Spotlight: Willa Jin’s Story On Redesigning The Bible For A Visual Generation

Issue 36  //  ·  · 

Do you love the Bible but sometimes find it inaccessible due to the way it is presented? The co-founders of LA-based company Alabaster Co, Bryan and Brian, had the very same thought, and desired to create a Bible with beautiful imagery and thoughtful design. The success of their 2016 Kickstarter campaign has led to the expansion of their brainchild to the Bible Beautiful series and a growing group of staff. The company’s name, Alabaster Co, was inspired by the act of the woman who broke her alabaster jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet. Whilst everyone deemed that act as a waste, Jesus deemed it beautiful.

Speaking with Willa, the first full-time staff in the company and the only female on the team, it is easy to see her passion for her work. Even though we were separated by a 12-hour time difference and computer screens, her bubbly personality and thoughtfulness in speech was larger than life! My short online interview with her made one thing evident — her life is beautiful and surrendered, just like the woman who broke her alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet.

Hi Willa! Tell us, what about the company’s vision attracted you to become its first employee?
I actually knew Bryan and Brian when we were in the same campus ministry. Then, they were wondering, “What if we could redesign the Bible to merge art, faith, and creativity into one product?” When they won the Kickstarter campaign in 2016, as a friend, I was so excited to see how their dream became an actual product. In 2017, they needed help with all the orders. They gathered a group of friends who helped to pack and ship all the orders. I was one of those friends in the warehouse packing all the orders and getting excited over a product that made me want to read the Bible and deepen my understanding of God. In 2018, when they realised that people actually really liked the product, they started thinking about building Alabaster as a business! So in 2018, I worked part-time with Alabaster (alongside my full-time job). I was answering emails, calls, and doing random things on the side till the beginning of this year 2019. That was when Bryan and Brian decided to go full-time with Alabaster. They happened to reach out to me. I was really dissatisfied with my job at the time and I wanted to see if there was anything out there that suited me better. And here I am — working full-time with Alabaster Co.

“Operations Director” sounds like a big role. Help us to understand what that means for you on a daily basis.
One of our main focuses in Alabaster Co is creating an excellent product. My role encompasses the daily operations of business: from systems, to work flow and ensuring things are running efficiently. I also manage shipping of orders to customers. Actually, I also oversee accounting matters and talent management. It seems like a bunch of roles merged together! But because we are a small team, everyone takes on a range of roles.

I FEEL LIKE, FOR THE FIRST TIME, I AM WORKING IN A PLACE WHERE MY VOICE IS HEARD.

How does such a small team do so much?
Right now, we have five people on the team — three are full-time staff and two are part-time. The nature of a start-up company means more responsibilities. However, what keeps us going is knowing what our common vision is: for all of humanity to experience God as good and beautiful. It may be a lot of work but it will be worth it eventually when our vision becomes a tangible reality.

What unique challenges do you have to overcome as the only female in your team?
Honestly, there’s not much of a challenge. I genuinely feel empowered in my job every day when I go to work! I feel like, for the first time, I am working in a place where my voice is heard and where people push and challenge me into greater roles and responsibilities. It actually makes me feel sad that feeling empowered hasn’t always been a norm for me at other workplaces — it feels so normal in Alabaster Co! That encourages me take on different challenges, make decisions, and be confident in myself in my role.

How did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a non-religious household. Growing up, I had a couple of experiences with Christianity, but they put me off. I went into college vaguely agnostic actually. I just wanted to explore and have fun. That led to a lot of partying in my first year of college. Eventually, that lifestyle took a toll on me and left me wanting something more.

I started thinking about whether there was more meaning to my life and who I am. My roommate was a Christian and part of the campus ministry. She invited me to Bible studies and gatherings. Eventually, she invited me to a conference that was specially for non-Christians. I ended up going on a whim, but I experienced a level of love and community that I never experienced before. It was also the first time I learnt about who Jesus was and what it really meant to follow Him. I gave my life to Jesus at the end of the conference. It felt like a sudden decision but looking back, it was really the prompting of the Holy Spirit that led to this decision. Thereafter, I joined campus ministry in college and started growing my faith ever since.

Having not been a Christian for long, what reactions did you get from friends and family when they found out you were planning to work in a Christian company?
Being the first believer in my family, my family didn’t know what to make of it. They thought it was a phase and I would get out of it. But they soon realised I was serious about my decision and got a little worried about what I was doing with my life. Towards the end of my senior year of college, I was actually considering going full-time with campus ministry or a missions organisation. My parents realised that Christianity wasn’t something I did on the side, but it was now my identity. I went through a rough patch with my parents when they didn’t really agree with what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become. I ended up not going into ministry to work things out with my family first.

I studied biomedical engineering in college and did that after graduation to make my parents happy. When a position with Alabaster Co turned into a full-time opportunity early this year, I knew I wanted to do that. There was definitely a lot of fear. I was taught that having a stable job and money are very important. Leaving a stable job to join a start-up was daunting. Ultimately, my parents care for me and want me to be happy even though they didn’t understand how joining Alabaster Co will be “good for me”. It’s still an ongoing process with them — both with my job and with me as a Christian.

Overall, I’m really grateful for where I’ve ended up; I know God has called me here.

What’s next for you and Alabaster Co?
There are a lot of exciting things ahead! We are working on new books, product ideas, and creative content, through which we hope to continue expanding our vision — to see all of humanity experience God as good and beautiful.

I personally am inspired to be a part of that process. I know that there’s still a lot of growth ahead for me, so I’m looking forward to the challenges and joys to come!

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