From software engineer to church planter

By Ali Roohi on August 31, 2017

A friend and mentor of mine uses a great phrase to describe the people of Silicon Valley as “orphans and dreamers.”

Many of us are orphans in that we have left our country and/or family to come to Silicon Valley. Forty percent of the people here are from another country. This place isn’t our home, which is why we are metaphorical orphans.

We become relational orphans for a reason — we come here because there’s so much opportunity and money.

And yet another thing that makes us unique is that we’re also dreamers. The dream is so huge it calls us to abandon it all and start anew here. This is what makes many people of Silicon Valley unique from the rest of the world: people here are unusually bold, passionate and driven. We’re orphans and dreamers.

I’m no different. My parents came here as immigrants from Iran in the late 1970’s and even though I was born and raised in Silicon Valley, I always felt like an outsider — not fully American yet not fully Iranian; always something in between.

If you ask anyone with “strict” immigrant parents, they’d understand it was only natural that I became a software engineer because I was told to, rather than allowed to follow my heart. My dream wasn’t to make money. My dream wasn’t a house or a nice car — that was my parents’ dream for me. It was never my passion.

But like every child with strict immigrant parents, I obeyed and became a software engineer, making tons of money, though my heart and passion were never there. I remember in the summer of 2010 looking at my new home and new car and wondering, “Is this all there is? Is this why I work 10-12-hour days ... for this?” And wondering if all the effort was really worth it.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, everything in my heart began to change five years prior when I left my Muslim faith and became a Christian. I know in this valley that sounds rather foolish, but I’m not ashamed to say I believe in God and He’s totally changed my life for the better. And as I began to read the Bible and learn about God and learn what He cares about, that began to change me. From the inside out.

See, the American Dream is really about how big your car is, how big your home is, how big your bank account is — while God is totally different. God is other-focused. God has a big heart for others. Not just those who know Him but especially those who don’t.

When you spend time with anyone you really love, their presence in your life shapes you. They rub off on you because you admire them and love them. That’s the same with God. The more time I spent with God, in His Word, the more I got to know Him, the more His dreams became my dreams.

And this is God’s dream: for everyone He created to be in relationship with Him.

But what does that mean? It sounds so vague, right? Well, It means helping people who don’t know God to meet Him; creating environments where God isn’t just talked about but actually experienced.

This is why I’m starting a new church!

After nearly two years of planning and praying with my wife and team, I finally stepped down as a software engineer to pursue God’s dream, right here in Silicon Valley. Leaving the money isn’t fun, but pursuing a vision bigger than the American Dream is the most exciting thing this world can offer.

Think about this: God took a Muslim-turned-Christian-turned-church-starter just so people who are far from Him could know how much He loves them.

This isn’t your typical church. We are creating worship experiences that both unchurched and believers would love to attend.

I’m still an orphan and a dreamer, I’m just dreaming different dreams!

(Roohi is starting Center Set Church in San Jose, which will launch Sept. 24.)

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.