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. 

Schoolies in Byron Bay, Australia

Byron Bay is a small beach town located in the far-northeastern most corner of the state of New South Wales, Australia (about four hours from where I live in Brisbane). Because of Byron Bay’s unique location and stunning beauty, it has become a deeply spiritual place and draws people from all over the world.  In the evenings we would often find a group of hippies gathered in a circle  playing the drums and other homemade instruments as people danced under the moon next to the sea.

During the second half of Schoolies, I got transferred to Byron Bay, which is a couple of hours south from where I had been working with RED FROGS in the Gold Coast. The environment in Byron Bay during schoolies was completely different from the Gold Coast. It was so much more relaxed, with only a couple hundred of schoolies in Byron Bay versus 22,000 in Gold Coast. We got to build more long-term connections with Schoolies as we saw the same ones every night. A few of them chose to follow Jesus, which was super exciting!

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Thursday night when I arrived into Byron Bay, I was standing outside of “The Hub” which was the volunteer tent that RedFrogs put up to give aid and assistance to schoolies. I looked out over the sea with the moonlight sparkling on the water. As the sea breeze blew through my hair, I had a flashback to a year ago when I was standing in this exact same spot. I remembered how God spoke to me then, “A year from now, you’ll be here.” In that moment I thought, “No, I won’t.” But then over the next few months, God gently nudged until I finally said, “Yes” to His plan for me to return to Australia. But I thought God meant that I would be back in Australia, not necessarily in the exact same spot a year later!

Our ministry time each day started in the late afternoon and would go until about midnight, so I would get up and run at sunrise and explore the little shops scattered throughout the neighborhood of the church where we were staying.

One morning after my run, I was sitting on a driftwood log, watching surfers catch waves. Meanwhile, this middle-aged man came in from taking a morning swim and smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it a beautiful morning to be alive?” I laughed and agreed. “Can I sit?” he asked. “Sure!” We chatted at first, then talked about his job at the Byron Bay Cookie Company. He recounted his fishing and snorkeling stories and about the yearly whale migration. The whole time that he and I were talking, I kept praying about bringing up spirituality. But  our conversation ended and he left before I had the opportunity to ask this man if he knew Jesus.

On my run home, I felt a bit disappointed in myself and so I told God, “If you give me another opportunity today, I will take it.”

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Later on, I was prayer walking along the beach before our volunteer time began and I saw this rock formation that fascinated me and I wanted to explore more, so I went in closer to take photos of the textures. On the other side, I saw a girl a good distance away. The way that she was standing looking out at the waves would’ve made a perfect picture. I was standing there with  my camera slung over my shoulder, analyzing the lines and lighting and mentally framing the perfect picture, and wanting to take a photo of her. But as a general rule, I try to meet strangers before taking their photo, so I didn’t take it. I went closer, taking photos fo the textures and colors that I was seeing and then she turned around and said, “Can you take a photo of me?” And I felt dumbfounded because if only she would’ve known that I was wanting to take one of her!

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She ran over to grab her phone and I said, “Oh, I’ll take it on my camera if that’s okay because it will be higher quality and then I can use the wifi on my camera to download it to my phone and then I’ll airdrop it to you!” I took photos of her and then had trouble with airdrop not working. We began talking and I found out that she had just arrived that day from Germany to work on a film project about the Back Packers traveling through a town close to Byron. She expressed her uncertainty about her ability to excel at the project. Since airdrop wasn’t doing its job of transferring the photos from my phone to hers, we exchanged contact information.

Just before we were about to part ways, I knew that this was that opportunity that I had prayed for earlier. “Hey,” I said, “I don’t know what your religious viewpoints are but I feel like God wants me to tell you that you are loved and that you are beautiful and that He is going to help you to excel with this project.” She began to cry and said that it meant so much to hear that. “There’s something different about you,” she said, “I don’t know exactly how to describe it but you are so happy and I can tell that you love life.” I told her that I haven’t always been this way but that Jesus transformed my life and that He would love to transform her life. She said she’s still trying to figure out what she believes but thanked me for sharing and we parted ways.

It was encouraging to have this encounter because I struggle to share my faith. It’s much easier for me to live out my faith, to do kind things, say kind things, carry the Spirit of Christ with me but it is so difficult for me to speak it out. But I am trying to grow in boldness and to share the good news, because IT IS GOOD!

