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No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

Tiffany Yeh left her own pursuit of musical glory to become an instrument of God
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • February 8, 2024

“I really hate English.”

As Tiffany Yeh ’23 MDiv uttered those words to students in Dr. Brad Baurain’s Introduction to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) class, some of them quietly gasped in surprise while others chuckled nervously.

Guest speaking to the class that day, Tiffany then recounted her summer internship teaching English to middle schoolers in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood—how she allayed their fears by sharing her own struggle to learn German, Tibetan, and English. “I told my students how I got through and how the Lord made me sufficient.”

Tiffany grew up in Hong Kong and just completed a Master of Divinity degree with a TESOL emphasis, a unique pairing offered by Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago.

After hearing this reluctant language learner’s testimony, one of the Moody students raised her hand: “If you don’t like English, why TESOL?”

Tiffany laughed. “Good question.”

A gifted musician, her childhood dream was to someday play in a professional orchestra, a plan that didn’t seem to fit with her desire to be a missionary.

Journey of faith begins

Growing up in Hong Kong, Tiffany Yeh’s earliest memory was hearing her dad talk about their pastor and his family becoming missionaries to Muslims in West Africa. Before the commissioning ceremony, he told her, “Wow, these Christians, our pastor, abandoned their comfortable life in Hong Kong, and they just go for the Lord.”

That led to a question in Tiffany’s heart: Is there a specific path we must take so our life has meaning and glorifies God?

At the time, Tiffany’s passion was music, having started piano and violin lessons at age four. She received extra coaching from her father, Cheung Shing Yeh, an accomplished choral conductor. An only child, Tiffany felt special and knew she was gifted. “I thought I was the center of the world,” she says. “All the spotlights are on violinists in the orchestra.”

She studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she eventually ranked as the school’s top violinist, receiving awards and accolades.

But another path was vying for her attention. The summer before college, she heard powerful preaching at a Bible conference and “felt a deep calling to share the good news of the gospel with others,” she says. She joined Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) and witnessed to many Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking students. “I devoted 90 percent or more of my time to sharing the gospel on campus trying to reach people,” she says.

She began to fall behind in her music studies because of the God-first priority. “At that time I thought music has no place in God’s kingdom, especially classical music,” she says.

During her third year of university she switched her major from violin to viola. She was talented enough to master two instruments, and her peers were especially complimenting her on the viola. In retrospect, that decision also took her out of the spotlight. The viola wasn’t used for solos nor was it popular like the violin.

“There are so few appealing musical repertoire pieces for violas,” she says. “In an orchestra, the viola is usually 99.9 percent background music.” For someone accustomed to being the center of attention, Tiffany’s switch to viola was a lesson in humility.
 

From music failure to mission field

As Tiffany fell further behind in music, it became too late to meet her goal of becoming a professional musician. “That was a really hard time in my life—really depressing moments,” she says. “I felt I was nothing—a complete failure. I told God, ‘If there’s still any use of my life for You, then just take me and bring me anywhere. I’m willing to do anything for You.’”

From that humbling experience, “I learned to sacrifice myself for other people to shine,” she says.

“I stopped pursuing my own glory or [trying] to find out how great I am, what great things I can do. Now I use all my talents for other people, just to edify them. At my lowest point, God called me to the mission field.”

After graduation, Tiffany spent the next two years in a closed country teaching classical music and leading music play groups in English for young children. “That opportunity perfectly fit my giftings and talent,” she says. “And it was the first time I realized how powerful TESOL can be in ministry.”
 

Family ties

Being part of a cross-cultural mission team in the field motivated Tiffany to communicate better in English. So did meeting Phonus Lhomi, a lead member of Lareso Music, an ethnic band in Nepal that composes and produces worship songs. English was the only language they had in common.

Sharing a passion for missions, they prepared for full-time ministry by enrolling in Moody’s online classes. They married in January 2021 and moved to Chicago to complete their training. Phonus is now a senior majoring in Biblical Studies with a music emphasis. Tiffany could have chosen Moody’s MDiv with a different emphasis, but she wanted the additional coursework with the TESOL emphasis and ended up as the program’s first graduate.

Teaching English: Tiffany speaks to the Introduction to TESOL class about her summer internship.

Teaching English: Tiffany speaks to the Introduction to TESOL class about her summer internship.

During her studies Tiffany got pregnant. Though grateful, they were both in school and didn’t have extra time or money for an active baby boy.

Yet they survived as busy parents. “When you give your life to God, everything seems chaotic, but this is all His plan,” she says. “His plan is perfect.”
 

The urgency of preaching the gospel

Long term, Tiffany and Phonus may continue their education to prepare for ministry overseas. It’s too early to say, but besides a house fellowship, their plans could include training Christian leaders, church planting—and having more children, as the Lord blesses. The Great Commission is paramount.

“This thing—preaching the gospel—has urgency because you never know when the doors of the gospel will close,” Tiffany says. “When I was on the mission field in a closed country, there were sixty foreign families from all over the world. And in only three months, more than two-thirds left or were kicked out in that season.”

During her Chicago TESOL internship, Tiffany and one of her colleagues invited their students to a hot pot dinner, followed by a Chinese evangelistic meeting at their church, CCUC South. They ended up feeding 30 hungry teenagers, yet had food left over for two more gatherings. The next day, some Christian friends provided the funds to cover all her expenses.

“That was a miracle,” Tiffany says. “I have to tell you, it was like five loaves and fishes because they are all teenagers. You cannot imagine how much they can eat!”
 

‘Make yourself a living sacrifice’

One of her favorite verses is Romans 12:1–2. “Make yourself a living sacrifice,” she says. “Only after you sacrifice yourself as a living sacrifice for the Lord will you be able to recognize and testify His will is perfect, good, and pleasing.”

As one example, Tiffany says she’s still learning to sacrifice herself by offering to play the viola for the Moody Campus Orchestra instead of the violin. “I’m still learning to internalize that I’m not the main character of this symphony.”

When Tiffany completed her music studies in Hong Kong, she never put together a recital because she couldn’t reconcile it with her Christian faith. “I would get all the applause, spotlight, and compliments. It’s all for my own glory,” she says. “I don’t see the meaning of doing that.”
 

A recital for God’s glory

During her final semester of seminary last spring, Tiffany realized she could combine her journey of faith and journey of music. “The Lord told me, ‘You should do this,” says Tiffany, who scrambled to prepare a God-glorifying program.

Just a few days before seminary graduation, Tiffany presented a memorable music recital in Torrey-Gray Auditorium introduced by Dr. Brian Lee, professor of music. “This recital represents more than just a performance,” Dr. Lee said before the event. “It is indeed a journey of faith that speaks to God’s grace and mercy and faithfulness to Tiffany and her testimony of faith.”

Lasting nearly two-and-a-half hours, the recital of classical and Christian music included a mix of traditional and ethnic Asian instruments (including the erhu, pipa, and dranyen), a choir, and numerous guest performers joining Tiffany on stage. Her dad came from Hong Kong with her mother to conduct the choir and sing a solo.

After the recital, Dr. Lee congratulated Tiffany: “This was truly the longest recital ever at Moody, and every part was really meaningful and a blessing!”

The message Tiffany wanted to communicate by her recital is that “God has given you your talent, so use it for His kingdom, not for your own, because if you use it for your own, there is no eternal value in it. If you use it for the Lord, you sow treasures in heaven, and you bring more people to His kingdom to share His love. So that’s my message: Live for Him.”

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni & Friends magazine and is a senior editor for Marketing Communications at Moody Bible Institute.