Re-creation in a Broken World - Sam Thevanayagam

Sam Thevanayagam is the president and CEO of three companies—Parts Life, Inc., DeVal Lifecycle Support, and LC Engineers—focused on aerospace and defense systems used with domestic and international platforms. Sam is a TEDx speaker and the author of The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons from the Game of Cricket. Sam is devoted to empowering, mentoring, and developing people within his sphere of influence, and is deeply involved in his community and church. He’s here today to talk about God’s work of re-creation and “making all things new” through our everyday work.

Scripture References

  • Psalm 51:10
  • Luke 10:38-42
  • Luke 19:1-10
  • Ephesians 2:10

Addtional Resources

The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons from the Game of Cricket by Sam Thevanayagam

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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Sam Thevanayagam is the President and CEO of three companies, Parts Life Incorporated, DeVal Lifecycle Support and LC Engineers focused on aerospace and defense systems used with domestic and international platforms. Sam, is also a TEDx speaker and the author of The First 10 Runs in Singles: Life Lessons From the Game of Cricket. Sam, is devoted to empowering, mentoring and developing people within his sphere of influence and is deeply involved in his community and church. He's here to talk to us today about God's work of re-creation and making all things new through our every day work.

Sam Thevanayagam, welcome to the Making it work podcast.

Sam Thevanayagam: Leah, it's really nice to be here with you.

LA: So I would love if you could start by telling us about the company you founded, Parts Life. What does your company do?

ST: So I started Parts Life in 2007, and when I first started Parts Life, I thought I was going into the automotive aftermarket, which is what I had worked in for many years, but when I started it, the automotive aftermarket was in trouble. It was right in the middle of a recession, and I had to pivot away from the automotive aftermarket into the US military, and it's interesting that God gave me the name Parts Life before he actually gave me the problem to solve. And the problem to solve is the military has a lot of issues that they call DMSMS, it stands for Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages. And it's a long word for obsolescence. It was actually describing a sickness or a problem that they have, that many of their expensive and mission-critical assets are used beyond the life that it was intended to.

And many times they don't have the parts in order to continue to support those assets, and that's where Parts Life comes in. So wouldn't it be like God that he gave me the name Parts Life before I actually found the problem. So it was almost prophetic that he gave me the name of the company first and then gave me a problem to solve. And so that's what we've been doing for many years. And so we are on many critical weapon systems that our nation uses for its defense. And so we do a lot of meaningful work in being able to support the US war fighter while creating value for the taxpayer, not by gauging the taxpayer. So that's a very important part of what we do.

LA: Now, we've heard a lot in this past year about supply chain disruptions, the challenges of supply chain management, especially in this current climate of materials shortages, and it's even more critical when you're supporting huge nationwide infrastructure like you're doing at Parts Life. So the work that you do is very much current in the news. But you actually, in your writing and thinking link this to a biblical issue that's been around since the beginning of time, which is sustaining and making things new. Can you talk a little bit about that?

ST: Yeah, so if you go back to scripture, when David sinned and he talked about... He's saying, "Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me." If you think about it, God had already created David's heart. So in some ways he was saying, "God recreate within me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me." And so that's what we are about. If you think about it. The understanding of redemption, the understanding of reconciliation is really about us being reconciled to God in a relationship. That's why Jesus died on the cross. And every one of us the Bible says is in need of redemption and reconciliation, and to repair that relationship if you will, that was broken. And so we do that with people and yes, we do that with parts. So like, so many times the parts that we work on have to be recreated.

And it's very interesting, we are currently re-manufacturing the launchers on the F-18 air craft. The F-18 air craft is the air craft that was used in the movie Maverick, which is the Top Gun movie that has had over a billion dollars worth of sales. We happen to be the ones to re-manufacture the launcher. So we can't claim to actually manufacture it. Somebody else, the OEM manufactured it, but the Navy is actually using our little company in Moorestown, New Jersey to actually re-manufacture it. And if you think about it, we are actually bringing it back to the intention of what it was intended to do. So we are recreating, we are re-manufacturing, reconditioning that item to be back. And isn't it a great allegory of what God does with our lives? We are broken, we are fallen, and we are without relationship, and through Christ his Son, we are able to be reconciled with him.

