Sweet Home Maesalong

Maesalong Akha

We are back in Thailand, ready to continue in our tenth year of full time ministry after an incredible season of travel, connection and direction as we spent the last 5 months in 26 of the 50 United States of America. Coming back here reminds us how much distance causes disconnection, and we are busy reestablishing ties with our Akha friends. However, that distance and disconnection is also the reason we are so intentional about our travel and seeing so many of you when we do have the opportunity to return. For those of you we saw, thank you for connecting with us, your love and support is felt and appreciated. For those we missed, we are truly sorry and hope to connect again in four years or so... Or there is always the chance to connect with us here in Thailand!

In the week since we returned, we have reconnected with our coworkers at Akha Outreach, our home church in the city (where we were asked to preach - surprise!) and our village family in Doi Maesalong. Amazing things have been happening everywhere, but especially in Maesalong, where their project to build a new church is really moving along. The pastor, who had been living in our home for the past two years, has moved into the parsonage on the bottom floor of the new church building. This means we get to "take ownership" of our village home again and Lori has grand plans to spend extra time with Izi and Jak in the village over the next year exposing them to more Akha language and culture while Paul continues to work at the foundation and produce Gospel media in the Akha language.

To prepare for our arrival, the village gave our home an overhaul: redesign and repair - and we are so thrilled with what we returned to! It is a blank slate and we are already dreaming of what our "Akha Hut v.3.0" will become. We made a little video for you to enjoy a tour of our new place:

Crowned with Laurels ...or Silver

The name Lori means "Crowned with Laurels", taken from a term used to give the winner of a contest a wreath on their head. It is not a wreath of leaves, but my Lori was recently "crowned" for a different honor many years in the making. For years, Lori has loved looking at the beautiful Akha headdresses on the heads of our close friends. But she wouldn't buy one.

Her reluctance reflected our ministry goal to incarnationally meet the Akha where they are spiritually, physically, emotionally and culturally. Although there were, and always will be, obvious differences between ourselves and our Akha friends, we did not want to show up and throw money around to make our outer appearance seem more seasoned, more accepted, than we actually were.

Our first truck was testimony to that, as was our first Akha home, and the fact that we didn't have a bathroom in our hut for the first year.

In the same way, we didn't want to just walk in and buy amazing Akha costumes and parade around in them as if we were Akha, we wanted to grow with our people incarnationally. Through the years we slowly received gifts of beautiful Akha bags and clothes, we purchased simple and then more ornate Akha coats and built our appearance as our language and relationships grew.

But Lori still didn't have a headdress.

A few months ago we were going through our things and came across some old US silver coins that Lori's grandmother had given her before she passed away. These pieces had new meaning to us after spending so many years inculturated with a people whose traditions lie in passing silver coins from generation to generation. We knew that we wanted to add these pieces to Lori's headdress when the day finally came.

And after 9 years of full-time service, after naming 3 children and spending countless hours laughing, crying, teaching and learning in the Akha language, the day has finally come.

We bought Lori an authentic Akha headdress (made of metal, not silver) which she will wear "out" for the first time at the Akha Outreach graduation 0n March 1st.

The process of buying a headdress is involved because once you have found one that meets your standards, it then has to be customized to fit to your head... which means more Akha community! So Lori brought out her new headdress at the Women's Conference last week and all the women joined in in customizing her crowning Akha glory.

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Even this headdress is something that we will continue to build into through the years. We will slowly add real silver pieces to replace the metal ones, attach additional silver chains and ornaments and personalize it to my beautiful wife.

But for now, our American Akha beauty is very satisfied.

Turn Mourning into Dancing

After three difficult trips to Maesalong, we were honored to join our dear friends, Pastor Aga and Asaw, in celebration of their long-anticipated wedding. Asaw is a girl from our village that we have seen grow up to be an incredible woman of God. She has gone from being forbidden to be baptized by her mother (because then a rich Buddhist man wouldn't marry her) to marrying a pastor and incredible man of God. We have have the honor of calling Aga our friend for about 6 years now and couldn't imagine a more wonderful couple. Many of you know these two, and we wanted to share some of the moments they had on this special day. [gallery link="file"]

Pastor Aga is a graduate of Akha Bible Institute (ABI3) and pastored the Akha Outreach church in Maesalong for about 2 years. We want to thank all of you for your partnership with us and with Akha Outreach over the years. If you would like to know more about how you can be a part of equipping Akha leaders for life, marriage and ministry please read more!

