Filtering by Category: Ministry Updates
On Monday, the husband of the couple who were the first Akha to accept Christ in Thailand passed away, he was 77 years old. Abaw Tsa made a bold decision many years ago which paved the way for the Akha church to grow to the place it is today.
Please take the time to read this wonderful article by Rusty and Lynette, who work with Abaw Tsa's son Luka, recounting Abaw Tsa's last days and celebrating his life: A Life Well Lived
Here's an excerpt from their post:
Apee Pae (Luka's mother) sang songs in Akha while weeping...she was going to say good-bye to her best friend...her husband of 58 years. They married when she was 16, he was 19. Two Akha orphans, migrating from Burma to Thailand--and the first Akha christians in Thailand. Abo Tsa was an amazing hunter. A small humble man who could chase down a jungle pig and kill on his own two feet.
There were two voices of worship that uniquely challenged and shaped my views of life and God during my impressionable years. Truthfully there were more than two voices, but I highlight these two men because of their international recognition and the similarities in their lives. The first similarity is that both men lived lives of honesty, devotion and abandonment in their worship of God. The second similarity is that they each impacted generations of believers around the world, the first man impacting my father's generation and beyond, the second man impacting my generation and beyond. The third similarity is that they were both taken from this world through tragic accidents in the peak of their ministries. The first man was Keith Green who sang the following words at a club in LA shortly before his death in a plane crash (written from the perspective of God speaking to us):
For when I hear the praises start My bride, I want to rain upon you Blessings that will fill your heart I see no stain upon you Because you are My child, and you know Me To me you're only holy Nothing that you've done will remain Only what you do for me
The other was Rich Mullins who, like Green, had a psalmists connection with the Lord and who, also like Green, died tragically in an accident (this time in a car). Beautifully, Rich penned and sung these words before his death:
But the Jordan is waiting Though I ain't never seen the other side They say you can't take in The things you have here So on the road to salvation I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride And His music is already falling on my ears...
When I leave I want to go out like Elijah With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire And when I look back on the stars Well, It'll be like a candlelight in Central Park And it won't break my heart to say goodbye
Each of these men had an eternal perspective that I, in my stumbling attempts, have not yet attained. I've often wondered if these two men had each grown so intimately connected with the Lord that He just had to sweep them home, that their spirits simply couldn't be contained any longer by this world.
I want to clarify here that I do not believe that Keith Green and Rich Mullins had reached some new-age, zen-level oneness and were resorbed into a cosmic Nirvana.
I am talking about a real connection with the Living God. I'm talking about Enoch, about Moses, about Elijah and how we have the same access to God as these men did because of Christ. Neither Green nor Mullins were perfect, but intimacy with God is not based on our perfection, after all it was an adulterer and murderer who was called a man after God's own heart.
I'm grateful that these men were willing to serve God and His church, but I am amazed that years after these two men left us we can see that we the church have lost nothing. In this day the worshipers, the men and women who are truly seeking after God's own heart and are leading the church into an intimate connection with the Lord, cannot be counted on one hand (or blogged in one post). Today there is a mantle of worship, a vibrant connection, a movement of abandonment towards God that again challenges me daily in my view of life and God.
Today there is worship in every form: song and dance; art and expression; text and voice; silence and speech; action and stillness. I cannot list the names of every voice of worship because they are in every nation and every language. I cannot even list all the individuals who are impacting me, and honestly I don't desire to, because it is not their names that I desire to see praised.
I do desire to lift up the name of the Lord, to be exhorted by the chorus of saints around me, and to worship in spirit and in truth... and I hope you will join me.
Inspiration for this post from the Keith Green video and the following quote shared by Pastor Earon James:
"This guy [Green] was ahead of his time. The mantle that was upon his life is falling upon a generation that want nothing or no one but Jesus."
My facebook and twitter updates have recently been dropping clues of an impending Akha media ministry, but now that we have an actual project in production I thought it would be nice make it official in our Ministry Updates here on the Vernon Journal as well. For years we at Akha Outreach Foundation have dreamed about getting a soundroom / media center up and running in order to create and produce Akha language content: audio teachings, a/v dubbing, worship cds, literacy training tools, and original video (clips and full length features); that would glorify God and advance His Kingdom among the Akha people. Those years of dreams are now becoming a reality! We have had some very exciting relationship developments with a subgroup of a highly respected linguistics and translation agency (link unavailable due to closed country concerns) that will provide financial packages enabling the purchase of high-end sound equipment, cameras, Mac computers and software to empower Akha leaders with the tools needed to share the gospel through these media in the Akha language. These packages have not yet been sponsored, but we are confident in God's timing and purpose for this project and are prayerfully waiting for Him to move.
We have also been blessed by a relationship with a wonderful group of believers in Singapore, who have purchased a high-end microphone, hd video camera, soundboard and computer for us to begin our media recordings. (This group has helped serve Akha Outreach in many other ways as well, but this is a media post so I'll stick to the point). Additionally, we are discussing our vision with church partners in Colorado and Idaho and are considering having a team from America come out and construct a sound room.
But, we're not just sitting around waiting for our vision to be fulfilled. Using our existing tools, we're in the process of producing our first Akha Outreach Media project, moving ahead with our vision and without a sound room. We are producing an Akha worship cd and have prepared a room for recording by taking dozens of mattresses and piling them up on the walls and floor in order to have clean enough sound to record a distributable album.
There are a number of Akha cds existing today, but they generally follow the tendency of the region to go with a Karaoke-style format (lead singer, 5 locations, dreamy superstar poses, band in background scattered throughout a field, etc.). While we are accustomed to these productions, and have even grown to enjoy them, the goal for this album is to keep the focus away from the musicians and really stress worship. To accomplish this goal, we are recording four 5-song sessions with 15 voices joining together in corporate worship. We're using a single microphone and two pickups for acoustic guitars and everyone is simply standing in a circle in the room and worshiping God. It sounds simple enough, but getting 15 voices and a few musicians to sound good together is not easy; and to add a further challenge we've chosen the voices and musicians for their hearts for worship rather than for their vocal and musical proficiency.
