Making chai to make disciples

Looking to "spice-up" your approach to sharing Jesus? Pastor Kevin Wilson is here to offer some inspiration.

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For many Adventists, sharing the gospel message is a challenge. First, there’s the barrier of living in a post-truth world. In Western countries especially, a collective, piecemeal approach to truth-getting means it’s becoming harder to argue or uphold an objective moral truth, especially when this truth may seem inconvenient, is not easily explained or requires behavioural change.

Second, there’s the barrier of being a “Seventh-day Adventist”. Although we hold a beautiful, evidence-based worldview and promote an attractive lifestyle, even just the word “Christian” or “Adventist” can conjure up negative—or even cult-like—images in secular minds.

Third, there is the barrier of attention. Although in theory social media and digital platforms are making it easier than ever to share the gospel, algorithms, content oversaturation and an attention economy paradigm are making it increasingly difficult to be seen online, let alone get meaningful engagement.

In this confusing cultural environment, many Adventists have found themselves unsure of whether to share their faith full throttle at the risk of scaring off potential seekers, or to hold back and water down the gospel, or to even share it at all. And fear of rejection, burnout and lack of engagement are all common experiences.

And yet, drowning out this sea of discouraged churchgoers, are people—Christians, Adventists—whose peaceful presence is comforting and whose words attract, inspire and convert. There are pastors, creatives and laypeople who seem to overcome the barriers to faith-sharing so effortlessly. So, what makes these people different? What’s their secret?

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Kevin Wilson, an associate pastor from Oceanside Seventh-day Adventist Church in California, USA, to ask this very question. His rapidly growing TikTok platform (@crossculturechristian) has more than 120,000 followers and attracts people from all faiths and walks of life. And his strategy is simple: he makes videos about making chai and shares Jesus in the process. And people love it. Fascinated by his success and engagement, I had to find out more.

What’s the story behind your brand, “Cross Culture Christian”?

In the past 30 years, I’ve moved so much. I have been to about 13 different countries and lived in four—I was born in Sri Lanka, was in Lebanon for a bit, then Oman and now the United States. I’m what they call a “third culture kid”, spending significant parts of my development in different parts of the world. It really affects your idea of home, relationships, spirituality. So that cross-cultural side of my heritage has been a consistent thing for me, hence the name. But another constant throughout my cross-cultural experience has been my relationship with Jesus. I’m literally a cross-culture Christian—from different cultures, following Christ in the process. But it also has this sense that the cross is the ultimate bridge-builder between these cultures as well. So, the name itself has several different meanings.

Most of your recent videos are about making or drinking chai—why chai?

Chai is such an important beverage in my culture. Growing up, my earlier and fondest memories are around my dad making chai for us in the mornings. When I moved to the States by myself at 18, I wanted to hold onto routines and symbols from my heritage as much as I could. I really felt disoriented and out of place. Chai became a “feast of attention” for me. It grounds me; the whole practice from start to finish I really look forward to. A lot of my friends know that I make it, so they’d ask for it. But it wasn’t until about six months ago that this whole thing kind of blew up.

Tell me about your TikTok—why do you think people love chai so much?

Six months ago, I posted a video of my chai-making process to TikTok and it blew up. In a month I went from 200 to 20,000 followers. My most watched video now has about a million views. So I started making more videos of my chai-making process and people loved it. I didn’t talk about Jesus, God or anything. It was just me making chai. But in my TikTok bio it said “Disciple. Pastor. Husband.”, so people knew I was Christian.

In the videos I was just being sarcastic and dumb. I’d poke fun at Starbucks and their chai-tea lattes. It was hilarious but I was just being who I am. I wasn’t trying to manufacture a persona. I had people commenting and saying stuff like, “I wish you were my youth pastor, my brother, friend. You’re so encouraging!”. I didn’t plan on being any of this stuff. I was like, “Wait, this is insane,” because I realised that a lot of my followers and people saying this stuff were secular, non-Adventists, atheists, non-Christians.

Why do you think you’ve been able to achieve so much genuine engagement, especially when people aren’t always receptive to Christian content online?

Well, I thought that this whole thing blew up because it was about chai, and it is, but over time it has become so much more. People need a place where they feel seen and heard, a place where they feel comfortable to listen and soak in positivity. I like what one author calls it: a “non-anxious presence”.

I made a video about chai and racism that went viral. It was about crushing the spices in chai—spices are meant to be crushed but people aren’t. And I didn’t say all this stuff despite my belief system but because of it. People were shocked that it came from a Christian, which is sobering from a reputation standpoint.