LA: Mark, have you ever heard of more concrete link between what someone does for a living and what someone believes in their faith?

MR: You know, I'm not sure but not very often. And never that one, which I just find so fascinating, Sam. That your work... 'Cause we talk more about creative work, right? That's pretty common in faith work kinds of conversations. And that's important and it's wonderful, and God's the creator and we're the creator. But God is also the sustainer. God isn't just making new stuff and then that's the end of it. God is... Continues to be engaged with the world and with the things that God has made, and so God is the sustainer. And in one sense, that's kind of what you're doing. And it's also reflective of the new creation and making all things new, not throwing all things out and making all together new things. But making all things new. So I just think that's so interesting, and I know we'll get into also how that relates to the way you think about people. But even to see just sort of the nuts and bolts if you will, of your job as reflective of the kind of work that God is doing is really quite wonderful.

ST: And if I can say one more thing, one of the things that we do is in some cases, we re-manufacture, in other cases, we do something called replicate. So in a replication process, we are almost copying because the military does not want to change the way things are. Because they need us to carbon copy and replicate exactly what they had the OEM do. And so we actually replicate. And if you think about Christ, that's what he's doing in our lives. He wants us to be an entire image of who he is. And I tell people that many times. If you think about Jesus, and if you think about how exact things were when he walked on this earth. One of the things that is not exact about when he walked on this earth was his facial features, or how tall he was, or what color his hair was, or what color his eyes were. And I believe that that's not an accident, because every one of us has the ability to be who Christ is.

And so if you think about how we can all be. We can all have virtual images. When we act out in a situation, we can be like Christ. Now, many times we fall far short. I'll speak for myself. I fall far short of replicating who Christ is. But there are times when I have been the only Jesus that people have seen or people will encounter. So that is another beautiful way of being able to really think about who Christ is. And so not only does Christ sustain us. In many ways he's cooperating with us and he's giving us the ability to be able to be his hands, his feet and his image in many situations. And that is a huge calling, if you think about it.

MR: Oh, I love that. And so as you're talking I think... You're like Christ in at least two ways here. And one is... So one of the things in the theology of work we like to point out is that Jesus used lots of illustrations from work in his teaching. It's all over in there. That's exactly what you're doing. So you are... In this day I mean, he wasn't manufacturing parts for planes, but he was drawing from the workplace to talk about faith. Exactly like you're doing so that's number one.

ST: Yep. I think he talked about farming and fishing, right? So Israel was a very agrarian society and was also very close to bodies of water. So he would also use fishing a lot...

MR: Yeah.

ST: In his analogy. And if you think about even the book that I wrote, I wrote it on cricket. Because cricket, there is... If you think about the world, there is at least 2 billion people that live in cricket playing countries and love the game of cricket. And so, I was able to draw out of cricket, how we can take the game of cricket and apply it to the game of life. And so the very model that Jesus used, right? Because he used the things that were familiar to be able to talk to us about the kingdom of God. His primary motivation was to teach us about the kingdom, right? He wanted to talk to us about what the kingdom was like, what were the rules? What was the priorities in the kingdom? You take the example of Mary and Martha, in that story it's beautiful because both Mary and Martha did not do anything wrong. What they both chose were not sin. Were not sinful, but the Bible talks about the fact that Mary chose something that was better than Martha and it shows us that Jesus was all about relationship. He was even more interested in relationship than he was interested in productivity.

I listened to a Jewish rabbi speak, his name is, Rabbi Daniel Lapin. He talks about the fact that the word worship and the word work comes from the same Hebrew word. So when God created us to worship him, we actually do that also by working. We worship him through... In spirit and in truth. But part of that truth is for us to go to work. And the way we work is by serving God's other children. And by doing that, we find purpose and potential. I tell people all the time potential and purpose is what God is doing. I cannot... That's what God has created in every single person he has created people with purpose and created people with potential. That's what Ephesians 2:10 tells us. But I can certainly partner with him by creating an environment. By being that person to make sure that the right ingredients are in that environment so that people can achieve their God given potential.

