I Am a Missionary: Banker

Sam Cho is a business analyst and project manager for a large financial institution in New York City. He was invited to Urbana 12 by a friend, who like him, is a working professional. Not being in university was an asset for Sam’s Urbana experience. He came with a broader perspective and with a more focused goal. “I was there to assess my own spirituality and the growth that had happened since 2008, and then to ask ‘How am I really going to start the year?’”

Sam had gotten to a point in his career where he was asking whether what he was doing had significance. Does my work matter? If so, why? While on a 6-week business trip to Hong Kong, he learned about a thriving Christian fellowship at another large financial institution and wished he had something like that where he worked. “After a few days of thinking about it, I felt compelled and challenged to start one myself. But I didn't know where to begin.” He had never led a small group or Bible study before. And sticking himself out like that was way out of his comfort zone.

Then something clicked for Sam in the inductive Bible studies at Urbana 12. On the final day, participants were invited to take their experiences studying Scripture back home with them and gather with others to work through a study guide that had been prepared for that purpose. This was the tool that Sam had been waiting for. Sam decided there that he would take the risk and invite his coworkers to study Scripture with him.

The greater leap of faith was to actually do it. “I got back home and I said, ‘Okay I’ve really got to do this.’ I remember thinking, Who am I going to ask to come?

The Bible Study

He first asked two other coworkers who he knew were Christians. They agreed. Then he asked two others who he had been friendly with around the office and who he knew were at least somewhat spiritually inclined. They agreed as well.

“That was really not in my personality. I felt really uncomfortable. To me, being a little bit more vocal about what I believe in—and then actually trying to share that with others—that was pretty risky for me.”

And he had doubts about whether he was allowed to be that open about his faith at work. “I had fears of HR or other senior leaders being like, ‘Hey what are you doing? You’re not allowed to do this!’” So he did things covertly. “I just booked a conference room. Didn’t tell them what the purpose was. Did it during the lunch hour. Did it with people that I trusted.”

Sam asked some friends outside of the office to pray during the Bible study. And stepping out in faith like that forced him to be more fervent in his own prayer life, too. “It brought me to a place of desperation, like, ‘God? Okay, now I just need you to speak through me, because it can’t be me. I know it’s not me. And I feel like this is what you wanted me to do, and I’m just trying to obey.’”

Those first lunch hours in the Word were incredible. The conversations were rich and thoughtful, and people were being vulnerable almost immediately. “The fears subsided once I was in the Spirit and I saw things happening. At that point, I was just in awe and really joyful and honored to be used that way.”

They kept going for about three months. Then people started to get fatigued. Sam wasn’t sure where to take the study anymore. Part of the problem was that people stopped being comfortable. Transparency wasn’t growing. It’s not easy to go from coworkers to friends to spiritual partners at the work place. Whatever was so great at the beginning just wasn’t sustainable. The study dwindled and, eventually, just stopped.

Integrating the Inseperable

But Sam continued to think and read about work and faith integration. He started to attend Redeemer Presbyterian in New York and participated in an eight-week discipleship class with their Financial Services Ministry (one of the vocational groups sponsored by Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work). That led to the Gotham Fellowship, a nine-month, cross-vocational discipleship program which unpacks the theology around faith and work.

Over the months and years, through books, conversations, and these discipleship opportunities through his church, Sam’s approach to faith and work evolved. At first, the question was “How do you proselytize at work and do it in a discrete way?” But as he grew, the question became, “How do I be salt and light at the workplace?” then, “How do I love others and love my work?” and then “Why does God care about finance?” As his questions got better, so did his answers.

For a season, Sam’s job had him working on a regulatory project to restructure banks and change the way they did business so that something like the collapse of 2008 doesn’t happen again. Working on this project, the connection between faith and work became pretty clear. Like government, and education, and family, and the church, finance has a real impact on the world. The systems and structures we build, and the policies we put in place make a difference in our lives—for better or for worse. Christians are needed in these places, not just to bring the gospel to the individuals within these institutions, but to actually do finance in a Christian way.

The systems and structures we build, and the policies we put in place make a difference in our lives—for better or for worse. Christians are needed in these places, not just to bring the gospel to the individuals within these institutions, but to actually do finance in a Christian way.

Just recently Sam has started working for another financial institution. As he begins this new job, having learned a lot since leading that Bible study after Urbana 12, his question is, How do I just be myself and be a Christian at the workplace?

“It’s not just making Bible studies. It’s not just making good spreadsheets. It’s all things, all at once. It’s a lot more complex, but also simple.”

Sam is intentional about staying in tune with Christ through his prayer life and devotional practices. And he approaches his work with the light burden of being his full self in the work. “I want to say I’ve come back full circle, but having gone through a lot of experience; it’s the new iteration. It’s like Sam Cho 2.0.”

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