Green leaves also fall

We've been to many funerals in 9 years serving as missionaries with the Akha people. Some of those early funerals were shocking experiences, like the time when I was awoken, placed on a motorcycle and driven to a neighboring village without any understanding what was happening until I came into a hut and saw the body of a woman who had died from AIDS on the floor, a casket beside her, and a family of mourners looking for a pastor. Other funerals were almost comical experiences, like the time when Lori and I tried to walk with two 60-year old women to a funeral during rainy season, only to arrive an hour later covered head-to-toe in mud and the butt of every joke that the mourners told that day.

But as the years went on and our Akha family grew, we have gone from being outsiders observing a funeral to mourners attending one. But nothing has been like this past month.

We have been to Maesalong three times in this past month. We have taken part in a funeral each time.

It has been very hard. Not for those who have gone on to peace, but for those of us who remain behind and who feel their absence.

We lost an Akha mother, who has cared for us and for teams that have visited our village. Who loved and served the church, her family, her people and even strangers until she succumbed to her battle with kidney failure.

We lost an Akha grandmother, who invested her life into her grandchildren and held tightly to Akha traditions, never removing her headdress, even as she held tightly to her Saviour until her advanced years took her peacefully.

We lost an Akha brother. A young man, and one of our first and greatest village friends. One whose massive frame held a gentle spirit, and who always would put others ahead of himself. He was taken from us shockingly, when his poor decisions and the irresponsibility of another driver took him from us suddenly.

It is in these events that we know we have become knitted together with our family here. When our tears fall alongside theirs, when we question "why?" together.

And we answer the "Why?" together as well, by sharing peace from the Author of peace; by the life of the community that goes on; through the Word that brings hope; and through the truth woven into the fabric of Akha culture through their proverbs:

Falling is not solely for yellow leaves, green leaves also fall

- Akha proverb -

To every thing there is a season.

Please join us in prayer for our Akha friends and family in Maesalong as we walk through this season of loss together.

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Our newborn boy, Age-2

At 13:50 on December 31st, we welcomed the newest member of our family. Jak was born at a healthy 3.9 kg (8 lb 10 oz) and 58 cm (23"). Mom and baby were both champs and we have loved every minute with him.

JakJakobBaby Jak

Less than 24-hours after his birth the messages began coming in from our Akha friends via texts and Facebook: "Your son is 2-years old!" "Happy parents of a 2-year-old!" It was a modern twist on a cultural phenomenon that we have witnessed for years. The Akha calendar follows a 12-year agricultural cycle with an animal representing each year, similar to the Chinese zodiac. The animal year you were born on is your age-1 year. So Jak was 1-year old when he was born on the last day of the Akha year of the Dragon* and on the next day, the first day of the Akha year of the Horse, he turned 2. All this before he was 24-hours old as we count!

We were able to observe another wonderful tradition this past weekend, but this was one that we have seen before with Abigail and Izabel. When we went up to our Akha village in Maesalong, Jak was given his Akha name, Yaelah (Yaerlanq), by the elders of our village. After he was named, all the people came up and held him, shook his hand, greeted him in Akha by his name, and placed money (20-100 baht) and/or boiled eggs into his hands. This is a beautiful tradition in Akha villages where neighbors can bless a family with money and food without it seeming like charity... very similar to our casseroles and baby showers back in the United States. It is beautiful and humbling when our friends who have so little are so generous to us.

Akha grandmaAkha Jak AqkaqzaAkha naming

We truly love our life with the Akha!

* Actually the Akha year for 2013 wasn't Dragon but another mythical creature that we don't know an English equivalent for.

The Waiting Game

We know that most of you have been following this on facebook and other social media outlets, but for those of you who have not been getting those updates we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our third child - a boy this time - sometime between now and Christmas. Many of you have been asking about how Lori is doing and we wanted to share that she is handling this pregnancy better than the rest of the family! The weather in Thailand has been beautiful for the past month, making it much more pleasant to be 9 months pregnant. Lori has really been comfortable and peaceful this last month as she waits for the little guy's arrival but Paul and the rest of the staff at Akha Outreach are jumping every time the phone rings, and Abi and Izi are starting to wonder if their little brother is ever coming out to play. Please hold all of us in your prayers, and keep your eyes here for updates as soon as we have news for you!

The Vernon Family - Akha Outreach in SE Asia

We hope you are all enjoying the anticipation of the Christmas season and look forward to connecting again with many of you during our America 2014 travels. More details to come!

