Jaeson Ma is fulfilling what God has called him to do, as a leader in both the arts and entertainment industry and Christian ministry. He’s put out records, wrote a book, founded/co-founded media companies East West Artists and 88rising, and traveled around the world preaching the gospel, especially in Asia. It’s been a one of a kind journey for Jaeson, and we are privileged to share it with you.
What propelled you to start a career in music and to intertwine that with mission?
My first job out of high school was with MC Hammer. It’s been 20 years now, but he’s been my mentor since. I started doing venture capital with him because in the Silicon Valley in the area of media and entertainment. He invested in the Asian American independent film called Better Luck Tomorrow which was directed by Justin Lin, who has since directed Fast and Furious 3, 4, 5, and 6 and recently Star Trek: Beyond.
Better Luck Tomorrow was his first film, and Justin was telling MC Hammer that he wanted to make this Asian American film that wasn’t about typical stereotypical Asians like the gangsters, geishas, nerds, or goonies. A few months later, stars aligned and Hammer invested in Justin’s work. A year later, I looked up Justin Lin online and I saw him being officially selected for the Sundance Film Festival 2002, Roger Ebert giving him two thumbs up, and the film eventually getting picked up by MTV. I was like, “Wow, Hammer, this is the guy we invested in,” and that was what sparked it off for me, seeing this film so progressive and high quality at that time 20 years ago. I saw how Asians could make it on the silver screen and that’s what I wanted to give my life to: I wanted to go represent Asians and Asian culture to the world.
I had Hollywood in one hand and missions in the other, and I remember asking Hammer, “So what should I do?” and Hammer said, “Jaeson, you know Hollywood is always gonna be there, but if you go in with the spiritual state that you’re in right now, it will eat you up and you won’t come out alive. If I were you, I would just go to Bible college and lay a strong spiritual foundation to do God’s works, work through character, serve God’s people, and serve the poor, and if God sends you back into media and entertainment, hopefully you’ll be ready at that time.” I took his advice and I ended up getting my Masters in Global Leadership and Intercultural Studies and Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, then becoming a missionary starting student churches around the world in 40 countries over the next 5 years. It was awesome. I was full time in my mission work, preaching and holding revivals and church planting trainings around the world.
In 2007, I felt, through a series of confirmations and signs, that it was time for me to get back into media and entertainment, and that’s when I had met a manager who was managing a bunch of Asian rappers out of LA at the time. One of the groups was Far East Movement and a rapper named Jin, now MC Jin. We ran that company for gosh, I don’t even know now, for 4 or 5 years, and it’s kind of crazy how it all happened too. I basically baptized this manager, Kevin from Far East, and Jin in a bathtub in downtown LA, and at that time they weren’t doing well, but you know, God has a plan.
Kev from Far East was assigned to produce my album, and he asked me, “Your rap is okay, it’s not great, you’re not Jay-Z, you’re not Eminem, what do you wanna do?”
And I said, “I don’t know, I just wanna do me.”
“What you pray, what you preach is pretty powerful, you ever thought about just like praying or preaching over the music?” and he asked, “Do you have any sermons on YouTube?”
“Yeah I got a ton of them.”
“Why don’t you play one of your sermons over that beat and we’ll see what happens.”
I played one of my sermons over this track and then it landed over this crazy cadence and he freaked out and was like “You’re like Joel Osteen and Eminem smashed into one person! Yo we gotta get you into studio!”
We got to the studio, and he was like “Just talk, just preach over the beat,” and I said, “You serious?” It was like freestyle spoken word, I preached over the beat, one take, didn’t write any lyrics, it was just off the top.
Kev said, “Oh this is crazy, we gotta make this song more pop, friendlier, and we gotta get a pop singer to sing the hook to make it more like a radio pop track to make it more mainstream.”
“Who you gonna get?”
“I got this guy, he’s a friend, and he needs the money. He sounds like Michael Jackson and he can do it for a good deal, and his name is Bruno Mars”
“Who’s Bruno Mars?”
“Check out his Myspace”
I checked him out and was like, “Yeah, this guy sounds like Michael Jackson, how much?”
