CHRIS: Hey everyone, this is Chris Lim with the TheoTech podcast. If you’re on the internet you probably know about Amazon.
And in this episode we’re gonna talk with Jesse Chang. He’s a product manager
at Amazon working on augmented reality in California. Also a JD/MBA graduate of
the Kellogg Business School at Northwestern University class of 2016.
And he’s also a good friend of mine who is one of the leaders of a prayer
gathering of believers at Amazon. So Jesse, thanks for being on the show JESSE: Thank you for having me, Chris. CHRIS: So, how–I want to begin with just talking about how we got
connected. So I was at Amazon a long time ago and I had a little fellowship that
studied the theology of technology, but when I left to start TheoTech I wasn’t
sure what was gonna happen to that group and I was really encouraged many years
later to hear about what Jesse and others at Amazon are now doing to build
community among believers at Amazon. Can you tell us about that. Jesse?
So currently we have an email list of about 186 Christians at Amazon, right? And
every week on Wednesday at noon we meet at different parts of the campus to come
together and really just take a break from the really busy work life of Amazon
and connect with God and each other as fellow believers in Christ.
>>That’s really cool. And I imagine, like, how many people usually come? Because it’s–everybody’s so
busy how do you get your schedules to work out together?
>>Yeah so that’s a really
challenging part, right. And so usually we see about 15 to 20 people come each week.
And sometimes as people rotate, but yeah. You know, it’s just important for you to
make time to connect with God in what is like–I think you spend probably over 50
percent of your waking life at work. (Yeah) right?
So finding time to connect with God I think is–at the workplace–is especially
>>How did you even find this Christian community?
>>Yeah, so I found the
Christian community by going to our wiki and searching Christian. And
eventually that led me to find I think the email list for Christian interest at
amazon.com and that’s how I got connected to the
Christian group here. And then my good friend Keith, you know, I met him there at
one of the first prayer group meetings and from there you know I just continued
to increase my involvement with the community here at Amazon.
>>Mm-hmm, and if I
recall from your story that first year was actually really hard for you. Can you
share a little bit more about your experience?
>>That first year at Amazon was
definitely one of the most challenging periods of my life. It’s also one of the
periods of my life where I really think that I grew a lot, both as a person and
also as a believer. It was a period where I made–met some of my closest friends.
People like you and other fellow believers here at Amazon. There’s also a
period of time where I realized that for once in my life, my own intellect and
ability would not be enough to get me through, right. And so during this period of
time where, you know, I was really trying to get adapted to being here in Seattle,
being at Amazon, right, having this really supportive community around me at the
workplace was instrumental for getting me to where I am today. And you know,
really praise God right, and because I was leaning on God, because I had this
really good support network, I was able to ultimately succeed, right. And from
there I was able to go on and work on things that I’m much more passionate
>>Yeah, so it was a very humbling experience, actually.
>>Definitely, definitely yeah. And you know like I’m actually grateful for those
opportunities. And I’m grateful to have an opportunity to be part of that
community and help other believers as they’re going through similar
experiences during their first year at Amazon.
>>You know, that to me–that’s
fascinating because I know that in the news, like the New York Times expose
of Amazon, like everybody likes to kind of badmouth it or talk about a negative
way and I’m sure I know from my own experience that things can happen in
there that aren’t good. But it’s powerful to kind of view it through the lens you
just said. Where actually God’s using it to humble you. Like, very bright person,
you know, JD–JD MBA from Kellogg. One of the smartest people there are. And he’s
using that environment actually to humble you and to make you into a
disciple. And that’s a really powerful perspective but it happens that community, you know as believers together, you guys are going through that together
and God’s using that to grow all of you together. That’s–that’s an amazing
>>Yeah yeah, you know and it’s fantastic that–you know I feel like in
retrospect, right, it was one of those things where I’m-I’m really glad that
there was other people to go through that experience together with me, right.
And I’m really grateful for the opportunity to share with other people,
share that experience with other people now, too.
>>Yeah. You know, this is a little bit for a different kind of audience but–I wonder
is there any way that pastors could have helped you? Right, because they’re not on
the frontlines–they’re, they don’t really know what it’s like to work in Amazon. So
are there ways that they did help you in your experience? Or that they could have
been helpful for you? We’re speaking now for pastors who might want to help
people in the tech industry. What could they do that would be supportive?
>>I think the pastors can help with several things
right. Number one, I think that they can help with activating Christians in the
workplace, right. Helping tech workers who have some unique skills and talents to
understand how they can use those unique talents and skills to further God’s
kingdom, helping them to figure out what is their calling right now. That’s number
one, right. The second part I feel that pastors can help tech workers with, and
especially Amazonians, is dealing with the challenges and stresses of work. I
feel that more and more working in tech can be a very stressful environment,
right. And certainly one that pushes you right. And you know that is the wonder of
our modern US tech economy. We have a bunch of very bright people working
very hard to solve very ambitious problems. And when you’re going so
hard and you’re going so fast it is gonna push you, right? And having good
support–spiritual and emotional– it’s very important. And I feel like
that’s the second area where pastors can help. The third area where I feel
that pastors can help is providing a venue and community for believers, right.
You know, so for example, over here in South Lake Union
kakao church has provided us–(Union Church) — or Union Church, Union Church
which is based out of Kakao cafe (yeah). A really cool environment by
the way guys, y’all should go check it out. Free advertisement, kakao! I better get a
free espresso chocolate shot next time ;-)>>Me too, I want a theo chocolate bar.
>>Yeah, kakao *jingle*
>>Yeah, we should have them be a sponsor. A chocolate sponsor.
