Interview With Skip Vaccarello, Author of Finding God In Silicon Valley: 'Take Advantage of Every Opportunity to Reach Out'

Sep 02, 2015 01:05 PM EDT

Silicon Valley is where trends are set in technology, but it is also one of the least churched areas in the United States. Home to companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel, the San Francisco Bay Area are five counties with over eight million residents. As more talents are brought in from around the world by tech giants, housing prices continue to skyrocket, making a living for most a daily struggle. Meanwhile, workers face stressful demands from work in the rapidly-changing technological landscape, resulting in long and over-worked hours.

As a tech executive for over 30 years, Skip Vaccarello, who chairs the "Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast," sees and understands the desperate spiritual and emotional needs of those living in Silicon Valley. Together with other Christian leaders who are making plans to transform the Bay Area for Christ, Vaccarello is doing his part by writing and publishing a book titled "Finding God in Silicon Valley" that consists of interviews with 26 committed followers of Christ and his commentaries. These interviews include Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMWare, a multi-billion dollar software company, Paul Ely, former top executive at Hewlett-Packard, and other successful businessmen, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, and scientists.

These riveting stories offer readers insights on how these individuals harnessed the power of faith to find meaning and purpose in their lives, to face the challenges from stressful demands from work, and to thrive in the midst of the chaos and surprises that life brings. While these stories appeal to non-believers, they also reveal how the interview subjects dealt with their struggles and doubts in their journey of faith.

In an interview with The Gospel Herald, Vaccarello talks about his motivations on writing the book, his observations of similarities and uniqueness to each interviewee's testimonies on where faith intersects their work and life. Here is the interview:

GH: Can you talk about the purpose of this book?

Finding God in Silicon Valley - Skip Vaccarello
Vincent 'Skip' Vaccarello, author of 'Finding God in Silicon Valley'

SV: Yes, the title of this book is Finding God in Silicon Valley: Spiritual Journeys in a High-Tech World. The book has four main sections: the first section is on faith and success; the second section is on reason, science, and faith; the third section is on adversity, pain, and faith; and the final section is on a higher calling.

While it's divided into sections, the core of the book contains stories and personal journeys of Silicon Valley leaders to which I add some commentary.

The purpose is to help readers consider faith. We all learn from the stories and experiences of other people. What I hope to do with the book is to stimulate readers to take the next step on their own spiritual journeys. Although my primary audience is people who are curious about faith, the book is also for believers who I hope will be inspired to go deeper in their faith as they read the stories of Silicon Valley leaders.

Another comment I should make is that the book's focus is on successful people. The reason for doing so is that successful people are sometimes the hardest to reach for the Gospel. They're often self-satisfied and don't see a need for faith. That's especially true in Silicon Valley, which attracts high-achievers and people that are highly intelligent. If successful people can come to faith, perhaps others will consider doing so as well.

The audience for the book is worldwide. Silicon Valley is a place that is still looked at around the world as a trendsetter - certainly for technology and business. I don't want to overstate this, but Silicon Valley could be in the very early stages of a revival. The region is known as one of the least churched areas in the country -- and that's true -- but I see that changing. God is at work in Silicon Valley. It is exciting to participate in God's work.

GH: As you compiled these interviews with high-profile successful business leaders, were there any common points and can you provide some examples?

SV: The book contains stories of not only business leaders-although many are engaged in business --but also stories of non-profit leaders and scientists. One theme, of course, is that they are all committed followers of Christ. Everyone has surrendered his or her life to Christ. Faith is the most important thing in their lives. They're successful from a career point of view, but they all view their work as their ministry and their work as a way to glorify God.

A few things surprised me in my research for which I interviewed over 80 people for the book and blog. I did not expect to find a number of entrepreneurs who are building their businesses to glorify Christ.