We're going to be distributing this cd throughout Southeast Asia to various Akha villages and hope that it promotes, facilitates and ushers glorifying worship wherever it is heard. Recording five songs in one take, using amateur musicians and an untrained production crew (read: me) we are guaranteeing ourselves a large number of technical glitches, but that's part of the message we're spreading to the Akha people: Worship God together with whatever you have. We're thrilled with how things are going and I am taking in too much information far too quickly, but even if all this falls apart we are having a wonderful time worshipping our Saviour together.
Here's a sample from our sound tests, I'll make sure to post again when the cd is available. Listen, and join in worship... and while you're listening, pray for me, my crew and our worship team that God would work through us throughout this process.
Session #1 Sample "Believe on the Lord" [audio:http://vernonjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/Akha.jaceu_.sample.mp3|titles=Akha.jaceu.sample]
Sound check "Hosanna" [audio:http://akhaoutreach.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/team-soundcheck.mp3]
If you have any sound/music/production skills and want to give me some pointers I'm all ears. Or, if you just want to let me know what you think please drop me a note in the comment section below.
We get a lot of emails and questions, mostly from people in America, asking how they can become missionaries to Thailand or other nations in the world. I'm a proponent of missions, and encourage anyone and everyone I meet to seek the missions call in their life. So, for those of you who hear the call, I want to exhort you with these words today. The principles behind becoming a missionary are straightforward: receive a call from God, seek direction from God and obey in each step. However, there is no consistent series of events on how these principles unfold. Through the Foursquare Church we have guidelines and an application process by which someone can become a Foursquare missionary, but, even with guidelines and processes, each story is unique - as ours testifies.
But becoming a missionary is much more than applying, interviewing for and accepting a job position. Becoming a missionary is aligning yourself with the identity God is calling you into. As we have grown in our experience in the field over the past five years, we have noticed a few patterns that are visible in the lives of long-term, successful missionaries. These patterns reflect what I believe is the identity of a missionary, and are things that we are hoping to see transformed into in our own lives. I want to share 4 of those patterns here today.
This is really for those who feel called into missions in some way, if that's not you, I recommend you take a look at some of these posts instead. Also, before I share with those of you who feel called into missions I want to make a few assumptions as to where most of you are coming from:
- You know God and can connect with Him
- You're confident you've heard His call to missions
- You don't know what to do next
Pattern #1: Patience
There are a lot of life events that lead up to our call into missions: most importantly our conversion to Christ and our connection with the living God. Whether our conversion, connection and call occur as one instantaneous event (see Paul on the road to Damascus) or through years of laborious lessons, once we receive our call to missions the next step is the same for everyone. The first lesson we learn after our call through in the process of becoming missionaries is submission to God's Timing - or, the more difficult word, patience.
I'm going to use the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary after Christ, to help me with this pattern:
When it pleased God... to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
For three years Paul knew that he was to go preach Christ "among the Gentiles". For three years he did not even go up and speak to the Apostles, the original "Missionary Sending Agency". But for those of us who feel called to long-term ministry to "the ends of the earth" it might get worse:
Here's the big news missionaries: God doesn't need us to save the world, God just wants us to obey Him (I Sam 15:22). I know the fire that burns in the heart when we hear that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. I know how that stirs us to hop on the next plane and never return. But the call to missions is a call to obedience before it is a call to action, and the first step in obedience is learning how to wait for God's timing.
Let me draw a crude analogy. When training a dog to eat on command, the dog is not obedient if he runs to the food the moment he sees it. The obedience is when the dog knows whats in the bowl, but it willing to "Sit! Stay" until the Master says "Go!".
God powerfully revealed the calling to Thailand in my life when I was 18, but I wasn't released to move to Thailand until I was 27, and am just now beginning to see the buds of fruit in ministry at 32. In 14 years I've had a lot of struggles with God as I told him how much I wanted to go and to serve and to do... and His silence told me to wait, and to trust the call He had laid on my life. But I found that each time that I waited; that I was silent; that I was still, my faith in God and my trust in His perfect timing grew.
I've seen good friends who have a call and anointing on their life for missions step out before God's timing arrived, and when all their plans crumbled around them they were broken and lost faith in their call. New life springs from brokenness, and I am confident that God will bring their vision back from death, but I am grateful that God carried us through the waiting period to see His timing fulfilled.
Pattern #2: Service
The world is full of opinions and voices. You're reading one right now. What the world lacks is humble servants*.
Humility: being able to know your gifts, talents and skills without thinking more highly of yourself than others. It is not humility for me to say "I'm not any good at tennis", it is simply truth. It is also not humility for me to say "I can't throw a curveball", which is a lie I throw a pretty mean curveball (or did 12 years ago), lying to be humble is false humility. True humility is recognizing your gifts without thinking highly of yourself because of those gifts (Ph 2:3).
Service: working for the benefit of another. Service involves a willingness to do things that you are not gifted in (Ex 4:10), or that you are not passionate about (I Cor 9:19-23). Service involves allowing others to do things that you could do (Luke 9:1-2). Service is exemplified by obedience, not by gifting.
Let's look at what Paul has to say on the subject again:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
Paul understood as well as anyone who he was and how he was gifted. He knew his strengths and often walked in them. But he was willing to humble himself, to be whatever it took for the sake of the gospel.
The fields we are called to don't need pastors, evangelists, teachers, or church planters. God has prepared His body with all the parts that are needed - and they're already living there. However, the local pastors, evangelists, teachers and church planters already living in the field need servants to come in humility and help them shine like a "city on a hill". This might mean that we missionaries serve as pastors, teachers, evangelists, or church planters or any other role for a season, but those roles are taken on to serve and to lead the church until it is healthy enough to take on those roles itself.
The world needs Kingdom servants, and servants of the Kingdom will win the world.
* The term "humble servants" is a reference to the teachings of Beth Barone, a woman to whom I am indebted and grateful as she has been instrumental in challenging me, my view of God, and my understanding of the Bible.
