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Guest Interviews

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Michael Chang

2202 2020-04-15

Michael Chang (MC) is a former professional tennis player. Michael turned pro at 15 years of age, and set numerous youngest player records. In 1989, he was the youngest winner of the French Open. Today, Michael is retired and stays busy attending Talbot School of Theology, speaking to various groups including businesses, churches and conferences, as well as maintaining The Chang Family Foundation and the Christian Sports League. Robert A. Schuller (RAS) interviews Michael.

RAS: It is my pleasure to welcome our guest, pro tennis champion Michael Chang. Turning pro at just 15 years of age, Michael Chang set numerous youngest player records. In 1987, he was the youngest player to win a main draw match at the US Open, the youngest to reach a tour semi final, and in 1989, the youngest French Open grand slam champion. He then became the youngest to rank in the top five. Michael ended an American draught at the French Open when he became the first American male to win the tournament since 1955.

In addition to being a tennis champion, Michael is a committed Christian who cares that families know about Jesus Christ. In 1999, Michael started the Chang Family Foundation to focus on sporting events in the local communities that would spread the gospel.

Please welcome to the Crystal Cathedral, Michael Chang. Michael, God loves you and so do we. So you had to start playing tennis when you were just a little guy.

MC: Yes, I was six or seven years old.

RAS: How did you get started?

MC: My mom was actually the first one to start playing. My dad picked it up after that. My dad would often play in company tournaments on the weekends and my brother Carl and I would go and watch him play. After a little while, my mom said the kids are getting older now and they have too much energy, so we need to expend some of that energy. Why not introduce them to the sport of tennis. So that’s how we were able to start.

RAS: Did you have lessons from the very beginning?

MC: We come from a middle class income family. My dad is very studious and in many ways would certainly try to learn a lot from whatever he could read. Growing up, we actually didn’t have enough money for both Carl and I to take lessons, and certainly we couldn’t take lessons every week. Often times what would happen is my brother would take the lesson, and my dad and I would sit on the sideline, and my dad would jot down all of the notes and all the things that the coach was teaching Carl. So my dad would basically go back and reiterate those same principles, those same lessons over the next few weeks and then there would be another lesson.

RAS: So you would really get the maximum out of that lesson.

MC: Very much so.

RAS: What’s it like being 15-years-old and participating in these major tournaments?

MC: To be honest with you, it was pretty exciting. I think to have the opportunity to travel around the world at such a young age, to go to different places, meet different people, experience different cultures was certainly very, very exciting. And I was fortunate to have my mom travel with me for the first four years of my career, because my parents didn’t feel comfortable about a 15/16-year-old traveling around the world by himself. So it was great to be able to learn the ropes with her and to be able to experience a lot of things with her.

RAS: I can only imagine! So here you are winning the French Open. Would you say that’s the highlight of your career?

MC: I think as far as accomplishments, I would say so. I think the highlight of my career certainly was, I think, coming to know the Lord my rookie year.

RAS: Wow.

MC: I really am very thankful for that because to come to the Lord my first year, before all the fame, before all the money, before the French Open and all the other titles was very crucial because it gave me a great foundation to build upon. For me, I think it was very, very important. I believe in today’s day and age of professional sports, it’s very, very easy to get off the right track. There are certain temptations that this lifestyle throws at you wherever you go and whatever you do, so for me to come to know the Lord at such a young part of my career helped me to realize that tennis is tennis, yes, but tennis is also an opportunity to touch lives and to touch hearts.

RAS: Absolutely.

MC: And you know people will forget great shots, they will forget great victories, but when you touch a person’s life, particularly for Christ that stays with them throughout this lifetime and even beyond that.

RAS: Tell me about your spiritual journey. Where does the spiritual journey for your family begin?

MC: It actually started in China. My dad was born in Cantone China and my great grandma was stricken with stomach cancer. In fact she was gravely ill. The doctors had given her all the different kinds of medications and treatments that were available at that time, and finally they said I’m sorry but there’s nothing else that we can do for you. So my great grandma was there pretty much just waiting to pass on.

Well at that time, my family believed very strongly in Buddhism. One day, a missionary lady came and she said, ‘I know your situation is very bleak, but is it okay if I come and I pray with you and is it okay if I come and share the gospel with you?’ So my great grandma says, ‘sure, what do I have to lose?’

