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 (family) 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.’

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.

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington in The Shack (2017)

Restoring The Shack with Wm. Paul Young – A series

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.)

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.


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.

Osmosis: When Children Internalize Racism Through School

Danau Tanu

When there’s not a pandemic on, children spend an enormous chunk of their lives—at least seven hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year—at school. It gives them plenty of time to internalize the social hierarchies that they experience at school. This includes social hierarchies that are informed by race—the kind of subtle racism that happens even when nobody intends for it to happen.

So, what happens when children internalize these racist structures?

Those structures become the stick by which children measure themselves, their peers, their parents, and their world.

Children learn these structures at a very young age through, among other things, the language they speak, the authority figures they see, and the curriculum they learn.

Growing Up in Transit, published in 2018, is the research that forms the basis for this article.

The power of English

“When I spoke English, I felt smart!” Lianne laughed as she looked back on her childish self when I interviewed her at her kitchen table in the condominium that she shared with her Indonesian husband.

Lianne is an international school alumna whose father is Singaporean and mother is Indonesian. Lianne didn’t learn English until she started attending kindergarten at an English-medium international school in Indonesia. Up until then, she spoke Indonesian at home. So, when she first started school, she was placed in an “ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages)” class.

It did not take long for Lianne to learn that English was a language of power. She soon learned to use English to challenge her mother’s authority.

“My mom spoke to me in Indonesian. My mom speaks great English but she prefers to speak in her native tongue. But, you know, the more I learned English, the more I was able to talk back to her in English. And it made me feel smart… so much more clever than my mom!”

Lianne remembers that she also picked up hand and facial gestures at school that she would deliberately use at home knowing that those mannerisms were foreign to her Indonesian mother.

Unbeknownst to Lianne at the time, her mother had continued to speak to her in Indonesian from a desire to pass on her heritage. “Later on I find out, when I’m eighteen or whatever, she didn’t want me to lose my native tongue.”

Standing on a pedestal

The sense of superiority that Lianne picked up at school spilled over into her views towards fellow Indonesians besides her mother. While she now no longer judges others for their accent or fluency in English, she admits she was not like that as a child.

Photo by Ivan Shilov on Unsplash

“When I was a little kid, I would’ve been a complete snob about it because it means I’m much more superior.” Lianne explains that she learned these attitudes through the international school. “All of a sudden you’re on a pedestal. There was a feeling of superiority because of the affiliation, because of the command of language, because of people you hang out with, because of the extracurricular activities that were bountiful.”

As a child, Lianne says that she felt her international school “was much more advanced, if not interesting, than the local schools.”

White like Dad

Nick, a white American teacher at an international school, was also candid about the way his mixed-race daughter, Lara, internalized racism. “It’s weird because Lara is actually a little bit of a racist. She really kind of looks down on Indonesians,” said Nick.

According to Nick, Lara refuses to identify as Indonesian like her mother, and instead chooses to identify as white, like her father. “I made some sort of a deprecating joke about being the only bule [pronounced ‘boo-leh’, Indonesian slang for ‘white people’],” Nick recalled of a family dinner, “and Lara’s like, ‘No, I’m a bule.’” Nick said he tried to explain to his daughter that she is “mixed” but Lara rejected the label. “‘No, no, no, I’m bule’—that’s the way she sees herself,” Nick continued.

Nick taught at the same international school that his daughter attended. While he firmly believed in the multiculturalism that the school promoted, he didn’t feel the school was doing enough. “I just don’t want them to look down on their mother because they go to school in this environment,” he worried.

Nick believed that nobody at the school was intentionally teaching racism, but that it was being taught anyway because “there’s institutionalized racism.” He added, “I think it’s hard to escape that. I can see that that is part of the culture that my daughters are growing up in and that concerns me.”

Unlearning racism

As adults, many who have internalized the belief that their own kind are inferior may come to terms with their mistake and recognize the pain it had inflicted on others and themselves. They may learn to keep their racist attitudes in check by not acting on them. 

But to unlearn and dismantle something that was implicitly absorbed and internalized over 12 or more years of daily exposure at school—and often reaffirmed outside of school—takes time.

Prevention is the better antidote.


Danau Tanu, PhD, is an anthropologist and the author of 
Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, the first book on structural racism in international schools. Available now in hardback and eBook. Portions of this article first appeared in Growing Up in Transit and have been edited for clarity. Pseudonyms are used for research participants who appear in this article.

This article was originally published in The International Educator (TIE Online) on 14 October 2020. It has been edited for clarity.

Further learning

Language & Power: Stories from Asia – Third Culture Kids of Asia discuss how language fluency intersects with social hierarchies in shaping their childhoods and view of the world. Listen on Third Culture Stories, a podcast by TCKs of Asia.

A Foreigner in My Own Family: The Hidden Loss of Language & Intimacy – When a child’s strongest language is different from that of their family, it can create a sense of cultural disconnection that affects the parent-child relationship, even into adulthood. An online forum hosted by TCKs of Asia on October 6, 2020.

Mixed Loyalties: When Choosing is Difficult – hosted by TCKs of Asia

Poster. Mixed Loyalties: When Choosing is Difficult

Recently, I told a group of educators that international schools often force their students to choose between either ‘being international’ or their home culture as though they cannot be both. When students choose to speak in a language other than English, they are criticised for not being international.

This approach seems to assume that there is only one way of being international. But … doesn’t that contradict the whole idea of inter-national? Why can’t students be both ‘international’ and Indonesian or Korean?

More importantly, how does this forced choice affect children at a deeper, emotional level?

What happens when a child feels as though they must choose between a more powerful identity (e.g. English-speaking, westernised version of being international) and a less powerful identity that connects them with people who mean the world to them, such as their parents? What happens when choosing a more powerful identity leaves a child feeling as though they are betraying their less powerful identity?

Join us for an open forum hosted by TCKs of Asia on Friday, July 2 to listen to a few international school alumni and other adult TCKs speak about their personal experience of facing these internal conflicts and to discuss its implications together.

Event details

Friday, 2 July 2021

6am Los Angeles – 9am New York & Santiago – 2pm Lagos & London – 4pm Beirut – 6pm Islamabad – 9pm Singapore & Perth – 10pm Seoul & Tokyo

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