selling water to a community is that “You need to drink the water that you sell.”

He imparted a vision for what we can do with Christian micro-financing in an economically poor communities. A vision for doing what we do well, integrating ourselves in a community, and most importantly, like Juan mentioned, in believing for ourselves what we aim to tell others. In this way, people will know who we are and why we do what we do.

” . . . Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)

Go fill up a tall glass of water from your kitchen sink as you think about the leaders who operate one of Esperanza’s 17 commercial grade water projects that serve over 30,000 families in the Dominican Republic. In the meantime I will pray that you would be filled with that water that satisfies your deepest thirst.

Blessings to you and your family,