Inspired to take action!

reasons to be optimistic

My daughters have heard more of my sermons over the years than just about anyone else.  That’s because when they were children I dragged them to church every Sunday.  Actually, their mother did most of the “dragging” because I was usually at church long before either one was awake.

Over the years, whether they were interested or not, whether they wanted to be in church or not, they heard lots of talk from me about Jesus – the claims he made, the things he did, the company he kept, that sort of thing.

I wasn’t always sure what the effect of all that talk would be 20-30 years later.

And so, I’ve asked each of them several times over the last couple of years to guest blog for me – not about what it was like to grow up in a pastor’s home, but about their faith, how they think about it now, how it affects their lives.  Or doesn’t.

My younger daughter, Elizabeth, is a global health researcher for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the University of Washington in Seattle, and this is her most recent response:

I read Melinda Gates’ tweet today about a list of reasons to be optimistic about 2014 and was not surprised to learn that most of the reasons were global health-related. For decades some of the world’s smartest people have been working hard to overcome some of the world’s largest scourges – with a surprising amount of success.

I like to keep up with the Gates Foundation, partly because they fund my current work, but also because I identify with the Gates’ motivation. The myth around the foundation’s origin is that Bill Gates read a health economics report and was inspired. In 1993 the World Bank published the World Development Report, entitled “Investing in Health.” The report laid out an action plan to tackle global health issues. Basically, it said: these are the diseases that affect the most lives, this is how you treat/prevent them, and this is how much it would cost.

To completely over-generalize, Bill and Melinda Gates saw what was possible with their resources, they decided they could not ignore the situation, and they took action.

The foundation is not religiously affiliated, yet their mission resonates with the believer in me. My main take-away from a childhood of church-going and countless “something about Jesus” sermons is that Jesus wanted us to take action on behalf of the vulnerable. In other words, he wanted us to figure out what we are capable of doing for our neighbors, and do it. In fact, Jesus recommended doing some pretty radical things, including selling everything you own and giving it to the poor.

Is that hyperbole, or was he serious? I’ll let my dad weigh in on that one.

But that is why my faith has led me to global health economics; the field allows me to identify issues in poverty and contribute to creating an actionable plan.

Melinda Gates wants us to be optimistic about 2014, and I think we should be. There is no shortage of ways to heed Christ’s call to action.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)

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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14 Responses to Inspired to take action!

  1. Sandy Steffen January 1, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    WOW Doug the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree does it??!! Wishing you and Susan all the best for a very Happy & Healthy New Year and a wonderful adventure ahead of you. Keep in touch! ( :

    • Doug January 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

      Yep, I’m as proud as I can be. Happy new year to you, Sandy!

  2. Jeff Edwards January 1, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    I smiled when I read “My main take-away from a childhood of church-going and countless “something about Jesus” sermons is that Jesus wanted us to take action on behalf of the vulnerable.” If a father ever received feedback about the lessons his child learned from him over the years…this was it. It did make me smile and reflective of my own lessons; both from my parents and to my children. I think you have started out 2014 on a very good note, Doug. Peace and blessings on you and yours.

    • Doug January 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

      Jeff, the reference – “something about Jesus” – is to an old family joke. Not a funny joke, but one that usually produced groans. Most weeks the kids would ask me what the sermon was going to be about, and I would invariably say, “Something about Jesus.” It came to be a standing joke, a dad joke, but also something I wanted them to know about the purpose of preaching. I think people come to church – whether they know it or not – to meet Jesus. And they know that!

      • Lizzy January 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

        I always understood it to be an evasive answer so you didn’t have to talk about your sermon at home…. little did I know you were trying to teach me something!

        • Doug January 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

          Being evasive made it more fun…for me. 🙂

  3. Barbara Keith January 1, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    What a beautiful and meaningful message from your daughter… LIKE FATHER & MOTHER! Thanks for sharing!!!!
    Barb & Tom Keith

    • Doug January 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      Thanks, Barbie!

  4. Keith Cobb January 1, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Very nice !!!

    • Doug January 2, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Hi, Keith. Happy new year to you and your family!

  5. Agnes Kenton January 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm #


    What a wonderful legacy. Your daughters surely are a credit to you and Susan, their lives are making a difference.

    Happy New Year. Keep in touch.

    • Doug January 3, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

      Happy new year, Agnes!

  6. Georgia Hamilton January 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    When I read “Elizabeth” I was at first confused–I rememer “Lizzy!” I’m sure she is one and the same, but completely grown up and mature beyond her years! Her explanation of what she does at the Gates Foundation was to the point and led naturally into her own belief about ‘ths Jesus person’. Wonderful, and so articulate–you and Susan must be very proud of your girls. Sincere wishes for a New Year filled with good expectations, surprises, and growth as you lead a new congregation.


    • Doug January 3, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

      She’s still Lizzy, Georgia! All the best in the new year.

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