Kevin Wilson Photo credit: Courtesy of the Kevin Wilson
Beginning in September 2022, Wilson will oversee the University’s social media platforms, developing and implementing strategy and overseeing the creation of content.
“It’s a fancy way of saying that if President Luxton jumps on a TikTok trend, she didn’t do it voluntarily,” Wilson quips. He explains further, “The position involves a fair bit of planning, strategy and execution with regard to communication across different social media platforms. It would be cool to create a communication system that is easily replicable, consistent and helps us reach the goals we have at University Communication.”
Wilson, who is perhaps better known as the “chai guy” or “CEO of Chai” on Tiktok, has a passion for telling stories that allow him to connect with others. In 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, Wilson began creating short videos of himself, making and sharing about chai. Just two years later, he has built a community of 355k followers. He elaborates, “The chai videos aim to provide a specific expression of respite and care in an online space marked by vitriol, division or cancel-culture. Sharing one-minute vignettes from my life as I make chai, highlighting chai culture, the South Asian experience, or decolonized Christianity has made me realize that storytelling is a powerful conduit for impact and change.”
Born in Sri Lanka and raised in places as varied as the Sultanate of Oman, Virginia, Maryland, Lebanon and Berrien Springs, Wilson has embraced his unique cultural background. He reflects, “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in documenting experiences and transforming them into meaningful content. The rise of social media during my high school years provided a myriad of options for me to experiment with content creation and distribution, and I eventually chose short-form video production as my medium of choice that I continue to this day.”
Most recently, Wilson served as a youth and young adult pastor at the Oceanside Seventh-day Adventist Church and chaplain at the Oceanside Adventist Elementary School in San Diego, California. “There couldn’t have been a better community than Oceanside for Elynn and I to spend arguably the best five years of our life,” he adds. While he jokes that his titles were a “fancy way of saying that you end up doing everything your senior pastor doesn’t want to do,” he found the experience to be impactful and meaningful. He reflects, “Working with real humans with real stories across different age groups inspires me to create a content strategy that is not only culturally relevant and effectively marketable, but deeply human.”
It was a call from God that led Wilson and his wife, Elynn, back to Andrews University, where they originally met during freshman orientation in 2009. He acknowledges Elynn, who now works as an occupational therapist and co-parent to two playful cats, Phoebe and Leo, as being an incredible force for good in his life. Andrews was also the place where Wilson received his bachelor’s degree in theology and Master of Divinity. He explains that both he and Elynn felt moved to “pursue vocations, physically or professionally, proximal to college students.” After much prayer and consideration, they decided to return to Berrien Springs for the next season in their lives.
Wilson’s personal journey with social media has provided him with valuable knowledge, which he brings to his new position. In particular, he learned much about building a healthy relationship with social media as a platform and tool, noting, “As a content creator, it’s vital for me to establish healthy boundaries with social media lest I become a slave to the algorithm, analytics or consumer expectations. It’s also important for me to keep my own goals with regard to my social media use at the forefront of my mind so that I don’t get distracted. Without clear limits and clarity of use, the user of social media ends up being its product. It’s like I tell my youth all the time, ‘If you don’t know why you’re using social media, social media is using you.’”
In addition to his other responsibilities, Wilson hosts “The Faith and Chai podcast,” which recently finished its second season. The program hosts conversations at the intersection of Christianity, faith and South Asian culture. He also looks forward to the release of his book, “The Way of Chai,” scheduled for the summer of 2023. “It’s part memoir, part chai recipes, part chai history, part chai technique, and part existential philosophy for a post-pandemic age with a gospel ‘masala’ (‘spice mix’). Think of it as a coffee-table book but for chai that reads like a devotional,” he teases.
About his return to campus, Wilson shares, “It’s deeply gratifying to be able to give back to a place that has given a lot to me.” He sees his new role as a way to bring connection to the Andrews community. “My hope for University Communication is that we continue to leverage media as a tool for connection in addition to seeing it as a tool for promotion. In this information economy, the most pressing challenge for us is figuring out scalable solutions to create, consolidate and deepen our Andrews online community.”
Wilson voices his excitement to “rekindle old friendships and build new ones” and encourages, “If you see me on campus, don’t be a stranger. Say hi.” He slips in one last ode to his favorite drink, chai, with the hope of sharing it with new friends, stating, “Who knows? You might even get a chance to taste-test Jesus’ favorite beverage.”
Founded in 1874, Andrews University is the flagship institution of higher education for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and offers more than 160 areas of study, including advanced degrees. Its main campus is in Berrien Springs, Michigan, but the University also provides instruction at colleges and universities in more than 25 countries around the world.
Isabella Koh, University Communication student writer