Locked out

I remember distinctly the first time it happened
The first time we got locked out.

We had just arrived into Malaysia the day before and had decided to spend our first full day in Kuching settling into our apartment, getting acquainted with the city and then come sundown, go prayer walk at “waterfront” which was a meandering walkway next to the river in downtown. 

We parked in this colorful parking garage with each level painted a different pastel color, walked to the top and got a good view of the city and then walked around town. We grabbed some local food for dinner and discovered so quickly how Malaysians love having their photo taken with foreigners. We felt like celebrities, walking around and being stopped to pose with locals every so often for selfies. We talked to a lot of people and didn’t pray as much as we’d hoped but this was only our first day here. 

By the time that we were ready to go home, it was dark and getting late. All ten of us traipsed down the cobblestone streets back to the colorful parking garage only to find that it was locked. We walked all the way around it, trying every door that we came across but all of the doors were locked. We finally had the genius idea to walk up the ramp and to our van. We paid our parking fee and drove down the ramp. Success!

We drove the ten minutes to our apartment. Our host had kindly shown us how to use our key cards to get inside of the two locked gates leading up to our apartment and then the key attached was for each of our rooms individually. 

As we climbed out of the van that night, we noticed that the gate to the girls’ side of the apartment was latched closed, so we decided to all go up on the guys’ side and then cross over to our side from up there. Everyone except for my co-leader, Nathan, ascended the stairs but when we got to the next gate, the key cards weren’t working. I turned around to say, “Hey, don’t close that gate behind us.” Just as it latched shut. Great, now we were stuck on the staircase locked between two gates. I started to jokingly scope out which step I would sleep on that night. But inside I was panicking. Day 2 of leading a trip to Malaysia and I’ve locked myself and all eight of the students into this stairwell! 

Thankfully, my co-leader was still getting his belongings from the car because he rescued us from our dilemma. He figured out how to unlock the girls side of the apartment and came through to where we were stranded and unlocked it from the inside. 

“That was a close call.” We all laughed.

Throughout the next couple of weeks, we got locked out of our individual rooms or out of the apartment AGAIN or out of the church that we were staying in or out of our van. 

It was frustrating.

Were we just being careless? Is that why we were getting locked out? 

I shared how we were getting locked out of everything imaginable with a friend over the phone while I was on outreach, “It’s pretty crazy isn’t it? I just don’t understand how it’s possible that this keeps happening. At first it was humorous, now it’s just annoying.” 

“Do you think that this is a spiritual attack?” My friend asked me. It stopped me in my tracks. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me until then that it could be the enemy trying to keep us from being effective. 

Isaiah 22:22 “I will place on His shoulder the key of the house of David; what He opens no one can shut and what He shuts, no one can open.”

As a team, we asked God, “What are you trying to tell us through getting locked out?” 

Slowly, the mystery started to unravel.

God started to speak to us about it and we started to gain clarity about the symbolism of why we kept getting locked out. 

We began to intercede more earnestly for the city of Kuching. 

Each time we’d set off to a new village, we’d go downstairs from our apartment to a little cafe called, “Harmony Corner” where we’d made friends with the Chinese owners, Sophie and Timothy and we’d order some “Kopi Pang” (iced coffee with so much sugar in it). We’d sit around the tables on plastic chairs with our team prayer journal laid in front of us and we’d set goals and pray over the coming days in a new village. We learned early on during our outreach that each village was unique in its needs and this meant that being in tune with the spirit was absolutely necessary in order to have effective ministry in each place that we visited. 

As we prayed, we began to recognize that the things that we were locked out of; our apartment, the church we were staying at, our van, were all places that we had authority to enter into! We had been given the keys, we just didn’t always know how to use them.

The first key to overcoming these locked doors was walking in that authority and claiming entrance into the places that we had access to. God started revealing to us that this was something that we could prophetically claim over Malaysia. God was going to open doors that had previously been locked. Specifically with the Christians in Malaysia, we felt like there was hesitancy to step out and be bold in their faith. They had the keys to eternal life but they were “locked out” in the sense that they feared that their faith would get them in trouble, whether with the law or with family members and friends. 

We started praying that God would help the Christians in Malaysia to gain access to boldness, just as He was helping us to get in each time that we got locked out. 

There was one time that we simply couldn’t find the keys to the car. My co-leader and I had alternated driving responsibilities each day and I thought that I had given the keys to him. But neither of us could find the keys. We were headed out the door to hang out with some of the youth from the church at Ranchan Recreation Center and we were going to be late if we couldn’t find this key! 