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I spent Thanksgiving in Byron Bay, eating avocado toast and finishing up our last day of ministry with RedFrogs in downtown Byron. When we had packed up, we ordered pizza and ate it around the picnic table before heading home to Brisbane. Time and time again, as I’ve stepped out in faith and ventured thousands of miles away, God has provided me with a community of people around me to be like family.

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God has been so faithful to me during my time in Australia. The adjustment was harder than I expected but as of this week, I do feel settled and happy in my life here now.

Gaining Inspiration

I got so inspired to create things and to create my own art as I walked around and took in all the details and textures and styles and colors of things being sold in artsy shops around Byron Bay.

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McTavish Cafe and Surf Shop

McTavish is a custom surf shop with an espresso machine at the checkout counter, just like so many other Aussie shops. I passed this place on my morning run and came back later to grab a cuppa and use wifi to do some prep for my upcoming outreach to Malaysia. But while I waited for my latte, I walked around and just took photos.

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A proper depiction of Byron Bay culture.

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McTavish has a surf club and the group of surfers that I talked about earlier actually came from this cafe and were quite talented.

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Sunrise at the Lighthouse:

The Cape Byron Lighthouse is perched on the Easternmost part of Australia with a gorgeous panoramic view of the ocean. On our last morning in Byron, I took a couple of friends along to watch the sunrise. We had to park outside of the gate (which was still locked since it was so early in the morning) but we walked up to the lookout and got there just in time to see the sun slip over the horizon.

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Peaceful morning, sun slipping gradually over the horizon. Yesterday’s worries are gone and today rises with new possibility.

The sun moves slowly up the horizon. The waves crash in over rocky shore, ebbing and flowing. Wind blows the grassy turf and birds fly overhead. I take it all in, letting the newness wash over my soul.

This particular spot is called, “Tallows Beach” and is visible from the lighthouse in Byron Bay. It is a popular surf spot and if you look closer, you’ll see that the swell is dotted with surfers waiting to catch a wave.

That’s a wrap for Byron Bay! I hope you enjoyed this.

How to use your words in 2019

I LOVE WELCOMING IN A NEW YEAR. I LOVE TO WATCH SUNRISES. I LOVE MONDAYS. I LOVE STARTING NEW THINGS. I LIKE THE FEELING OF ANTICIPATION AND EXCITEMENT THAT COMES WITH STARTING AFRESH. THAT’S WHY I’M SO HAPPY THAT ANOTHER YEAR IS HERE! 
As I stood with thousands in downtown Brisbane between the Brissy river shore and SouthBank watching an epic fireworks show on New Years Eve, I began thinking about 2019 and more specifically, how I hope to use my words this year.

WORDS HAVE INFLUENCE.

I can speak life or death with my words. I’ve been realizing lately that the thoughts that are inside of my heart are what eventually take shape and become what I speak into existence.
If I’m perfectly honest, not all of my words that came out of my mouth in the past year have been words of life. Now I realize that some situations do require ugly honesty in order to resolve a problem. But what I’m talking about is when the overflow of my heart is constantly negative and my words lift me up and tear the people around me down.
This year, I don’t have a long list of goals. Instead, I hope to make achievable goals at the beginning of each month. But one goal that I do have for the whole year is to S P E A K   K I N D L Y to those around me.

GROWING IN 2019

I like digging around in the dirt and getting my hands dirty and watching things grow. And that’s what I want to do this year; to dig in the soil of my heart and to make it a fertile place for growth to happen.
“If speaking kindly to plants can make them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans could do.” -Simran Kalra
Imagine what would happen if we all agreed together to speak kindly to each other? To choose kindness even when we disagree. What if we would all keep our thoughts and words constantly filtered through truth?
“Gentle words bring life and health.” Proverbs 15:4
My days here at YWAM Brisbane are full to the brim with scheduled school activities, meetings and responsibilities. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t always feel like doing the things that I am asked to do. I have to constantly die to self and check my attitude to keep my heart at a place of recognizing that I signed up for a life of joyful service rather than a life of drudgery and duty. Don’t get me wrong; I love living here but I guess I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the enemy would attack my thoughts and my attitudes.
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It’s forced me to run to God in humility when I mess up. It’s made me realize how measly my own efforts are to live a holy life in my own human power. I’ve come to understand how desperately I need Jesus every moment of every day to renew my mind and to be my joy and my strength. Because on my own, I’m weak.
Oftentimes by the evening here, I am exhausted from the heat and activities and sometimes I just need a breather. Thankfully, I live in a beautiful little suburb of Brisbane, surrounded by a lot of tropical beauty. When I get out and enjoy the cooler evening air and pick little bouquets, I am refreshed by the beauty that surrounds me.

