Being in grad school is not without its perks. Thanks in part to the pathetic frequency with which I check my email, I had the unexpected opportunity yesterday to see the biggest name in the tech industry. Bill Gates is a man who needs no introduction, as his incredible financial success has made him a household name as the richest man on the planet and his impressive philanthropic work has made him adored by millions. The event was billed as a “conversation” about the world’s greatest challenges, and somehow, attending a 2:30 lecture on rigid body dynamics seemed significantly less engrossing.
After a long wait in the auditorium, the hour-long event began, and we were a little surprised to see not only Gates, but also the president of my school along with our senior state senator. The reason for Gates’s visit became a little clearer at that point. Much glad-handing had led to this event, which resulted in a good bit of positive press for the university as well as for the senator’s political campaign. Everyone was a winner here, which was evident as we were informed of the importance of the university by the academic and of the dangers of global terrorism by the politician. In the middle of it all sat the richest man in the world, who spoke – when he could – of the challenges faced by the future of the human race, the diseases the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was hoping to eradicate next, and the tremendous positive impact that basic education has on the poorest of countries. Gates, with his vast wealth and humanitarian intentions, smiled politely as the senator hounded his scheduled talking points, and then returned the conversation to the global challenges his organization is tackling. His goofy smile and affable persona belied the massive impact he is making and the care that he clearly has for humanity. If only I had that kind of money and power, I thought, along with every other person in the audience. I too could change the world.
As the event drew to a close, one question from the audience captured what I was thinking. “Most people don’t have the kind of resources that you do,” a first-generation college student asked. “How can they get involved and make a difference?” Gates’s answer was fairly simple: just get involved. Start somewhere – it doesn’t matter how small it feels.
As the crowd filed out into the drizzling rain, I was still stuck on that question of power and resources, but in a different way. It’s true that none of us has the kind of power that eighty billion dollars can offer. We have something much, much bigger. Something that can move mountains, overthrow tyrants, and eradicate not just polio and malaria but the wages of sin itself. Our faith in Jesus Christ is worth so much more than the wealth and power of all the world’s billionaires.
Why don’t we start acting like it?