By Cynthia Mendoza
How one pastor turned his love of chai into a social media ministry
Kevin Wilson loves chai tea. The spicy aromas fill his senses with warmth and his soul with equally warm memories of his childhood with his father making tea at home in Sri Lanka. After coming to the U.S. 10 years ago, making chai tea became a way to stay connected to his roots.
But you will never find this youth pastor waiting in a long drive-through line while a random barista makes a mass-produced version of his childhood treat. Wilson makes his own tea from scratch, down to the mortar and pestle for hand grinding the cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, and other spicy ingredients that go into the flavorful drink.
Amongst his friends, Wilson became known for his love of chai. Taking that love and expertise to social media, Wilson, associate pastor for youth at the Oceanside church in the Southeastern California Conference, started sharing chai-themed content on Instagram.
As youth in his congregation started engaging in TikTok, a relatively new video and voiceover social media platform, Wilson decided to take a look at the platform just to see what it was about and what it was that youth were involved in. Being already active on other platforms, he had no intention of becoming active on TikTok.
Until he did.
What started out as a few experimental chai-themed videos that got good engagement quickly turned into a massive following of over 119,000 followers. At the time of this writing, Wilson’s combined TikTok videos have garnered over 1.9 million likes.
“All it was was me making chai,” Wilson said. “I went from 200 followers to 20,000 followers in a month. I did not do it for the sake of ministry per se. It started off as a creative outlet to share my passion of making and enjoying a beverage from my culture.”
Wilson, whose handle across YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok is @CrossCultureChristian, said that though his intent to provide a fun place to share a part of his culture remains the same, he also realizes how God can use him through this channel.
From the very beginning of his social media use, even prior to TikTok, his profile information has indicated that he is a pastor. So even though he does not necessarily speak on spiritual or religious topics, everyone who comes across his profile and chooses to follow is aware that he is in fact a Christian pastor.
“Paul’s letter to the Corinthians shows that anyone who identifies themselves as an apprentice of Jesus may not be a minister in the vocational sense but has a ministry nonetheless,” said Wilson who, of course, is also a minister by vocation too. “What this means to me is that, as Adventist Christians, our primary ministry is to be agents of Christ-like love, especially to those who may feel ostracized, marginalized, and disenfranchised by their life experiences or even bad religion.”
“This idea should liberate us to freely be our authentic selves, guided by the Holy Spirit, without compulsion nor obligation, to be agents of love.”
Through his chai-themed engagement on TikTok, Wilson has been a voice of love and positivity during a time when both seem in short supply—even without direct mention of God or religion.
For example, using TikTok’s duet feature, Wilson shares videos of other TikTok users making his chai recipe, offering positive and encouraging feedback on what they’re doing, even if they made a mistake. In a time when social media is often used to shame and humiliate, something as simple as genuinely positive feedback on tea-making can be refreshing and positive, exactly what someone might have needed for a bad day to turn into a good one.
“I get comments regularly saying that this is the kind of positivity we need right now,” Wilson said about the feedback he gets from followers, many of whom are not Christian. “I know they are of other belief systems by the direct messages I get from atheists, agnostics, and friends from other belief systems who follow me with full knowledge of my vocation as a pastor and identity as a follower of Jesus.”
Wilson believes God has opened up these doors of influence during this time, and he’s embracing it. He believes that evangelism means simply showing up where God has already shown up, and that the gift of the Holy Spirit to the world implies that God is at work in every human heart, drawing them to Himself.
“If God is already at work in the world, then what we mean by ‘evangelism’ is not simply a program that we create but a partnership with a God who has already been working there,” Wilson said. “This idea should liberate us to freely be our authentic selves, guided by the Holy Spirit, without compulsion nor obligation, to be agents of love.”
That heartfelt authenticity can take on many different forms for different people, depending on their various interests and talents. Each person’s ministry and “audience” may also differ widely, but the commonality they all share is a desire and willingness to be used by the Holy Spirit for a greater purpose.
Wilson added that one of the many lessons he has learned so far through his social media experience with people from all walks of life and belief systems is that being created in the image of God implies that every human being is designed with a capacity for love and to love, a fact that should compel Adventist Christians to approach all people with empathy and compassion.
For Pastor Kevin Wilson’s 119,000 TikTok followers, that love looks quite a bit like a steamy cup of homemade chai.
Cynthia Mendoza, a former journalist, is a freelance writer in Southern California.