Pattern #3: Authority
The most important effort we can make before arriving on the field might be to spend time developing meaningful relationships with our local church and pastors.
Nearly every missions agency has a requirement for a local pastor to sponsor or to write a letter of recommendation for a prospective missionary. The requirement exists because these agencies have the foresight to understand that if pre-sent missionaries have already developed authority relationships in their home culture they are much more likely to succeed on the field.
Trusting leaders is a step in the growth process of Christianity. Haphazardly tossing leaders aside because they offend us (and they will because they're not perfect) is not maturity. Growth is shown when we trust God enough to allow ourselves to trust, and be hurt by, spiritual authority. That connection to God must exist first, but God leads us to serve under [imperfect] men and women wherever we are.
If our goal truly is "Service" than this is the reality: if we can't serve under the spiritual authority that is in our home church (or if we are unwilling to put ourselves underneath a spiritual authority), then we will be of no service to the church on the field.
Harsh words? Maybe. Let me soften them:
The church is full of broken people. The liturgy and culture varies from church to church, but the fact that church is filled with imperfect people does not. If we can't serve broken people and serve under broken leaders in America, we are exemplifying pride, and are probably interested in furthering the Kingdom of Ourselves instead of the Kingdom of Heaven.
You're right, that didn't get any softer. Sorry.
So lets go again to the Bible, where the Apostle Paul has some more great examples in I Cor 9:19-23 and Rom 13. Look them up, but the verse I want to highlight is in Hebrews (which may or may not have been written by Paul):
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Ultimately, our response to human leadership reflects our faith in God. Do we trust God enough to submit to the (fallen, broken, imperfect) authorities that God has established in the church? Do we trust Him enough to know that those leaders must give an account for their decisions to God, and it's not our role to judge them, but to "obey them so that their work will be a joy"?
Again, we must be connected with God, I'm not advocating serving under a leader that God is directing you away from! It's true that authority can be misused and there are times to step out from underneath an unhealthy authority, but we must also remember David, who was called to continue to serve and honor Saul. The response of a mature believer is to have such a firm trust in God that we can submit to human authority and council that God has introduced in our lives.
I hear a lot of pre-sent missionaries say that they don't like the way that church is done in America so they want to be part of something new on the field. I understand the sentiment, but if we're unwilling to work with people who are doing things differently than we would, are we really ready to work with others? The pre-sent missionary who cannot trust the Father enough to respect and submit to authority is not ready to take on a position of authority in the church.
In our lives we've been fortunate. We were commissioned by our home church, we have been sent by Foursquare Missions International and we serve under Akha Outreach Foundation here in Thailand. Going through the requirements of these three groups took (and still takes) time and energy, but it provides a crucial covering that has kept us in good standing when the "honeymoon" period ended and the difficulties of ministry set in.
Bottom line: if we surround ourselves with Godly leaders and see what we can do to serve them and to impact our church family positively for the Kingdom we will be well equipped to serve the leaders on the field to which we are called.
As I sit here and think of five or six of the missionary families that I respect the most, all of them are characterized by giving. In fact, missionaries usually fall into one of two categories: those who are always worrying about funding and support, and those who are willing to give the shirt off their back, the roof from over their heads and wheels from beneath their feet at the shortest prompting of the Lord.
I'm not advocating that you give all you have to the next person you see, this goes back again to your ability to connect to the living God, but if He asks us to give can we do it? Do we hesitate? Are we Matthew, who walked away from his fortune, or are we the rich young ruler?
It is a tremendous step of faith to quit our jobs and trust that the Lord will provide for our needs, but we must be careful not to fall into the trap of poverty, which believes that we do not have enough to give. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Powerful words. Not blessed are the poor, but blessed are the poor in spirit. If we can shed our love for money, if we can realize that nothing changes if we lose all that we posses, then we are poor in spirit. Then we will see seasons plenty and seasons of nothing, but we will always be living with a heart willing to give, even to death. (Remember the widow and Elijah?)
Paul stands out again, as he shows us how to be a missionary:
As we see the missionaries here in Thailand who challenge us, who call us to the next level in our walks with God and with man, we only see men and women who are givers. Givers of time, givers of money, givers of possessions. Givers are often hurt by takers, leeches who seek their own comfort. But obedient givers will continue to give, even to the leeches, if they are prompted by the voice of the Lord. True givers are willing to give no matter the cost, no matter the pain.
Powerful things happen in the spiritual realm when we challenge the kingdom of darkness, and that kingdom is shaken by selfless giving.
What am I missing?
Ok, fellow missionaries (pre-sent, actively serving, retired) these were my thoughts and observations. But I'm so limited. I live in a specific part of the world, I have few credentials, I have few years of service and I have a specific calling. I need your voices to help make this complete.
- What have I missed?
- What have I gotten wrong?
- What do you agree with?
Please join in the conversation below...
I've been trying to write an update on the story in Maesalong this morning and have been struggling to find the words. I just can't narrow down all the stories into a cohesive update. So instead of finishing that post, I began catching up on the emails that have been piling up on my task list. In one email, I'm connecting with a family that we have never met but has contacted us and has been praying for us along with their church. As I shared with them, a little bit of the background of our ministry I wrote the following paragraph, and felt that it would be good to share this paragraph with all of you:
But we've seen life as well. We've seen God keep us in Thailand when financial arguments said it was impossible. We've seen Jesus minister through our hands and feet when we were called to keep our mouths closed. We've seen the birth of our beautiful daughter Abigail, and await the birth of our second daughter in October. And now we are seeing Jesus minister again as we are being called to display that the true Church does not function as a kingdom that imposes authority, but as one that humbly serves the broken children of God towards unity, in order that the lost children might see God by our love for one another.
That last statement shares the heart of where our ministry in Maesalong exists today. We are bridging gaps, [trying to be] loving to those who are hurting (read "hurting" both ways), and sharing our hearts with those who are willing to listen.