“1500 bucks for 4 songs. We’ll write and record for you”
I wrote Bruno Mars a check for 1500 bucks. He came in the next weekend, played 4 tracks for me, and that was my first song, Love. I put that out there and got a million hits really fast. 6 months later, Far East Movement got signed to Interscope Records, Like A G6 hit number 1 on the Billboard charts, and 6 months after that, Bruno got signed to Warner Atlantic and it was crazy, because 2 Asian American artists were number 1 on the Billboard charts in 2010! It was crazy, we rode that wave for the next few years.
I took a break around 2012 because my mom ended up coming down with fighting cancer. I took a year off just to take care of my mom. She got miraculously healed by the grace of God, it’s been 5 years now and she’s cancer-free. I started my media company in 2013 and we started representing talent from Asia to Hollywood and from Hollywood to Asia. We also started producing films and TV and investing into more media assets since 2013.
What a journey! With all the ups and downs, what was the biggest fear you had to deal with starting out in music as well as representing your faith in rap culture and eventually in media?
I think the biggest fear was always the fear of failure and the fear of not living up to everyone’s expectations. Those were always my greatest fears, letting people down and them not seeing me as perfect and holy of a leader as they expected. That was always a fear I had especially in ministry because there was so much pressure being a minister and being a teacher of the Word. That’s why it says in the Scriptures (James 3:1) that not many of you should want or make an aim to be a teacher, because you’ll be held to a different standard. I’m not perfect, I’ve got a lot of inner demons, I got a lot of weaknesses, but everyone wants to see this perfect person.
Through time and falling down and making mistakes and learning from them, you realize that fear is not much to fear about when you’re secure in your relationship with God and you realize you’re not created to please people, you’re created to please God.
So how did you learn to get back up on your feet? You mentioned falling down and getting back up again, how did you deal with that?
When you do go through hard times, you end up realizing who your real friends are. When you’re able to find friends at your lowest point, you realize those are your true brothers and sisters. In life you learn that you have ups and downs, and you find the ones that have your back and love you no matter what. Those are the ones you overcome with, the ones that will really help define who you are by reminding you of who you are, that you’re not what you do, you are who you are in Christ. And that’s how I got through multiple times of failures just having that community of brothers and sisters in Christ that love you not because of how great you are or how perfect you are, or how many times you fail or succeed, but because it’s unconditional. When you have that, you’re able to weather the storm.
This is a slightly more practical question, but are there any practical steps you take when you go through the low days?
It’s really just reminding yourself of who you are, going back to God, going back to reading God’s Word, and being reminded of what God’s Word has to say about promises that tells you who you are and not what the world says. And then it’s surrounding yourself with good people. You don’t need a lot, Jesus only had 12, and out of the 12 he really had some of his closest friends. Even when those abandoned him, he went back to the Father.
So at the end of the day, it’s your relationship with the Father God and relationships with your family and friends who truly care for you, finding that support and strength, but it being anchored in God’s truth.
Let’s talk about your spiritual walk with God. How does your time with God look like in terms of reading the Bible or praying or doing other spiritual disciplines?
It’s not too different from most spiritual disciplines, but how I normally start my day is meditating on Scripture and then really spending time waiting on God, just waiting in silence and prayer and solitude. I normally try to spend at least, hopefully, 15 minutes, and on a good day, an hour, just being quiet and waiting on the Lord. It’s practicing God’s presence, listening to His voice and what He has to say to me today, and just meditating on Scripture. I either meditate on Scripture or listen to Scripture, read it through and really let it sink in, then let the Holy Spirit illuminate what He wants to say to me through His Word, but normally I just like to be quiet with God and enjoy His presence.
Speaking of carving out time to spend time with God, how do you manage your time and steward each day well?
You just have to have discipline. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You have to plan for every day, every week, every month, and every year. Every week I take a day off to have a Sabbath. It’s a day to rest, reflect, and remind myself of God’s work and God’s blessings in my life and be thankful. Then for once a month, I try to get away for a day or a weekend to reflect a little more, a little deeper. Once a year I take a week off somewhere and just recharge, whether that’s by myself or with family, to be in a mode of reflection and restoration for getting refreshed and re-energized and thinking for the next year.
How do you as a busy person keep the Sabbath? I’m sure you get hit with calls and emails every day.
It’s difficult now that we’re in the social media age, you just gotta turn off your phone.
Just turn it off or don’t respond. Recognize that you gotta set boundaries right. If someone needs you urgently, you have to just prioritize and ask yourself, is it something I must attend to or is this something that can wait? I normally tell people that it’s the weekend, and I’ll get to it on Monday. You have to be firm in keeping your day of rest.
