Smiles tell of true joy

The mist floats heavy in the valley below as the mountains rise above, covered in the thick, lush vegetation that dominates this picturesque view. Water droplets patter lightly upon the dried leaves and tin that make up the roofing of the bamboo huts scattered around.

Numerous cats and dogs roam the paths in the village and two long coops filled with chickens keep the birds safe from snakes and foxes. Many vehicles bustle along the winding mountain-edge road above, though the occupants might not ever realise a village existed so nearby. Were they to spy one of the two small paths exiting the road and weaving down into the valley, they would then have found themselves an entrance to the small civilization below.

24 Mile is a village in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia and home to the Orang Asli ‘Sengoi’ clan. We, the Malaysia team from SHWALLY (Spring Head, Woodside and Lobethal Lutheran Youth), are in partnership with the LCM (Lutheran Church in Malaysia) youth and are one of three groups experiencing the culture of these indigenous people. 24 Mile consists of 27 houses, containing 132 villagers. Upon doing the maths, you might note that that’s somewhat more than one family per house … and you’d be quite correct!

According to the village deacon, Brother Bahman, they average two-to-three families per hut, with two-to-six children per family. At roughly 18 square metres to each rectangular hut, that’s barely enough room for everyone to sleep, let alone all the other facilities we might expect in a modern home. Talk about a crowded house!

But Bahman never appeared too concerned with the situation as he spoke to us, grinning brightly – to him it was normal. And that’s exactly what this was about – what is normal? I think it’s fair to say that our group was quite outside their ‘normal’, having no bed on the concrete floor of a make-shift church, and only a large bucket of cold water to ‘shower’ with. Yet still, we lived like kings when compared to the locals – or so we thought.

We as a group sought to educate the Orang Asli, for who could possibly live a happy life in such dismal circumstances? But, at the risk of sounding ever more cliché; maybe it was more them that educated us. As we piled the library books we brought into the small church, and later interacted with the villagers for Christmas festivities, we were met unceasingly by those amazing and joyous smiles. We’d seen then in the advertisements or on our friend’s Facebook page. The people who some of us considered to have so very little suddenly appeared to have so very much.

What would you give up for that kind of joy or happiness?

For Bahman, it was alcohol. It started at a young age. First it was depression. Then the alcohol helped to numb the pain. At his worst he was consuming up to roughly 13 litres of alcohol a day. Bahman’s salvation came in two parts. Earlier, when Bahman was 10 years old, a Christian missionary reached the village and proceeded to teach the villagers about the faith. It was then that the seed was planted and Bahman considered himself a Christian. But his problems did not go away – not yet. They shook him of his happiness and stole his joy. It was when Bahman was 25 years old that he prayed to the Lord for healing. He described to us a dream that he experienced where he saw a bottle of alcohol being thrown at his head. Not one for ignoring such obvious symbolism, Bahman immediately knew what needed to happen. He decided to truly accept God in place of his alcoholism and never looked back. Bahman tells us that he no longer suffers from those demons of his past. He is now full of joy and serves as a spiritual leader for his people.

The next day we left the village pondering how much joy or happiness our rich lifestyle truly afforded us, and how maybe our faith afforded us more.

While the Orang Asli might benefit in numerous ways from all the wonders of the knowledge and modern technology we attempt to provide them, it’s reassuring and somewhat humbling to know that – despite the absence of such luxuries – a simple man in a village somewhere in Malaysia knows joy and happiness because someone decided to educate him … about Christ.

Brother Bahman found Isaiah 43 particularly helpful in his faith journey. This chapter includes the following words: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour’.

If you, your congregation or your school, would like to know how you can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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