“A wandering Aramean was my father…” (Deuteronomy 26:5)

zurich street scene

The first real adventure of my life was moving to New Jersey.

I could have done better, as adventures go, but Princeton Seminary was in New Jersey, so it was there that I went, after living the first 20 years of my life in the same house, same neighborhood, same city.  The distance door to door was only 750 miles, but it was far enough for me.

I met people in New Jersey I had never met before – Presbyterians, of course, but also Unitarians, Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, Coptics, Italians, Jews, and a wonderful Ph.D. student from Thailand who once went with me to a Yankees baseball game in the Bronx (my dating skills left a lot to be desired).  My next door neighbor on the third floor of Alexander Hall, where I lived, was African American, the very first black man I recall having had an actual conversation with.  He pretended not to notice how sheltered I had been.  He was (and is) a fine man.

New York City was only an hour or so away from Princeton, and so on Saturdays, when I probably should have been at the library learning my Hebrew grammar, the bus would deposit me at Port Authority, and from there I walked and walked all over Manhattan, looking in store windows, visiting museums, and watching the people.

The world was far larger than I had ever imagined.

Over the years this adventurous spirit hasn’t taken me all that far from home in terms of miles – Pennsylvania, Illinois, back to Michigan, and most recently to Florida.  But I’ve compensated by travelling – to the Philippines, Peru (twice), Haiti (three times), the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Europe (have lost count of the number of times), Canada and Mexico (do they count?), Israel (four times), Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco,  and more.

My passport is worn out, just like my Bible.

I’m pretty sure I know where this longing to wander came from.  It was my Kindergarten Sunday school teacher Mrs. Peterson.  (Parents: do a thorough job of investigating the sweet old ladies who are teaching your children.  You never know what kind of subversive ideas they might plant in young minds.)

Mrs. Peterson had just returned from doing missionary work in the far off and terribly exotic land of New Mexico, where she worked with Zuni and Navajo children, telling them all about the love of Jesus.  I’ve posted about her before, I know, but I’m just beginning to realize what an important influence she was in my life.

It was from her that I first learned how God might very well call me to a distant land (like New Mexico), and there I would have the privilege and opportunity to talk about my faith, just like she did.

I’ve waited and waited for that call.

I always assumed it would be to a tiny village in sub-Saharan Africa, someplace remote, where maybe there was no written language and no Internet.

And for a long time I thought the call would never come.  But – could I have buried the good news any deeper into this post? – early in the new year I will be moving to Switzerland.  I’m happy to announce that I’ve been called to be pastor of the International Protestant Church in Zurich.  It’s an interesting church with wonderful people, and I’ll be posting more about it in the days ahead.

Several people have asked, “Are you going to keep blogging?”  The answer is, “Yes.”  There will be more to write about.

As you can imagine, I’m very excited.  I’m also scared.  These were the two emotions I remember best from the summer before I moved to New Jersey.  I’ve got them again.  But I have something else I didn’t have then, and maybe that’s why God has taken his sweet time with me.  I know what I believe today in a way I didn’t then.  I have something to say.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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17 Responses to “A wandering Aramean was my father…” (Deuteronomy 26:5)

  1. Cindy October 9, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    You sound extremely happy – congratulations. You will be missed 🙁

  2. Catrina Hamilton Lanum October 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Congratulations! Florida was plenty far enough…now Switzerland. However, as long as you continue to stay in touch, the tears will soon subside.

  3. Barbara Keith October 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    We all need to follow our dream, so that is what you need to do … BUT… you will be missed at First Church. You and Susan need to know you will always have “a place in our hearts” and “a room in our house!”

    We hope to see you when we return to Florida in mid November.

    Barb & Tom Keith

  4. Sandy Steffen October 9, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I am so excited for you & Susan, Doug!! A dream come true for you but such sadness for First Church. I’m happy that you will continue to blog.

    You know, I was born and raised in NYC and had the exact opposite experience that you have had. I thought all “home towns” were just like the Big Apple, who knew, until I traveled to England looking forward to seeing their theater district (I love the theater) thinking that it was much bigger than the Great White Way! How disappointed I was that it was so tiny, just a few wonderful theaters around a beautiful fountain, but i loved it just the same.

    When my retail company had buyers come from out of town that had never been to NYC they got me to take them and give them the grand tour which was great because I got a chance to see my home town through their eyes and what a thrill that always was! ( :

    • Heidi Gagnon October 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      Wow! What an exciting opportunity…we will come visit your church!
      Prayers to you! We love all your wonderful news, Grandpa!

  5. Carl Wilton October 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    Blessings upon you, Doug, in your new ministry!

  6. Sheila Banach October 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    You know Doug, lots of people regard South Florida as a distant land… I will miss your sermons, the church is losing a good pastor. Good luck in your travels, glad you will be here for one more tomato season.

  7. bruce October 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    “Go in peace to love & serve the Lord,” Doug. I’ve truly appreciated our re-connect these few years however from opposite our respective Florida niches geographically . . . thank you for your interest and support of our mission & work @FSU; will hope to keep contact with First Church et al in your absence. Blessings attend Susan and thee! …Bruce Chapman, Campus Minister, Presbyterian University Center @Westminster House, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

  8. Mandana Sharifi October 9, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Though I heated about your departures a week or two ago, I just didn’t want to believe it…your sermons are like the heart beat of the church…could you please make sure that the new church will video tape your weekly Sunday sermons so we may view it on your blog or on their website?!!! You will be missed… :0/ GODs be….Mandana

  9. Mandana Sharifi October 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Oops pardon the iPad typo should be ‘heard’ not ‘heated’!!! lol

    • Doug October 10, 2013 at 5:25 am #


  10. bob sadowski October 10, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    we will miss you, I hope our new Pastor will have a good sense of humor(I will not spare him/her).

  11. Georgia Hamilton October 10, 2013 at 7:59 pm #


    You truly are a good story teller–getting your readers totally engaged and then casually dropping your exciting, and perhaps, scary, news on us! This will no doublt be a life changing experience for you, just as Africa was. Somehow, it seems bigger! I’m sure you and Susan have prayed about this, and the girls —i’m wondering their response?

    I know God is leading you and will provide whatever you need. Just know that many of us will be praying for you as you move forward to do His calling.

    In Christ,
    Georgia Hamilton

  12. nancy pranger October 12, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    alice peterson was one of god’s great saints.
    every one of us felt loved and excited to be in her care.
    we also felt special wearing the white men”s shirts ( backwards) and the big red ribbons for the christmas program.

    • Doug October 12, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      Oh, my goodness, I’m so glad to know someone else remembers! Thanks for responding, Nancy. I had forgotten her first name.

  13. Steve Williams October 14, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Thank you for all you have done for the Church. I will miss your smiling face and great sermons. God bless you and Susan in Switzerland.
    I came across this quote recently when preparing a yearbook salute for Christopher’s Sr. year. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
    Henry David Thoreau. It seems appropriate for you as well.
    Of course you do this keeping in mind Acts 17:26 “From one man He has made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
    I am thankful he chose Fort Lauderdale for you, if even for too short of a time.
    Take care, Steve

    • Doug October 15, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Thanks for those kind words, Steve.

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