With you being in the Hollywood industry and the media industry, how do you stay grounded and down-to-earth throughout your successes?
Accountability. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had each other, and Daniel too. You can’t do it alone. Even Joseph later had his brothers, and the 12 disciples had one another. Jesus never sent anyone out ever alone, he always sent them out 2 by 2, it’s about having brothers in Christ that I confide in and pray with regularly, meet with regularly, talk about the struggles and the challenges, then ask for prayer and also give prayer to others.
I have a men’s prayer group that I’ve been doing for 5 years in Hollywood and I meet with 2 other guys in the industry as well and meet for breakfast once a month. We pray and talk about what we go through and support one another. Within my own team, I have staff that are believers, we consistently remind ourselves why we’re doing this and who we’re doing this for and keep each other in check. And then I have my intercessors, my prayer team that prays for me when I send prayer requests and or share what’s going on and get support. At the end of the day, it’s accountability in any industry whether its Hollywood, the government, business, or sports.
It’s pretty cool that you have your own intercessory team. Would you mind sharing a little about that?
It’s pretty simple. My team is just people that I know who know me and love me and have a burden to pray for me, with me. They are friends that I’ve gathered through over 20 years of walking with Christ that I know have the gift of prayer and intercession, can hear from God and feel a burden and a calling to pray for me and my calling the same way I pray for others that I feel a burden and a calling to pray for. As the Scriptures in Ephesians 6:18 says,
“praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (ESV version)
So yeah, they’re people that I put into a group chat, and every time when something’s going on, I just text the group and tell them what’s going on and ask them to pray for me.
What would you say are one or two books that changed the way you work?
This book called After God’s Own Heart by Mike Bickle really gave me the revelation that God is an intimate loving Father and that how we see God, how God sees us, how we believe God sees us, and how we see God really changes our relationship and our intimacy with the Father as well as Jesus the bridegroom. For me, it was always the understanding of, “Oh God is an angry God” or “He’s a sad and disappointed God” versus “God’s actually really glad really happy, and He’s consistently and continually always wanting to be close to me and be with me no matter what state I’m in, whether I’m a sinner in sanctification, that He doesn’t see my wrong, He doesn’t see my shame and my sin.” He sees my heart, and that’s what David was, a man after God’s own heart not because he was perfect, but because he understood God loved him in his weakness and he could approach God and go back to God’s heart no matter how many times he fell.
Another book was Anointed for Business by Ed Silvoso. It changed my paradigm of work in that work was not this secular separate job, but that our work is holy, our calling, and our mission. Being in media and entertainment is my calling, my purpose, and my ministry. And it’s doing it from a place of kingdom perspective versus a worldly or secular perspective, seeing that everything and whatever you do is all for the glory of God.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re fighting against the tide, being a Christian in the media industry?
Jesus calls us to be salt and light, and that means that whatever industry and whatever environment we’re in, you’re called to shine.
Jesus says don’t put your light under a basket, put your light in your city on a hill so that all men may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven. It’s not about what we say as believers but about what we do, in fact it says “see your good works not your good words”. A lot of times Christians get caught up in theology and caught up in the rhetoric of it all when Jesus was all about demonstration. When you think of church, you think of preaching versus when you think of Jesus, He is not only teaching and preaching but also doing good, destroying the works of the devil, healing the sick, raising the dead, and performing signs, wonders, and miracles.
We’re called to do such great works whether it’s in science, music, or sports- whatever you do, do it with all your heart, be good at it, and do it with character and integrity. And when you do what God created you to do, and you do your best at it, the world will recognize it and testify to God’s goodness and God’s good works through you. It’s not about being counter-cultural, it’s about being called to do what God’s called you to do, being obedient, and when you do that, as long as it’s about doing what you are purposed to do and what you are destined to do, you make no apologies for it.
Well said. Last question, do you have a gift or purchase below $100 that changed your life?
Someone recently bought me these AirPods, but they’re over $100 though. These Apple AirPods are like wireless earphones, and they’re awesome! They’re great, and when I need to talk it’s clear.These are great!
We would like to appreciate Jaeson Ma for availing himself and his time to contribute to our project.
This is a collaborative project between Ray Chung and Li Yen Chong.
Li Yen Chong is a recent international business undergraduate from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She currently works in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. You can find her @ Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.