So this missionary shared the gospel with my great grandma and she prayed for her with my family there and then she left. Well for some reason after that, my great grandma started to get better and every day she was a little better. She started to get stronger and stronger and the doctor’s had no idea why. They couldn’t explain it. They had stopped giving her treatment and had stopped giving her medication.

Her cancer ended up going into remission and she lived for another 25 years. My whole family converted from Buddhism to Christianity and today that has been passed on from generation to generation. We continue to see God do miracles in and through our family throughout the years. It’s been such an incredible journey and continues to be.

RAS: How did you personally discover Jesus Christ? It would have been when you were 15, correct?

MC: Yes, I was 15-years-old. My family would often go visit my grandparents in Thousand Oaks and on one particular Sunday, I happened to be sitting in the sanctuary and listening to an elderly lady give her testimony. I found her to be very intriguing and very funny, and to this day, I still remember exactly what she talked about. That’s how much what she said touched my heart.

Well my grandparents had given me a student Bible about a year before and they had said, ‘we’d like you to read this’ and I said okay, I’ll read this, and I ended up just put it up on my bookshelf. That evening, after listening to her talk, I was lying in my bed and I was thinking about some of things that she had said. I saw my student Bible up there and I said to myself, why don’t you take that down and take a look at it.

So when you’re 15-years-old, you go to the back of the Bible and you look up things that would interest a 15-year-old. So I don’t what you guys looked up, but I believe a 15-year-old looks up love. Why is it that that girl doesn’t love me? You’re trying to understand love and friendship, so I would look up the verses that pertained to the things that were important to me at the time. And I thought to myself, you know what the Bible has to say about all of these things is very true, is very right, and is very holy. And from there I started to read about Jesus’ life. Every night I made it a habit to look up something new. And soon I started seeing things happening in my own life that I knew were not by coincidence, but from the Lord. And from there my faith just grew.

RAS: Now you’ve started a foundation. Tell us about it.

MC: Our Chang Family Foundation does a lot of local and international programs and events. Right now our focus is using sports as a means for outreach. So in Seattle, where I used to live, we’ve pulled together about 12 to 15 different churches in and around the Seattle area and we use sports such as basketball and volleyball as a means for outreach. Maybe for people who love to play basketball or volleyball but who maybe don’t go to church, this is an opportunity for them to learn about the gospel and to be in an environment where there’s fellowship. Certainly it’s a relational type of evangelism. In fact we’ve also started the program here in Orange County and we have some games this afternoon. It’s a great way to reach out to the community and see a lot of lives changed.

RAS: Do you think your faith had any impact on your tennis matches?

MC: Absolutely. I grew up in San Diego where there were not a whole lot of Asian’s in school. And sometimes I would wonder ‘Why am I an Asian?’ ‘Why is it that I’m Chinese?’ When I’d be out on tour, I’d wonder why is it that I’m only 5’ 9” and most of my opponents are 6’ 2”. The Lord must have put me in the wrong sport.

But I think it was evident to me during the French Open in ’89 that God has a purpose and He can take whatever talents you have to be used for His glory to make an impact in this world.

I also tell people that the French Open in ’89 was a tournament that the Lord wanted me to win, and the reason I say that is because if you remember June of 1989, the situation in Tieneman Square was going on. In fact the day of the crackdown was the middle Sunday of the French Open. So it was a very down time for Chinese people around the world. When my mom and I were in Paris, if we weren’t out there playing a match or practicing, we were glued to CNN watching all of the events unfold in Beijing.

And you know the last four matches I played in the tournament were really played on inspiration. A lot of those matches, including my match with Lendl, are matches that I should not have won, but the Lord pulled me through. And at the end I was able to say on that final Sunday, God bless each and every one of you, especially those in China. I started to recognize that the reason the Lord made me Chinese and the reason why the Lord allowed me win the French Open was to put a smile upon Chinese people’s faces around the world during a time when there wasn’t a whole lot to smile about.

RAS: Well Michael, we want to thank you for your tremendous faith, for being outspoken about your love for Jesus Christ and for coming here and sharing that with us today.

MC: Thank you very much.

RAS: God loves you and so do we. Thank you.


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  1. hank schuilenberg writes:

    Icould read this story over and over again. looking for more. Hank.

    Report Inappropriate Comment

    04/15/2012 22:41:19

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