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How I Found God in Silicon Valley

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"You did what?” I asked my wife, Jackie, in amazement when she told me that she had gone to church. It was the late summer of 1985, and I had called home while on a business trip in Paris. You see, church was not part of our dialogue for many years. I had gradually walked away from faith in the late 1960s after having been brought up Catholic in a Boston suburb. I certainly believed there was a God and had a sense of God’s presence, but I didn’t read the Bible and only prayed when I was in trouble, needed help, or as part of occasional blessings at a holiday dinner. Jackie had attended church that day at a neighbor’s invitation. Our neighbor had noticed Jackie taking our oldest daughter, Julia, to Vacation Bible School at the invitation of a friend. At the time, Jackie was under major stress attending to our newborn daughter, Christina, who had a genetic deficiency that required Jackie to prick Christina’s heel regularly for blood tests. Whenever she had to draw blood, Christina, Julia, and Jackie all cried. With Julia at VBS, Jackie could focus more on Christina. And that day she attended church, Jackie found peace in the midst of chaos. Many in my generation — the “Baby Boomers” — had given up on traditional values, including organized religion, while in college during the turbulent late 1960s. I was one of them. My focus after college was me — getting started on a career, finding a great woman to marry, and staying physically fit. For the next 20 years, I built my resume and my family, but I didn’t know the basic tenets of the Christian faith, didn’t practice it, and had no relationship with God. Life was good, or so it seemed A peak in my career came in 1979 when I was asked to join a start-up company, Personal Software, in the then-fledgling personal-computer industry. It wasn’t truly an “industry” at the time. Personal computers were only for nerds. PCs were primarily used to play games, like Microchess, a product developed by one of the founders of Personal Software and sold by the company. It was even a stretch to call Personal Software a company, as its employees only included the two founders, their wives, and some part-time workers recruited from the local Transcendental Meditation Center. What intrigued me was an application under development — an electronic spreadsheet, eventually called VisiCalc. VisiCalc was the first product that made PCs useful productivity tools. Steve Wozniak, one of Apple’s founders, once called VisiCalc one of the two factors that made the Apple II a success. The other was the floppy disc. I wanted in. Jackie and I had married only a year before. We moved from Boston to Silicon Valley. It was an exciting time. VisiCalc was an instant success; the company even changed its name to VisiCorp to more closely identify with its blockbuster product. Silicon Valley at the time was all about business — technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. It was easy, in that environment, to neglect any question of faith when I saw so little evidence of Christian faith among my business associates and neighbors. The early 1980s were marked not only by a new direction in my career but by the birth of two our lovely daughters. I was building a family, my net worth took a forward, I owned a home in the upscale town of Los Altos, and was CEO of a small software company. Life was good — or so it seemed. I had everything a man could hope for, but somehow I didn’t feel totally satisfied. Something was missing, but didn’t know what. Perhaps it was God. I had glimpses of God during my 20 years of walking away from faith — the miracle of the birth of my daughters, a beautiful sunset, and other incredible experiences in nature — but never did anything about it. I wasn’t prompted to attend church, read the Bible, or even investigate faith. Years later, I came to understand what I was feeling. Mathematician and philosopher Blasé Pascal centuries earlier called it a “God-shaped vacuum” that resides in all of us. That void, he said, could only adequately be filled by God. I was trying to fill that void with success — money, accomplishments, and family — but was not completely satisfied. God pierced that void during my phone call to Jackie that day in 1985. Eventually, I followed her to a Bible-believing church in our hometown. For the first time, the messages I heard from the pastor resonated to me. His sermons pointed to Jesus as God and challenged the congregation to live out Jesus’ teachings. I wanted to find out more: Is there a historical basis for Christian faith? Is Jesus who he says He is? I started reading the Bible, attended an adult Sunday School class, and read books on the evidence for Christian faith, including those by C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. Although I still had questions, I was convinced. In 1986, I took the step of faith to accept Christ as my savior. Although my coming to faith was primarily intellectual at first, it became emotional as I felt the presence of God in my life. Over time, I put Him at the center of my life and wanted to live out my faith in everything I did — including work. God is working, even in the most secular areas of America Although Silicon Valley was predominantly secular, I did meet some technology and business people in my church. We formed an immediate bond. Our loose association got more formal when we put together a small group to help each other live out our faith in our business, our families, our church, and our community. That group has continued to meet weekly ever since. My work as a high-tech business leader became my ministry. I took to heart Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” God also put on my heart the desire to help others know the joy I knew that came from having a personal relationship with Christ. I devoured apologetics so that I could help answer skeptics’ questions of faith. I found 1 Peter 3:15 instructive, “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope you have, but do it with gentleness and respect.” I helped organize speaking events as an outreach activity that featured Silicon Valley business leaders who talked about both their field of expertise and their faith. I started meeting with and praying for friends and acquaintances who did not know Christ. In 2005, I took over an event that we re-branded as the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering that followers of Christ could use as a way to engage their friends who are curious about faith in spiritual conversations. The event draws 700-800 people. Our most recent speakers have been Kirk Perry, Google president of Brand Solutions, Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, and Condoleezza Rice, Stanford professor and former Secretary of State. I recently wrote a book, Finding God in Silicon Valley: Spiritual Journeys in a High-Tech World, in which I present stories of 27 successful Silicon Valley leaders — entrepreneurs, CEOs, venture capitalists, scientists, and non-profit leaders — who came to faith through a variety of circumstances, including adversity, tragedy, investigation, and success. Each found a higher calling — following Jesus — and a specific calling as they fulfill God’s purpose for their lives to make a difference in the world. The book is more than a compilation of stories; it is one piece of evidence of how God is working in Silicon Valley, one of the most secular areas in the country. This article was originally published on 12/112015.