“My family loved me. I had everything I needed.“ Yet for 14 years his life spiralled out of control as he chased the “high”
By Michelle Chun // May 29, 2023, 6:44 pm
Dale (far left) stepped into a life of partying and drinking with friends when he started college, eventually entangling himself in drug addiction and gambling. All photos courtesy of Dale Bala.
“My life before drugs was so normal; I was just like any other kid,” Dale Bala says as he remembers his childhood days.
For 14 years, Dale was addicted to ecstasy and syabu (methamphetamine) after first being introduced to the “high” at 20 years old.
“My family loved me, my sister loved me. I had everything I needed.”
He has been clean since 2020 after successfully completing a rehabilitation programme at Kenosis Home in Miri, Sarawak.
“My family loved me, my sister loved me. I had everything I needed. They supported me in all of my endeavours,” the Kelabit-Chinese says. He was in college studying to be a mechanic when he first dabbled in drugs. Soon, it took over his life.
The toll it took on his family was real. His mother and father began arguing constantly, burdened by their son’s downward spiral into addiction and other habits.
Whenever he was sober, Dale would be wracked with guilt. He knew he was heading in the wrong direction and hurting everyone in his path. It seemed like any effort to leave his past behind was futile.
But when Jesus came into the picture, everything changed.
A double life
Like many youths in the small coastal city of Miri, Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo, Dale had a relatively normal childhood.
His father worked as a supervisor with an oil and gas company and his mother was a homemaker. His father was a Christian (but did not always go to church) and his mother was not a believer.
He would ask for small loans from family and friends, lying about what he needed the cash for.
Dale’s first memories of church were from kindergarten, as his grandparents would take the young boy along with them.
“When I headed off to college, my friends introduced me to a life of clubbing, gambling and drugs.
“I started getting angry with my family all the time, and our relationship became strained. But my parents still supported me in everything; they had no idea then,” he says.
As he nosedived into drug addiction, he soon needed money to feed his habit. He would ask for small loans from family and friends, lying about what he needed the cash for.
“Back then, I could spend RM3,000 (SGD 907) in two days just on drugs and gambling. When I ran out, I’d ask my mother for more money and at times, I’d take things from our family home to sell,” he remembers.
A trail of broken relationships
When the lying and cover-up tales eventually stopped working, his parents discovered his addiction.
They were heartbroken and soon the once-peaceful atmosphere at home was fraught with tension and arguments.
“I believe it was the Holy Spirit trying to convict me. But I found it very hard to stop.”
“Once they found out about my addiction, they couldn’t trust me anymore. The thing is, whenever I was sober, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I believe it was the Holy Spirit trying to convict me. But I found it very hard to stop,” he says.
Struggling within, the young man tried to move on with life. He got married and found work in offshore catering with an oil and gas company. But the cloud of addiction continued to loom over him, and his marriage suffered.
“I was married before for eight years and got divorced during my time as an addict,” he says. “My addiction affected my marriage and my wife would get upset because I would often disappear and not come home. I also didn’t support her or the home financially.”
In 2012, Dale finally enrolled himself into a government-run rehabilitation centre in hopes of overcoming his addiction. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempt and soon relapsed into his old way of life.
“Do you know that Jesus can save you?”
After 14 years, Dale had resigned himself to the belief that there was no escape.
But then, a glimmer of hope appeared when a pastor friend, Rachel Bulan, spoke to him.
“She said, ‘Dale, you need to go to Kenosis. Do you know that Jesus can save you?” I think the Holy Spirit had been working in my heart for the six months leading up to our conversation because I decided to give it a try.”
“After coming to know Jesus, I realised the full weight of what I’d done with my life.”
Ps Rachel’s church, Cornerstone Miri, sponsored Dale’s admission into the 15-month residential programme at Kenosis Men’s Home.
There, he rediscovered the God of His childhood and for the first time, experienced freedom found only in Jesus Christ.
“After coming to know Jesus and becoming sober, I realised the full weight of what I’d done with my life. Whenever I think about it, I do get disappointed. But I know that life is now behind me,” he says wistfully.
Dale is especially grateful that the transformation in his life also brought a positive change to his family.
“My parents are so happy now, especially my mother and the arguments at home have stopped,” he says with a smile. “My parents also tell me that I’ve changed a lot.”