>>Yeah! But yeah, you know
like, going to my point, right, you know– like, I think that just having a venue is
also very helpful too. Like ones that we had for the Christian hackathon,
Code for the Kingdom. That was a very cool experience.
>>You know, I actually
did want to dive a little bit more into the emotional support one. Because I just–
I don’t know what it would look like, to be honest. And I’ve had one pastor friend
of mine, a few pastor friends of mine, who I felt like we’re just–it was more of a
friendship. It wasn’t them pastoring me although they were, like technically, but
it was that they were my friend. And that’s what opened up the ability for me
to experience that emotional support. And I’m wondering like, what do you think
when you see–when you suggested that pastors could provide that emotional
support, what would that actually be like? Is it like a formal professional
counseling relationship or is it something else?
>>I don’t think I can really comment on that too much, but I can say that in my experience, right, (yeah)
just even teaching your community members to be supportive of one another.
That that is great, right? And I feel that it was people like you, right, people like
the other tech workers, the-the other people that would come to our weekly
group that would help talk to me and, you know, be there for me and me be there for
them, right? You know, this kind of mutual support for one another–that was really
>>That’s actually–that’s really powerful.
That’s like loving one another. That’s what the Body is like.
>>Yeah, you know I feel like
that’s one of the core tenets that we have as Christians, right, is love one another.
>>Yeah. And in that sense, it’s not just pastors,
but it’s everybody–every member of the body. That’s that’s great. So you know I–I
think that not everybody works for Amazon obviously. And a lot of people
>>Not yet, oh that’s scary (laughing)>>But a lot of people might feel like
they’re so isolated. But you know they might look around their workplace and
feel like there’s no other Christians here. Or you know,
we couldn’t do something like this. What would you say to the people in that
position, who long for something like this, but feel like they don’t have it,
>>Go start it! Right? You know–if you, if it’s something that you
want and something that’s not there, why not start it? Right?
>>But what do they
have to do to get started? (Yeah) What’s the basic steps, like step one, two.
>>Step one: you know, find a way to find fellow believers at the workplace, right? You
know, just keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open and hopefully you’ll be able
to come across people. Maybe you’ll find them at church right? Maybe you’ll see
them in the workplace. maybe it’ll come up in casual conversation with your
coworkers. But the key first step is to just find your fellow believers. For me,
it was searching on a wiki or searching on an email list “Christian,” right. Now I’m
sure that there are things like that at your workplace too.
>>I also know other
ways that if you actually pray before your meals, people are usually very
respectful of that, even if they’re not a Christian. But other Christians will know,
like, “oh I should talk to that guy about faith stuff.” (Yeah) And that’s kind of a
very simple, simple way to kind of see.>>Yeah, right? You know, it’s a respectful
way, you know, to let other people also understand where you are coming from and
where your faith is, right?
>>Do you think that there’s any reason for people to be
afraid? Like they shouldn’t do this or it’s not allowed or something like that?
>>Yeah, so I can totally understand why people would have that kind of concern.
But it’s not like we’re doing anything illegal here. If anything, I think that
we’re helping support Amazon, right? And I think that faith-based groups
like our Christian interest group–which is not an official affinity group, it’s
just an informal gathering of fellow believers, right?–It actually has a very
important place in the workplace. You know, one that I think is one of
emotional support. One of community, right? And I feel that that at the end
increases employee morale. Right? And you know, for a company like Amazon I
feel that’s especially important, or really any tech company, again, where
people are being pushed very hard.
>>Yeah. No, that’s really good. I think that
Christians at Amazon actually raise the bar. Like, they help Amazon live up to its highest principles instead of getting, you know.
>>Like Jeff Bezos always said, he’s afraid of social cohesion over truth-seeking. (Right.)
Christians are one of the factors that can help preserve that culture of truth
>>I was really excited to be able to join your Amazon
global prayer call yesterday. Can you tell the audience about what that was
and how it came together?
>>Yeah sure, Chris. So last night, Chris and I were at this
global Amazon praise hour. It was awesome! We have people from Tokyo, people from
Shenzhen, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Seattle, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, New York–
people from all over the world, working at Amazon, united by our faith, right, and
coming together to pray and praise God. And it was one of the most awesome
experiences I’ve had so far at Amazon, you know. And it’s one of those things
that I think is very unique to companies like Amazon, where you have a massive
global body, right? And there are probably Christians all over the place,
right. And so it’s really great to see how much our community of Christians has grown. Not only in numbers but geographically.
>>Yeah, and you guys are all
connected via videoconference right?
>>Yeah, yeah, it’s definitely a learning
trial-and-error kind of experience, but yeah it was great, it was great. We
were able to have worship songs, we were able to pray together. People were able
to popcorn pray around the world and, you know I think it’s something that people
at any kind of major global company could be able to replicate.
>>Yeah and I was just–I was just really moved to see this. You know, all his believers praying
for one another, but also for their company as a whole, and for the leaders
from Jeff Bezos to all the SVPs and everybody else down. Like, that to me–that
is the embodiment of 1 Timothy 2, where God tells us to pray for our
leaders and for all people, and it was just so powerful for me. It was like–it’s
All right well, thanks so much for joining us on the TheoTech podcast,
>>Thanks for sharing your story, and I’m sure a lot of people
are encouraged to hear about God working through Christians at such an
influential company like Amazon to create foretaste of his kingdom all over
the world. Thanks so much for joining us on today’s
episode of the TheoTech podcast. If you’d like to hear more stories about
how God is working in and through the tech industry, you can subscribe to our
YouTube channel here. If you’d like to support us in
sharing these stories you can join us on Patreon here.