An illustrious career, comfortable lifestyle and fat paycheck are not things most people would ever want to part with, especially if it means exchanging them for an uncertain future and a huge pay cut.
But that’s exactly what Ms Esther Ang did when she heeded God’s call three years ago. She left a cushy global marketing job, and—despite having zero retail experience—set up a Christian lifestyle product company called Gracesmiths.
In a way, it was the culmination of a long journey that often involved her taking on jobs without the required know-how.
Esther started off as a financial analyst in an American telecommunications corporation, but became a marketing professional in several large companies, even though she had no training in marketing. At one point, while departments were being merged and various positions made redundant in a company restructuring exercise, her job was not only preserved, but she was even promoted and tasked to lead a regional marketing team.
Esther attributes her stellar career trajectory to God, for putting her “in the right place at the right time”. “I know it has to be God; it cannot be me,” she says several times in the interview.
A calling she couldn’t ignore
Yet, despite enjoying much success in her career, Esther never felt completely settled in her comfortable state of affairs. While holding a prestigious position in one of the largest oil companies in the world, she knew, at the back of her mind, that it was not the place for her. “I never really felt like this was where I belonged,” she recalls. “I just couldn’t see myself continuing like this for the rest of my life, even though I was doing well.”As her success grew, so did her dissatisfaction. “Life has to be more than travelling more, eating more and spending more. My time has to be better spent,” she says.
That realization led her onto a path of intensive prayer, which she followed for three years, right through several job changes. Towards the end of 2012, that path finally culminated in a giant leap of faith, when she left her job.
A passion for art, people and God
As a young girl, Esther had a keen interest in art and design; her first ambition was to be an artist. Now, she renewed this passion for art and combined it with one for God. After observing that current Christian designs on lifestyle products in the marketplace tended to be “conservative” and “traditional”—Esther felt prompted to start a faith-based company to come up with products that take on a more creative, modern style, and also one where the products would speak to non-believers as well.
The idea for the name and vision of her new company came to mind while listening to the speakers at a Hillsong conference. Gracesmiths, she shares, aims to create products that are thoughtfully designed and also inspired by the grace of God. These include home furnishings and decorations, stationery, jewellery, and accessories. Esther also hopes that her company can be a retail platform for artists who want to use their God-given talent to create products that share Gracesmiths’ vision and design philosophy.
Since setting up shop, Esther’s company has also been supporting social causes and social enterprises that improve people’s lives. Under the Mother and Child project, for instance, disadvantaged women help to sew cushions for her “Providence” product range, which is inspired by the biblical story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes.
“It’s a very meaningful cause to support,” says Esther. “At the end of the day, it’s not just about giving them income, but also giving them the confidence to be able to be self-sustaining.”
A journey of joys and woes
Still, the past two years have proved to be anything but a bed of roses. Having to contend with a limited market and being aware that the faith message would appeal only to a niche group, Esther had to work hard at raising awareness of her brand, getting a sustainable sales volume, and finding creative people who shared her vision. At times, she had doubts as to whether she was doing the right thing.
But she has never once regretted her decision. She says: “Although I’m financially worse off than before, there are a lot of other things I’ve gained; especially a closer walk with God, learning what it means to trust Him and the spiritual truths that I learned during this period. It has also taught me to take a higher perspective of what I do and judge it according to its eternity value, not just tangible earthly results.”
God has also given her a few surprises along the way, such as scoring an interview with a local newspaper. And just over a year ago, He gave her an even more specific goal on how she could impact lives through her company.
While attending a ministry session at church, Esther had a vision of herself distributing items to children in Cambodia—despite never having set foot in the country. She knew then that God wanted her to use the proceeds from her business to build schools, shelters and orphanages in Cambodia for the young and the lost. “When it became that specific, I knew it had to be from God, not from my own imagination,” she says.
She adds: “These are people who have been forgotten by society and have lost a lot of hope. They may not even have any hope left in their lives. God is the only light that can change things for them. Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to be done, but if it’s from God, in His timing, He will bring the resources and make it happen.”
YMI a businesswoman?
As for why she is doing this, Esther pauses for the first time in the interview when she is posed this question.
“Deep down, I know that I can’t do it any other way,” she replies. “I feel a very deep ‘force’ to do what I’m doing now. I just know that I have to obey and I can’t stop until God tells me so.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you know of someone who has an interesting story to share about how their faith has influenced the path they have chosen in life, write to us at email@example.com. We would love to feature them.