Many of you have read or heard some of our ministry philosophy "catch-phrases" here on our journal or as we have communicated with you in person. The study of the Akha culture, and the inevitable parallel study of my own American culture has led to a number of cross-cultural keywords that have become very important in my worldview. The biggest keyword that has emerged is Relevance, and I want to unpack it a little for you today. Please bear with me until the end because my heart is to communicate these ideas clearly. I want to start by sharing an excerpt from an insightful article entitled "Why we don't go or send much anymore" by Dr. Patrick Johnstone of WEC International (link goes to a repost of the article on John Lambert's blog):
Why we don't go or send much anymore... The Cultural Price
We are the “instant” generation. We look for quick solutions. Yet the Lord Jesus had to earn the right for 3 years of ministry through 30 years of manhood. Without missionaries becoming one with the people to whom they minister, how will they ever earn the right to communicate the gospel?
Earning the right takes time – 7 to 10 years by my estimation. Some missionaries never last that long. Sacrificing our way of doing, being and living is hard. When I was a missionary in Africa, some Africans would say, “That missionary loves us, but those others don’t.”
My immediate reaction:
There is no question that we in the west are part of an "instant generation", and as digital-age missionaries to a pre-modern culture, we are constantly changing states, speeds and worldviews as we attempt to communicate to our unique world(s).
In working with the Akha we say the following statement all the time and, although it is admittedly an oversimplification, it is largely true: Relationships in Asia, and specifically with the Akha, have no relevance until they have history. Dr. Johnstone uses different terms, but the same idea lies within his article when he says a missionary has no "right to communicate the gospel" [relevance] until he has "one"-ness [history] with the people.
This doesn't mean that we don't correctly handle the Word of Truth as we build history. But too often we feel like we have all the answers, our pride gets in the way and we think everything has to get fixed now. Working in Asia we must realize that until we have history the words we speak have no weight - even if they are true.
Experiences with the Akha
In our Akha village, we have showed the love of Christ by spending a majority of our time sitting, drinking tea, discussing the weather and the crops, learning the Akha language within the context of community, and caring for physical needs without cost or discrimination as we experience the minutia of life within a community in order to build relevance. It is slow. It is unglamorous. But it is necessary to affect a community towards healthy long-term growth.
Our ministry has only recently, after nearly six years of building history, earned enough relational relevance to be a resource of accountability, exhortation and truth in love in a way that will be productively and actively received by some of the people around us.
Unfortunately, this process of patience means that there have been many times where we have seen dysfunctional behavior that is unable to receive input from any source which is not equally as dysfunctional. So, in these times, we have had to stand silently, brokenhearted, so that we might maintain the relationships and history we are building, which, in turn, will give us the relevance to minister restoration to that dysfunction in the future.
The beauty of this worldview is the closeness of the community and the willingness to function in unity. The downfall is that dysfunctional behavior is also universally shared. Relevant voices of influence must show their commitment to unity within the community over a significant period of time without sharing in the same dysfunctions in order to effectively communicate functional life.
Experiences with the West
It is still true in the west that community and companionship are the key factors in administering life-impacting change, but the decision to include or exclude someone or something from our community is made nearly instantaneously. (The exception in this case is the influence of the core family-unit, but in my observation many people in America are even distancing themselves from those nuclear-family relationships that were once such powerful influences in the lives of an individual.)
These "instantaneous decisions" have led to the onset of the online community phenomenons of blogging, forums, and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We in the western world are much more comfortable extending our attention and trust to someone or something with whom we have no history. We might respond to attraction, position, interests, goals, occupation, production, association, or marketing in our decisions to join or include others in a community.
Online communities make the world smaller, and that small world allows us to communicate globally without moving geographically. Personally, I have a list of missionaries from around the world that I connect with for advice, prayer, exhortation and empathy - but I have only met a few of them face-to-face.
The blessing of this openness to immediate inclusion is that we are free to give and receive the ministry of the gospel in the brief moments of community when our lives glance off of one another in the thousands if not millions of connections we make. We can quickly form meaningful relationships that have immediate positive impact on our lives, and receive Godly encouragement from near stangers. The downfall of this worldview is that we become judgmental, quickly dismissing as irrelevant things that don't capture our immediate attentions and passions and quickly accepting as valuable things that are at their core damaging but packaged to manipulate our passions.
Defining the Difference
Perhaps the simplest distinction between the Western world I know and the Eastern (Akha) world I have come to learn can be summed up in the following statement:
As for me and my house...
We must exist in both worlds. The world we come from and the world we have been sent to. It is important for Lori and I to continue to engage in our Western culture, even as we minister in the East. So we strive to be transparent, available, and vulnerable in our efforts to communicate via these "instant" platforms: Our blog: The Vernon Journal; Twitter (Paul); Facebook (Paul | Lori); Tumblr (Paul | Lori | Abi).
Through these mediums, we try to frequently communicate our otherwise slow ministry to those of you who cover, support and partner with us while we geographically remain in the midst of that ministry. We know that there are thousands of causes, ministries and opportunities out there to partner with, and we want you to know that we value your partnership and desire to share with you how your partnership is furthuring the gospel in us, among the Akha, and throughout the world.
How do you connect with your communities? And how can we best communicate our lives and experiences to you and your communities as we minister to the Akha?
We've had a bit of a blogging dry spell recently (and by that I mean "I've had a bit of a blogging dry spell." Thank goodness my husband has the motivation to post every once in a while!). Any how, I'm trying to get back into the blogging groove, so I just thought I'd share this cute picture of Paul & Abi sharpening the machete in front of our village home (hut). Not only is it a super cute picture, but I think it's a good representation of our life in the village. People are always asking us what we do in the village, and well, sometimes it's just this: doing life, village style.
A documentary created by a Media Light team in 2010 that gives a little bit of a glimpse into our lives with the Akha in Southeast Asia.
Paul and Lori Vernon are serving the Akha people in Northern Thailand by ministering to physical, spiritual, emotional and educational needs. This documentary, produced in 2009, gives an outsider's view of their ministry and connection with the Akha people.
