35 Years 35 Stories
Wong Young Soon
Executive Director of Malaysian Care, mentee of Rev. Balahu Hassan
Who would have thought that this provocative statement would turn out to be the best piece of advice for a young man of 27 beginning work with the Orang Asli? I was that man and the person giving that advice was the late Rev. Balahu Hassan, a Semai Orang Asli and Methodist pastor. He became a mentor for me in doing community work with his people and that advice taught me to first listen and build relationships with the poor before doing anything else.
Balahu himself had a protracted and perplexing journey into ministry. His first contact with Christians came because his father saw the importance of education and sent him to a school started by missionaries. When he reached Form 3, he almost had to drop-out because his father could not afford the fees that rose from six to thirteen dollars. Again, the missionaries intervened and so he was able to continue with his education until Form 5. Not being the best of scholars, Balahu worked very hard to succeed in his studies but was often discouraged by his limitations. It was during those days that God started calling him into ministry, “You must go back and help your people.”
Balahu completed his Senior Cambridge but did not do well and so felt angry at God. More conflicts arose while working for the Methodist’s Board of Missions. He voiced his disagreement with the way well-meaning Christians did charity by giving food and clothing to the Orang Asli which in fact was creating dependency. And so like Jonah, he ran from God and wanted to forget about ministry but God would not him let go. He had to teach him some hard lessons before he finally responded. Once he did, God used him tremendously to be good news to his marginalised people.
What was the gospel to him and his community? For Balahu, the gospel was always the power to release his people from the evil spirits and oppression. He once said, “I want to see my people develop holistically. The gospel makes the whole self of a person – someone who knows who he or she is. To think, what does it mean to be an Orang Asli? What does it mean to be a Christian? Knowing their identity, knowing how to live in life and then to live out the Bible.”
I’m glad I shut up, sat down and listened to Balahu and his community.
Young Soon joined Malaysian Care in 1992 specifically for the rural ministry. For over 20 years, he has been working alongside with the Orang Asli community for the purposes of economic, education and core group formation, and the development of Ladang MCare, our Community Development Extension Centre for the Orang Asli. He and his wife Patricia foster 3 children from the Orang Asli community: Wak Mayna, Wak Masnah and Han Rusan.
The late Rev. Balahu @ Bah Rahu (1945 – 2011) was the District Superintendent of Sengoi Mission of the Methodist Church in Malaysia during its partnership with Malaysian Care on Orang Asli community work. (Sorry, we do not have a good photo of him)