After Coming as a Refugee, Pastor Creates App to Bring Tithing Into the 21st Century

Ten years ago, Oswaldo Otero was given a chance to start his life anew in the United States, after being threatened for his work for the conservative party and his political journalism in Bogota, Colombia. “I came here running away from death,” he said. “I had to flee for my life. I came here as a refugee.”

The Miami-based evangelical pastor and creator of the tithing app Siembra seized the opportunity, throwing himself into American life. In the beginning, he refused to speak Spanish at work, preferring to speak only English instead. Then Otero started a small business and immersed himself in the faith community.

In Colombia, it’s really hard to be an entrepreneur because the government doesn’t like it. Here, the rules are simple.

The concept for Siembra was born out of his strong faith, a desire to give back, and a frustration with the old-fashioned collection of church donations. “I couldn’t believe that we’re still doing the same stuff we were doing 200 years ago,” Otero says, referring to the passing of a weekly donation basket. He began to think about ways to modernize the process. Seven years ago, the idea for Siembra, which helps users tithe or make donations via smartphone, took root. Streamlined tithing also empowers people to take better care of their money. “We believe that biblically we are mandated to tithe, to give 10 percent to our church,” Otero says. “But you can’t give 10 percent of something that you don’t have.” He adds that Siembra was born partly out of the frustration he felt, seeing people struggle to manage their finances.

Otero quit his full-time job three years ago to launch the app with a partner. Today, the self-funded Siembra employs 10 and continues to grow. The process of launching an entrepreneurial business, Otero believes, was easier in the United States, due to access to capital, resources, and an entrepreneurial culture. “In Colombia, it’s really hard to be an entrepreneur because the government doesn’t like it,” he said. “Here, the rules are simple. Play by the rules; work harder. Have a big dream and help people, and you’re going to see the possibilities emerge, you’re going to see your dream come true.”

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