You can learn more about Paul and Lori and their ministry with the Akha people at http://vernonjournal.com
More information about the Akha people may be found at http://akha.tumblr.com
Before we get into all of this we have to first say a heartfelt "thank you" to all of you. Friends, family, strangers, leaders... you have all been so supportive of us and your prayers for Maesalong have been felt. I know that most of you follow us on facebook, but for those of you who don't, we want to share some of the "lowlights" in our status updates over the last few weeks:
Maesalong Status Updates
- PAUL (July 18, 2010): ...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many. "Matthew 20:28."
- LORI (July 18, 2010): Heading up to the village tomorrow to attend some meetings. Prayers appreciated. In other news, psych is back and does not dissapoint.
- PAUL (July 19, 2010): lots of confusion in Maesalong right now. heading up there, but could use lots of prayer.
- PAUL (July 19, 2010): near disaster in the meeting this morning, but some well timed apologies have led to some more mature conversation. keep praying for our church and for the Akha of Maesalong.
- PAUL (July 19, 2010): is brokenhearted.
- LORI (July 19, 2010): really rough day today.
- LORI (July 20, 2010): home from the village, spent and brokenhearted.
- PAUL (July 21, 2010): reeling from the last few days, I'm sitting in a meeting with all the pastors in our organization unpacking all that is happening in Maesalong.
- PAUL (July 22, 2010): we get a break today from all that's been going on. teaching at the monthly pastor's training tomorrow then back up to the village on Saturday.
- PAUL (July 24, 2010): change of plans. instead of going up to the village this weekend we're going to practice fighting this battle "not under our own power". pray for maesalong.
- PAUL (July 24, 2010): heartbreak after heartbreak with news out of maesalong.
- LORI (July 25, 2010): up at 4am worrying about the trouble in MaeSalong. prayers still appreciated. this can't be solved by human wisdom.
- PAUL (July 25, 2010): "sovereign stillness whispers 'trust in Me'."
So that should catch most of you up to the vaguery of our 140-character updates. Now for the background story, it's fairly convoluted so please bear with me as I try to unpack it for you... For a number of months, we have heard rumblings in our village that an Akha pastor who lives in Bangkok has had a problem with our pastor and with the way the church in Maesalong is being run. We'll call the Bangkok pastor "Phillip" and our pastor "Joe". Six years ago, Phillip was on staff with Akha Outreach and was very involved with the Maesalong church. However, five years ago he and his family left for Bangkok and joined another organization which paid for Phillip to receive his masters degree. Currently, Phillip is neither a part of our church nor a member of our nationally recognized church denomination (Akha Outreach Services). He has had no contact whatsoever with the leadership within our organization, and refuses to answer calls or attempts at communication.
Phillip legitimately cares for Maesalong and loves the Lord. The people of Maesalong adore him. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in his study of leadership he has learned about earthly power and domination rather than the Authentic Authority of God. We heard, indirectly, that he was coming up to our village to have a three-day Bible study, but quickly realized that his sole intent was to remove Joe from his position as pastor of Maesalong.
Joe is a young pastor. As such, he's made a number of mistakes. These mistakes have reflected his youth, his inexperience, and his insecurity. In discussions with our organizational board, however, none of his transgressions are cause for removal. We have worked with him, watching him grow and learn as the church grows and learns with him.
However, pastor Phillip was apparently dissatisfied with the decisions of our leadership. When Joe was unable to answer a string of courtroom-like rapid-fire "answer yes or no" questions to his satisfaction, Phillip dramatically declared that he was leaving, that he would never set foot in Maesalong again, and that no one in our village would ever see his face again.
It was here that he had won. There is not an adult in that room, who had not had a husband or father threaten them in that way. Most of them have had fathers abandon their families, or husbands leave them - including Pastor Joe. As the tears poured and the emotion flowed "Please, don't reject us!", Pastor Joe's heart broke for his flock. Two hours later, Pastor Joe, with his face covered in tears and his body racked with sobs, resigned from his pastorate for the transgression of not meeting the standards of performance placed upon him as pastor.
That evening, the Bangkok pastor dissolved the church board of directors and appointed a new board. He said that he would be willing to allow our organization to appoint a new pastor, but it has later been made clear that if Phillip does not like the new pastor he will remove him as well and appoint his own.
In five years in Maesalong, we have had five pastors. The first left for money and opportunity, that was Pastor Phillip. The second was asked to leave because the established leadership did not feel that he respected them. The third left because although he pleased the 5-6 influential leaders, he had no interest in connecting with the members of the church and would only appear in the village on Sunday morning to preach and eat lunch with the leadership. The fourth, Pastor Joe, was cornered into resignation (although the core leadership played its role here again). The fifth pastor is yet to be determined.
Maesalong has a lot of problems, but every church, every person has problems. But recently in Maesalong some of the real core issues have become evident. When Pastor Joe resigned, there was true brokenness. All, but a very select few, were brokenhearted and in tears. One woman expressed the heart of the women in the group as she said, choking back her sobs "Pastor Joe, I don't know what's going to happen, but I can't express what I feel. I just really want to thank you... for taking the time... the time to teach us women how to read and write the Akha language... and now that you are leaving I don't know what we're going to do...". But it's easier to allow someone you love to sacrifice themselves for you than it is to be rejected by someone you love.
The Akha in Maesalong have been victims their entire lives. They are used to being threatened and unaccustomed to being loved. They cannot imagine going through the pain of being rejected again, so anyone who threatens to reject them holds power. A pastor who loves them and desires for them to get healed is constantly under the threat of being forcibly removed from the community, because he refuses to use rejection as a weapon.
In short, Maesalong has become a pastor-killing church. Each story has been unique, but at the core when things go wrong, the pastor receives the blame. However, the root issues of rejection are finally becoming apparent. "I will reject you before you reject me." Or "I will reject you because you rejected me". Performance. Power. The kingdom of darkness instead of the Authentic Authority of God.
We don't know what's next. We don't know if the village will become part of this other organization based in Bangkok, thus legally and culturally forcing us to leave. We don't know if the village will realize how they are being manipulated and respond in wisdom.
