Standing in the doorway of her W Residences high-rise in Victory Park, Mina Chang is at once a vision of classic elegance and maternal energy. In black button-up, pencil skirt and heels with simple pearl studs, she beams a smiling welcome perfected on stage but entirely sincere. Peeking from behind her in the dark foyer are flickering aromatic candles and the bright eyes of a 6-year-old.
Chang and her daughter Trinity, who is on spring break, have just returned from two board meetings. Neither shows the slightest sign of wearing out. Life and business don’t stop when school is out, so as Chang has done when on tour (more on that later), she takes Trinity along for a little life experience – even to important meetings.
Chang serves not only as the U.S. ambassador of Linking the World, running aid teams in Africa, Thailand and mostly Haiti, but also as the international organization’s president in Dallas. Linking the World, started in 1997, provides feeding programs, educational initiatives, mobile medical clinics and orphanages across a variety of communities that larger NGOs (non-governmental organizations) don’t reach.
With a degree in international development from the University of Hawaii, concentrating on mission work and aid practices, Chang took a bit of a detour before finding her path. During her studies, she’d written songs for artists in South Korea but then got picked up as an artist herself while waiting to be able to enter post-tsunami Thailand. For two tours and several albums, Chang was a Korean pop star. But while most would cite the money and fame as motivation, young Chang had less common ulterior motives.
Having grown up the child of two orphans who became Salvationists (the term for missionaries of the Salvation Army), Chang found something drawing her to the stage. Her childhood had moved her all over the world, and while she didn’t see poverty-stricken children of disaster areas as any different from herself, she knew they needed help. With her recording and performing career came the opportunity to draw attention to her charity work and the plight of children and families in need.
Eventually, however, helping others trumped entertaining them, and Chang left behind touring to work with disaster response teams and Linking the World. Even now as she sits poised in heels, it’s not difficult to imagine her in standard cargos in the field.
Learning from example, the charitable life hasn’t escaped Trinity. “Every time her friends come over, she is always giving away her toys!” Chang says with a laugh. But as a mom, Chang makes sure her daughter is afforded much of the same life education that she had growing up. “I really sit down with her and explain to her – without using guilt or anything like that – look what you have compared to these children,” Chang says. “It’s really helping her understand, just as I did when I was young, that these kids I grew up with are just like me. We all have the same desires. We just want to feel wanted and important and that our thoughts matter.”
She hasn’t given up music entirely — just last year she recorded “The Prayer” (popularized by Celine Dion and Josh Groban) — but she has no plans to return to the stage now that Trinity is in school. That said, Trinity is already on her second passport, so prolific travel (not touring, mind you) is something Mom and daughter still cherish – it’s just more in sync with school holidays, breaks and time at Dad’s house (Chang divorced several years ago).
“I feel like one of the things that makes her so mature is that she’s traveled so much,” Chang says. “She hasn’t traveled with me to developing countries, but I share with her.”
Even when home, daily business meetings and Trinity’s schedule place the six-year Dallas resident on a cross-city driving schedule. By the time they get home at night, the pair have but a few choice hours together before bedtime … Trinity’s, that is. Chang admits to maybe five hours of sleep per night. Working with an international organization across several time zones doesn’t accommodate beauty sleep. Three words: overnight video conferencing.
Still, the pair will cook dinner together and play as much as possible. Television isn’t a big part of life in the well-appointed high-rise that boasts incredible views, clean lines and elements of Hollywood regency, but time nestled on the couch is. “When we’re home we just want it to be minimal, so we can just focus on each other,” Chang says. “We love just talking.”
Even setting aside time for evening chats with Trinity speaks to Chang’s focus on connectedness and generosity. “The moment you stop giving is when you stop really living,” Chang says. “Even if we aspire for more wealth or more status or something, it’s always so we can give it away. If you’re compassionate and connect with people, you can achieve anything.”