More than just a rat race: Christian professionals mentor uni students to make an impact at work
by Gracia Lee // April 1, 2022, 2:13 pm
Learning about the idea of Kingdom assignments made Samuel Tan (right) start “thinking bigger”. He is pictured here with (from left to right) David Pong, co-founder and CEO of Wateroam, Samuel's mentor Galven Lee, co-founder of Sound of Art, and Professor Freddy Boey from NUS. Photo courtesy of Samuel Tan.
As a soon-to-be fresh graduate on the cusp of working life, 25-year-old Christopher Magendran, whose dream is to be an entrepreneur, often wonders how best he can navigate this career path, especially as a Christian.
“I want to learn more about the practical aspects of making my faith relevant at work. In church pastors preach sermons, but I’m looking for practical guidance on how to apply what we learn on Sundays,” said Christopher, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
After signing up for a Christian mentorship programme called FaithX last year, he was paired up with retired businessman Geoffrey Ho, 65, who listened to Christopher’s aspirations and shared the highs and lows of his own experience as a former entrepreneur.
As they chatted over a meal once every two to three months, Geoffrey, who ran a building materials company for 30 years, shared stories of how he relied on God through prayer during difficult seasons and also encouraged Christopher to carry out his work with Christian values like integrity.
It was a much needed reminder for Christopher who, as a co-owner of a digital marketing start-up, knows all too well the tension between standing by his values and pursuing the bottom line.
“For example, if you do something, you can help your company earn more money. But sometimes it’s not the right thing to do. It’s very difficult to bring certain Christian values to the workplace, but Geoffrey encouraged me to do things God’s way,” said Christopher, who graduates in May.
Struggling with the rat race
Like Christopher, many fresh graduates often find themselves faced with the daunting task of choosing their career path and coping with the pressures and demands of the working world. More often than not, they are left to navigate these challenges on their own.
This was a gap that Samuel Tan, 25, a third-year business student at NUS, sought to bridge with FaithX, a nine-month Christian mentorship programme that connects university students with Christian professionals in similar industries.
“At my school’s Varsity Christian Fellowship, I witnessed a few seniors who graduated but went on to struggle with balancing work and other commitments. Some of them struggled with their faith as well,” Samuel told Salt&Light.
“I was a bit puzzled. Like what is it about graduating and losing their grounding and losing their faith in God? So that was when I started talking to my seniors and various issues came up like mental health, finding meaning in work, moral dilemmas that cause them to stumble, the rat race.”
Estimating that 80% to 90% of his peers do not have mentors, he added: “When making pivotal decisions and processing challenges, a lot of us go through our own peers. It’s great that among ourselves we can share and support each other, but we lack the wisdom that older people can bring into our lives.”
This wisdom is something that Samuel has personally benefitted from, having had Christian mentors during his time in the Boys Brigade and at Saint’s For Christ, the Christian fellowship of Saint Andrew’s Junior College.
“I realised that maybe if my peers had mentors too, then when they enter the workforce, when they are challenged with moral issues, when they are challenged with the rat race, they have someone to process it with besides each other,” he said.
Learning to think bigger
At the heart of it, Samuel’s desire is for young people to have a Kingdom-driven purpose at work, regardless of the industry they are in.
He said: “If our mindsets are such that the moment we graduate, we think of the marketplace as a mission field, and more than that, as a place for us to bring Kingdom values, then we won’t waste our best years. We won’t spend our best years running in a hamster wheel, just chasing after money and accolades.”
“We won’t spend our best years running in a hamster wheel, just chasing after money and accolades.”
This burden for his generation started growing after he attended an Eagles Leadership Conference when he was in National Service.
Keen on learning some leadership skills, and knowing that he was going to study business, he had decided to sign up for the conference – only to realise that the entry fee cost $1,200, a whole year’s worth of savings at the time.
He decided to volunteer as an usher, so he could attend some talks for free. And it was well worth it.
“At the conference, my mind just exploded. That was the first time in my life I heard about how Jesus’ leadership principles impacts the way people run their companies. That really expanded my view,” he said.
