I felt tired and I needed to take a break, have a good rest. So I tried OMF Bungalow. Usually at such late notice most rooms would have already been taken but thankfully and incredibly, there was “room in the inn” for the dates I wanted.
It wasn’t easy for a Singaporean to pay upfront as one would have to access a Malaysian account. Especially when you do not have much time to make the payment. Thankfully in my case I was given a reprieve and I paid up when I arrived at the bungalow.
Taking a bus there
I took the SGD99 Konsortium return night bus. It left Golden Mile at about 10pm, and after a stop at Yong Peng and several pee stops, we reached Brinchang, Cameron Highlands at about 7- 8am in the cool morning. The 27 seater bus had spacious and reclinable seats, so we had no difficulty sleeping. For an additional SGD30, I could have stayed a night (with breakfast) at Strawberry Park. It’s a tie up between the hotel and the bus company. The return trip is in the morning from Strawberry Park hotel at about 10am. The hotel is a short 5 minutes walk from OMF Bungalow.
Many changes but Mrs Chye remains the same
There were many changes that have taken place. However, Mrs Chye the person in charge there provided an unchanged comforting presence. Her warmth and hospitality is OMF Bungalow’s vital advertisement.
Some of the changes we noticed included:
All the rooms now have attached bathrooms.
The dining hall and the sitting area were switched so that there would be space to serve more diners.
The TV-games room has been converted into a twin room with attached bathroom.
The pricing has moved upward too, including an end to discounts for pastors and missionaries.
There is no tea time. However you can help yourselves to free coffee, tea and biscuits anytime.
There was no TV, but now they have installed decent wireless.
During this stay with my wife we slept, ate, rested, read, walked and prayed and met whoever was there during mealtimes. We also met with a few other guests at the bungalow and shared stories and encouraged each other in the Lord.
It has been two years since I last went to the OMF Bungalow. This cool place in the Cameron Highlands has been a place where God had often spoken into my life and strengthened me. It had been both a “broom tree” place and a “cave” place for me – which speaks to me of physical as well as a spiritual rejuvenation respectively. Remember Elijah?
This time it was with a reservation that I embarked on this retreat to OMF Bungalow with Koh Seng Chor, former pastor of Evangel Christian Church. We would have wanted to stay six days but only four days and three nights were available. That’s a bit short for a retreat and not worth the long journey up. Nevertheless we took it. After all OMF was quite booked and my application was late and things are seldom ideal when you feel the need for extended time to rest and pray. The length turned out to be just right.
Seng Chor lived in the East Coast and I in Jurong East. He picked me at 6.30 am in the morning and we breezed through the second link and were bantering all the way up the North South highway. Pleasant company makes long drives sweet. We had a late Indian lunch at the edge of Ipoh before turning into the old road that led to Brinchang. We passed by Ringlet town, Tanah Rata and finally passed Bringchang and up the winding road past Strawberry Park Hotel and into the OMF Bungalow at 3.10 pm. We were warmly welcomed my Mrs Chye.
It’s like time stood still and the exterior of the building remained unchanged this past decade that I have been there on and off- which I like. Inside however renovations had gone on – an ensuite bathroom had been added to the room opposite mine. And they were making an additional bathroom at the upper floor of the TV and play room.
I love and hate the cool of Cameron. When it gets too cold at night as it did on Tuesday, I had to wear two layers of woollen. However the morning cool is what I love the most: crisp and fresh and rejuvenating. The afternoon cool comes with sometimes blue skies, which I love, and sometimes a dismal grey, which I dislike.
A friend Rev Dr P J John gave me Psalm 139 on my Facebook post, so I spent my prayer periods meditating and drawing nectar from a few verses in that passage. The verses reassured me that God is always with me to lead and to hold me – always and unconditionally. They reassured me that I am awesome, for I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Seng Chor and me shared what we reflected upon and what touched us during tea and we co-discerned for each other.
The afternoons were great for excursions and with a car that was made easy. We went down to Ringlet to explore, to Tanah Rata for Starbucks (actually more for the wireless than the coffee), to Brinchang to buy tea and other provisions, and to Kea Farm to buy farm products like cherry tomatoes, Cameron oranges, and whatever is cheap and will make our wives happy – which means buy everything. We also had a look at the Lutheran Missions House – another nearby bungalow.
One of the delights this round was fellowship over meals with other pastors who were there. We got to know two lady pastors from Penang Christian Centre and Yee Siew Meng, soon to be appointed pastor of a City Discipleship Presbyterian Church in Kuala Lumpur. Such conversations expanded our understanding of what is happening in other places and churches and what God is doing in other people’s lives. In this case we heard that the Chinese church membership in Malaysia is in ascendancy with the new generation of Chinese schooled in their vernacular and who are more comfortable with Mandarin than English. The churches today are also more politically active and united.
I had always wondered what the OMF man who replied my applications was like . I finally got to meet Alex Lee, a pleasant and committed Christian in person. He is the guy who processes all the applications for rooms in OMF Bungalow. I asked and he told me the annual average occupancy of the OMF Bungalow is 60%. They want more pastors and missionaries from Malaysia and Singapore to use this place of quiet for prayer, and for planning too. I learned that one of the busiest periods were Decembers which is surprising to me since that is the rainy season! The off peak months are March, April, July, and August. They have rooms for just over 20 people. What I do is to ask for the dates I want and also ask that if these dates are already taken to please give me other dates available before or after. They have different fees for lay people than for Christian full time workers, and for non-Malaysians than for Malaysians. Only Christians need apply. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send your email for both enquiries and reservations using subject “OMF Cameron Bungalow Reservation”.
It has been some years since I last went up to OMF Bungalow in Cameron Highlands. So I was glad to know that the last two rooms available in the bungalow were available for Koh Seng Chor, the pastor of Evangel Christian Church, and myself. My daughter wanted to tag along to have her prayer retreat so she had to share a room with me as there were no other rooms available. That would mean an inconvenience for prayer, but she’s my one and only daughter! It is always better to be able to pray, sleep and read anyway and anytime you want, and sharing a room with another restricts this to some extent. However, the Lord was kind, for as soon as we arrived we were told the good news that all three of us would have individual rooms to ourselves due to some cancellation.
Eat, sleep, pray, share
Most of the morning and night hours were spent alone in the room or outside, meditating and praying through Psalms 55, reading old journal entries, and writing new ones. On occasion Seng Chor and I would take relaxed afternoon walks in the cool Cameron air chatting all the way down to Chefu or Brinchang town, sharing our heart and telling grandfather stories, literally. My daughter, well, she wanted her God-space, so she was left alone except during meal times. Meal times were fun as we sat with and got to know some American missionary couples and Malaysian Chinese ladies who were also staying there.
Faded charm of the 60’s and 70’s
The food was warm and nourishing and the Cameron vegetables were fresh and deliciously cooked by Mrs Chye, the caretaker. The beverages and the superb cookies were free and available 24/7. The charm of the place is its tired and dated look – like going back to a warm and welcoming home in the 60’s and 70’s. This place was once owned by a Chinese businessman and built in 1933 before being bought over by China Inland Mission (now OMF), a missionary organization. While staying there you could fantasize that you were that tycoon, albeit only for a few days, enjoying the striking views outside your large garden and with your helpers cooking and cleaning your home, while you lounge around without a care in the world.
My daughter and I went for a tour of Mt Brinchang, the mossy forest, and the BOH tea plantation. We also visited Brinchang town and Tanah Rata, and there being no place in the “inn”, we stayed a night at Strawberry Park hotel and had breakfast before we departed for home in the 10am bus to Singapore. We arrived home close to 7 pm on Friday.