We do have hope. Our hope is for unity between the Bangkok pastor and our organization. Our hope is for unity within our own church. Our hope is that we will be able to continue to minister the love of God holistically to the Akha of Maesalong. Our hope is that all that the enemy has intended for evil, the Lord will use for good (Gen. 50:20).
We have been in a season of beginnings for about a year now. As our comfort and ministry with the Akha in Thailand has grown, opportunities have come our way to expand our ministry. Since we are part of two large organizations (Akha Outreach Foundation and Foursquare Missions International), most of the opportunities we accept are through these two ministries. In the last year we have taken on a ministry to the Akha extracting teeth, a monthly training of Akha pastors and church leaders, and an Akha Vacation Bible School to both AOF and FMI villages. These projects have added on to our normal daily work within our home village, assisting our director in his projects at AOF and teaching monthly at the Bible college.
Most recently, I (Paul) have received an opportunity to fill in for another FMI missionary who has been serving the foursquare church in the nation to the northwest of us here in southeast Asia. While this missionary is on furlough over the next 14 months, I will be meeting with the pastor from this region who is essentially in charge of reaching thousands of people from multiple people groups with the gospel.
Honestly, the work isn't that exciting. Balance sheets. Grant reporting. Emails and communication. Office work.
But the realities behind the work: 5000 salvations, 1700 water baptisms, 1200 filled with the Holy Spirit, and 40+ churches and cell groups planted all in the last calendar year. Those are exciting stories, and worth the headache that is spreadsheets and accounting.
Beyond the actual work hours, this also provides me with an opportunity to speak with, pray for and encourage a pastor who is serving the Lord in one of the most difficult places on earth. The very existence of his ministry challenges me in my walk and work with God.
So, you probably won't read to many more updates on my spreadsheet and accounting work, but I wanted to share with all of you the men and women behind the work who are shining lights in a very dark place. Please remember them in your prayers.
After the violence yesterday left buildings burned, 14 dead, scores injured, a national emergency and a widespread curfew, there are glimmers of peace this afternoon. Despite the updates of possible roof snipers and pockets of violence, the core group of 5,000 protesters have apparently headed for home. (Source)
We have heard from all of our Bangkok connections and know that they are all safe, although we have not heard if any of them have lost property, power or communication. After a short communication blackout for us last night, we have seen no other changes in our lives - except that our attention has been turned from our daily ministry projects to the news, updates and prayer for this nation.
In Chiang Rai, things seem unchanged... except for the oddity of our major grocery store not opening this morning. We were able to get to a ATM to make a cash withdrawal and our internet connection has been up and running all day. Apparently the curfew (8pm-6am) will continue to be in effect for our province for the next three nights, and many banks and schools will remain closed until next week. We are laying low, watching these events as they unfold. It is not the first political uprising we have seen here, as we have lived through a military coup, a dissolved governing body, closed airports, and multiple appointments of Prime Ministers. However, these events over the past 48 hours have been the most violent and costly that we have seen.
It appears that the peak of the conflict has passed, although a majority of the root problems that initiated the conflict have not yet been addressed and future elections and political decisions are going to quickly stir up emotions and actions again, perhaps to violence.
So all we can do is pray, and trust that our Merciful Father will direct the hearts of these people. Please join us as we lift the nation of Thailand, a nation which has graciously permitted us to live and work within its boundaries and which is home to so many of our dear friends.
- Pray with us for the governing bodies to make decisions that will be a blessing to the people of Thailand.
- Pray with us for the military forces to be bringers of peace and stability.
- Pray with us for the leaders of both political parties that they might find common ground to work together openly and honestly to bring this wonderful country back to a state of peace and to rightly represent the peoples of this nation in their actions.
- Pray for those who have lost lives and livelihood, that they might be lifted up.
- Pray with us for the hearts of the people of this nation, that they would receive the heritage of life that comes from the Kingdom of God.
Thank you for joining us in prayer.
For those of you who don't follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, we want to let you know that our family is safe and life is relatively unchanged here in the city of Chiang Rai. As of this evening, we have access to internet, and hope this continues to be the case as these events unfold.
For those of you who have not heard, this afternoon the military began to shut down protests that have been going on for weeks in Bangkok and the conflict has erupted into violence, shootings, looting and arson.
Over a dozen buildings in Bangkok, as well as buildings in other provinces (and possibly the old provincial building here in Chiang Rai, though this is unconfirmed - link) have been destroyed by fire.
A curfew is in effect for (basically) the entire country and everyone is expected to remain in their homes from 8pm until 6am. ATMs are likely going to be closed through the curfew and may remain closed until next week, along with schools, government offices, banks and other target areas.
Please join us in prayer for the safety of the people in Thailand, and remember with us our fellow Foursquare missionaries in Bangkok who are right in the heart of the conflict.
Thanks for your prayers & support.
Regardless of what corner of the globe or what ethnic group, it's important for women to have the opportunity to retreat from their usual daily routines and be with other women for rest, encouragement and spiritual renewal. In January I had the privilege of joining with many women for the annual Akha women's retreat at Akha Outreach Foundation. This year was especially exciting for me because a large group of women from the villages around Mae Salong came down for the retreat. Everyone (about 20 passengers total) piled into our truck for the 2 hour drive down to the city. Upon arriving, they quickly embraced the freedom of being away from the duties of children and work. It was awesome to watch women hug and reunite with friends from other villages (most of whom they don't see except for this one time each year).
The sessions included some amazing speakers and worship. During one session in particular, the healing presence of the Holy Spirit was so rich and the worship was so beautiful that most of the women were weeping (which is quite unusual, as Akha rarely show this kind of emotion.) There were also plenty of times filled with joy & energy ; everyone enjoyed many silly songs, games and dancing (check out the pictures below!)