But I don’t think that plants should just live outside. One of the first things that I bought for my room here was a rubber tree plant. I’ve enjoyed caring for it and watching it grow.
Rubber plant care:  The rubber tree plant needs the right balance of water. During the growing season, it needs to be kept moist. It is also a good idea to wipe off the leaves of your rubber tree houseplant with a damp cloth or spritz it with water.
Last month, I read the book of Hosea during a week of intense ministry to Schoolies and one thing that God highlighted to me personally was this verse,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14
Deserts are places of thorns and pricks and snakes. Deserts are dry and barren. When we’re in the desert, we have to find ways to stay hydrated, just as a means of survival. There have been times in my life that have felt dry and barren. But what’s surprised me in those moments is that when I quiet my heart, what I hear are kind words spoken tenderly to me by my Creator.
Stepping into a new year, there is always excitement and celebration. But there is also the real element of fighting against the fear of the unknown. You might be dealing with feelings of disappointment at things that weren’t fulfilled in the past year.
If you are feeling alone or sad as you step into the new year, I hope that you will be reminded that God promises to never leave you or forsake you.

If you’re in a desert place in your life, quiet your heart and listen to the voice of God. I believe that He is speaking tenderly to you. He loves you and cares so much about what happens in the upcoming year.

One thing that God has been challenging me to do is to E X P E C T good things to happen in my life and in my future. It’s easy to recognize how God is working in other people’s lives. Sometimes I find it hard to let myself get my hopes up for good things to happen to me, knowing in the back of my mind there is a very real possibility of being disappointed. But I believe that God does have good things in store for those that He loves. Sure, our lives can have trials but even in the middle of our desert places we can experience His kindness carrying us through.
And that’s one reason why I’ve created another T-shirt campaign. Not only to remind us that in our desert places God speaks kindly to us but also that we can use our words to speak kindly into other people’s lives when they may be in a desert place. 
NEXT MONTH, I AM HEADED OFF TO MALAYSIA TO CO-LEAD A 2-MONTH MISSION’S TRIP. WE WILL BE DOING MINISTRY IN THE LOCAL CHURCHES (LEADING YOUTH GROUPS AND KIDS MINISTRY) AND ALSO TRAVELING OUT TO THE VILLAGES TO SHARE THE GOSPEL IN PLACES THAT ARE CUT OFF FROM THE REST OF CIVILIZATION. I’M REALLY EXCITED TO SEE WHAT GOD HAS PLANNED FOR OUR TEAM OF 10 PEOPLE. I’M IN THE PROCESS OF TRYING TO RAISE FUNDS (APPROXIMATELY $2,500) TO COVER THE COST OF THIS TRIP. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PARTNER WITH ME IN PRAYER OR FINANCIALLY, I WOULD BE SO GRATEFUL! 

The T-shirt campaign will help to raise funds for the trip. Or, if you don’t want a T-shirt you can donate through PayPal: grettacoates@gmail.com. Or you can give a tax-deductible gift directly through the YWAM Brisbane Website. 
I’m so grateful that you are here and that you show interest in my life and what God is doing. I am breathing a prayer for you right now because even though I might not know your name, God does and He cares so much for you. He has beautiful plans for your life this year!

New Places

The Australian sun rises early! I sit up and twist my blinds open, rubbing my eyes as I slowly awake.  I shut off my alarm, hoping that it hasn’t woken my roommate up. I grab my Bible from the nightstand and head outside to our front steps where the sun bathes me in warmth as I read.

“Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you that says, “This is the way, walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Even before coming to Australia, I sensed that God wanted to do “A new thing.” So I’ve been reading through Isaiah and I’ve drawn into the newness of who God is to me as a Father, a redeemer and friend to me. 

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Is. 43:19

The Discipleship Training School has been underway for nearly a month! It’s hard to describe how it felt to go to the airport and get to finally meet all of these people that I’ve been praying for from before I even knew their names. It’s been fun to not only put names to their faces but get to know them as individuals and watch as the personality of the school develops and evolves.

