By Karen Hice Guzmán

Empowering Women in China: An Interview with Jessica Tsai Chin

Jessica Tsai Chin and her husband, Matt, co-directed Believers in Business, InterVarsity’s annual conference for MBA students last spring. They both recently began working for Nike. We caught up with her just as she was preparing to finish up her MBA at Kellogg in June.

Jessica, what you were doing before you got to Kellogg?

I grew up in San Diego, California, and went to Berkeley for my undergrad where I double majored in the Haas School of Business and Chinese. The summer of my junior year, I did an internship at Apple — they had just come out with their iPod. They gave me a full time offer at the end and my first project was on a team that launched a department in Shanghai. My third rotation was actually in Shanghai in their retail department where I got to do some really amazing work launching retail stores. I had an amazing time in China and lived there full time before coming to Kellogg.

What were your thoughts about heading over to Shanghai when you went with Apple. Was that great? You've got your Chinese degree, you're ready to roll?

I do remember when they said, "You are one of the candidates to go to China." And I said, "Why?" I was not interested at all. I loved the Bay Area. I didn't want to leave. In a sense they forced my hand, "Because you can speak Mandarin, you're going." I was like ...

Like, "Oh darn, I should have taken French."

Exactly.

Did you have a sense at that point that God was up to something when they told you you're going to China? Or were you dragging your heels?

It was mainly dragging heels.

So how did God get your attention with regards to what he was doing and maybe why you were in China? What was the turning point?

One day, after I'd been working in China, I went to get a massage and I started asking the masseuse questions and she started telling me her life story. She was 23 years old and had come to Shanghai from a distant rural city. She married at 21 and her husband left her immediately after she had a child at 22. She was in Shanghai working 12 hours a day, six days a week to send money back home to support a child that she rarely saw. I was lying there listening to this and was really moved because I've lived in such affluence and have had a lot of things handed to me, and I think for the first time ever I was confronted with a completely different life reality. And my heart was just breaking listening to her.

I felt in that moment I easily could have been her and she easily could have been me if not for God’s grace in my life, and because of that I felt very much obligated and moved to share with her who Jesus is. It really was the Holy Spirit who moved me and I said, "Have you read the Bible? Do you know who God is?" She responded with a lot of openness and said, "Yeah, I read the Bible before. I don't understand it at all."

John 4 came to my mind. "Do you know the story of the Samaritan woman? Have you read that before?" I asked. I shared with her about this woman who was longing for something so much deeper, but had gone after all these different things and could not find satisfaction. And as I was sharing, I didn't even prompt her, she said, "How do I get that?" She asked, "How do I get that water?" I said, "Well, Jesus is that water and he's the only one that will give you everlasting satisfaction and love." And she said, "That's exactly what I need."

This was a turning point for me. I had just gone there to get a massage and this young woman recognized her own brokenness and need for the gospel. I really felt like God was saying, "Is this not more than anything you could want to do with your life?" I was sure that this was why I was called to China.

And how did that influence both the way you moved from there and even how long you stayed?

That was a big turning point for me, because I began looking for women who were broken and open to the gospel. These ranged from the massage ladies all the way to senior directors at work. I was open to the Holy Spirit, asking, "Is this someone that you want me to talk to?" And listening to the Holy Spirit for his movement. And then God started opening doors for me to develop a growing ministry there. From two women to three to ten to fifteen. I baptized four of them with my own hands and heard them share their testimonies in front of friends and family. I stayed four years.

How did God use the experience to form and transform who you are?

A lot of healing happened for me internally in those days. I'm a very driven perfectionist — much of my life was about doing things and doing them right even in ministry and in how I saw the life of faith. As I met these women, and sensed God's heart for them, I began to sense his heart for me. As I took part in their restoration — healing in relationships, their identity, the past, etc. — God was always speaking to me first about how he saw me and how he wanted me to know his healing. God was saying, "I didn't bring you to China to save all these people and to do all these things. I brought you to China for you."

That's beautiful. Where do you sense the call of God on your life now and how has your time at Kellogg been part of that?

While at Kellogg, my husband and I have had the desire to go back to China, but weren’t sure how as we both needed to find jobs. But God opened some amazing doors and we both got offers from Nike where we eventually will be sent to China! And Nike is a company that is really focused on motivating women, so it is a great place to continue to build those partnerships and really expand what God wants to do.

My hope and dream is to partner with others to focus on women's empowerment in China. There is such a deep need for women to be empowered holistically, not just in their careers, but first in their identity and in their relationships.          

What advice do you have for young women, or men for that matter, as they're beginning jobs and thinking about the deeper issues of calling and vocation?

From what I've seen, I would say, “Don’t be swayed and distracted by all the shiny things this world offers, things you feel will bring you joy or ultimate satisfaction.” I find I constantly must place my career and everything into his hands, asking him, “God, what is this for? What do you want me to do with this?” Honestly, I've seen a lot of people waste a lot of time on chasing after a lot of things that seem interesting and shiny, and I am thankful that we have been able to focus on what God has called us to. Less time is wasted on just entertaining ourselves.

Were there specific situations, or experiences, or Scriptures about which you might say, "This is the way that I sensed that God moved in my heart and mind to develop or sharpen my sense of call"?

It really was a process — definitely not an overnight thing. Fasting, praying, listening to others. One important Scripture in the process was Proverbs 16:9 — "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." Over time the seeking became less "I need an answer," and more "What do you want for my life? I'm okay with that." Praying together with my husband and trying to discern how God was leading — how was he calling us individually and together — was a challenge. We are different people and had different senses of how God had prepared us. Over time it became less of whose style of calling was better and more that both our hearts were turned to whatever God had for us.                       

I would say my biggest struggle through these last five years, including my time at Kellogg, has probably been fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of missing out. I think over and over again God was always saying, "Do not be afraid. Be bold and courageous and I will be with you wherever you go." It is something I hope more and more women come to believe. The life of faith isn’t just knowing about Jesus, but having an encounter with Jesus and facing our fears and dealing with our baggage, and being transformed by him. That's my desire for young women.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and faith journey with us. Thank you for saying yes to God, even when you didn't understand what it was going to look like. Your story shows how our sense of calling develops over time in unexpected ways and the fruit God brings when we say "yes" to him — even if we don't know all of what that means at the time.

 

About the Interviewee

Jessica Tsai Chin is a leader driven by her dual passions for social impact and consumer-driven insights. After studying Business Administration and Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley, she discovered her passion for consumer businesses and began her career with Apple, Inc., ultimately serving as global project manager heading Apple’s retail expansion efforts in China. Jessica is currently attaining her MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
 
Outside of her exceedingly busy professional pursuits, Jessica is an athlete at heart and loves hiking the outdoors. She is also involved in numerous faith-based organizations and looks forward to continuing her involvement upon returning to China following her graduation from Kellogg this June.

About the Interviewer

Karen is the National Director of InterVarsity's Women in the Academy and Professions, and lives in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and three boys. Except for some years taken off to raise her sons, she has spent her adult life in and around InterVarsity — originally as a student and campus staff member in Michigan and currently in Atlanta. An entrepreneur at heart, she and some student leaders started the grad fellowship at Michigan State and the MBA fellowship at Georgia Tech. She loves to use her gifts of hospitality and teaching to create a welcoming place for people to connect with God and with each other. Although she rarely has time for it, you can find Karen at her sewing machine when ministry progress gets hard to measure and she needs to see tangible results from her efforts. She loves dark chocolate, good coffee, and British television.

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