Last year I merely translated, however this year I was honored to be asked to teach one of the sessions. I taught on parenting, mostly encouraging the mothers that God has prepared them for job he has set before them. Too many Akha parents believe the lie that they are not equipped to raise their children because they haven't had any formal education. This is the reason that many Akha children are being sent to be raised in boarding homes unnecessarily, which, in turn, is slowly destroying the family system. I taught in Akha (though admittedly, it was rough at times) and tried to use several examples from daily Akha life to further convey that God values the Akha people and way of life and that they have something so valuable to offer their kids!
One of my favorite parts of the women's retreat every year is the craft time. I've lived in an Akha village for 5 years, so I'm fairly accustomed to seeing Akha women working on their various sewing projects, but there's just something so awe inspiring to see so many women, so much skill and expertise, so much culture all in one room! This year they introduced a new aspect to the time. During this craft session, the Bible students (aged 18-25) living at Akha Outreach Foundation were encouraged to join in and learn from their elders. While most young women know how to do Akha cross stitch, some of the more uncommon skills are being lost to the younger generations. The female students sat amongst the mothers learning how to make pom poms and sew applique, while the young men sat with the grandmothers (whose eyesight no longer permits them to do the intricate work) and wrote down Akha proverbs, Akha stories, and the stories of their lives. It was an awesome sight to witness the passing down of traditions from generation to generation!
reposted from a guest blogging article written at JasonRuggles.com
Posted on 29. Jan, 2010 by April
As we’ve mentioned more than once, last month we went up to an Akha village for a few days to experience their culture. Part of that was, of course, their food. My favorite part was using chopsticks to eat it all. Since we only ate Akha food a few times, we decided to bring in an expert to tell you all about it. Lori Vernon graciously agreed to be our guest blogger today to teach us about Akha food and even share a recipe!
Akha food is fairly simple compared to Thai fare. Most Thai dishes seek to find the perfect balance between many different flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty, etc) using a multitude of ingredients like coconut milk, curry paste, lemon grass, chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar and lime to name a few. Most Akha dishes, on the other hand, are savory and have very few ingredients. Akha dishes rarely use more than salt, garlic, chili pepper to flavor the main ingredient. However, this doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that Akha food could be considered bland. Quite the opposite, Akha food is very flavorful and spicy!
Of course, rice is the main staple for the Akha people. At a meal, each person has their own bowl of rice, and the accompanying dishes are served family style. There are 5 categories of Akha food; a traditional meal would include at least one dish from each category.
1. STIR FRIED:
This category can vary greatly. Any combination of vegetables, eggs, meat or beans can be stir fried for an Akha meal. An Akha favorite is a spicy stir fried minced pork dish called sa byeh which is the exception to the “simple-ingredients-list rule” and has many herbs including a special type of tree bark. It is almost always eaten for special occasions like weddings, funerals and festivals.
Greens can be pickled when the crops are in abundance and preserved for use at a later time. Often pickled greens are also dried and reconstituted when ready to eat, increasing their shelf life even further.
Greens, squash or potatoes are boiled with pork and bones to create a savory broth soup. The Akha also make a thick rice porridge soup with chicken that is eaten to celebrate the birth of a child or to feed to an invalid unable to eat rice.
The Akha use a mortar and pestle to create very spicy dips to be eaten with fresh vegetables, or spooned directly onto the rice. The most simple version would contain tomato, salt, chili peppers, green onions & cilantro. However, we have tasted many variations of this dish including ones that contained crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, fish, dried beef, and bamboo worms. This is a dish that is different at every house, because each family has their own secret recipe.
The dip mentioned above is generally eaten with a variety of fresh greens and vegetables. Some commonly served items from this category include cabbage, green beans, sweet pea greens, cucumbers, mint, thai eggplant and other herbs. (which I don’t know how to translate into English.)
If you’d like to taste a bit of Akha food, here’s a simple recipe you can try at home:
Spicy Akha Peanut Dip
This is normally made with a mortar and pestle, but since those tools are not commonly available in American kitchens, I’ve included instructions on how to make this using a Cuisinart (a blender may also work.)
- 1 small clove of garlic (optional, depending on how much garlic breath you’re willing to tolerate)
- 3 medium plum tomatoes or one large American Tomato
- ¼ cup of roasted peanuts
- 1-5 Thai chili peppers to taste
- ½ tsp of salt (or to taste)
- green onions, chopped
- cilantro, chopped
- Boil/blanch tomatoes and chili peppers for several minutes… until the tomato skin splits. Remove from water and let cool.
- Chop peanuts roughly in a Cuisinart.
- Peel skin off of tomatoes & add tomatoes in with the chopped peanuts.
- Add blanched chili peppers and garlic clove. Use the pulse setting to chop/mix.
- Add salt to taste
- Remove from Cuisinart.
- Stir in chopped green onions & cilantro to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish on top.
- Serve with raw vegetables or over rice.
- Lori Vernon
We recently traveled north into the largest country, by geographical area, in Indochina to join in the dedication celebration for a local Foursquare church. As with each time we've traveled into this country, the border crossing and weaving through the crowds of "tour guides" and taxis can be a stressful experience... but once you've crossed that initial boundary of sellers, smugglers and scams typical of many border-towns, the people are truly wonderful. Despite the difficult conditions they live in (or perhaps because of those conditions) there are few other places that possess such a richness of cultures and an appreciation of the simple pleasures of life. We woke up very early in order to cross the border in Maesai by 7 am. After going through Thai customs, we crossed the bridge over the Mekong river, which divides the two countries. Once that bridge had been crossed, we found ourselves in a different world. The language, the customs, the people, the food, the vehicles and even the time have all changed. That's right, having left Thailand at 7:00 am we found ourselves in customs at Tachileik at 6:30 am, as the entire country has set it's clock 30 minutes off of the rest of the world's recognized time zones.
Once we had worked our way through customs and the crowd of sellers, we hired a Tuk Tuk to take us to Esther's home village to see her parents. As is typical in any Akha village, Abi quickly made herself at home, "helping" fix breakfast and playing with all the Akha kids, and (as is also typical) the villagers were all amazed to see a little "foreign girl" speaking Akha and interacting in the Akha world.