Let me give you one example: Victor Ho started a company called FiveStars in San Francisco. His vision is to improve customer loyalty for the local merchant. The company's mission according to Victor is to "redeem the transactional nature of commerce." FiveStars offers a universal loyalty card typically for smaller retail businesses. Prior to starting FiveStars, Victor had a successful career in consulting and was poised to take a significant step to advance his career. He was being recruited by some private equity firms in San Francisco. But his plans changed as he was at SFO waiting for a flight to return to New York. He heard a message from God to give up his career in consulting to start a company-something that he and a friend had been discussing for years. The message he heard was, "Why are you being a such a coward about it?" So he called the firms where he was interviewing to tell them he was no longer interested in a position with them. Later, he quit his job to start a business with a friend that they eventually named FiveStars. In my interview with Victor, he told me that he not only runs the business by adhering to biblical principles but also sees his business as a way to glorify God. He also made an amazing statement. He said: "Even if this business fails and goes down in flames, I want to make sure we will be lights of the world."

An example of a high-profile business executive is Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware -- a $6 billion publically held company. Pat views his role as the minister of the company, his company as his church, and his employees as his congregation. Colossians 3:23 is a verse that he cites as his motivation. The verse says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters."

Those are two examples, but, of course, there are many others.

Some other common points-- is that the Christian leaders I write about are running their organizations by biblical principles; they are living out their faith 24/7 - not just going to church on Sunday and then leaving it all behind when they go to work; they are motivated by a desire to fulfill God's purpose for their lives and to make a difference in the world; and view their roles as servant leaders.

GH: So are stories mainly about Christians, or believers?

SV: Yes, all are committed believers, some of whom have struggled with their faith along the way. Some of had to overcome doubt. Some had to overcome adversity. But they all came to faith in Christ and are motivated to fulfill God's purpose for their lives.

GH: Before these interviewees became Christians, were there any commonalities in how they come to discover and eventually believed in God?

SV: What is common is that God touched all of their lives through the circumstances they were experiencing - some through success, some through adversity, and some through intellectual curiosity. Let me give you some examples:

Paul Ely worked as one of the top executives at Hewlett-Packard. He was a "can-do" type of guy. In fact, he wrote a book about his style of management called "Ready, Fire Aim." Paul was one of the key people that helped transition Hewlett-Packard from its beginnings as an instrument company to a computer company.

Paul had a successful career, but at age 76 God spoke to a dream. God told him that his success wasn't due to his skills, his "ready, fire, aim" approach, or his education. It was God in his life that provided for his success. Upon waking up, Paul said to himself, "I've got to figure out who this God is." That set him on a journey, to investigate the evidence for faith, including reading several books. Eventually he came to faith. Now in his late 70's faith is the focus of his life and he's volunteering at a non-profit helping others on their faith journeys. He came to faith through success and used the power of reason to discover God.

For others it was through struggle and adversity that God caught their attention. Jaida Im experienced debilitating migraine headaches to the point that she left her career and was on the verge of suicide. But through a healing prayer of a visiting pastor she was cured. God became real to her, and she dedicated her life to serving God. Today she runs a non-profit organization helping women rescued from human trafficking,

Intellectual curiosity and the search for truth led others like Stanford Consulting Professor, Bill Hurlbut to find God. In all cases, God caught people's attention through their circumstances, and they were open to finding Him.

GH: Earlier, you described to me how you spent some time just discovering God through reading and various other investigations. In your website, you've said that you've been a believer ever since childhood, but for about 20 years in the late 60's to mid-80's you put your faith aside to focus on career, family and sports. Can you tell us more about this shift?

SV: I grew up attending church, yet I never really read the Bible. I stopped practicing the faith--when I was in my early 20's. This was in the late 60's when much of my generation gave up on everything, including organized religion. If asked, however, I probably would have said I believed in God and likely would have called myself a Christian even though I didn't really know who God was, never read the Bible and rarely attended church. Through a series of circumstances, I came back, including the birth of my first child. I said, "There must be a God with this new creation of life." At the time, I was also beginning to experience some business success. But I had a sense that life was more than achievements and success. Inside me, I had what Blaise Pascal describes as a "God-shaped vacuum" that can only adequately be filled by God.

