The miracle of the shack

I want to share with you something personal and close to my heart.

The last few weeks have been difficult (for reasons I cannot disclose). As I searched for clarity and healing, I knew I needed to hear something real that could speak to my soul. So I scoured the internet for talks by William Paul Young (links below).

Night after night, I watched Young’s videos in tears as his God-inspired words broke through the current pain and laundered away past trauma.

But why Wm. Paul Young?

‘The Shack’ by Wm. Paul Young

Young is the author of The Shack – an accidental international bestseller that has sold over 22 million copies in more than 40 languages.

He wrote it as a Christmas gift for his six children and some friends to share with them his story of childhood abuse and healing through fiction. That Christmas, Young worked three jobs cleaning toilets and answering phones. He was broke and made 15 copies of the book using money a stranger had gifted him.

He had no intention to publish the book. But Young’s friends later urged him and The Shack debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8, 2008. It stayed there for 136 weeks (at No. 1 for 49 of those weeks). This happened after they had first self-published and sold a million copies out of a garage.

The Shack (2007) by Wm Paul Young

I originally read The Shack close to ten years ago. I gasped with delight when God the Father appeared as a Black woman called ‘Papa’ and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named ‘Sarayu’, which means ‘air’ or ‘wind’ in Sanskrit and is also the name of a river in India. And Jesus was … lo and behold … an actual Jew! (Duh.)

The multicultural, multi-gendered trinity appealed to the ‘Third Culture Kid‘ in me. Young was a white Canadian who had grown up overseas with the Dani tribe in Papua in Indonesia – and it showed.

But becoming a bestseller is not the real miracle. The real miracle is what the book and its backstory did for countless many – like they did this past Sunday night, and more, in me.

The beauty of relationship

Soon after reading The Shack, I found one of Young’s interviews online. I was struck by the beauty of the way he described our relationship with God in all its messiness and mysteries.

This past week, years later, as I struggled with the confusion of the present situation, I remembered that indelible beauty. So I googled, as you do, and found many more videos of Young’s talks and interviews that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Letting the stories and words I heard work through my own shack – my heart – has been painful. But also healing.

It would be a waste to keep them to myself. I hope they speak to you too.

You’ll find below:
  • The Shack
    Film version
  • Restoring the Shack
    Series of short videos on the backstories
  • The Talks
    Powerful testimonies of Wm. Paul Young’s backstory
  • The Sermons, etc.
    Deep revelations on how God comes into our shacks no matter how broken we are

The Shack – film version

Octavia Spencer is God the Father in The Shack. And her favourite refrain to Sam Worthington’s human Mackenzie, who is broken on the inside, is: ‘I am especially fond of you.’

The Shack (2017)

In case you don’t have time to read the book, you can watch the film version of The Shack for free on YouTube. You can also find it on Netflix. Check out the trailer below.

The Shack – Official trailer.
Click here for the film

The Talks

This is my favourite category of Young’s videos – the talks. Many of the stories in these videos overlap but each one I watched contained new nuggets that spoke deeply to me. I’ve included several of them below.

Young’s story as a third culture kid & missionary kid

Of all the talks, this one best captures Young’s own story – the backstory of The Shack. If you’re not into Christian jargon, skip the first bit and start at 11:50 minutes.

He begins with his childhood in what used to be called ‘Irian Jaya’ on the island of New Guinea . He tells of childhood sexual abuse in his village and later at boarding school, and the long journey it took to heal from it.

Young’s powerful testimony in detail

In this video, Young goes into more detail about his adulthood – how he met his wife, his sibling relationships, and the depth of his childhood shame that led to religious addictions, manipulative coping mechanisms, an affair, near suicide, and the 11-year healing journey.

Young speaks of how we, humans, are ‘too incredibly crafted for simple solutions’. We need deep love and care to unwind the damage within.

Talks at Google: The Shack and its Aftermath

Young says that one of the greatest gifts the book gave him is ‘an invitation to walk on the holy ground of other people’s stories’.

In this talk for a more secular audience at Google, Young shares about the powerful impact that the book has had on the lives of some readers.

Lies We Believe About God: A conversation with Wm. Paul Young

Have you ever felt uncomfortable about the brimstone and fire image of God and how Christians often use this to scare people into a religion? What does the ‘wrath of God’ mean anyway? If you’ve ask these questions (I sure have), then you might like this interview.

Another interview

I also liked this interview though I cannot remember how the content differed from the other ones. Sorry!

