The Chinese American tennis star Michael Chang was made into a legend on the tennis court after gaining victory over Stefan Edberg to capture the title of French Open champion in 1989 at the age of 17, thus becoming the youngest man ever to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Despite his great achivement and success, Chang has humbled and dedicated himself to the work of God after his retirement in 2003.
The Gospel Post Hong Kong had a chance to interview Michael Chang, who generally spoke of the relationship between faith and sportsmanship.
C: Michael Chang
R: This time, Mr Chang comes to Hong Kong and then you will go to Shanghai. Is this trip mainly for sharing the Gospel with the young generations?
C: I think for me, I have a heart for young people so it doesn’t matter where I go, I think that they are the future generations of the world, so if you have an opportunity to touch their lives, there is no telling what they can do.
R: In your over 10 years of professional sportsmanship, faith has been a source of strength for you, especially when you face many powerful competitors on the tennis court. But what is the greatest strength that your Christian faith has provided for your career?
C: I think the biggest thing is to know that God is the one who is in ultimate control.
R: So you mean that it is because of the trust in God, so when you complete with others, you can keep your heart in peace?
C: I think that that is definitely part of it, I think God calls us to certainly do our part, it’s still important for me to go and to work hard and to put forth the effort that’s required in the preparation. I think our part is definitely important. I think when you go out and you give your 100 percent, you lead the winning and losing but really it’s in God’s hands.
R: When you play tennis you will have to face both victory and losing. Very often when we win, we will become arrogant and tend to give the glory for ourselves; but when we lose, we will blame God and others, or even commit the sin of jealousy. I would like to ask if you have come across this and how can you overcome the problem with the teaching of the Lord?
C: I think there’s a fine-line. There is a certain amount of pride that you take in what you do. But I think it’s important that when you win you’re gracious, and that you’re humble. But then when you lose, you handle that well too, I think that you can see somebody whose the true self not necessarily in the winning but more in the losing.
You know the flip side is that losing is not always a bad thing, the reason I say that is because losing often humbles you. It helps you to persevere and makes you work harder and it often helps you to be able to see the areas that you need to improve upon on. So if you look at losing in that regard, then you become a better player because of it, it’s one of the reasons why I always take notes on all the matches that I play.
If I happen to lose to somebody, I take down notes, I jot down what works, what didn’t work, why did I lose, what was his strength, so that when I go and I play that person again, I don’t play him in the exact same way, I never play the exact same person the same way if I’ve lost. You know it’s important to change strategy to adapt, and that’s the way you learn and you get better.
R: Since your retirement in 2003, you have started the evangelistic ministry for young people- Chang Family Foundation, is this foundation mainly focusing on Chinese young people?
C: No, actually not. It’s just basically ministry and outreach related period. It’s not particularly directed toward any one culture, although we have closer ties probably to Chinese churches than to any other ethnicity.
R: But will it especially focus on Chinese countries such as Hong Kong, China and Taiwan so as to bring the gospel to them? Also, the case of China is very special, how to introduce the Christian faith to young people in Mainland China?
C: I think our biggest concern and the immediate future is looking into probably China, because of the Olympic Games in 2008. We would like to be able to see something evolve out of that. We would love to be able to be part of that and be able to help some of the Chinese tennis players in preparation for 2008. That’s our immediate hope. Certainly things down the line will continue to expand and will continue to go as God leads.
R: Sports is a universal culture. Do you think it is good to make use of this universal culture to spread the gospel of all nations?
C: I think sports is a great channel for communicating, for fellowship, for partnerships, it’s always been that way. Sports is always really been about bringing people together.
R: Do you have any long-term goal for evangelism?
C: Long-term. I don’t think anything really change in the long-term. Other then, the long-term goal is to continue to, as far as ministry goes, is to go and make disciples of all nations.
R: In these two years of serving the ministry, what do you think you are lacking of? And how you can overcome these insufficiencies?
C: I think there are many areas that I certainly can improve upon, that’s part of the reasons why I am going to Talbot is to learn and to continue to grow. I certainly, as far as knowledge of the word and knowing his word, I can certainly grow a great deal in that regard. I still have a lot to learn in my own faith, and in my own walk.
R: Can you please give an example?
C: I think one of the things that really opened my eyes at the very beginning part is probably one of my first classes at Talbot. I took a hermeneutics class, which is a scripture interpretation class.
Some of the verses that I had thought I knew quite well when growing up because I had read them many times. you know in my hermeneutics class I was actually able to learn that what I thought those verses meant actually weren’t what they meant at all. So it was taken out of context.
So if I am in a position where I am teaching people about the word of God, but I myself am not understanding it to the degree that God wants me to, then I’m not being a very good ambassador of what God is trying to convey.
R: How does your over 10 years of professional sportsmanship benefit your evangelistic ministry nowadays?
C: I think as far as tennis goes, I think having played on tour for quite some time, that’s a platform that the Lord has given me because tennis is a sport that you play worldwide, it’s covered worldwide on TV, newspaper, magazines, and people come to watch. It’s a platform that the Lord has given me. I’ve tried to use that platform to be able to help people to realize that, yeah you know it’s good to hit a good forehand and back handle, but when you touch a person’s life, particularly for Christ it stays with them, not only for this life but through eternity. People will forget great shots, but people won’t forget when you impact their life.
R: What is your reflection for these two years of serving in ministry?
C: I think in any benefit of sharing the gospel is to be able to see people free, is to be able to see people have joy in their hearts and to be able to see lives changed. I mean that is the biggest reward, at least that I see, you know you want people to have that joy in their heart, you want people to experience that love in their life. that in itself is a joy to be able to see. The Bible says that the angels rejoice in Heaven when one person comes to love the Lord in that way.
R: Gospel Herald is a global Chinese Christian newspaper, do you have any words of encouragement to the world’s Chinese Christians?
C: I have been told that China is one of the last places in the world that really needs to be hit hard with the Gospel. I think it’s been wonderful to be able to see how the Lord has been working in and through China. I think that in many ways, sometimes we do see the fruit of our effort, but sometimes we won’t see the fruit of our effort. and Sometimes we won’t be able to see that fruit until we get to heaven, but I think it’s important for believers everywhere to know that our efforts in sharing the Gospel are never done in vain. God calls us to press on toward the goal to which Christ has called us and that is something that I hope that they would never lose heart.
[Editor’s Note: Emily Wong and Chris Chan reported from Hong Kong for this interview. Questions were asked in Mandarin and answered by Michael Chang in English. Jenny Lee and Eunice Or from San Francisco translated and edited the text.]