We looked everywhere; practically turned the church building (where we were staying) upside down. We emptied our bags, looked through the trash (ewwww), through every pocket and purse and still, no key. Where was it? We were all frenzied and stressed as we looked for it. Finally we stopped and prayed about it. 

“God, if you want us to go hang out with the youth, please help us to find this key.” 

We kept looking. It was less than five minutes after we prayed when we found the key tucked inside of one of our Bibles.

THE KEY IS IN THE BIBLE. 

All these weeks of praying and asking God for the answer to why we were getting locked out so many times and here was the answer, hidden right inside of the Bible.  

The key to gain access to things that we have authority to walk in, is to open the Bible and ask God to fill our minds and hearts with truth so that we can be strengthened and equipped in our faith to engage in spiritual warfare. 

Instead of getting frustrated when we would get locked out once again, we would take that as a sign that we needed to look to God in those moments and really engage and intercede on behalf of people who are “locked out” in a spiritual sense of the word. Instead of being a constant frustration, it shifted into a reminder that we needed to pause and to pray.

We didn’t keep count of how many times we got locked out in Malaysia, but it wouldn’t be exaggerating to guess that it was more than 25 times.

I wanted to share the story of being locked out in Malaysia as an encouragement to anyone who may feel “locked out” in some area of your life.

We use the metaphor of “open doors” and “closed doors” loosely in regards to things that we are pursuing for our future. Sometimes God does close doors that we would rather see swing open and we have to surrender our hopes and plans to Him. It’s important to hold our plans for the future with open hands, to release control.

But other times, God gives us clarity to move forward into something but we run into a locked door and while it is frustrating and hard, I believe that God does allow these locked doors to test our faith and perhaps to teach us how to depend on Him more fully. It requires a whole lot of faith and persistence to continue to move ahead and trust God even when we feel this resistance.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

This experience in Malaysia helped me to understand that sometimes God wants us to take time to seek Him, not only when things are going wrong (like when I run across a locked door) but also to seek Him when things are going right and when doors are flinging wide open in front of us. It’s easy to recognize our need for God when we  feel our desperate need for help but having the sensitivity to recognize our need for God when things are going well is actually a way of living with a continually grateful heart. 

During our time in Malaysia, we had so many opportunities to share our stories and to build relationships that created a safe place for people to share their stories as well. I think sometimes God allows us to walk through things to refine our character and then later brings people into our lives and gives us the opportunity to speak truth and hope into their hearts.

If you are feeling  “locked out” of some area of your life and would like prayer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I can’t promise that I will have answers but I would love to pray for you!

Stay tuned for my next post where I will share about a specific village experience that really revealed how powerful and impacting it is when we share our own stories.

Until next time, Gretta

Stories Coming Soon

Song Residence. 06:44.

Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

The air is hot, muggy. I  am up early, with plans to run to Friendship Park with a few of the girls from my team. But first I sit here and let the morning envelope me with its warm embrace, to look ahead and anticipate all that God will do today.

The sun is just beginning to rise over the horizon. I am sitting on my balcony, drinking freshly brewed Chinese mint tea that was given to us yesterday after we finished farming. The extreme heat here in Malaysia has made some of the people on the team struggle with their health and our Chinese friends are passionate about plants with natural medicinal properties and are very generous in sharing them with us. I haven’t struggled with my health as much, thanks to a healthy digestive system (shoutout taking the ProBio and BioCleanse from Plexus). I love tea in the mornings and I certainly don’t mind the extra boost to my immune system. 

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I sit here at this balcony often to either watch the sunrise in the morning or at sunset and to process the events of the day. I watch as the clouds dance over the mountains, watch as people weave in and out of traffic. It’s an incredible thing to be able to immerse yourself fully into another culture so different from your own and to learn from them. I smile to myself, remembering some of the worries that I had about coming here. God has consistently wiped away all need to worry. One thing that I was worried about was driving in hectic traffic. They drive on the same side of the road as Aussies do which I was thankful for. But I expected it to be hectic driving here but instead, I’ve actually come to enjoy driving here more than I enjoy it in Australia, as the city is smaller and easier to navigate than Brisbane.

Worry only enlarges our problems and takes away our ability to trust God absolutely. God has been showing me recently how unnecessary it is to worry. “You can’t add even an hour to your life by worrying.” And I feel silly for ever worrying about driving here.

We are the first YWAM team to live on the third floor of Song Residence, about a ten minute drive from downtown Kuching. Most of the people who live here are university students, studying at the international university.

Kuching is situated along the Rajang River and has a lovely waterfront walkway with shops and restaurants and with a nightly water and fireworks show next to the hanging bridge. Kuching means “cat” in the Malay language and there are not only cats but there are also statues and murals and monuments about cats throughout the city.

