Sustaining Missionaries while Running Bitcoin Beach

By Scott Craig   |   December 20, 2022
Michael Peterson of Bitcoin Beach fame was one of 85 alumni honored at Westmont’s 85th anniversary Gala on October 15 (photos by Brad Elliott)

Since 60 Minutes featured alumnus Michael Peterson (’97) and his Bitcoin Beach last April, his life has changed a bit. “I’ve had meals with three different billionaires,” he says. “I don’t normally run in those circles.” 

Michael and his wife, Brittney Cox Peterson (’97), co-founders of Missionsake, prefer meeting the spiritual, mental, physical, and relational needs of El Salvador’s missionary community. 

A journey around the developing world his senior year with three friends from Europe Semester, led Michael to consider a career in missions. Seven years later, a surfing trip to El Salvador with another Westmont alumnus included a week serving with a medical mission’s team in Guatemala. “I fell in love with El Salvador – the surf, the warm water, and the people,” he says. 

He and Brittney bought a home in El Zonte, a small coastal town, and visited every winter during the off-season of their food-service business. They attended the country’s lone English-speaking church in San Salvador and learned from missionaries about their challenges with children, marriage, and ministry. “We became close to a family who had experienced a lot of trauma,” Michael says. “The husband had been shot in the neck in El Salvador, losing his voice and suffering from PTSD. We felt called to pour into their lives – and God opened our eyes to the broader need of support for missionaries.” 

Ten years ago, the Petersons decided to stay in El Salvador full-time, running Missionsake. The ministry provides business expertise, counseling and two guest homes. “Missionaries have no budget for time away,” Michael says. “They feel guilty taking a vacation. Providing a place for them to stay helps them reconnect with family and be alone.” 

Missionsake also hosts an annual conference, The Gathering, to help unify the missionary community. “We hope this time of fellowship will grow into deeper friendships and stronger connections,” he says. 

Community Build, another Missionsake initiative, focuses on education and local development projects. “The youth in El Salvador are vulnerable to being enticed into gangs,” he says. “Many of them grow up without any parents because they’re in the U.S. working illegally or in jail.” 

An economics and business major at Westmont, Michael became intrigued with Bitcoin and its potential as a monetary system when it launched in 2009. “My interest was academic and theoretical,” he says. 

But living in El Salvador, he encountered the challenges of getting money from the United States due to the disconnected state of financial systems. “The system works well in the United States, but not in most of the world,” he says. “It’s expensive and difficult. People here spend so much time and money trying to receive remittances from family. I kept thinking Bitcoin could solve a lot of these issues.” 

Then Michael met someone at The Gathering who had received a Bitcoin from a donor. He met with an advisor to the donor, who stipulated that the Bitcoin be used in transactional ways and not just cashed in for U.S. dollars, El Salvador’s official currency. Michael made what he considered a preposterous proposal to create a circular economy within El Zonte, dubbed Bitcoin Beach, to fund Missionsake’s Community Build initiative. “The advisor came back with follow-up questions and said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’” 

Even with Bitcoin’s volatility, the cryptocurrency has transformed the image of El Salvador, formerly known for gangs and violence. The country has now attracted international businesses. “It’s increasing financial education,” Michael says. “People are saving for the first time. It’s connecting them with the world. These secondary impacts will continue to be positive for El Salvador regardless of what the price of Bitcoin does. 

“Not many people can say their college experience changed the trajectory of their life. I know so many Westmont students who’ve gone on to do amazing and unique things and made a big impact. Westmont shapes you into the person you’ll become. I have many lifelong Westmont friends I remain close to, including some on our board.”


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