Turning over a new leaf
After completing his programme in 2021, Dale decided to volunteer with Kenosis to support the staff and clients there. Earlier this year, he joined the staff as a warden.
He is also the Head of Kitchen, putting his passion for cooking and experience in catering to good use.
“For many years, I was a disappointment to my family and so I don’t want my old life anymore.”
In fact, in the midst of our interview, a client gently interrupted to ask Dale what ingredients to prepare for lunch that day.
“I could have gone back to my old job, but I wanted to follow Jesus and do something meaningful. For many years, I was a disappointment to my family and so I don’t want my old life anymore,” he says without skipping a beat.
Dale enjoys working at Kenosis because he was once where they were. He walked the path they are on now, and have gone through the same struggles.
“Our stories are so similar. We got into drugs because of friends and, eventually, we involve our families because we needed the money to fund our addiction. I have great compassion for our clients; I want to see them overcome and succeed,” he shares.
He adds that for recovering addicts, purposeful encouragement is needed because there are no other friends outside who want to help them.
It is within the safe haven of Kenosis that they find a community that knows their story and is willing to journey with them.
Learning to live again
There are currently 30 male clients at the Kenosis Men’s Home aged 17 to 44.
A Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation home, Kenosis has been running in Miri for eight years and has five men on staff – three pastors and two wardens.
“In Miri there’s a lot of drinking and some even end up having Hepatitis B, liver and kidney problems.”
Martin is the other warden and is an ex-addict as well. He has been working with Kenosis since it first opened and is an inspiration to many.
Such inspiration, says Dale, is needed. In Miri, drug addiction and alcohol-driven abuse are prevalent issues and many don’t see a way out.
“In our culture, there’s a lot of drinking and some even end up having Hepatitis B, liver and kidney problems because of this lifestyle,” he says.
Some of the clients come through the National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK); if officers learn that you’re a Christian, they recommend Kenosis. The Home also receives referrals from local police stations and psychiatric hospitals.
Around 380 men have gone through the programme since Kenosis began. Not all make it through, but the Home has been largely successful in rehabilitating and re-entry.
The team focuses on helping the men regain a sense of identity and purpose, training them for a life outside of Kenosis and to stand on their own two feet.
“Some who come here don’t even know how to peel a cucumber. They’re scared of fish – so smelly, they say. So we teach them. Every week, we rotate their duties to do basic living tasks such as laundry and cooking,” Dale explains.
Jesus heals and transforms
Asked what’s next for clients who successfully go through the programme, Dale beams with pride.
“We see the spiritual transformation, first and foremost. That’s the power of Jesus,” he says enthusiastically.
Some of the men who finish the programme go on to become pastors while others find stable jobs or reconcile with their families. Kenosis has an employment pathway that connects skilled clients with potential employers.
“We see the spiritual transformation, first and foremost. That’s the power of Jesus.”
He also shares how some of the clients suffering from mental illnesses or health issues have found that they need less medication over time.
“As they know Jesus, some of them would come back from their hospital visits with lower prescriptions because they’re getting better,” he said.
Drugs and alcoholism have also destroyed many family relationships, so Kenosis works with clients and their families to reconcile when they are ready.
Ex-addicts, Dale said, need a strong support system once they re-enter the world outside, and the best support they can receive is from their families.
No one is beyond hope and salvation
Dale has experienced first-hand the transformative power of God’s love, and now he witnesses it every day working at Kenosis.
His hope is now to create more awareness of drug addiction and for churches to get more involved in the work.
“I have never lost hope; there is always a way.”
“As Christians, we believe that everyone deserves a second chance. But if we don’t understand the journey that recovering addicts go through, we won’t know how to play our part.
“For a start, churches and Christian communities can invite ex-drug addicts to share their experiences,” he says.
Asked if he’s ever been discouraged in this line of work, Dale shakes his head firmly.
“It took me 14 years to change, so I never lose hope. When we become close as brothers and they see how we have changed, it drives them to have hope and change for themselves,” he says.
“I have never lost hope; there is always a way.”
Kenosis Homes run both a men’s and women’s rehabilitation home in Miri, Sarawak. To find out more about the work, click here.
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