In fact, for one of the girls on my team, Trayce, the cats were a confirmation to her that she was supposed to come to Malaysia on the outreach portion of her Discipleship Training School. She didn’t know that Kuching meant “cat” in Malay and didn’t even know that we would be spending most of our time in Kuching. But God kept giving her pictures of cats. It wasn’t until after she had chosen to come to Malaysia and googled some images of Kuching that she made the connection with why God kept giving her pictures of cats in correlation to choosing an outreach location. 

Kuching is a culturally diverse city, a melting pot of sorts. There are the local Bahassa Malay people, the Iban people, Chinese and many other Asian culture represented. It made learning the language difficult because at each village that we would visit and even within the city, there were so many different languages and within the languages different dialects. So we learned a few words but not as many as we would’ve liked to.

One of our team members who was actually incredible with learning the language, learned this the hard way. He learned the word, “crazy” in Bahassa Malay which is “locho,” But he used it once in a remote village in reference to another team member when we were playing with the kids and being crazy and they were all dumbfounded. Come to find out, in that remote village, “locho” didn’t mean “crazy,” it meant, “demon possessed.” Oops. 


“Lead from behind.”

God gave me the word to “Lead from behind” soon after our outreach location and team were revealed and we began to strategize about how to have an effective two-month outreach in Malaysia. I didn’t know what this meant at first. But I knew that it didn’t mean that it was in any way an excuse for me to be lazy and not take initiative to do things that I expected the students to do. 

In retrospect, I feel like the concept of “leading from behind” really helped me to motivate and propel the team forward. As a leader on the team, I had logistics to figure out and I did need to take a supportive role and really push them forward in the ministries that we did. It really made me incredibly proud to watch them step outside of their comfort zones and do what God was calling them to do even when it was uncomfortable and hard. 

The night that they announced who would be on our team, I remember standing up front with a mic in my hand and four envelopes in my hand and opening them one by one and calling people up to join my team. I did not know who would be the next person I called until I had opened the next envelope and read out the name. 

The anticipation was huge. 

The shock of finding out who was on my team was even bigger. “What a random group of people!” But you know what? It wasn’t random at all. God had a purpose and plan in placing each one of us on this team. That became even more evident as we learned and grew together and by the end of the two months I looked around and shook my head. No, no this was not random. This was God-orchestrated. 

We had the hardest time coming up with a team name but finally settled on naming ourselves, “Team Prism.” Because we were all so different and unique but we all worked together to shine the light of Christ in our own way and it wouldn’t have been complete without all of the colors represented. 

TEAM PRISM 

Let me tell you a little bit about the meaning behind our team name. We actually called ourselves, “Team Malaylay” for the first few weeks that we were together but we needed a more official name and as we prayed about it, we kept getting visions of color. Lots of different colors all together like a rainbow but a bit different. And that’s when we landed on the idea of a prism. The concept of this “prism” is that God shines His light into each one of us and that we each show His love through. our own unique characteristics, creating a prism of colorful light.

My co-leader, Nathan from New Hampshire in the US. Then there was Oscar from the UK, Cameron from North Carolina (shoutout to my fellow North Carolinian), Anastasia from Canada, Miriam from Arizona in the US, Charity from Wyoming in the US, Trayce from North Dakota in the US, Kassie from Oregon in the US, Lindsey from Nebraska in the US.  

They say you carry a little bit of home with you wherever you go. This was true of Lindsey, who is from Nebraska. We’d be driving through the jungle on the way to a village and she’d say, “This reminds me of Nebraska!” At first we looked at her with raised eyebrows. How does this jungle remind you of your midwestern home? 

But then I started to realize that this was her way of finding familiarity in an unfamiliar place. It became a team quote. We’d see something that we knew was exactly opposite of Nebraska and we’d say, “Hey, this reminds me of Nebraska!” 

Our team had so much fun together. We weren’t perfect and we definitely had our “stretching” moments of uncomfortable growth to work through but God was so faithful and really blended us together as a family. I am so thankful for each of the members on my team, who supported and encouraged me and also who are so willing to step outside of their own comfort zones to do ministry, to meet people and to serve in whatever capacity we were asked to. They were the best! 

So come along as I share our experiences with you. This is only the beginning. I plan to share individually about each village that we visited (we went to four in total) and then a few stories from Kuching. There will be videos to go along, so go grab your popcorn and settle in for story time with Gretta. 

Fun fact: In Malaysia you can only buy caramel or sweet popcorn. There is no such thing as buttered or salted popcorn, much to one our team members chagrin. So if you, like Trayce, love salted/buttered popcorn, you may want to take your own stash when you travel to Malaysia.