“Games work like magic when it comes to breaking down walls,” Trixie Hanlon (née Khor) says.
The business owner and homeschooling mother of three squeezed an hour into her busy schedule to chat with Faithour about her mission as an advocate of authentic conversations.
Trixie and her American husband, Stephen, created The Lepak Game in 2015, a card game loosely based on the US party game Apples to Apples released in the 1990s.
Being an interracial couple, they had much to learn about each other’s cultures. Apples to Apples helped Trixie wrap her head around Americanisms and humour.
“We used to play Apples to Apples with friends and they would remark, “Oh how I wish there was a Malaysian version of this game!” And so the idea started brewing,” Trixie shares.
The Lepak Game is a simple card-matching game that celebrates the diversity of Malaysian culture with no right or wrong answers, just lots of bodek–ing (persuading) the ‘Boss’ as you try to convince them that your match is best.
The game was developed for the objective of facilitating fun conversations surrounding the Malaysian shared experiences, deepening our sense of belonging
Seven years on and with a third edition now in the works, Trixie speaks of how God has used her life experiences to create a game that’s not just fun, but impactful.
“I looked Chinese but couldn’t speak the language”
“I come from a family of five, and although we moved around a lot in my younger years, we finally settled down in Port Klang when I was seven years old. My parents sent me to a Mandarin school, but they didn’t speak Mandarin at all. I really struggled with my identity then,” Trixie remembers.
It was a difficult time for the young girl, who looked Chinese but couldn’t speak Chinese well.
Trixie recalls that her primary school years were a time when God was also teaching her how to relate to others who were different from her (even if they looked similar on the outside).
She then went on to a kebangsaan (national) school for her secondary years, where she felt much more comfortable being surrounded by schoolmates of different races, religions and backgrounds.
“I went on to become a chemist. During that time my workplace was mostly dominated by Malays, and that’s where I got comfortable speaking Bahasa Malaysia, and really enjoyed friendship with my co-workers” she says.
Her two years in the lab also taught her how warm and hospitable the Malay culture is, even in the workplace.
Although she again stood out, often being the only Chinese there, her Malay colleagues were always quick to share, ask her out to makan (eat), celebrate Hari Raya and even invite her to balik kampung with them.
“God endeared my heart towards appreciating and embracing different cultures there,” she says.
Tapping into the power of play
As a young interracial couple, Trixie and Stephen began to realise the power of play in fostering empathy, optimism and hope.
In 2015, they started Rojak Culture, a social enterprise that would serve as the springboard for The Lepak Game. Then, the hard work of creating a game began.
“We bought index cards and started writing a bunch of words. I was from a Chinese school and had been immersed in a very Malay environment (during her years as a chemist). For the other cultures, we asked lots of friends and had makeshift focus groups. It was easy to write almost 1,000 cards!”
The excitement was building, and in their enthusiasm they set a runway of just a few months, hoping to launch in February 2016. Then, things went south.
“We had a printing disaster, and in the end, we had to look for a new printer, redo certain parts and by the time we were ready to launch, it was already September — just in time for Malaysia Day,” she says with a laugh.
It was really God’s timing and favour. Choosing to launch a Malaysian card game in conjunction with Malaysia Day brought lots of press coverage, and with awareness came sales.
God also brought a team of amazing people around us to help, we know that without His blessing of community and His providence, the game wouldn’t exist today.
Having a sense of community, and a multicultural one is biblical
“We believe all peoples are made in the image of God, and we want to celebrate His gift of ethnic diversity and the richness it brings to the table. As believers, our love for all peoples reflects God’s promise to bless all nations on earth. Therefore we should be lifelong learners of God’s creation and the people He’s called us to serve,” Trixie says with conviction.
As Christians our destination is multicultural – we will be living with people of different cultures for eternity (Rev 7). With the end in mind, we don’t need to wait, we can start here.
To intentionally seek out friendships with those who are different from us. We can do this by suspending judgement, seeking to understand and accept.