By the way, for those of you who think Wm. Paul Young’s name sounds familiar, well, that’s because he’s on the cover of the Third Culture Kid book. Yup.

Wm. Paul Young’s endorsement on the cover of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

The Sermons, etc.

God has Never Been Separated From Us with Baxter Kruger

(Updated 14 May 2022)

As I watched Wm. Paul Young’s videos, I was introduced to others who also believe that God has never been separated from us. God is and has always been in our shacks no matter how broken we are. Baxter Kruger’s explanation was mind blowing.

A sermon on Genesis

This one is an actual sermon rather than a testimony of Young’s personal story. I include it here because I was fascinated by the way he talks of God as masculine and feminine.

More than that, I was struck by the way Young speaks to that part of us that find it difficult to trust the character of God.

Encountering the God of Unending Love with William Paul Young

(Updated 5 May 2022)

Church is a struggle for me. Having been to churches in different countries with different languages and culture, I’ve concluded that they are 99.9999% human religion and culture, and 0.0001% God. But still I go (occasionally) – for that 0.0001%.

When I do go, I tend to drift around on the margins of its culture where it feels safer and more comfortable. As a result, I’m often seen as ‘backslidden’ by others even though I don’t believe that I am. But still I go – for the community.

Don’t get me wrong. There are also things that churches do that I benefit from. But for the first time, in this podcast episode, I heard someone explain, without mincing his words, what it is that felt ‘off’ all these years.

‘Only be Christian when it’s helpful,’ says Young, because there are many other ways to talk about our connection with God. Our relationship with God is not a religious system.

Besides, Jesus wasn’t a ‘Christian’ was he?

In fact, Young goes on to urge: ‘Let’s not tie our identity with a system—not to a nation, not to a culture, not to our colour—because those things are not our identities.’

Damn right.

Restoring The Shack with Wm. Paul Young – A series

Update: This video series is no longer available on YouTube.

In this series of short videos, Young focuses on different topics found in The Shack. He reads selections from the book and includes many stories of miraculous coincidences and insights that came after the book was published. He also tells us of stories from his readers about how the book came into the midst of their own ‘great sadness’.

The series has 20 episodes that are easy to digest, starting with Episode 1. But if you want to watch something more hard hitting, scroll down.
Trailer for Restoring the Shack. (Or see here for Episode 1.)

I have not finished watching Wm. Paul Young’s videos. So I may add more here when I find more that speak to me. Thanks for reading and being interested. Feel free to come back to this page later or share it with your friends.

International music project: A Summer’s Dream by Kaori Mukai

I have zero musical talent. So it’s been great fun to get to help Kaori Mukai shape the lyrics to her new single ‘A Summer’s Dream’.

NEW SINGLE – A SUMMER’S DREAM by Kaori Mukai! With the afterglow of summer in the air, just keep driving past the city lights chasing the warm breeze in the night. A new song for those who wish summer never ends.

Kaori is a Japanese singer but I met her at a small Japanese restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia a few years ago. She was the opening act for Hiroaki Kato, another awesome bilingual Japanese and Indonesian musician who I got to know, and was warming up for later that evening. I fell in love with her voice.

Kaori was living as an expat in Indonesia at the time. I loved the way she collaborated so closely with Indonesians and other musicians like Hiroaki who were genuine about wanting to engage across culture. She even put a jazz spin to the Doraemon song and sang it in Indonesian.

As someone who is mixed Indonesian and Japanese, I had grown up feeling as though Japan looked down on Indonesia. So, Kaori and her friends’ cross cultural, trilingual engagement (Japanese, Indonesian & English) between Indonesia and Japan spoke deeply to me.

And this time, I’m thrilled to get to participate in one of her projects even though I can’t sing for the life of me!

‘A Summer’s Dream’ by Kaori Mukai – Lyrics Video

A Summer’s Dream is an international, collaborative project between Japanese and Indonesian musicians. It’s got a Japanese City Pop feel to it and was created with those of us who wish summer never ends. Enjoy!

? Digital Single ▶ here

? Kaori MUKAI – A Summer’s Dream (Lyrics Video) ▶ On YouTube here

Music by Kaori Mukai
Lyrics by Kaori Mukai, Danau Tanu
Arranged by Roberto J., Kaori Mukai
Mixed & Mastered by Hisao Sasaki
Kaori Mukai (Vo.), Roberto J. (Pf.), Iwa-chan (Gt.), Yusuke Watanabe (Ba.), Dion Subiakto (Drs.)
Designed by @mongucci

How do we learn to belong?

