Throwback: Rwanda- and purpose-bound

This is part of a series called “Throwback” – where I revive journal entries and blog posts written/posted on this very day, years ago.

Written on May 23rd, 2013 (four years ago), after I had asked my CEO Dan Rowe for a temporary leave to prepare for and serve on a missionary trip in the country of Rwanda – where a team of us spent time with the poor and helped them build sustainable preschools that hopefully gave them life-changing power.  


I had a hope that reset blog would be done just in time for my mission trip to Africa; and thanks to making time and an amazing web site designer, it met the deadline.

I am very entrepreneurial and hard-working by nature; and I used to subscribe to the philosophies of: “I work 80 hours a week so that I can avoid working 40 hours;” “I can sleep all I want when I’m dead;” “Work now so that you can enjoy life later;” and a host of other Kool-Aid flavors I was drinking and getting unhealthy sugar-highs from.

There are a series of events that happened in my life that caused me to change all that – and I’ll save that for future blog posts – but learning the hard way, finding my way back to God, being introduced to Tim Ferriss and the 4-Hour Workweek philosophy, Zen Habits, and other signs and nudges…compelled me to make some major, major changes.

For the focus of this blog post, I’ll mention the major one: I changed employers.

Whereas I used to work for Fransmart full-time as their Senior Director – I am now working full-time for God and serving people. Fransmart gives me work I enjoy, and I do quite successfully at it – but my main purpose is to do eternity-based work that I was created to do, and money does not last.

What lasts are God, His Word, and people. That’s a compensation that no firm on earth can match; a retirement that lasts forever; work that is recession proof; and work that is truly meaningful.

It was scary and I am taking a huge risk and leap of faith…but I have confidence that God will provide. And so far, because of the move to leave my career, Fransmart generously offered to keep me on payroll as an advisor. I’ve learned that I don’t need too much money to be happy (in fact, it may be a hindrance, actually); I am no longer stressed by and make any money-based decisions (and those type of decisions are always poorly-played out); and I am thoroughly enjoying my new lifestyle.

One of my biggest life decisions was to go on a mission trip to Rwanda to build preschools for the materially poor children there. It’s an initiative under The PEACE Plan via Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California – one of the biggest churches in America. The idea that I could be used by God to bring people closer to Him; lift the materially poor out of poverty and its horrible effects (sex/labor trafficking, drugs, violence, gangs, etc.); help people become self-sustainable; and in the meantime work on my own brokenness, because I have issues, too…I couldn’t think of a better use of my time, than time spent with and for Him.


It’s crazy – I don’t know anything about construction, school planning, caring for children, teaching, etc. but I love children and knew that God would fill in the gaps and details.

And fill in, He did – God has blessed this initiative above and beyond, and I haven’t even touched down in Kigali, yet:

  1. For me, He used my love and knowledge of social media, business, and marketing to build awareness and shared excitement for this and future trips. I believe He’s been working on me in preparation for this – and spiritual maturity takes time.
  2. Financially, the initiative has gotten so much monetary support – that not only are the intended project needs met, there are enough funds to build 1 more school than initially planned (I am out there to follow-up on 3 schools already up and running, and identify sites for 3 more). I am so humbled by God’s people and their like-heartedness, and the power of prayer.
  3. And for my team – teachers, child psychologists, and people who have been to Rwanda have joined my team and will be working alongside me.

Whoa. Talk about getting hooked up.

I am currently typing this blog post from my plane flight from New York City to Brussels, before making the final connection from there to Kigali, Rwanda. I’m not sure how the Internet access will be there; nor will I know if I’ll even have time to write – as I might be out all day working – but I am honored to be doing this mission and sharing it with you.

You can keep your job; but reset your answer when asked who you are truly working for.

Devotional: The unlikely army

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”


“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” (Joel 3:9-10)

I’ve never read this passage before, but really like it. Thank you, Marketplace Leaders devotional. God speaks through you guys =)

Serving God’s kingdom doesn’t just take place on the mission field for two weeks in another country; or only on Sundays during church service. It doesn’t just take place on your spare time or your spare change.

It happens where you spend most of your day – in the workplace.

Plowshares and pruning hooks are what farmers use to do their work; and while those tools could stay ordinary, functional, and tangible – God can transform them into extraordinary weapons that defeat mediocrity, earthly provision and possession, and purposelessness.