LA: I wanna talk a little bit more about how you do manage people within your company, because I've heard incredible stories about people coming out of prison and working for you. People having their lives transformed, recreated in the same way that you are recreating your parts. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about of what is your method of working with workers and even choosing the people you wanna work for you.

ST: Yeah. So I'm very careful about picking the right people, but on the other hand, I also... So attitude is very important for me. To make sure that people have the right attitude, the right mindset. But on the other hand, I'm very good about giving people second and third chances. It's part of the fallen nature of human beings that we are fallen. And the truth of the matter is that God loved us unconditionally, and the things that we do don't necessarily separate us from who he is and the way that he relates to us. So it's the kind of philosophy that I employ, doesn't mean that we haven't let people go because of either performance or something like that, but I don't take those things lightly, and that's very important to me, but so that's on the... That's not on the separation side, but as far as people working for me, there is a pastor called David Dickerson, who wrote a book called Enabling Us.

And he talks about the fact that it takes four things to fundamentally change society. It takes an education, it takes a job, healthcare and a place to live. And if you think about somebody who has a job, they usually have healthcare and a place to live along with it. But we also do a very good job of educating our people. One of the things that I measure is the training hours that we put in, the training dollars that we put in, it's very important for me to develop people. So I'm not necessarily...

I don't hire people for a job, I am thinking in terms of a career, I have four children who work for me, and recently I was with some classmates who are high achievers, and you know their children are also high achievers, and I was challenged to say, Did I give my children a job or am I teaching them a career, am I teaching them a domain and would they be able to go to work for somebody else? And I'm happy to tell you that I have actually put them in careers, I'm actually teaching them work and how to work, not necessarily a job, and I would love to tell you that I don't only do that with my children, I do that with every single person that works for me.

So I have many children, not just my four children, because I see how God has placed every one of these people for me to lead. And I don't take that lightly.

LA: It reminds me of this biblical story about a man named Zacchaeus and Jesus meeting him on the road, and I wonder, Mark, could I ask you to summarize that story?

MR: Sure, it's a great story. It's one that... Children love it because of one of the things we know about Zacchaeus is he was short, and if you are short or if you're a child, you know what it's like to be in a crowd and you can't see. So anyway, Zacchaeus was also a tax collector, and in that day, that meant he was really one of the bad guys, he had sold out to Rome, and it would be way worse than working for the IRS, it'd be more like working for the IRS for a country that was dominating you and wasn't your own country. So anyway, he was short and he was hated, and Jesus was coming to town, and for some reason, we don't know why, he really wanted to check out Jesus, but because he was little and because no one would let him through, he ends up climbing this tree to see Jesus, and Jesus stops when he sees him, and says Zacchaeus, come on down, I'm gonna be with you in your house today, and basically invites himself over, and so they go to Zacchaeus' house and we don't know all that happened in the dialogue, but at some point Zacchaeus says, I'm gonna turn my life around.

And if I've cheated anyone, I'm gonna pay them back. And I'm gonna... I am, from now, gonna do my work in a way that is right and good. And I mean, there's so much in the story, and Sam, I know you have a lot to say about this, but we have no idea, no evidence that Jesus told him to do that. It was just the response to God's presence and grace, and Jesus changed his life, but it wasn't just as Zacchaeus said, so now I'm gonna go to synagogue every week and I'm gonna memorize Torah, and he may well have done that. But instead, I'm gonna make restitution for where I have done wrong, and I am now going to work in a right way, and so that encounter with Jesus was transforming to his work. Now, Sam, you have done a lot of work with Zacchaeus. How does Zacchaeus inform you? 'Cause I didn't steal all your punch line, you still got some things to say.

