Tammy Chi shared a testimony on the challenges she faced as an InterVarsity staff worker at InterVarsity’s staff conference in St. Louis in January, 2008. Continue reading or watch Tammy’s video testimony on YouTube.
“What am I doing here?” is what I wonder. I thought that again last night after hearing everyone’s amazingtestimonies. And I thought, “Lord, my four years on staff haven’t been characterized by amazing stories of ministry.”
Just eight months after I was first hired, my area director sat down with me – over what was really good Japanese food when we started – and he asked me to seriously consider whether I should continue on staff. I remember that moment quite clearly, because the sushi that had been so tasty at the beginning, I had lost all appetite for.
Fundraising had been so difficult that just the thought of it made me want to crawl back under the covers each morning. My budget was daunting, and eight months in, I still hadn’t neared 50%. I knew what I needed to do, but I found myself emotionally incapable of doing it. And I saw that I was facing something that I could not overcome out of my own strength.
A friend who came on staff at the same time saw my plight and asked if she could partner with me. In three months, she had raised more than her staff budget required – praise the Lord! So we combined our budgets and her surplus balanced out my deficit. Praise God for that, and for her giving to me! In late March of that year, I was able to step on campus for the first time. It was a great feeling to finally be where I felt like I had been called.
But I didn’t find myself on that campus for very long. Before the school year ended, my Area Director asked me to consider leaving my alma mater in order to rebuild the chapter at St. Louis University. Through the work of previous staff at SLU, the chapter was primed for growth. Now I found my first year at SLU to be a huge transition. Getting to know a new school, building trust with the Catholic Campus Ministries and my new leadership team took a lot of work. But somehow I got through it.
And then after being in the Chapter Building Cohort the following summer, I entered my second year at SLU with great hope and anticipation. I could definitely see my new chapter growing to 50 that year, and I just knew it was going to be awesome. So I jumped in. I jumped in to new student outreach.
The year came – and it went – and my chapter simply didn’t grow any larger. Despite the great training I had received, nothing impressive seemed to happen that year. I wondered, “What was I doing wrong? Where was my great ministry? And what was I going to tell my donors?” It was a really frightening time.
See, I grew up in the Midwest to amazing, well-intentioned Chinese parents – who are here. I’m really thankful for their being here. And so you all know, people who don’t really know me – my parents’ being here really is testimony to the power of the gospel. My parents instilled in me the value to work hard and succeed and I found that every time I succeeded, I was praised, and that every time I fell short, with their good intention, they told me to work a little bit harder.
And somewhere along this journey of achieving academic successes and of winning piano competition trophies and participating in extra-curricular activities, I began defining myself by what I could do, what I could accomplish. And on my forehead was branded the sign, “Perfection equals success.”
Although many years have passed since high school, I still want to look at my parents and now, my donors and supervisors, and say to them, “See, I’ve been worth it – worth all your sacrifices and investment, because look – here’s that great ministry that I’ve helped develop and lead.”
But God, in his graciousness, has refused. He’s refused to let me continue placing my identity in what I can achieve and produce. And he asks me, “Where will your success be, Tammi, when your chapter is small and your fundraising horrible and you worry that your donors won’t want to support a ministry that doesn’t seem to be thriving?”
“Lord,” I say, “I don’t know. You tell me that I am the daughter of a King. But when I look into the mirror, I see a girl who has always tried to prove her worth – a girl who felt like she couldn’t fit in, no matter how well she was disguised, because in the end, she couldn’t make herself blonde-haired or blue-eyed.”
And what has God done with this girl? He’s taken her through the trials of fundraising and chapter building, and put her in places where she wasn’t able to impress anyone – all to show her that she is his. So I can’t tell you how many awkward phone calls I’ve made, or embarrassingly feeble asks, highlighting my insecurity for all my donors to see. But whether it was in the form of funding partnership with staff, or in strangers who gave because someone told them about my ministry, I found that God provided, even at my very worst.
He’s taken a girl who has struggled to know her own beauty and a girl who didn’t know worth outside of what she could accomplish, and he has transformed her. “See, daughter,” he says to me, “You don’t need to prove yourself.” And he has shown me that I am his.
So how has the power of this gospel been at work? A week from now, I find that I’m taking one of our ministry interns, who’ll be coming on staff, on a fundraising appointment. Not just any fundraising appointment. It’s with the chancellor of Washington University. Can you believe that? I mean, seriously, it’s crazy. So God truly has done something remarkable in this girl who was once hiding under the covers. I came on staff to see God change students’ lives, but God’s every intention has been to change my life as well.
The chapter at SLU is still hovering around 30 or so, and I’m not satisfied with that. But in the spirit of Alec’s story last night about that missionary who went to Burma, I hold on to the promise that what God has started, he will see to completion – in my chapter, on my campus, and in me.