And then a neighbor had invited my wife to church, and I sort of followed along. I found that the biblically-based messages reflected what I saw in the world. That set me on a path of reading several books, including some by C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. I also joined a Bible study. Faith made sense to me and God touched my life. I came to faith first intellectually and then emotionally.

Soon after coming to faith, God put on my heart first the desire to live out my faith in all I did, including work, and later the desire to help others on their spiritual journeys. So I began working with a friend on a speaker series in which we invited Silicon Valley leaders to talk about their businesses and their faith. In 2004, I led a group of people to transform the Los Altos Prayer Breakfast into the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast as an outreach event. We challenge believers to invite their non-believing friends to the event as a way to engage in spiritual discussions to help their friends on their spiritual journeys.

God gave me the purpose to help others find out the joy that comes from having a relationship with Christ. That is the reason why I help lead the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, and author my blog and book Finding God in Silicon Valley.

GH: Just to clarify the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast started out as the Los Altos Prayer Breakfast, Were you one of the founders?

SV: No, I was not. The Los Altos Prayer Breakfast was started by a group of couples from Los Altos with the idea to get churches together on Good Friday to testify about the power of pray and celebrate faith. But when I was asked to take over 11 years ago, I asked my men's group and a few others to lead the effort and to change the orientation from a gathering of Christians to an outreach event. We also broadened the appeal by renaming it the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. We challenge believers to invite their non-believing friends to the event to hear people of some notoriety -- business leaders, venture capitalists, non-profit leaders and athletes to hear not only about their profession but to hear their testimonies of faith. I find such events an effective way to engage people, especially those curious about faith.

GH: You're currently are a consultant and executive mentor?

SV: Yes, I mentor business executives and consult on strategic and operational issues both formally and informally.

GH: As Silicon Valley continues to expand and develop, and more and more talent from the nation and across the world are brought in by these hi-tech companies and, including a number of the Indian population and Chinese and foreign skilled workers and many of them have different cultural and religious backgrounds. How do you think Christians can reach out to them?

SV: Coming to Silicon Valley is the dream and destination for many people around the world, especially from Asia. What I've found is that people who come to the U.S. from other countries, especially countries with small Christian populations, are open to hearing about Christian faith. They might not have had the opportunity to experience Christian faith where they grew up, but they are open when in the U.S. There is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to those folks, and I've seen that happen. God puts the desire for Him in every one of us. That's why there are so many different religions around the world. Of course, as followers of Christ we have the opportunity to open conversations about the Good News of Jesus,

We can reach out to them by simply becoming their friends, inviting them to our homes and activities. By showing our care, love and concern for people, we open the opportunities to share the gospel. But this takes time. My advice is not to rush the process. Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you. Events like the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast offer wonderful opportunities to continue conversations about faith. It is my hope that my book, Finding God in Silicon Valley will as well.

GH: Lastly, do you have any advice for our readers?

SV: The advice that I would give is to take advantage of every opportunity you have to reach out to people. God puts people in front of us every day who are not yet believers. My suggestion is to be proactive in your faith. That doesn't mean standing up and declaring your faith in your business or profession, but first to be the best employee you can be. That will draw people to you and will encourage them to ask you, "What's different about you?" Perform your job with integrity and enthusiasm. As it says in Colossians 3:23, work as if working for the Lord, not for man. Live out your faith day to day and to invest the time it takes to get to know your friends and neighbors who are not believers. When the opportunities arise, share the hope that you have in Christ.

For those of us in Silicon Valley, just think how the country and world would respond if Silicon Valley becomes not only known as a place of technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, and wealth, but a place of God. It would have a tremendous impact. I am hopeful that this could happen. I see the beginnings. As you know, with God all things are possible.

Side note: Finding God in Silicon Valley will be available by September 16. It comes as a hardcover and softcover. In addition, there is the Finding God in Silicon Valley Study Guide and Workbook that is intended for small group and Sunday School classes.