With the phrase, “I’m doing a new thing” I had the hunch that even though I care so deeply about Australia and its beautiful people, it was likely that I would not lead the mission outreach there. Not this time. 

Last week, our school leaders approached each of the staff members individually and asked to pray about a specific country where would like for us to lead a team of young people on a missions’ outreach.

The night before they told me the location, I was praying and asking God to prepare me for the place that I would be going. I had a flashback to a conversation that I had with a friend a year earlier, when I was choosing where to go on my outreach for DTS. We weren’t supposed to talk among ourselves about the two locations that we had written on a piece of paper and given to our school leader but this friend was just being cheeky and said, ”I bet you chose Asia!” Hoping that my reaction give it away. I played along and said, “How did you know?” In reality, I had chosen to stay in Australia even though I have such a heart for overseas missions. 

Isn’t it funny how God works? Last year, I would’ve been thrilled to go overseas to do missions but felt strongly that I should stay here in Australia. This year, I would’ve been thrilled to stay in Australia but God wanted me to go overseas. 

For a day and a half, I heard that phrase running over and over through my head, “I bet you chose Asia.” The next day when my leaders called me into the office and revealed the location that they wanted me to pray about, I wasn’t surprised when it was indeed an Asian country.

God had already been preparing me to go there by highlighting to me how you can underline the “A-S-I-A” in “AUSTRALIA” to spell, “Asia.”

I had never felt particularly called to Asia before but one thing that I’ve felt God putting on my heart is a flexibility to go wherever He calls me, even if it’s a place that I don’t feel particularly drawn to. I’ll admit, it took some praying and research for me to gain a heart for this nation. I was willing to go, I just needed some time to think about it. I took a day to pray about the location and felt so much peace.

I came back to the leaders to give them my answer. “Yes, I’ll go there!” But they said, “Hey, can we talk for a minute?” “Sure?” I said, not sure what they might say. 

They sat me down and said, “Plans have deteriorated for us to go on outreach to the country that we originally asked you to pray about. Would I consider this other Asian country instead?” I sat there, shocked by the news. They connected me with some people and resources that gave me more understanding of the situation and the dangers that they were trying to protect me and my co-leader and potentially our team from by closing down the first option and asking us to pray about a second option. 

I needed some time to process, so I went on a walk through my beautiful neighborhood to pray about it. This news didn’t disrupt my peace; I still had peace to move forward. I just needed time to let the changes settle over me.  

As I walked, it was like I suddenly had an “Aha” moment with God and understood  more fully why He had highlighted “Asia” to me. It helped me to shift my “yes” from the first location to the second since it was still within Asia. So I told them, “I’ll go!” 

Last night, we planned a really fun family night as a school, giving the music and dance students the opportunity to perform for the rest of us. It was loud and hilarious and everything that a “Music, Art + Dance” night should be. 

Then we amped up the suspense of finding out outreach locations by theming the rest of the evening around the TV show, “The Bachelor.” All 10 of us staff that are leading outreaches to six different locations came forward and were given an envelope with names inside. Then one by one, we’d open our envelope and invite that person forward to “Accept” the outreach location, along with a chocolate.

Even as staff, we had no idea who was going to be on our team until we were announcing their names into the microphone. Then at the very end, we called each team up onto stage and announced where they were going! Do you want to know where I’m going?

I’m going to Kuching, Malaysia! 

Me and my co-leader, Nathan, will be leaving in early February for eight weeks and taking eight students with us. We will be working closely with one pastor in particular who will connect us with opportunities to teach English, lead kids and youth ministry and go to remote villages to spread the gospel. We’re really excited to see what God is going to do through all of us in this new place, where none of us have been before.

Pray for me if you think of it, the next few months are going to to be really busy as I sort out logistics and prepare our team for going overseas to Malaysia!

Making Travel Effortless

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During my flight across the Pacific to come to Australia, I scribbled down a list of things I wish I knew before I traveled. I may have been bored or maybe I was just reflecting over the last two years and what I would’ve told myself if I could go back in time to when I was a newbie at traveling.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT IS YOUR PACKING STYLE?

Are you the type of person to pack for a trip weeks in advance, or do tend to throw your things in your suitcase last minute and hope for the best?