The opposite of belonging is fitting in
-Brené Brown-

Belonging. It’s a simple word with a lot packed into it. Is belonging something that just is and can’t be changed: we either belong or we don’t? Or can we learn how to belong?

I’d say yes. The older I get, the more I think belonging is a verb and an ongoing process. It’s not an end point that we have to strive to arrive at.

Poster. TCKs of Asia presents an open forum: How do we learn to belong? Third Culture Stories from Asia. 'The opposite of belonging is fitting in' by Brene Brown. Date, time & registration link.

The good news is, I think ‘belonging’ is something that we can initiate.

But it needs regular maintenance.

The bad news is, we spend a lot of our time trying to look for it ‘somewhere out there’ as though we’re looking for gold that’s already in the ground somewhere. We fall into the trap of believing we’ll miraculously stumble across it one day and find it. And then we get frustrated when we don’t find it.

So, how do we learn to belong?

I’ll be sharing more about this topic with some of the folks at TCKs of Asia in December.

Come join us for the conversation!

Saturday, 12 December 2020
9am New York – 3pm Lagos & Amsterdam – 10pm Singapore & Perth

Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School - book cover (Asian Third Culture Kids)

Paperback release this December!
Pre-order now and get 25% off!

The First Goodbye

Before the pandemic began, my nephew left for another country and I wrote a little tribute to him soon after. This is an edited version of two previous posts.

My nephew is aged two years and a bit. Sometimes he speaks little sentences, sometimes Frenchy jibberish.

When a plane flies overhead, he hears its far away howl no matter the commotion in the room. Ears perked up and eyes locked with yours—he gasps: ‘Awat? Kouki!’

Photo of a toddler at an airport looking out the window at airplanes. This is his first move and first goodbye.
My nephew looking out the window at an airport

They both mean ‘airplane’. In my nephew’s toddler language, ‘awat’ is short for pesawat and ‘kouki’ is short for hikouki. The first is in Indonesian, his parent’s language, and the second is in Japanese, his grandmother’s language

So, we pick him up and dash outside to the backyard chasing the sound.

Sometimes we see nothing, and we just wait until the howl drowns out. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the flying steel as it goes across the sky from behind the roof to behind the clouds.

At times like this, his arm is raised high and his little finger points at the sky. Still sitting in your arms, again, he gasps: ‘Kouki!’

One day last month, he fell asleep and woke up at the airport just after daybreak in another country. He and his parents were on their way to move across the Pacific Ocean. He looked out the big windows—and oh, the delight! So many airplanes, so close to him.

Auntie wasn’t there, but I could hear him squeal from across the seas.

It’s now been a couple of weeks since my nephew left Indonesia. It broke my parents’ heart and mine. We were the ones who had been left behind, not him, but we didn’t think he’d understand.

The other day, we video called him. ‘Jiiji! Baaba! Auntie!’ squealed my nephew as he called out to his grandpa and grandma in Japanese. As for me, he calls me ‘auntie’ because the Japanese version—obachan—is one too many syllables for a two-year old.

In his broken, toddler Indonesian, he told his grandparents that he wanted to come over to their house the next day. My sister, who was sitting next to him, explained that it was too far. We agreed with her.

So, my nephew asked us to come over instead. His eyes sparkled at his own brilliant solution to the problem.

But still we told him that we couldn’t. ‘Why?’ he demanded. It was still too far, we said. We would need to take an ‘Awat’ or ‘Kouki’, we explained.

He told us to take that airplane. We explained again. My sister tried too. My brother-in-law also chimed in to help.

Then, my usually hyperactive nephew fell silent. He continued to sit there, squeezed between his mother and father, on the new sofa in the new apartment. But his eyes were on the floor. He didn’t look at the phone screen again or say another word for the rest of the call.

At two and a bit, he understood neither distance nor time. What he understood was that he was there but we were not.

You may also be interested in:

Where are you from???

When I was younger, I used to hate the question, ‘Where are you from?’ It wasn’t because I didn’t like answering but because those asking didn’t usually care to know the full answer. But if they did, I would have loved answering.

These days, I’m often curious about other people’s backgrounds. These days, identities are crisscrossing at such speed that even I – who study this stuff – can’t keep up.

For example, does this video confuse you as much as it confused me? An Australian friend who does research on Indonesia but has nothing to do with Japan sent it to me. I saw this and thought: Wait? What? Who? Huh? Eh?