After the delicious breakfast and great time in the village, we headed off to the dedication celebration for the new church. It was beautiful, and over 500 people from the various Foursquare churches in the region came down. A majority (probably 80%) of the attendees were actually hilltribe members - most of them were Lahu but many Akha were there as well. We enjoyed speaking with the pastor and Bible students from the church, but Lori and I especially enjoyed connecting with the Akha and Lahu people who came down. (The Lahu are a group related to the Akha, and although the two languages are unique and distinct, most Lahu speak a little Akha and vice versa.) Abi put on the traditional Burmese outfit that Esther had tailored for her as a Christmas present, and even wore Thanakha - the traditional face-paint of the region.
In the middle of the service I (Paul) was asked to come up and give thanks for the offering, I was planning on speaking in English with a translator, but when I got up front there was no translator, so I decided to just stumble along in Akha. Once I finished, the reaction of the crowd told me that most of them could in fact understand Akha, and it was great to connect with everyone in a language they could understand - although they were extremely gracious overlooking the ineloquence of my words.
We really enjoyed our time and look forward to some great opportunities that are on the horizon to continue to build into the new relationships we have with these Foursquare churches.
Yesterday we were asked to appear as subjects / insiders for a media group called Emerge Network that will be coming into our village to create three short videos about our lives and the lives of the Akha in Mae Salong. We're very honored to help serve this team and are excited to see what stories these media-moguls-in-the-making decide to tell.
During our time at the Emerge Network training center, the program directors showed a number of pictures that they had taken while visiting Doi Mae Salong, while sharing the importance of discovering the story behind the images. As the pictures of scenery, daily life, children, and elders flashed across the screen I began to realize that I perceived each picture so differently than the 30 other people who I was in the room with.
When they saw bamboo huts, I saw my home. When they saw jungle and winding paths, I saw my neighborhood. When they saw cute kids, I saw their stories. When they saw headdresses and smiles, I saw the strong, endearing, hardworking characters of our village family.
Lori hit on this point a little when she wrote a post earlier this month about some photographer friends who came to visit. In her post she wrote "After looking at their pictures, we’re reminded how differently we take pictures now that we’ve been here for 5 years. For example, we NEVER take pictures of the chickens anymore because we’re so used to them, but they really are a very important part of the village ambiance!"
Shortly after we arrived in our village in 2005, we posted these photos sharing images of our village kids. Looking back now I see each of those kids very differently because I have laughed, cried and shared in their life stories. The best parallel I can draw to this experience is a comparison to a classroom. As a teacher (or student), during the first days of a new class or new school the people around you are a conglomerate unknown, a shapeless mass. Slowly names are learned and faces are distinguished, but it is not until experiences and stories are shared that those acquaintances become connections, community, and friends.
Now, many of our posts are stories. Individuals. Friends. This post was originally going to be a mass of photos, but I couldn't get myself to post just the images without the incredible stories that go beneath the skin (which is what excites me about this video team that is coming up this weekend). So, instead, I'm starting a new tag, called stories, where we will intentionally share more than just a face.
We hope that you all enjoy these glimpses into the lives of our Akha friends, because we truly love sharing our lives with them.
From Rusty and Lynette's blog: Olive Hope went home to be with Jesus tonight at 6:37. The infection was too strong for her little body. She was surrounded by lots of love as she went. She left us on her daddy's chest.
in lieu of flowers
So many of you have already graciously been asking where you can send flowers... Rusty and Lynette would love to do something in honor of Olive Hope, so that her life can bless the Akha children in the villages in Northern Thailand. So, in lieu of flowers, please send any donations to:
Siloam Fellowship 61616 C.R. 35 Goshen, IN 46528 Please reference Olive Memorial Fund in the memo.
If you'd like to see more about the work they have been doing in Thailand with the Akha Youth Development Fund please see: http://web.mac.com/rustylynette/AYDC/Welcome.html
Since I spent the last week of 2009 in America, we ended up celebrating our family Christmas on January 2nd this year. Abigail is still young enough that the actual date doesn't really matter to her - but she is now old enough that Christmas is really fun. Living in Thailand we try to do a couple of holidays with more of an American flair, for ourselves and for Abi so she can have some connection with her American roots. Our biggest "tradition" holiday - by far - is Christmas. We start the day with an American breakfast cooked by Lori. This year she made an "Apple French Toast Casserole" which was so good that Esther actually ate it (she is generally a very picky eater, and especially adverse to western food). While we eat breakfast, we listen to the Christmas story - first in Akha, then in English - while discussing the characters in the story through our nativity scene.
Then we celebrate a new tradition, initiated by Abi. Since there are presents under the tree, Abi knew that there must be a birthday. For about a month, she kept thinking it was going to be her birthday again, but now if you ask her whose birthday is on Christmas, she will answer "Baby Jesus" or "God" depending on what she remembers of the story at the time. So, we all sing a rousing version of Happy Birthday to Jesus, led by Abi.
Then we open our presents and stockings. Lori and I love this time because we get to really spoil Esther. This year, in addition to clothes & food, the popular gifts were...
For me: a new netbook to replace my dying & incredibly slow laptop. Thanks Mom, Dad, Grandma & Grandpa!
For Lori: a beautiful, original oil-on-canvas (50" x 36") of five Ulo Akha women carrying bundles of roofing grass and corn in from the fields. This original composition was painted by Burmese artist Soe Win, who we were able to meet in Maesot where we purchased the piece.
For Abi: a custom-made traditional Burmese outfit that Esther bought from a seamstress in Myanmar (Burma) & a miniature blender so that Abi can make smoothies just like her mom!
For Esther: a huge bag of her favorite dried cherries, photos and a photo album, clothes from America and fabric, thread & sewing needles so she can learn how to sew Akha stitches (everyone has always given her a hard time because she didn't learn how to sew as a girl, now she can practice in the city. she's really excited to show her mom that she's learning to sew!).
After all the presents and playing, we enjoy a wonderful smorgasbord lunch of breads, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, crackers and summer sausage to round out a wonderful - if belated - family Christmas. Hope you all had wonderful times with your families as well!