By nature, I am the first type. I enjoy the slow process of planning; picking outfits and having an excuse to buy those travel-sized cosmetics and then arranging it all neatly into my suitcase. 

But over the last few years as I’ve basically lived out of a suitcase for months on end, I’ve not only gotten quicker at packing but I also have fewer belongings, so I’ve somewhat morphed into the second type.

For example, when I came to Australia the first time, I was packed a month in advance. This time? I didn’t pack until a few hours before my departure.

There are pros and cons to both packing styles. For instance, when I was checking my bag in at the airport to fly to Australia this time, I had to reshuffle a few things between my carry on and check in to meet the weight restrictions. This meant that when I got to the gate after a tearful goodbye to my family, and after I scanned my boarding pass and was walking down the jetway, I realized that the book I had been planning to read on my flight was now in my check in, in the underbelly of the airplane. I would be very, very bored for the next few days of travel.

Or would I?

Lucky for me, I had a few other options of ways to occupy my time.

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ON YOUR PHONE: 

Download the app for your airline to have automatic access to your booking information or at the very least flag your flight information in your emails so it’s easy for you to find. I’ve had enough flights rescheduled or canceled last minute that I’ve learned that it is also smart to print out your original flight information (I know, old school) so that if you end up on the phone rescheduling, you have the booking information right in front of you. 

FOR ENTERTAINMENT: 

  • Download podcasts or books from Audible ahead of time! Some of my favorites are:

Nothing is wasted Podcast

The Secret Art of Storytelling by Carmine Gallo 

  • Most of the music I listen is on Spotify, which means that I don’t have a lot of music downloaded onto my phone. So before a trip I always download a playlist to give me something new and exciting to listen to.
  • Watch movies. Either on the screen in front of your or download a few on your phone or laptop before your trip.
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IN YOUR BAG:

  • First off, I’d like to give a plug for the Ona Bag. They are Italian made bags and they certainly are quality! I love that their camera bag are versatile for international travel. The Camps Bay Bag is what I have been using for the last year and it has the perfect amount of space for camera gear but also a pocket in the back interior where you can store your laptop and a few personal items. I bought mine on Ebay for half of the original pice and the only complaint I have is that it’s hard to find a water bottle that fits into the side pocket because the pockets are so snug.
  • A water bottle to fill up at a water fountain once you’re beyond security. I don’t know about you, but traveling always makes me so thirsty!
  • An immune booster. I kept several packets of the Pink Drink in my carry on. I went into this trip really tired because of a crazy busy summer at home in North Carolina. In the past, this would’ve meant that I could easily get sick during the trip or upon my arrival into the new country. But not this time! I’ve been working all summer to boost my immune system with ProBio5, and Bio-Cleanse. I’ve also found that jumping ahead in time zones is easier than jumping back, so upon arriving here I didn’t even really have jet lag and I was ready to jump into the busy #ywambrisbane schedule on Monday morning after I arrived into Australia on Sunday night!
  • A good book. And don’t even begin to think of putting it into your check-in. I love reading about the places that I am about to travel to. Sunburnt Country is a great book that tells a lot about Aussie culture and paints beautiful, historical scenes of life in the outback and in the coastal region of Australia. It is written by journalist Bill Bryson who writes candidly about his travels. Australia is unique in the fact that it doubles as its own continent and as everyone knows, it is a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather and the most peculiar and deadliest wildlife that can be found on the planet. He weaves interesting facts in with his witty words to tell a story of his adventures in the Land Down Under. I read this book the first time I was in Australia!
  • A moleskin journal. This was gifted to me by my sister and has become my all-time favorite because it can double as an art book! Also, pens. I’ve had a lot of people ask me what pens I use, so here it is: Tombows are my personal favorite calligraphy pens but I also love Energel pens by Pentel. You’ll need pens for journaling but also to fill out the customs form upon arrival.
  • Snacks! I always make sure to pack a few granola bars or dried fruit or chocolate into my carry on. Airport snacks are always so expensive and so I’ve found it’s nice to have my own stash handy.
  • A toothbrush! My mom taught me to put a toothbrush and a travel sized toothpaste in my handbag and that way I’m golden through my whole flight and travel process, with no bad breath! 