They can be used to fight unseen forces, acquire treasure that last forever into eternity, inspire others, and win others for Christ.

This isn’t an isolated event, either. I’m reminded in other parts of the Bible that God used Moses’ shepherding staff to exhibit God’s power when leading the Israelites out of captivity. Or David’s sling – which was used to ward off animals that threatened his flock – that was used to defeat the Philistines and save his nation. There are plenty more examples.

God works where you work. What a coincidence #sarcasm

What does that look like in my world of restaurant, entrepreneurship, advisory, and nonprofit work?

For me – It’s conducting business with full integrity; loving people and using money and NOT the other way around; tithing at least 10% of the income I receive back to the Lord; writing on my blog and posting on my social media platforms; speaking up against business injustices – sexual harassment, embezzlement, unethical practices, etc; inspiring others and speaking God into their lives when mentoring; and understanding that while I may be the president or partner or senior director at the various companies I work at – God is the true Chairman of the Board, CEO, 100% shareholder, employer, and advisor…and to work accordingly.

Hope this fuels your work day with renewed sense of purpose and power.

Devotional: Free but still acting like a slave

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”


“So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” (Josh. 24:13)

This Bible references the story of the Israelites escaping bondage in Egypt and entering the freedom of The Promised Land; where they no longer were owned by taskmasters who forced them to slave away all day and night, but were in a place of peace, provision, choice, and life.

“The Promised Land” – as described in Marketplace Leaders – is the place where we receive all God intended for us to receive. Our purpose, grace, and blessings are given freely here for those who believe and trust Him.

What blows my mind – and I’m guilty of this too, a lot – is that while most of us have this gift of being free…our mind, habits, and actions still reflect that of being confined in Egypt.

For us workaholics, we still believe that provision is only given AFTER we’ve worked hard, and taking time to enjoy the life in front of us can be perceived as laziness.

Our society glorifies “grinding” and a work ethic that is unsustainable and erodes our health and relationships.

I’m trying to get used to this idea that it’s not blood, sweat, and tears that produce provision, but it’s obedience. It’s not my own agenda that’s filled with ignorance, selfishness, and ago – but His will.

What a concept; and one I aspire to experience. I want work less and produce more. I want to only be focused on what matters, and detox the rest. I want to enjoy my family, my health, and serve others. I want to work smarter and not harder.

“Success” in YOUR dictionary – not Webster’s

Philosopher Alain de Botton said this in a past TED Talk that made me reflect:

“One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

This is so incredibly true. OMG.

Success to me used to mean that I had nice things, had money in the bank, and owned companies. They were definitions formulated by:

* All the business books I read (unnoticed brainwashing is so scary!). Nothing wrong with knowledge – and obtaining it is encouraged and necessary; but like authority, money, or most other vehicles – I used it for the wrong reasons.
* My immature/undeveloped/limited mind and ego – which is always the enemy (right, Ryan Holiday?). And
* Lack of experience. I am a stubborn person who needs to learn the hard way. And divorce, re-marriage, having kids, health issues, strained relationships, and the absence of God in my life are what it took to change things.

The last sentence in Alain’s quote above hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been fortunate to experience my Version 1.0 of success – and have been let down. It left me disappointed, underwhelmed, and asking WTH.

So…what’s my Version 2.0 look like? What is the definition of success that truly belongs to Paul Thien Tran?

It means that I’m in great health. I get to play with my kids, run with my dog, am building muscle, am enjoying food in moderation, and I’m in the same shape or better than I was when my metabolism was doing all of the work.

It means that I am serving others in a Godly way, and changing their lives – whether through my life experiences, things I care about deeply, or pure love. The last two mean that there is no experience necessary to care about people – so there are no excuses.

It means that I spend more time reading, writing, and traveling – my absolute favorite things to do, and something I aspire to do all day.

It means that I am always inspired, curious, taking risks on scary and/or “hell yes” ideas, and growing.

It means that I know myself.

It means that God is involved in the beginning and throughout every little thing I do; that I’ve eliminated my ego, my agenda, my own power, my own limitations – and have opted into His plans, His compassion, His operating manual (the Bible), His infinite power, His love, and His unlimited capabilities.

It means that I am enabling my family to achieve all of the above for themselves.

What’s success look like to you, (insert name here?). Are you making sure that success belongs to you and no one else’s?