Story

It all began with two simple questions.

A decade ago, the Sleeths and their two young children were living out the American Dream, in a beautiful home, filled with beautiful things. Matthew Sleeth was an ER doctor, at the top of his career, chief of staff and director of emergency services.

One winter break, the Sleeths went on vacation to an island off the coast of Florida. No cars, no roads, no malls—paradise found! They put the kids to bed early and sat outside on a balcony under a blanket of stars.

That’s when Nancy asked her husband two questions that would change their lives forever. “What is the biggest problem facing the world today?” Matthew’s answer: “The world is dying.” No elms left on Elm Street, no caribou in Caribou, Maine. “If we don’t have clean air, clean water, and healthy soil to sustain life on earth, the other problems won’t really matter.”

Then Nancy asked a second, more difficult question: “If the world is dying, what are we going to do about it?”

Matthew didn’t have an immediate answer. But he said he’d get back to her.

After returning from Florida, the Sleeths embarked on a faith and environmental journey. They read many of the world’s great sacred texts, finding much wisdom but not the answers they were seeking. Then one slow night in the ER, Matthew picked up an orange Gideon’s Bible. He read the gospels and found the Truth he had been seeking. Until then, Dr. Sleeth had considered himself a secular humanist; now he became a believer in Christ.

One by one, the entire family followed. And that changed everything—the books they read, the music they listened to, the people they hung out with, and most of all how they learned to love God and love our neighbors by caring for His creation.

Eventually, Matthew got back to Nancy about the second question. His answer: he would quit his job as a physician and spend the rest of his life trying to serve God and help save the planet.

Nancy’s response: “Honey, are you sure we need to do that much about it?”

To learn what scripture had to say, the Sleeths read through the entire Bible, underlining everything that had to do with nature, creation, and how we are instructed to care for the earth. Matthew 7:3-5 seemed to speak directly to their family: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

The Sleeths took Jesus’ advice and began cleaning up their own act before worrying about cleaning up the rest of the world. Over the next couple of years, they downsized their lifestyle, giving away half of their possessions and moving to a house the size of their old garage. (Matthew jokes: “Don’t feel too sorry for us. Have you ever seen a doctor’s-sized garage?”) Contrary to earlier fears, they found that the more they “gave up” in material things, the more they gained in family unity, purpose, and joy. Eventually, through many small changes, they reduced their energy usage by more than two-thirds and trash production by nine-tenths.

After they had our own house in order, they felt called to share their journey. Matthew wrote a book called Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action. Using stories from their family’s life and the ER, he relayed why they made these changes and inspired others to do the same.

People liked the book—a lot. To help with the flood of speaking invitations and requests for additional creation care resources, they started an educational nonprofit, Blessed Earth, and thus a ministry was born.

In the last few years, Blessed Earth has been invited to speak at about one thousand church, educational, media, and environmental groups. Rather than offer a one-size-fits-all plan, Blessed Earth challenges each individual or organization to decide which changes work best now, and then keep doing a little bit better every year. What most people find is that changes in one area of life can’t help but positively affect another. Once our hearts are changed, action follows.

Because they cannot visit every church and school in person, Blessed Earth developed a twelve-part film curricula, Hope for Creation and Hope for Humanity. A turning point came in 2010 when they launched the films through a “Make Earth Day a Church Day” simulcast. More than 2,200 groups in all 50 states and 45 countries participated. Far exceeding their expectations, the Blessed Earth film series is now being used by churches, Sunday school classes, and faith groups around the globe to dig deeply into what scripture has to say about caring for creation, and to inspire their own local green teams.

Regardless of where you are on the journey, Blessed Earth provides a hub of practical resources for everything from household cleaners, gardening, and fast food—to tips for Christmas shopping, making conscious choices about technology, and finding quiet time with God.

Blessed Earth is not, however, just about practical ways to live with less. It’s about tuning out so you can tune into God. It’s about living abundantly.

Most of all, it is a journey of hope. Years ago, back on that island in Florida, two questions—prompted by God—launched the Sleeth family on the Blessed Earth journey.

Today, when making any choice, purchase, or decision, they ask themselves two new questions: Does this bring me closer to God? And, does this help me love my neighbor?

The answers continue to lead the Sleeths and the growing Blessed Earth ministry down the right path.