STAY COMFY:

  • Wear comfortable clothes! If you get cold easily, take a light jacket along for the flight. Longer flights provide blankets for you but I’ve found that in the shorter flights, I often get cold and wish for something to warm up with. I always pack one spare set of clothes in my carry on, just in case my cheek in gets lost or to change into before I arrive at my final destination.
  • If you are wearing sandals or flats, take a pair of socks along in your bag and once you are settled into your seat, slip off your shoes and put on the socks! This gives you the illusion that you are hanging out your living room rather than sitting in the cramped row of a jetliner.
  • If possible, reserve a window seat ahead of time! I usually spend most of my time up in the air staring out the window and musing over the deep things of life. Also, this gives you the best views for taking pictures.

FOR LAYOVERS:

  • For super long layovers: check to see if the airport has a shower. I’ve found that airports often have a shower stall in one or more of their bathrooms and it feels heavenly to be able to freshen up after hours and hours of traveling. 
  • Meet people! On my way home from Australia in May, I had a layover in Vancouver. I usually love long layovers but this time I hadn’t slept on the 14-hour since my flight took off a little before sunrise in Brisbane, Australia and landed in Vancouver at sunrise, 12 hours later.

 

I WAS AT MY GATE with about six hours to spare until my next flight home and I was watching a fascinating documentary series called, “Human.” I paused the documentary to grab a selfie to send to my sister and just as I snapped it, I noticed someone photobombing me. I turned around and the girl laughed, “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” She introduced herself and we began talking. She was coming from Sydney, where she had spent a month on holiday. I had my earbuds up until meeting her, so I hadn’t heard the conversation that the lady behind me was having with this girl before we started talking. But my new friend confided, “That lady was trying to convince me to become a christian!” I listened to her talk and tried to ease into spiritual topics without coming across in the same way that the other lady had, since I could pick up that this girl had hesitations. “Wait, where are you from again?” She asked me at one point. “North Carolina” I said. “Oh, you’re from the Bible belt. Wait, are you a christian?” She asked, wide eyed. “I am, but I’ll admit, I haven’t always had strong faith. I lost my dad when I was very young and then about 10 years later, I lost my brother. It sent me through years of depression. I remember thinking that if God had allowed to me, surely He didn’t love me. But now I see it differently. He created the world and put us here to live immortally but because we sinned, now we suffer the consequence of death. I think that’s why we struggle so hard to face it, because we weren’t meant to die.” She seemed to soften as I spoke and then she opened up about her own losses. “I haven’t found anyone else who understands losing people that are close to you like you do. I don’t even know why I ended up at this gate, I was just going to sit here for a few minutes and charge my phone.” She said. We talked for two hours and when it was time for her to find her own gate to catch her flight, she said, “I feel like I’ve known you for so much longer than just these few hours.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder and disappeared in the crowd of people.

I sat there, stunned. In the past, I’ve had a difficult time talking about faith with strangers. But as a follower of Jesus, we are called to spread His love. I don’t think that means that we need to try to convert everybody that we meet. But I think it is so important to be in tune with what the Holy Spirit is speaking because He knows the intricacies of each person’s journey and whether they just need a smile and a listening ear or if they need to hear truth so that they too can be set free. 

I love the ebb and flow of the crowds of people and cultures surging through airports. Airports are my place for deep thoughts. For looking around with eyes wide and saying, “Wow, God. You are so creative.”

Traveling and living overseas has certainly opened me up to explore worlds that are bigger than my own and I’m excited to see where God will take me in life and how He will keep taking me outside of my comfort zone in the future. Now it’s your turn. Tell me in the comments what you’ve learned that helps to make travel as effortless as possible?

“I go before you.”

As I prepared to return to Australia, I kept expecting that there would be an obstacle in the way that would prevent me from going. I know, I know – “Oh ye of little faith,” right?! I didn’t vocalize my doubt until about a week before I left when still, no obstacle had emerged.

It took a hurricane for me to stop and realize what God was really up to. The doors for me to go kept flying open and not just because of the hurricane!

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I got an email less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to fly, stating that my flight was bumped up 12 hours because of Hurricane Florence. I hadn’t packed my bags yet and the next few hours were a haze of emptying out my closet and dresser into my plaid suitcase, while my nieces watched with wide eyes. Suddenly my plans had been rearranged but not in the way that I was expecting. I had been watching the news regarding the hurricane and had even called the airline earlier in the day to make sure things were still on schedule. At the time, they were.