You see, there’s a Christian TikTok nook, and Christian TikTok for me—even as a pastor—can be very discouraging because there’s this rhetoric, “I know the truth and everything there is to know about reality and you have to believe my version of truth, and if you don’t you’ll burn in hell.” So, a lot of my followers come to me and say, “Wait, you’re a Christian on TikTok but I like it here . . . why is that?” It’s because I don’t preach that message.

Some Adventists reading this or watching your videos may accuse you of “watering down the gospel” in order to be popular. What would you say to them?

I’m expecting these criticisms, but there are two quotes from Ellen White in the Ministry of Healing (MHH73.4, MHH 74.4) where she talks about “Christ’s method alone”. I don’t think Jesus went around ministering to people with an expectation that He needed to make people believers. That wasn’t His motivation for ministry. His motivation was just straight up people. He was genuinely interested in them. And as a result, people were enamoured by Him, begging Him for more, and they followed Him.

"We've come to a place where the best argument for Adventism has to be—must be—the authentic, loved and lived experience of human beings."

A lot of people use these quotes by Ellen White to justify this thing called “friendship evangelism”, which I have some issues with. You’re attaching an agenda. You’re not making friendship the goal. Something else is the goal, and in the process, you’re distorting the beauty of friendship. It’s hard for a lot of people—bless their hearts—who think the way to deal with that culture is to be straight up, honest, bold, obvious, overt about your faith, but right now we need to play the long game. I’m not doing it to convert them. I’m doing it because I love it and I want to hear their stories. They’re not a sum of body parts or a social media post. They’re real stories with real pasts and people need to be reminded of that.

What advice do you have for people who want to reach people and share their faith—either in person or online—and be genuine about it?

I usually tell them they have a story. I tell them to dig deep and spend some time thinking about who they are. What makes them tick? What makes them go? What are they really interested in or passionate about? We’ve come to a place where the best argument for Adventism has to be—must be—the authentic, loved and lived experience of human beings. But in order to showcase and share that love with people, you need to find something you love and go for it. For me, it’s chai.

Evangelism is simply showing up where God has already shown up. The Holy Spirit is amongst us. And if He is, then are we so narrow-minded to think that He will only work on people who have already accepted Jesus Christ? What is our theology? God is working amongst people that you have no idea about. This should liberate you as a person to share your faith.

Previously, you mentioned the importance of being a “non-anxious presence”. How do you do this when social media is a place that seems to breed anxiety?

We live in an ecosystem—an attention economy—that doesn’t prioritise our spiritual, emotional or physical formation, let alone in the way of Jesus. That’s not even on the radar. I’m talking from a corporation’s perspective here—Facebook, Instagram. They’re not as interested in the person you become as much as they are in getting you to watch their stuff. I think the way of Jesus—if you look at what He did in the Gospels—He was calm and collected, even from an atheist’s perspective. He wasn’t reactive or agitated by Rome or the empire. He had a mission, truth and moved forward.

A core part of being an Adventist is to reflect that non-anxious presence in your life. The way you do that in my experience is to spend time with Jesus and reflect on Scripture. Reflection is an act of resistance and a protest against the attention economy. When you pause, you are squaring up against the attention-sucking forces out there. The world needs more of that right now, more evidence of that. If people see you—a Christian, Adventist—agitated, reactive, angry or mean all the time, then why would they ever want to turn to Christianity?

Are there any other thoughts or messages you’d like to challenge us with as we close?

One thing I really want to reiterate is that today, more than ever before, we need to see evidence of something higher in the lived experiences of people. Gone are the days when we can expect people to change just because they have the right information. The right information does not lead to the right formation. Just because you teach people how to live the truth won’t change them. They will change because they want to change, catalysed by your care, compassion and love. Rather than starting from a place of superiority, ask yourself: “What if I saw people as stories?” Be genuinely curious about people. Being curious and compassionate will not compromise who you are or what you believe. That’s the very least of what you can do.

If you are really threatened by “the other” impacting your belief system simply because you’re open to learning from them, either a) you’ve made an idol out of your theology, or b) you’ve misunderstood the incarnation of Jesus altogether. The incarnation of God as Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the ultimate display of becoming a servant to “the other”, even and especially if they are “in the wrong”. The least we can do as Christians is to listen, be open and learn from people. That’s the bottom line, that’s ground zero.

To connect with Kevin, you can follow him on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube @crossculturechristian, or visit his website: crossculturechristian.com.