The following interview is from a series I did as part of another project, GTHR.
From time to time we like to highlight community builders. These individuals captivate us. They draw us out. They invite us into a fuller way of being. They are relentless seekers of a simpler, more integrated, transparent, participatory version of ekklesia. One that reminds us of our beginnings and reunites us with our divine calling to be vessels of redemption for a world desperately out of order.
Their lives tell stories that beg to be shared. And we’re excited to introduce them to you, in their own words.
This week we’d like to introduce you to Jeremiah Aja. Jeremiah is the President of Forge Sacramento, an organization devoted to training men and women to live as missionaries in their neighborhoods, and Tell It Well, Inc., a Sacramento based marketing and branding agency.
In one sentence, what is your purpose, or reason to be?
God has gifted me to tell stories.
From a stage in a room full of people, to writing, to helping companies tell their brand story to their customers more effectively—I have always enjoyed and been comfortable in crafting and unfolding stories to move people.
How did you come to be where you are right now?
After graduating form Asbury Seminary in 2010, my family and I left the Bluegrass of Kentucky to come back home here in Sacramento, CA.
Marketing opportunities kept coming until eventually, my business partner and I officially launched a full service marketing agency in early 2014.
Forge Sacramento came about while sitting in a living room with some dear friends in Los Angeles, listening to Alan Hirsch and Kimmy Hammond unfold the mission of Forge—training men and women to live as missionaries in their neighborhoods.
It was the first time in years that I had heard angst and holy discontent channeled into something with forward progress, with hope and optimism.
It put words to the aches in our hearts for the Church here in the West.
It upheld the value of the local church, while still pushing Her to see deeper into the streets, and more clearly into the neighborhoods where God is at work everyday.
A couple of years later, we raised enough funds to officially launch.
We are in year 3 now and the journey has been marvelous.
What big decisions along the way have brought you to the here and now? The ones where courage conquered fear.
How long do you have to listen? 🙂
2006: Left full-time ministry here in Sacramento. Lindsay (my wife) and I, took our 6 month old puppy (Jax!) and one month worth of rent in the bank, and drove 2,400 miles to Asbury Seminary (Kentucky) because we knew God was calling that “home” for us. No jobs, hardly any money, just faithfulness and trust…and an acceptance letter to start classes in the Fall.
2010: Came back to Sacramento because we knew we belonged here after graduating. No jobs, no house, no full-time ministry position, a 2 year old girl (Annabella!), just faithfulness and trust…and slowly figured it out.
2012: Left a secure full-time job in customer marketing for a hyper-fast growing software startup that was on multiple lists (Inc. fastest growing, Forbes Most Promising, etc.) to start Forge Sacramento.
2014: Began work as marketing director for a reality series on cable television to produce all social/web content, deal with multi-billion dollar companies as sponsors, and help produce and write a TV show…fake it till you make it, right?
When did you realize you wanted to be in ministry? Any interesting moments as a child?
My parents tell me that at the age of 4 I would put on my dad’s tie, grab his huge King James Bible and walk out into the living room and say, “THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD!”
Without hesitation or shame I admit that the door that I walked through to be in full-time ministry was when I asked my wife, girlfriend at the time, “Hey, what are you doing on Wednesday night? Wanna hang out again?” She said, “Oh, I can’t, I have…a thing.” I pushed passed the classic 19 year old girl “playing hard to get” facade and said, “Sooo, what is it?” When she told me she was an adult leader for the junior high ministry at her church, I said, “Cool. Can I join you?” And since I walked into Room 6 that Wednesday night in 2000, and met the Junior High Pastor Jeff Jennings (one of my now best friends in the world), God began to work on my heart for the world He so loves.
In San Diego, December 2001, while attending a youth conference as an adult leader, I knew when the speaker was challenging the students to answer God’s call that he was really talking to ME. I went back home and told Jeff,
“Hey man. God wants more. I don’t know what that means, but I’m down.”
6 months later I was full time youth pastor at Arcade Wesleyan Church.
In my Senior year, I left CSU Sacramento as a Consumer Science major and pursued a degree in Theology and Leadership from William Jessup University here in the Sacramento, CA area.
Stories of confirmation have kept by me stride for stride.
What’s your process these days for fostering community, relationships, and generosity (both within the community and abroad)?
First off, live it out yourself first. You can’t lead people to places you haven’t lived out in your own everyday life.
Secondly, pay attention.
I know that sounds simple and trite, but in a culture where attention is in such high demand, slowing down and paying attention to what God is doing around you, your heart and imagination are stirred to join Him in those everyday spaces.
Third, everyone has a priceless worth and value to God. Yes, even them. Therefore, everyone’s story matters. We all bear His image, the Imago Dei, the reflection of the Grand Creator.
As a result, our posture towards others should display this.
Fourth, repeat Steps 1-3.
And when you’re not doing any of the above, where can we find you?
Sitting down somewhere sipping Sacramento’s finest coffee, earbuds equipped in front of a laptop, or across the table in conversation with a friend. Being a proud husband to Lindsay and a grateful dad to Annabella and Lucy. And probably, reading or creating something.
Consuming ideas and crafting them into reality is an addiction for me.
Down time and work/life balance: How does this vibe with you? How do you make it all work?
In order to be FULLY engaged and present with your creative work, you must discipline yourself to be FULLY disengaged and present with the people you love.
Some days this is just a good idea to strive for, and some days I live this out mercilessly.
God only moves in the now. He only moves in the present. If you’re distracted, tired, and overwhelmed, you’ll miss it.
Most difficult situation to date?
Raising a lot of money over the course of 100 days 🙂
Biggest triumph / accomplishment?
Being a good husband and dad—true to myself, God, and them.
At the end of my life, whenever this happens to be, these things will be all that will matter.
What would you tell your five year-ago self?
Slow down. Be present. Trust in yourself and the gifts God has given you. And go to bed earlier.
Who do you look to for inspiration? Or, who madly lights you up and makes you want to chase down your dreams?
My mom. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scout Finch. Thomas Merton. Seth Godin. Henri Nouwen. Steven Pressfield. Brennan Manning. Gary Vaynerchuk. Jimmy Fallon. Annabella and Lucy Aja. Mike Birbiglia. Louis CK. Rob Bell. Ira Glass. And Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights.
Future plans? What dreams are in the pipeline?
5 years: Forge California. We are not only a sending hub for people into their own neighborhoods, but we serve as the crux for launching Forge hubs in the state of California.
Early 2016: An online product from Tell It Well Inc.
Stay tuned for both!
What three pieces of practical advice would you share with someone who wants to create, shape, and inspire a community of their own?
- Your identity does not lie in the failure or success of your vision.
- Ask yourself, Who are you doing this for?
- Slow cook your vision, don’t microwave it. It will taste much better that way.
Any favorite methods, tools, or technology you’ve found to be essential?
Evernote, Asana, Slack, Mod Notebooks, Rdio, Storyline Productivity Sheets, Rickshaw Bags, saying “No” unapologetically, and the Airplane Mode on your phone.
A personal mantra?
Yep, 2 of them:
Abba, I belong to You.
And my 3 rules for life:
Be grateful and generous. Be present and listen. And don’t take yourself too seriously.
Where can we find you and your community online?