Say so – Doja Cat reacts to Rainych’s Japanese cover

Where is the pink singer from?

Usually, guessing where people are from is my specialty. But this one did my head in.

Who is this cat woman? … Why is she a cat, anyway? (Yes, I am so out of touch with pop culture—thank you, Age.)

And who is the pink singer? … Her Japanese is perfect … so, is she Japanese? … OMG, she even raps in Japanese. … But she’s wearing a jilbab (the Indonesian word for hijab), so she can’t be Japanese … Or can she be? … Maybe she’s a hafu (a Japanese translation for ‘half’ and used to mean ‘mixed race’) like me? … Or is she Malaysian? … Where is she from??

In an effort to untangle my confusion, I did what my teachers taught me to do (as if) and dutifully googled the crap out of all the keywords I could find on the video. I hereby, ehm, report the results.

Cat woman is Doja Cat. Someone who originally sang the song, ‘Say so’, in English.

Original ‘Say so’ in English by Doja Cat

The pink singer is Rainych Ran. According to an interview with The Magic Rain, which publishes content for the ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) community, Rainych is ‘an Indonesian singer who’s best known for performing song covers from various anime titles’. At the time of this writing, Rainych’s Japanese cover of Doja Cat’s ‘Say so’ has amassed over 13.5 million views.

Where is Reo from?

Then, just as I was starting to make sense of things, I found this reaction video by a Japanese guy named Reo, which got me confused again. Reo is not a traditional Japanese name. It sounds like a Japanese pronunciation of ‘Leo’.

Reo’s Japanese reaction to Rainych Ran’s Japanese version of ‘Say so’.

Plus, Reo’s YouTube channel targets Indonesians wanting to learn Japanese. He speaks rather slowly and clearly in his videos and they all have subtitles in English and Japanese. But he only uses hiragana and katakana and avoids the difficult Chinese characters for the Japanese subtitles.

The questions that bombarded my brain next were: Why is he targeting Indonesians learning Japanese? What’s his connection with Indonesia? Is he learning Indonesian himself? Or is he a Japanese-Indonesian hafu? Is he a kikokushijo or returnee student who used to live in Indonesia as a Japanese expat kid? In other words, is he a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

‘Japanese privilege’?

Or is he targeting Indonesians because we have a large youth population who loves the internet and think highly of Japan? There are quite a few Japanese YouTubers who don’t seem to have pre-exisiting connections with Indonesia but are specifically targeting the Indonesian audience on the internet. Why?

Could they be capitalizing on the privilege accorded them due to Japan’s status in the region—a status that exists thanks to Japan’s colonial history? Perhaps they are using that privilege to target the Indonesian youth audience because it offers a potentially large and easy market to break into in the world of internet algorithms?

(For the sake of transparency: I am mixed Indonesian-Japanese myself.)

If they are using that privilege, however, does it matter? Personally, I feel the privilege needs to be recognized and acknowledged but I’m more excited about the connections that young people are making across cultures and, basically, saying eff you to national boundaries.

Where is Datenkou from?

I haven’t found the answer to my questions about Reo kun. But I did find out that the Japanese version of ‘Say so’ was not translated by Rainych chan as Reo seemed to think.

Japanese version of ‘Say so’ covered by Raiynych Ran

It was translated by Datenkou. After a long search down a rabbit hole, I found the info about Datenkou’s involvement with the translyric right there in the description under Rainych’s own video above. (Lesson learnt, next time check in the obvious places first!)

So, was this the end of the rabbit hole? Uh, no. Once I found Datenkou, I started asking: Where is Datenkou from??? His Japanese translyric of ‘Say so’ is perfect. Is he Japanese? Wait, is he singing Anggun’s ‘Mimpi’, an Indonesian song? His Indonesian accent is perfect!

Cover of Anggun’s ‘Mimpi’ by Datenkou.

But, before I go further down the Dantekou rabbit hole, let me point out that Anggun is Indonesian and a trilingual singer. She sings in Indonesian, French and English. Her voice is incredible—cool and husky. Here’s her version of ‘Mimpi‘.

Okay, now, back to Datenkou. His Twitter profile says that he’s an agricultural researcher and he speaks Japanese, English, Indonesian and French. He lists Japanese first and he’s in Tokyo. Is he a Japanese Third Culture Kid? Hafu?

I suppose I could message him and ask. But he probably gets asked, ‘Where are you from?’ a lot, so let’s leave him be.

But, all this crisscrossing—gotta love it.

What do you think?