ST: Yes, yes, the Bible says, To whom much is given, much is also required, and so from a leadership perspective, and then, When you do it for the least of these, your brethren, you're doing it as unto me. So if you think about it, my challenge to leaders is, every one of us has a lot of Zacchaeuses in our lives, and many times as leaders, we want to spend time with those people who have the same social status as us or somebody who is at a higher social status with us, but when Jesus chose, he chose to have a meal at Zacchaeus's house, he could have gone to anywhere he wanted to, he could have gone to the mayors, the governors, he could have decided to have dinner with whoever he wanted to, he chose Zacchaeus to do that with.

And so if you... And what you just said, Mark, is actually transformational. So the fact that Jesus had an encounter with Zacchaeus, it extreme... It transformed his life. And so we have as leaders, we have that same ability to bring transformational change to people, and it's our responsibility to be sensitive to the spirit, to make sure that we are picking those people to have meals with and to spend time with, because that's how transformation will happen. My mother used to say, To whom much is given, much is also required.

And so when you have the mantle of leadership, you have a lot of resources, you have the ability to be able to do a lot, and so we have to make sure that we are using those wisely. And so when I speak, I talk a lot about entrepreneurship and stewardship, and that's the two sides of the same coin. if you think about it, it's a great way to think about being an entrepreneur, that it's not all about us. As part of being successful, our responsibility is to be a good steward. And when you talk about stewardship, it's actually being a good steward with people.

MR: You know, know what I love about your work with the Zacchaeus story, so I've been a pastor for a long time. I've preached, I've taught in that text in the context of theology of work. We often use Zacchaeus and always the point is we need to be like Zacchaeus. In other words, as we encounter Jesus, we need to be transformed in our work. What you are doing with it, which I think is brilliant, and you're saying, we also need to be like Jesus in the story, right? Those of us who follow Jesus, we need to see Zacchaeuses. And I just think, oh my gosh, that is such a powerful application of this story. And I will confess until I started engaging with you and your work, I never thought of it that way. But you're absolutely right. And I love that vision you have for seeing the Zacchaeuses. That God can use you to help bring transformation to them. That's just so... That's really awesome.

ST: Thank you, Mark.

LA: Now, how do you find Zacchaeuses? And how do you invite them to a meal? Especially when you're working in a very hierarchical industry, like military and defense. What does it take practically in your day-to-day work to be a leader who can be looking for Zacchaeuses and calling them out?

ST: I mean, especially being the president of a company, there are people all around me. Like two weeks ago, I had lunch with two Afghani refugees who now work for me. So it was very important for me. And I had my oldest son who I'm teaching recruiting too, and I had him with us and we had a very Middle Eastern type meal. I wanted to make sure that I was... The cultural context was right. And both of them happened to be Muslims. It was very important for me to have the right meal, to create the right environment. Not only talk to them, but on what was on my heart, but also to listen to them and find out what was on theirs. And so, as you've heard, we've had people who have been incarcerated, who've come to work for us. I've had meals with them.

So I am very intentional about spending time with them to kind of learn what's going on with them. What are some of the struggles that they're dealing with? Because I think one of the most important things that we as leaders need is empathy, right? Empathy is very important. A discernment is important. And so, I try to ask the Lord and I'm open to his spirit to be able to make sure that I'm listening to what he's telling me as far as who I need to spend time with and that kind of stuff. Right? So, because I don't think we, that's a... I mean, I've gone on missions trip. I'm going on one pretty soon here in a week or two to fire up some people that I'm working with in India and Nepal.

So I think those things are important, but we don't necessarily need to go overseas in order to be able to do that. Right? They are in our environment, there are people that we can actually reach out to and touch. And you know what? Part of being stewards is when you focus on the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. And when you take care of the little things, God will also give you more opportunity. Right? So opportunities come in disguised forms, and it's important for us to be able to take advantage of those things. And when we do that, I mean, I tell this to my children all the time, when we do these things, when we do the little things right, God's also gonna give us more opportunity to be able to do more.

