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Christianity in the Secular Marketplace

Celine Widjaja ’23 used to believe her Christian values were incompatible with corporate business culture. Throughout her studies at Wheaton College, she has found quite the opposite to be true, and is learning how Christianity can have a tangible impact on promoting healthy work environments.

Words: Eliana Chow ’21

Celine Widjaja portrait Chicago

“I wanted to bring healing to the brokenness I saw, not contribute to it.”

Born into a family of business professionals and entrepreneurs, Celine Widjaja ’23 started her college journey by running from that legacy. Although she grew up surrounded by the potential of business to enact positive change in communities, she also encountered countless stories of brokenness that runs free in many corporations. From corruption in leadership to unaddressed burnout among employees, there didn’t seem to be helpful systems in place to support people in their work.

“As I grew in my faith, I began to believe that I couldn’t pursue this field without compromising my values,” she said. “I wanted to bring healing to the brokenness I saw, not contribute to it.”

Widjaja is a self-defined “counselor” among her family and friends. With her more introverted but nonetheless welcoming demeanor, she has the gift of attentive listening, and many people from her communities back home in Indonesia would trust her with their stories, experiences, and troubles. This dynamic prompted her to look into psychology programs abroad, since therapy training is not as developed in Indonesia, her home country. Whether it was her love of American Disney culture or her admiration of books by alumni like John Piper ’68 that finally sealed the deal, Widjaja made her way halfway around the world to study at Wheaton College.

Like many students, Widjaja came to an academic and spiritual crossroad during her sophomore year. Feeling restless in her psychology major, and unsure if she wanted to go into clinical therapy, she began to wonder if perhaps studying business wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. But that idea was met with opposition from several expectations Widjaja had internalized through her experiences in Christian circles.

“I realize now that this was a false mindset, but at the time I strongly believed that to be a good Christian, I had to do something related to theology or social services,” she said. “That’s a stereotype a lot of us Christians grow up with, even if it’s unspoken. I felt like if I majored in business, it wouldn’t be right in God’s eyes.”

Hopeful for guidance, she took these concerns to Dr. Min-Dong Paul Lee, Norris A. Aldeen Professor of Business, who has conducted in-depth research on business as mission. He listened attentively, then with a gentle laugh encouraged Widjaja not to allow her call to missions as a Christian to be limited by her career. With that simple charge, Widjaja found her entire perspective on Chrisitan education turned upside down.

“There’s so much healing that needs to be done in places where Christians are not usually taught to reach out and evangelize,” she said. 

Within a few weeks, Widjaja took on a second major in business. In so doing, she stepped into a program that welcomed her with open arms and provided vast opportunities for her to engage her faith and values through a business lens. She got involved with Wheaton’s Center for Faith and Innovation (CFI), a research-focused group of faculty and students who pursue different avenues to advance the gospel and Christian values in the traditionally secular marketplace and corporate business settings.

“I started off not knowing that it was possible to enter business and live with all these values while pursuing excellence,” Widjaja said. “I think there’s a stereotype in the broader culture that assumes anything with the label of religion or Christianity isn’t legitimate. But studying business at Wheaton has shown me that building an organization on Christian values does not mean you sacrifice on offering quality services and products.”

Widjaja also acknowledges that there’s a high level of competition among young business professionals, especially with many students from schools all across the country vying for prestigious opportunities at Big Four finance companies or huge tech giants. When she first picked up the business major, she felt she needed to play the same game. But through conversations with professors like Dr. Lee and her internship connections in CFI, Widjaja is learning how to take the time to evaluate her unique interests and how God might be calling her to use them.

“This journey has humbled me so much,” she said. “I’m such a big planner and often think I need to hold a tight rein on my life in order to succeed. But I shouldn’t run so fast after something that might not be sustainable or a good fit for me. Instead, I have to trust God with the little things, slow down, grow deep, and try not to grow up too fast. As the Bible verse says, when I am weak, then I am strong.”