My Girls Eat Worms

Life with our Akha friends has been full of adventures, from arriving at a funeral covered in mud to extracting teeth, from naming children to burying loved ones. Each of these adventures has been a part of the history we have built here over the past seven years. As we have patiently earned relational equity, God has continued to change and challenge us in ministry, and most recently He is challenging us to oversee production of Akha language media - movies, clips, music - and empower the Akha people to share their own stories and lives. We're doing this in partnership with Project Video and Akha Outreach Foundation under the banner of Akha Outreach Media. We are in the middle of dubbing a major production, the Book of Acts, into Akha, but because it is the season for bamboo worms we paused the Acts project to put together a short video to teach the lesson of James 1 which teaches about our path from Preperation to Pain to Perseverance to Perfection. The video is centered around a typical Akha experience: the gathering of bamboo worms in the early fall.

Our entire family went up for a weekend to work on this film with our Akha team of actors and production crew. In our 7 years here, we have grown comfortable eating what we like to call "exotic" foods, but can still relate to the many people who would simply call them "gross". Intestines, fat, skin, hair, blood, fermented meat, raw meat, birds, dog, bugs and worms have all become common encounters. A few of these items have become favorites, but some still require a big breath before I dive in. Bamboo worms fall in this last category.

But our girls have grown up in a world where a bamboo hut is more common than a skyscraper, and where bamboo worms are as much of an annual experience as a turkey at thanksgiving. So it is through their eyes that I want to share with you the joy of eating bamboo worms:

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT2KYsaMlQc']

VernonVidcast #2: Busy Season Rundown

It's March, which means we've just finished the busiest ministry season here in Northern Thailand. Share with us in all our family, ministry and life adventures here in Northern Thailand through our newest Video update:

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlCheN9G3wc']

Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, feel free to drop us a comment below or a message on facebook so we can stay connected to you!

Akha Pure Water project (video)

We have just finished the busiest ministry season here in Thailand (October - March) and have a number of updates we want to share with you over the next few weeks, but first we wanted to share the video that the team over at Media Light put together for the Pure Water project we were able to take part in, giving water filters for clean water for all the Akha families in Ayui Akha Village, Doi Maesalong.

Take 50 from 1.1 Billion

Globally, 1.1 Billion people drink from contaminated water sources every day, but thanks to the generosity of Pure Water International, there are now 12 fewer Akha families on that list. Near our village is another small Akha village very close to our hearts called "Ayi Akha". They are very poor, and have no access to electricity or clean water. The water source they have been using for all their cooking, cleaning and consumption is a 200-yard walk down a mountain, must be carried back to the homes in bottles, and is filthy. Through the years we have reached out to this village, building relationship, bringing medicine and even hosting a summer camp specifically for their 30+ children.

Late last year, we met a wonderful couple named Wade and Sarita who visited our village. After learning about our friends at Ayi Akha they gave us 12 Sawyer water filters, each of which can be used to clean water for a family for up to 50 years. Earlier this month, we presented the filters and instruction on how to use them to the twelve families in the village. Every family had at least one adult and child who listened attentively to what we shared with them and who now all have filters to clean their water and the knowledge to care for those filters for many years to come.

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Next, we'd love to add some solar bottle lights to continue to brighten and bless their world. Anyone want to sponsor that project? $100 would add light to these homes. Leave a comment below or contact us with "Solar Lights" in the subject line for more info.

Support our work among the Akha

The financial contributions of private donors allow us to continue to minister to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the Akha people of Southeast Asia. All contributions are tax-deductible and 100% of your support will reach our ministry. Please make a secure online donation to the Vernons through Foursquare Missions International at http://give.foursquare.org/vernon. For other tax-deductible methods of giving, please view our partners page.

Thank you for your faithful support!

A Team Like Christmas

This article was written for the Foursquare Missions connect site, but I wanted to repost it here as well. Any of our readers who are interested in FMI, Foursquare or missions in general feel free to join the FMI connect site for news from the global FMI work.

At the end of December, Christian churches around the globe celebrate the incarnation of the Eternal God, the dwelling of Emmanuel, Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ in a humble manger. The songs, the scriptures, the stories awake something eternal in us. We began Christmas early this year, and in an unexpected way. At the beginning of December we, along with fellow FMI missionaries in SE Asia, hosted a team of 8 pastors and leaders from the Gateway district, led by George Cline as they came on a short trip to two SE Asia nations to see what was happening out here and how the US church could partner with the work in Asia. This team was an encouragement to us in a way that few, if any, prior teams had been, and we would like to highlight four reasons why:

They Came, They Engaged, They Imparted, They Testified (and will continue to do so!)