LA: Sam, when I was hearing you tell that story, I actually thought of a new connection to the Zacchaeus story that I never thought of before. I always thought that it was an imposition when Jesus said, "I'm having dinner over at your house tonight." What I'm realizing now is that actually was probably the best way to make Zacchaeus feel comfortable when Jesus said, "I'm gonna have dinner at your house." He's saying, "I'm entering into your environment. I'm entering into your sense of what's important. And I wanna listen to that." And I really heard that reflected in the way you just spoke of having a meal with two Afghani refugees and wanting to make sure that they were comfortable in the cultural context of the meal.

ST: Yeah. Because if you think about it, it's the primary way that you validate somebody, right? So if you think about the Middle Eastern culture, sharing salt of a meal is very, very important to them, right? So when you are having a meal with somebody, if you think about it, you're sitting in the same environment. You're sharing the same meal. In fact, growing up in Sri Lanka, I know that a lot of my Muslim friends, they would actually all eat from the same vessel. They had this huge vessel and they would all eat from the same vessel. It actually creates oneness. It creates fellowship. It creates relationship. And if you think about it, even in the last supper, Jesus was all about that, right? He was all about having a meal together, spending time together, being able to exchange ideas.

And so when... It's one thing for somebody to invite you, but when you say I wanna come to your house to eat, that is such a form of... What a beautiful thing. You are inviting yourself to them. Right? And if you think about that context, it's so beautiful because Jesus knew that this would be very honoring for him, right? Because if you think about it the day after Jesus left or after Jesus left, can you imagine how Zacchaeus's stock went up? Because there was... That he could have had eaten anywhere he wanted to, but the son of God actually supped at Zacchaeus's house. So a beautiful thing.

LA: I wonder... I'm thinking of how this applies to leaders at work today. Even if you can't take people out for a meal or invite yourself over for a meal. Even entering into someone else's work space as opposed to, "I'm gonna invite you to my office and it's gonna be scary." I think that is a really powerful lesson that leaders can take into their every day jobs.

ST: Yep. Absolutely. Because if you think about it, the meal can be something that you are sharing together. You don't have to buy that meal for that person. Meal times are important, break times are important, because that's... And we talk about the water cooler in an office. It's important casual conversations that you're able to have in being able to really be in relationship with one another. And it's actually spending face time with people. And I think that as we talk about ministry at work, the primary way that ministry happens is through relationship. So you can't be a slacker and do that, you have to be somebody who does good work, but you also have to take time to build relationship and to be able to listen to other people, to be able to empathize, to be able to invite people and that kind of thing.

LA: It's really beautiful the dual ways that you're in your work, inviting transformation through the actual work of parts and processes, and you're also inviting transformation of both yourself and the people that you work with through these relationships. So I wonder what advice you would give to someone who's... I don't know, someone who's just in a mid-level marketing role at a big corporation or someone who says, "I don't... I'm not actually reclaiming parts for the national defense system," or "I don't manage a whole lot of people." How could you transfer this idea of re-creation of making things new into someone who's maybe not the boss of the company, who's at a different level in their career?

ST: Yeah, and so I was about 44 years old when I started my company. So most of my career, I work for somebody else. And if you look at the Ephesians 2:10, it says that God actually created a good work for us. He has actually set aside work for us to do. So he's not just throwing anything at us. That specific thing that he has for us to do is something that he created us to do, and he has prepared us for us to do that. So if you think about it from a position of faith, he actually did that for us.

And I'll give you a quick example of how I think about that. My degree is in marketing. When I came to this... I came from a very small country in Sri Lanka. My parents didn't necessarily have the money to support me to do that. My mother had to take a job in the Middle East in order to support the fact that I was here in the US, and she went through quite a bit of difficulty. It was very uncomfortable for her in that culture, to be able to do what she did, and so it took a lot for me to get my degree.