The natural outflow of our hearts and the embodiment of God’s transformative power in our lives are to be experienced by those whom we live in community with.
This is not saying that we need to be perfect – as God calls us not just from our strengths, but also from our weaknesses. He designed us to need others, and He designed us to flourish and do community together in a multicultural environment for eternity.
“Our understanding of what heaven will be like is still shrouded in mystery, but two of the things we do know are these: we will know fully even as we are fully known, and we will be a part of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Knowing God fully will take place in the context of cultural diversity. No single culture can fully comprehend him. We need one another to know him more completely,” she says.
The beauty of the Gospel can be appreciated more fully when we get to see it via a wider lens
Using the analogy of marriage, Trixie points out that multicultural experiences of weddings display different aspects of the beauty of marriage.
“In Western weddings, the bride is always the centre of attention: her purity, beauty and glory. The traditional Malaysian Chinese wedding highlights God the Father’s experience. The pride and honor of the fathers of the bride and groom overflow in speeches to pass on wisdom and legacy.
The last wedding we attended before the lockdowns was a Middle Eastern one, which sweetly magnified the triumphant joy of Jesus as the groom. Here the groom was in the spotlight dancing with unrestrained excitement, his friends surrounding him singing and carrying him on their shoulders, rejoicing over his happiness.” she explains.
The way Trixie and Stephen see it, when we view God and His bride through the lens of multicultural experience, we would see that every culture highlights different aspects of God’s character.
“The beauty each culture highlights through weddings parallels the reality of the Father’s covenantal love for us in His search for a bride for His son. Each displays a different aspect of the gospel helping us to see more fully, less dimly. Each one is uniquely right, but incomplete without the others,” Trixie says.
A tool to encourage empathy and curiosity
Today, the Lepak Game is well-established as a quality card game celebrating the Malaysian spirit, highlighting the fact that our identity is vibrant as it is derived from various ethnic groups. But more than fun and laughter, Trixie hopes to encourage open conversations.
The couple stays focused on their objectives, which are to:
1. Spark conversations surrounding the Malaysian shared experiences, deepening our sense of belonging
2. Bridge multicultural friendships through cultural curiosity, understanding and empathy
3. Encourage multicultural community building (through openness, acceptance, trust & learning)
“We also wanted to emphasise in-person interaction, which is so precious. We’re so fortunate and thankful that we survived the pandemic, that people were still buying the game,” she says gratefully.
Under Rojak Culture, Stephen also conducts talks and workshops on building multicultural communities. In more ways than one, the couple hopes to encourage Malaysians to continue building bridges and breaking barriers. building bridges and breaking barriers.
“Our final destination is a multicultural one. With this in mind, why not start now?”
“In my personal journey as a Malaysian, there have been moments where I’ve been so jaded. I hope playing the Lepak Game with fellow Malaysians will remind us of how rich our Malaysian shared experience is, and that we truly owe our vibrant Malaysian identity to each other. And I hope all this helps rekindle our hope and love for our country,” Trixie says.
The Hanlons hope that The Lepak Game will help celebrate Malaysian-ness as we learn about cultures and gain a newfound appreciation for being Malaysian.
Game players have also appreciated how intergenerational the game is, a perfect cap-off to family gatherings and celebrations. It’s feedback like this, says Trixie, that keeps them going.
The couple is currently working on the third edition of The Lepak Game and hopes to launch it sometime later this year with new cards, additions and an updated Malaysian experience.
As Trixie juggles being a business owner, game creator, wife, mother and teacher, she’s learning the importance of discerning her season: letting go of ideals and realising that every yes to something is a no to something else.
“I look at Acts 17:26, about how God has marked our appointed times and boundaries, and I realise His sovereignty where we are. He roots us in the time and place we are. It’s all intended, and for His purpose and glory.”
To get your hands on The Lepak Game or book Stephen Hanlon for a workshop on multiculturalism, get in touch with the Hanlons via website, Facebook or Instagram.