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Raising My Babies in a Bamboo Hut (Guest Post)

Lori with IziYup, I really do live in a hut, complete with bamboo walls and a grass roof. My husband and I are Americans living in Thailand. We’ve been here for 6 years working with an organization that focuses on helping the Akha, one of the minority people groups in the area. There are no Akha language schools and no Akha Rosetta stone, so  when we arrived, the only way for us to learn the language and culture was through pure immersion. This is our great adventure: being the only English speakers in a village perched on the side of a mountain in Northern Thailand.

As you can imagine, raising two daughters in this environment presents an entirely new set of challenges for parenting.  Here’s what I have learned as a parent in a foreign land...

To read the rest of this article,  follow this link over to the mommyhood memos where I had the honor of  writing as a guest blogger this week. If you're visiting from the mommyhood memos... Welcome! Here are some posts from our archives that you might be interested in:

On Cross Cultural Pregnancy, Parenting & Kids:

Or if your interested in learning a bit more about the Akha people, our work, or our crazy life in the village, here are a few posts you may like:

Whether you're an old friend or a new visitor,  thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment below and let us know you were here! :)

Foursquare Missions Southeast Asia

Last September we were able to meet with the newest director of Foursquare Missions International and with missionaries from throughout the region. During that time they put together a little promo video for Foursquare churches, and since our little superstar steals the last scene (and because it's full of info on all the wonderful things God has been doing in SE Asia) we wanted to share it with all of you!

[iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/28624746" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen allowFullScreen]

Via DJ on Vimeo

VernonVidcast #1: Furlough, Family and Framerates

It has been over 2 months since our return to Thailand and we've hit the ground running. The soundroom is nearing final completion and the Akha Outreach Media projects are beginning to take off. These projects, along with homeschooling, family events (2 birthdays and an anniversary) as well as our village ministry, pulling teeth, and designing book layouts have been keeping us busy. Take a look and listen to our video update for a few of the highlights:

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGlu0wXdJmg']

Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, feel free to drop us a comment below or a message on facebook so we can stay connected to you!

Life with the Akha (Video)

As we're wrapping up our first furlough since beginning our service as Foursquare missionaries, and our first trip to America in the last 3 years, we want to say thank you to all of our family, friends, pastors and partners that we've been able to see over the past 3 months. We've really enjoyed our time here and are amazed at the way God continues to provide for our daily needs. Although we are sorry we couldn't spend more time with each of you, we are looking forward to going back to Thailand and moving forward with our vision for future ministry. For those of you who haven't heard the update on the direction we will be moving in ministry over the next few years, please view our update card, or contact us on facebook. We've done a number of presentations over these three months and wanted to share with you this slideshow of images of our work and life with the Akha people of Southeast Asia.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfHB91wir9U']

Paul and Lori Vernon 2011 Update

Paul and Lori Vernon Ministry with the Akha This image was created for an introduction/update printing we are about to do, but we thought that it would be a great thing to share with all of you here as well.

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Paul and Lori Vernon ministering to the Akha people of Southeast Asia

We are Foursquare missionaries partnering with a ministry in Northern Thailand called Akha Outreach Foundation. We have been ministering full-time with the Akha people of Southeast Asia since 2005 and speak the Akha language, which is unique to the 2.5 million Akha people in China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Our ministry began by living in a bamboo hut in an Akha village, working directly with the local Akha church, and serving the pressing needs of individuals our region. The Lord has used this experience to show us the heart of the Akha people and to prepare us for a new ministry to serve the Akha church.

The new ministry we are undertaking is called Akha Outreach Media, and will focus on the translation, dubbing and creation of audio and video content in the Akha language to equip the local church with evangelistic and teaching materials that will be distributed to the Akha people throughout the five nations in which they live.

Traditional Akha Vocals :: presented by Akha Outreach Media

We have been asked numerous times about traditional Akha music and singing. As we cannot even begin to imitate this beautiful musical style we haven't been able to fully communicate what it is like. However, for the AOF 10th Year of Ministry celebration we cut a recording of one of our Akha pastor's wives singing her version of John 3:16 in the traditional Akha style. We hope you enjoy it!

Traditional Akha rendition of John 3:16 Recorded for Akha Outreach Foundation's "Great is Thy Faithfulness 10-Year Jubilee" by the Akha Outreach Media team

[audio:http://vernonjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/01-Yoha-3_16.mp3|titles=Akha Traditional rendition of John 3:16]

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