And the funny thing is that most of my career, I did not work in marketing and... Or sales for that matter. And so a couple of years ago, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. And I said to the Lord, "Lord, you know how difficult it was for my family in order for me to get this degree. Why is it that you didn't allow me or give me an opportunity to work in sales and marketing?" What he said to me was fascinating. He said to me, "I knew you knew how to do that, I had to teach you everything else." I'm gonna say that one more time. He said that, "I knew you knew how to do that. I had to teach you everything else." And if you think about it, if you talk about exercising, you're not necessarily exercising those muscles that are already strong, you're exercising those muscles that are not strong. So God already knew everything I needed in order for me to do what I'm doing as a president and CEO of a company, and I had to learn all of the other stuff. He knew that if I only worked in sales and marketing, I would have been a one-trick pony, and so he needed to teach me everything.

The reason I tell that story is because in his providence, he already knows who we are and he's preparing us for that work that he has for us. So once you understand that and you have the freedom of recognizing that you're not just doing a mundane job, that God has actually prepared you for that, he's actually got you in the specific place, and that this is something that will continue to happen. A lot of people ask me, "How do you pray for God's will?" Well, you pray for God's will using Ephesians 2:10. So I can say, "Leah is God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has prepared in advance for Leah to do." So when you understand that what you are currently doing is God's will for you now, and that he will continue to lead, guide and direct you, that should empower you to be able to do a good job, number one and number two, to look for opportunities of how you're continuing to serve him. And to make sure that good things will continue to happen because you're in God's will.

LA: Mark, I love the way that Sam just turned my question on it's head. 'Cause I was asking, "How can you do good work maybe for other people, through your job?" And he really turned it around and he says, "No, I think God is transforming us through our work as well."

MR: Which is just... It's... For many years, the Christians who sort of discovered the connection between faith and work, generally emphasize the fact that we can live out our faith in work, much like you were talking, Leah. I think it's been a more recent discovery for many of us. And Sam, you just illustrated it beautifully, that actually there's the other piece that in the workplace, God is at work in us. So it's not just what we do, it's what God is doing in us through our workplaces.

LA: So I... You're still a young guy, Sam, and you are... You started your own company, you bought another company, you're the head of three companies, what do you feel like is the next phase that God is bringing you to in your faith and in your work?

ST: That is a good question, Leah. I just feel like I'm very fulfilled. I feel like those things that I wanted to accomplish, I have. The book that I've written, we are translating it into the seventh language so that the people in Afghanistan can also understand and comprehend what it is that I'm saying through cricket. So I have those types of ideas and thoughts and goals, but really, I try to live one day at a time and to be open to whatever it is that where God leads, so I don't have this next big BHAG, that they call it the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. From a business standpoint, we would like to be on every major weapon system, so we have a mission and the mission and core values and stuff like that, but really I try to live one day at a time recognizing that we are pilgrims passing through, that Earth is certainly not our home and tomorrow is not promised. So it's just important for us to do what we can do today to leave the world a better place and to create a legacy really for my children to actually walk in.

LA: That really does put things in perspective. Mark, do you have last thoughts of perspective that you've gotten from this conversation?

MR: Oh, many things, but I'll mention two. And one I already did mention, and Sam, and that's the way you dealt with the Zacchaeus story, that was a new thing. But the other thought, as you were talking about Jesus, I've done a fair amount of teaching of Jesus in my life, I wrote a book on Jesus and we often think about Jesus in terms of his work as a carpenter or a craftsman, and... But honestly until today, I never thought of the fact that he probably spent a lot of time fixing stuff, right? So he's not only making new tables, somebody's chair leg breaks, they bring it to Jesus, he makes the part. It just never occurred to me to think about how much Jesus was probably fixing roofs, not just building them. And for one who's been a Christian now for 59 years, I'd never thought about that before, so thank you for many gifts, but one of... Two of them having to do with just seeing some new things in Jesus.

LA: I love the... Oh go ahead Sam.

ST: Yeah, one of the things that I would also like to say is going back to that Zacchaeus story, Jesus took somebody that was diminished and made him whole. And so I think that's true about work, it's true about us as human beings that at the end of the day, he makes us his friend. We are not slaves, we are not servants, he has called us his friends and so that's a beautiful thing.

LA: Sam Thevanayagam, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today. This was really enlightening, thank you.

ST: You're very welcome.

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