Interview with Josh Yeoh
When I scrolled through my worship playlist on iTunes or Spotify, I realised that very few of the artistes are local or regional. While the songs of Hillsong or Bethel are catchy and anointed, I believe that God has called Asian musicians and songwriters into raising the sound that He has uniquely bestowed upon the region.
We had the opportunity to interview Josh Yeoh, Director of the Penang House of Prayer, to hear his heart about building a resting place for God in Asia. He also shares his journey in making his third album, Here in the Waiting, and how it connected him with musicians all over Southeast Asia.
You are currently heading the Penang House of Prayer (PenHOP). How did God call you to start a prayer movement in Penang?
In 2008, I had graduated and spent the year working with autistic kids as well as getting involved in college ministry in the USA, but then I felt the Lord leading me to return to Malaysia. It wasn’t an easy decision as there were many amazing open doors in the States. I also wasn’t sure why He was calling me back to Malaysia, and it wasn’t until I said “yes” that I knew that He wanted me to establish a House of Prayer in Penang.
A lesson I learnt from that process was that not every open door is from the Lord, and that there is no substitute for a daily, abiding intimate walk with Him. Every decision I made needs to first come from the place of hearing His voice.
What is building a House of Prayer like?
Building a House of Prayer is not a glamorous job. Sometimes you spend hours in a full room; other times there are only 2 persons. However, through this, the Lord has taught me that greatness is established in the secret place and not on stage.
We always hear the cliché phrase that we are meant to perform for the audience of One, but until you’ve been through seasons of literally having to show up to an almost empty room – because it’s your sacred vow to God –it’s not possible to fully grasp the profound reality of this phrase. I did that for a year in USA before coming back to Malaysia.
Even now, my greatest joy as well as my surest safety of evaluating the motivations of my heart is ministering in prayer room devotional sets when there is hardly anyone present. It’s all just for Him. You could say that the greatest lesson I’ve learnt is that my calling isn’t primarily to build a House of Prayer, lead worship, or to preach; my calling is first and foremost to minister to His heart. Everything else is from the overflow of that.
You’ve just launched your new album, “Here in the Waiting”! What’s the message that God impressed on your heart for this album?
Two scripture verses – Hebrews 11:9-10 and 2 Timothy 4:8 – have become foundational verses in the process of producing the album. In Hebrews, it talks about Abraham being a sojourner, living in tents, and looking to a city whose builder and maker is God. Paul writes in Timothy that at the end of his life, he was looking to the day when the Lord Himself would award Him a crown and to all who have longed for His appearing.
At the deepest level, the central message of the album would be one of waiting and longing for the consummation of all perfection in the return of Jesus Christ. I’ve given my life to see sons and daughters express the nature and character of their Father to be revealed, and for Jesus to receive His inheritance in the nations. We are His Bride who yearns for His return. Many of the songs were written from that place.
The theme of “waiting” is one that many can identify with. More than raising the question of what or who we are waiting for, I pray that the listener will be confronted with this question: How are we waiting? When we wait in a posture of confident hope, then the who or what we are waiting for is for certain.
We’ve heard crazy things about the making of this album. Could you share with me more about this journey?
The journey has been incredible. From the get-go, there has been such a sense of the Lord breathing on this project. God connected me to the most phenomenal and prophetic worshippers in the region, and they actually managed to find time away from their busy lives to fly in to Penang for the live recording. He has also provided the resources, whether in terms of finance or creativity, and continues to provide for upcoming tour.
The word He gave me at the onset was “collaborate.” This project has been nothing short of divine, as it has inspired collaborations among Christians from Southeast Asia.
What was the most memorable moment in the process of making this album?
There were two most memorable moments for me. The first was during our final rehearsal, which was the day before the recording. We had set up the prayer room and were testing the lighting and running through the songs. Suddenly, the presence of God filled the room. The singers started weeping. I was overcome by His nearness. We could barely continue because the presence of God was so real, close, and raw. I’m glad it happened then because if it happened during the actual recording, we may not have had much footage to put on the album!
The second memorable moment was at the end of the live recording. We had finished singing The Return and were continuing in a time of spontaneous worship. All of a sudden, as Terry was playing this line on the electric guitar, it felt like everyone in the room spontaneously erupted singing that same melodic line. The sheer volume of the sound hit my chest and I began prophesying in song. It was like everyone in the room was singing in such beautiful harmony and it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve heard.
However, when we were started post-production the very next day, I was recounting that moment with the band and then we realised that very few of us were actually singing. Many were on their knees or prostrated, either praying in the Spirit or weeping – not many people were singing. The strange thing was that everyone there that night heard what I heard.
What I think happened was that the Lord, in His kindness lifted ever slightly the veil of eternity and allowed that tiny room to experience what was happening in heaven at that moment. I believe we all heard the sounds of angels on that night. Every time I listen to the last track on the album, which is a snippet of what actually happened (the unedited track would have lasted 25 minutes!), I feel the power of what happened that night all over again.
What is the one thing you hope listeners will take away after listening to your songs?
It is encapsulated in 2 Tim. 4:8: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
After the final note of the last track has faded and what’s left in the heart of the listener is an aching and longing for Jesus and a desire to love Him more, then it would have all been worth it.
What is one lesson that you’ve taken away from this entire journey?
There was a moment in the process where the Lord had to strip away some of my expectations for the album. He whispered to my heart that the goal of the album was “presence, not perfection”. And I think that this is one lesson that I’ve learned: It is possible to achieve a standard of perfection in a project or in ministry and completely miss the point, which is His presence. There’s a line in Amanda Cook’s song, Shepherd, that goes “Your presence is the promise, for I am a pilgrim on a journey”. It has always gripped me. At the end of the day, if we have His presence, then we have everything.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to songwriters hoping to hone their craft?
I believe that as much work needs to go into the craft as the inspiration behind every song. As all the songs on the album were birthed in some way spontaneously in the Prayer Room, I find that the best way in preparing to ride on those moments of “Holy Spirit inspiration” is to make sure you have prepared what is necessary in your songwriter’s tool bag.
Know the basics like how a song is structured. Study literary devices. Push yourself creatively. Don’t settle for trite “You alone, at Your throne” rhymes. Most importantly, embrace the gift of creativity the Lord has given to us and be a good steward by developing it.
Josh Yeoh’s latest album, Here In The Waiting, is available on iTunes at: http://hyperurl.co/a5qop2.
Also catch Josh Yeoh at the #HITW Tour between November 26-29 across Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. More information for each city can be found below:
26 November — Penang (FGA Centre)
27 November — Kuala Lumpur (DUMC)
29 November — Singapore (Faith Methodist Church)