But when that email came, I stared back in amazement.

God had gone ahead of me, knowing that the storm would cause flight cancelations and He paved the way for me to leave early so that I could make it to Australia in time to start orientation and training on schedule!

My 12-hour layover in Houston turned into an 18 hour layover as a result. But that ended up being a bonus because my Aunt Nancy dropped everything to come and pick me up, giving me the chance to spend all of my layover with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins. It was wonderful!

The Pink Drink keeping me energized even while traveling for 57 hours! Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

When my Aunt dropped me back off at the airport, I found the Air New Zealand ticket counters empty. ‘That’s odd.’ I thought. I walked over to the screen to see look for the flight status and I got nervous when it said, “Flight canceled.” I got on the phone and talked to an airline agent and was put on hold for two hours until I had my flight completely redirected and rescheduled for 5:30 the next morning and a voucher for a hotel stay and free dinner for that night! 

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I set my alarm for 3AM and fell into a deep sleep. A little too deep perhaps because wouldn’t you know it?! I didn’t hear my alarm! I woke up 4:13 and leapt out of bed, struggled into clothes and grabbed my suitcases and ran, praying desperately all the way that I would make it to the gate in time. This was my last domestic flight (IAH to LAX) but still, I knew that I needed 60-minutes prior to departure time to get my suitcase checked to my final destination – Brisbane!

It was at 65 minutes before my flight when I was stood at the delta desk and I wouldn’t be exaggerating at all if I said that I had been fast asleep 8 minutes prior to that. A boarding assistant who looked almost as sleepy as me printed my boarding pass and lugged my suitcase onto the conveyer belt and wished me well on my trip.

The security line was nearly empty and I weaved my way up to the officer standing at the security station. He glanced down at my suitcase as I placed it on the conveyer belt and then up at me, “Gretta!” He said, without missing a beat. “It’s been so long. How are you doing?” I stared back. Did he know me? “Great!” I answered feebly, still searching his face to find familiarity. My family and I used to live in Houston, so it was possible he might’ve known us from way back then? But I couldn’t place him. “Is Hurricane Florence affecting you in North Carolina?” He asked as I struggled to take my shoes off and extract my laptop from the case to send through the scanner. “Well, not at the moment” I said, and then I realized how stupid that sounded. Of course it wasn’t affecting me; I was in Houston! I stumbled on in my early morning delirium, “Thankfully, my family won’t experience much more than strong winds and rain.” I said. Just before I walked through the monitor, he threw back his head and laughed and said, “I’m just playing with you. I read your name and address on your baggage tag.” “You got me.” I said with a laugh. His humor was just what I needed to ease the stress of the moment, as I frantically gathered my things and ran to my departure gate. I arrived at the gate at 4:38AM. Just in time for the first boarding call!

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Ever since the email that I received about my flight leaving earlier than planned, I’ve been mulling over this misconception that I have carried with me for most of my adult life. I’ve expected obstacles to block me from doing the things that I feel called by God to do! All of a sudden it became clear that so many times in the past, the enemy had rigged me with disbelief to keep me from accomplishing the very things that God was calling me to do!

But as I have begun to recognize these lies, I’ve started to stand in opposition to them. And that’s when I can hear God speaking! 

One thing that God spoke to me was, “Gretta, I want you to start expecting Me to do good things for you!”

I never had any trouble believing that God wanted to do good things for other people but I did have a hard time believing that He had good things in store for me too! Until recently…

I began to carry that expectation of good things to come and to my delight, it eased the weight that I had carried on my shoulders for so long. I started to see that expectation being met because I was constantly looking around and thinking, “I wonder what good thing God will do next?”

#VirginAustralia’s healthy airplane food. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Returning to Australia wasn’t an easy decision for me. It took from last November until early March to even tell anyone other than my Mom that I felt like God wanted me to come back.

In November, God had spoken directly,

“You’ll be back here in Australia at this time next year.”

And I responded with an adamant, “No, I won’t!” Because that wasn’t my plan. But immediately afterwards, I had a moment of curiosity where I thought, “How would it be to come back?!” All of a sudden it looked less impossible and more appealing that it had previously. I started to pray for peace if that was the right decision.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Australia and I loved my YWAM family. But I knew that coming back would mean giving up my own personal time and space and resources and that looked really hard. I knew that I would need to grow and learn new things and in that moment when I was right in the thick of learning and growing, it looked scary. In retrospect, I think that God spoke to me right then because He knows me well enough to know that I process things slowly. 

