Spotlight: Joanne Kwok Influences With A Difference At Thir.st

Joanne Kwok, or Jonk as she is known to her friends, is the creative producer at Thir.st, an online Christian site that addresses a range of topics from faith, to relationships, to studies, and doing good. Since its launch in December 2016, it has averaged more than 300,000 visitors and 1 million page views each year.

With such an established platform with a great deal of influence, I felt apprehensive yet excited to meet the woman behind the inspiring content of Thir.st. But in the span of a few minutes, Joanne’s outgoing personality made me feel right at home! In this digital age with plenty of influencers, she is a shining example of what an influencer ought to be — confident yet humble. Joanne’s main message? We all have influence, and we should be real and authentic as we use it for good.

Hi Joanne! What are the first three words that come to your mind when I say the word “influence”?
Responsibility, creativity, authenticity. People are gifted with influence and it’s their responsibility to steward that influence well. Secondly, people are looking for creativity in story-telling that impacts and compels someone into action. Lastly, authenticity is key. It is easy to manufacture aesthetic photos and compelling stories. But if people think, “you pitched it so high, I can never achieve that,” then you’ve missed the point.

When did you first realise that you had influence?
When I was in school, people followed what I did and I got into trouble. My teacher would call me out and say, “You need to watch what you say and behave because everyone is following you”. I would get confused because I got into trouble for being the “instigator” of things I didn’t even intend to make others do! Those small instances made me realise that I had influence of some sort.

But the first time I was fully convicted of my influence was in university when I made a video for a project on dreams. When I presented it in front of project owners from different companies, one of the judges was crying so badly [because she was so moved] and the whole room was silent. The video was put online and it got me invited to speak at 2012’s TEDxYouth. I don’t know whose lives I changed the day I spoke but that was probably the first brush of influence that I had. I wasn’t trying to prove anything but I feel like influence was given to me.

How do you balance between acting in a certain way because you know eyes are on you and being yourself on social media?
I strongly believe that if you are in the thick of your grief or still processing a situation, you should not short-circuit that by speaking or writing about it yet publicly. It’s kind of like dunking something that’s cooking into cold water and it just stops it right there. The lessons you could have learnt could have been so much deeper. But because you were in such urgency to influence others, you have short-changed yourself and compromised your own process of growth.

I’ve actually started composing posts, then deleted them and told myself, “You know what? You’re not ready. You just want to write this for someone to see your pain, and someone can read this sad emo thing and ask if you are okay. Or you want the person you are actually writing about to see it.” Sometimes we get clouded by justifying, “So many people could be impacted by this and it would be so great for them to hear this”. But only you will know your heart’s intention for putting it out there in the first place.

KNOWING THAT I CAN SEPARATE MY WEIGHT FROM MY WORTH HAS BEEN HUGE. YOUR WEIGHT CAN CHANGE, BUT YOUR WORTH IS UNCHANGEABLE.

What would you say to girls who look to you as a role model?
Role models, in any stage of life, are super important. People need to see the truths of the Bible ‘walking’, they need to see what a surrendered life looks like. They need to see that someone doesn’t have it all together but the journey is worth it.

Honestly when I was younger, I went through a very difficult time. I’m pretty sure I had some kind of depression; I was crying every night. I had many body image issues, and I would trace my body out and wonder to myself, “Why do I look like that?” I would tell myself, “Other girls have their prime and you’ve already missed yours. You’ll never get there.” I remember this so clearly though: One night, I told God, “If one day you can let me tell other girls my age (I was 12 then) who are going through the same things that I am [that they are not alone], this suffering would make sense”. I’ve just turned 30, so for this interview to happen now, I feel like it’s an answered prayer to share this with Kallos’ readers.

I’m no supermodel. I’m sure you can tell that at a glance. But knowing that I can separate my weight from my worth has been huge. Your weight can change, but your worth is unchangeable.

Should a person’s influence have any effect on the kind of content we create and upload on our social media platforms?
I have been asked, “Should I care about what people think of my content? I have no control over them; if they don’t like my content, then whatever.” And that seems like logical thinking, like, “I am not my brother’s keeper” (Gen 4:9). But you totally are your brother’s keeper!

If people reading your content are your church friends, pastors, parents, siblings, and you know that what you post might affect them, how can you say that you are not your brother’s keeper? Just because you don’t see their true reactions doesn’t mean people didn’t get stumbled or misled, and people can go away with a message passed down a “broken telephone”. You need to weigh it very carefully.

EVERY YOUNG PERSON, PURELY BY HAVING A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM, HAS INFLUENCE. EVEN IF THERE ARE ONLY TEN PEOPLE FOLLOWING YOU, ONE STORY CAN INFLUENCE THEM.

As Christians, how should we use the influence we have wisely?
Two years ago, a friend contacted me out of the blue. She said, “I’ve been going through a tough time recently and you always write about your faith and how difficult it can be. I wanted to ask, how do you keep faith?” I was puzzled at her question because she used to be so anti-Christian, but she’d actually accepted Christ over the years we’d lost contact! This experience taught me that being authentic about your life is like being a lighthouse. Most days, people don’t care about lighthouses. But when they are about to smash into the rocks, it matters. If you’re a lighthouse that is always shining, people will remember that faithful lighthouse when they need direction. I don’t mean you need to portray some perfect life. Your life has rocks too; you’re in the thick of human experience, with good and bad days. Authenticity is so important.

Final piece of wisdom about “influence”?
The social media platform is an extension of your life — it’s not like a random third arm that you use as and when. What you post is literally you and who you are. That’s why your testimony needs to flow into those spaces as well! The way you live and have been taught to live as a Christian has to be the same way you live in those spaces. You cannot say, “This platform is for my frivolous self” minus the whole Christian part of your life. If you are trying to live your regular life talking about Jesus, I don’t see why it disappears the moment you use a social media platform just because “I have never used my Instagram for this before”. Don’t compartmentalise your life.

Every young person, purely by having a social media platform, has influence. Even if there are only ten people following you, one story can influence them. Invest in these ten people; compel them to action to reach another ten. Don’t compare your influence with that of someone with 100 followers. At the end of the day, the effort and the heart behind it is all the same: to live a life that draws others closer to their encounter with God, both offline and online.

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