How did you first get involved in pageants?
Tara Teng: I was studying at university and I mentioned to a friend that I had come across an article about the Miss British Columbia pageant. He was just like, “You gotta do it.” It was really a way for me to challenge my fears and just step outside of my comfort zone for something I’ve never done. I went to the interview, got accepted right on the spot, and then three days after that I left the country and I spent a month in Guatemala and Honduras, studying Spanish and teaching English. It was amazing, and I think that was really just so God. He puts these things in perfect timing ahead of us before we even realize.
What exactly did you see when you were there?
I saw things you just don’t see here in Canada. You don’t go to the city garbage dump and see people picking through it to find enough to survive for the day. Seeing things like that really makes you re-evaluate a lot in life. Holding infants that are literally skin and bones not because their parents don’t love them or have abandoned them but because they just can’t afford to feed them. And it really makes you think about the idea of social justice. And what does it mean to be a Christian and these questions that I had on my heart for years. But all of a sudden these weren’t things I was reading about anymore, it was right there in front of me.
Why pageants as a platform, and did you have social justice on your mind before this trip?
Pageants are not something I’ve ever done. I’m really more of a barefoot, long hippie skirt, free flowing hair kind of person. I’m not the high heel makeup type most days. Pageants were really just something God put in front of me. I did it originally to challenge myself because I was tired of living in fear and I just had such a hunger for whatever God had for me. They asked me one question as I filled out a biography for the website. They said, what would you do if you were Miss British Columbia? And I knew without a doubt I was going to use this platform to talk about human trafficking and oppression of women and individuals worldwide.
You wrote on your blog that you lived as a Christian in theory but not in action, can you talk about that?
My dad is a pastor. One of the churches that we were with, things happened and I was really hurt by the church. As a 15-year-old, I was just like, if this is the way that Christians treat each other then I’m out. I knew what I was doing was against God’s plan for me but I just didn’t care. It was just my selfish “I wanna live for me, I have my life on my terms, I have this job that I love and this great car, and this great apartment, and this great boyfriend who I love” attitude. I was just totally self-centered.
I ended up leaving my job and having trouble paying for the car, the cellphone, and the apartment. I finally started to see how my relationship with this guy was unraveling. It just wasn’t working anymore and I broke up with him. I remember having one night where I was sitting in my room in my apartment just wondering, how did I get here? This wasn’t my plan. And in that moment, it was so clear, I could just hear God say, “Tara, you’ve done it your way, are you ready to finally try it my way?” Up until that point God had always been there but he was kind of like a side deal, almost a hobby.
Who or what inspires you?
William Wilberforce really inspires me. He was a British parliamentarian of the 1700’s-1800’s and he abolished slavery within the British Empire. He was an amazing man of God and he literally gave his life. He achieved the abolition of the slave trade then died three days later. He was sick and dying the whole time. When I got to Montreal for the Miss Canada pageant in January, we all sat around the table with all the other contestants and they asked us “What would you do if you were Miss Canada?” My answer was the same. I said if I’m Miss Canada I’m going to do the same thing I was doing when I was Miss British Columbia, I’m going to try to end slavery and human trafficking. If I don’t win I’m going to keep doing the same thing.
Do you have any future aspirations or career goals?
End slavery, that’s my career goal. I don’t know, God’s been bumping me in different areas and even in the last year this has been a huge learning curve, I never spoke in public before this year so that has been really stepping me out of my comfort zone. I just want to be wherever God wants me to be and I’m hesitant to say what that is because I just don’t know and I just want what God wants, and I want the courage to step into that, whatever that is.
What makes a good leader?
I think what makes a good leader is someone who can take leadership from others and someone who really fights for others and lays down their life for others. I know that kind of sounds cliché but it’s really really true. A good leader knows all the people on their team, they have a vision, they know what they’re fighting for and who they’re fighting for and then they commit to it completely.
Who are you in your down time?
I think the one word to best describe me, the essence of who I am is actually my Chinese name which is Oi Kwan, and it means loves groups of people. I was given this name as a child at two years old. I wasn’t born with it, my parents named me after my personality really came out. And that’s just who I am. I have my close group of friends and we share a common love of Jesus and justice and we’re compelled to see those two come together in whatever way God brings them together. I don’t have a lot of down time but I actually recharge from those quality time relationships with people.