The peace that I prayed for has been so real to me as I’ve prepared to come back to Australia. 

These verses have become especially precious to me,

“Be strong and courageous…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:7-8

As I write this, I’m jetting over the Pacific ocean, headed to Brisbane Australia. I have no doubt in my mind that it is God who has gone before me. And God was right! I would be back in Australia, “At this time next year!”

On that note, if you haven’t yet claimed your COURAGE T-shirt, you can do so now! 

The LOVED T-shirts were such a big hit that the campaign automatically relaunched! So if you haven’t claimed yours yet or if you are needing ideas for Christmas or birthday gifts, go check it out!

A huge thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me to continue to follow God by returning to Australia to do mission work! It means so much to have you along on this journey!

What’s Next?

When I went to Australia in October of 2017, I never dreamed that less than one year later, I would be going back! But here I am, with a two year visa and a heart full of anticipation.

Why Australia?

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane Australia.

I realize that some of you are new here and aren’t familiar with why I went to Australia in the first place! So let me explain… I wanted to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with “Youth With a Mission” (YWAM) ever since one of my friends, Joy, attended one in Europe. I watched her life change in beautiful ways and I wanted to have the same passion for Jesus that I saw in her when she returned.

In early 2017, I found out about “Art Focused Discipleship Training Schools” and I began doing research to figure out which one would be a good fit for me. I narrowed it down to two different schools that both had a  photography focus. One was in Mexico and one in Australia. I had already been to Mexico before and really wanted to go someplace new and so I opted for Australia!

What is a D.T.S.? 

It stands for “Discipleship Training School.” Essentially I learned to know God on a deeper level and then I learned how to make Him known among the nations by going out and telling people about Him! It’s like a spiritual greenhouse and I grew so much!

I went with no idea of what God would do in me or through me. I simply wanted a more solid foundation for my faith. Over the course of the six months, as I learned about God, healed from my past, and continued to ask God to reveal more about His individual calling on my life, it became clear to me that this D.T.S. was a stepping stone into the future! God began to call me back to Australia. It was a process of unraveling as my own plans (and stubbornness) dissolved and God patiently waited for me to say, “Yes!” with all of my heart to His plan for this next season in my life. 

What will I be doing in Australia for two years? 

I will be a staff member at Y.W.A.M. Brisbane, which essentially means that I will be coming alongside of people who will be attending the next D.T.S. schools, just like the one I graduated from this Spring!

My time in Brisbane will be broken up into three phases starting in mid-September, 2018!

  1. Training and prep for School #1 (1 month), School #1 (6 months)
  2. Logistical Phase (5 months), Visit home (approx. 1 month).
  3. Training and prep for School #2 (1 month), School #2 (6 months), Wrap up (approx. 1 month). 

The school that I’ll be helping to staff is “Art Focused” so we’ll have all sorts of creative people there using their gifts in: music, art, dance, photography, film, coffee and communications! In short, we call it the “M.A.D. school” which is short for “Music, Art and Dance” even though it has since expanded to include the other arts that I mentioned above.

In less than a month, I’ll be going “down under” to join in on what God is doing through YWAM Brisbane.

I want to invite you to come along and share in this time with me, as I share stories and pictures on this blog, but also through my newsletter, where I will share more personally about what God is doing in my life. You can subscribe to both on the sidebar of this page.

It means so much to have you along on this journey!

-Gretta

Hello!

As you may have noticed by a quick look around my site, I am giving this blog a makeover. There are big things ahead; things that I want to share with you!

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My first blog had humble beginnings. I wanted to write about every little thing in my life because I really thought that all of it mattered so much. Guess what? At the age of 15, the things that were so big and important were less interesting than I thought them to be in the moment. Haha.

After that, I went through a phase where my blog was strictly about my photography business because sharing about my personal life felt too vulnerable.

Now?

Oh, I can’t wait to tell you about who I am now and what all is happening in my life… So come back and stay a while.

If you’ve been on my blog before, it’s good to have you back! And if you’re new here, I’m so excited to get to know you!

Cheers! -Gretta