Samuel admitted that prior to attending the conference, his goals had been to “work in a bank and retire rich”. But learning about the idea of Kingdom assignments and making an impact for God’s kingdom made him start “thinking bigger”.
Inspired, he began wondering how he could encourage some of his friends to sign up as volunteers too, so that they could get a head start in learning how to bring their faith to the workplace.
“When we enter the workplace, we’ll know what to do. Then we can transform one entire generation,” said Samuel.
But then a thought dropped into his mind: Instead of bringing your friends to meet the speakers, why not bring the speakers to meet your friends?
This would eventually become a reality a few years later with the help of Samuel’s mentor, Galven Lee, co-founder of Sound of Art, who helped to put him in touch with many Christian professionals in the marketplace.
In his first year of university, Samuel organised a series of marketplace talks for his school’s Christian fellowship, where he invited several professionals to share about how they bring their faith to work. Last year, he launched FaithX.
Life-on-life guidance over meals
Only expecting 20 students to sign up at most, he was surprised when he received 53 sign-ups in all, including some who were not from the Varsity Christian Fellowship.
“I thought: There’s something there. Maybe there’s a greater need,” said Samuel, who took a gap year to run FaithX. The programme will be running for the second time this May.
Under the programme, two mentees are paired up with a mentor. The trio then arranges a meet-up at their own time once every two to three months. There will also be online webinars covering topics like stewarding financial resources and how to make a Kingdom impact.
Sonia Low, a final-year literature student who was part of the programme last year, said she appreciated the honesty of her mentor Kevin Chung, a junior college teacher, as he shared about the joys and challenges of his career.
The 23-year-old, who is interested to pursue a career in teaching, also benefitted from the book they are reading and discussing together, which offers a biblical perspective of work and highlights the importance of being in a community of God’s people and seeking counsel from them.
But more than that, Sonia said what most inspired her was Kevin’s commitment to meet her and his other mentee. The trio still meet up from time to time even though the programme is over.
“That really modelled how the Lord calls us to love other people even when life is so busy. It showed me that life is more than just work, but also ministry and supporting others, sharing the experiences that He’s been gracious to give us in our life,” she said.
Bringing faith to work
There are currently more than 100 mentors on FaithX’s list, including Chris Yeo, head of GrabPay and GrabVentures, Charmain Tan, founder and CEO of Quickdesk, and Dr Goh Wei Leong, founder of HealthServe.
But not all mentors are necessarily high-flyers in leadership roles, said Samuel. Many are simply employees who seek to bring their faith to work, no matter how small the task. “Really, anyone who has this passion would be a good mentor,” he said.
Jonathan Cho, 35, a litigation lawyer specialising in dispute resolution, is one mentor who is availing himself to younger lawyers this year under the FaithX programme.
“Work is such a big part of our lives that we can’t live a life of faith without considering how it affects what we do on Monday to Friday.”
Noting that more younger lawyers are leaving the profession, he said: “I genuinely feel that many have tapped out because they don’t have good mentors who are willing to stand with them.”
Jonathan hopes to not just mentor others in their legal careers, but also guide them as they figure out how their faith shapes the tasks that they put their hands to, he added.
“Work is such a big part of our lives that we can’t live a life of faith without considering how it affects what we do on Monday to Friday, oftentimes on Saturday and Sunday as well. Our Christian worldview, our faith, who we believe God is and what is important to Him, must inform every arena of our lives,” he said.
“I don’t profess to have it all together, but if it benefits you to come alongside me in my journey to see this is how I integrate faith and work and life so you have some sort of model, by all means. Because I’m sitting at the feet of others and we’re all sitting at the feet of Jesus as we figure out our way.”
If you’re interested to be a part of this year’s FaithX programme, you may find out more information on their website here. Interested mentors can get in touch with Samuel here, while interested mentees may sign up here. Sign ups close on April 20.
“We want to help people find the joy in work”: One man’s mission to transform work as we see it
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light