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]

©2010 Akha Outreach Media :: Used By Permission

A Heritage of Ministry

Paul and Lori VernonTen years ago this week was the first time we arrived in Thailand. As two young, wide-eyed, newlywed college kids we first set foot in the nation that we knew God had called us to serve. We had come to Thailand to visit a fledgling ministry to the Akha people and assist them with some land planning. But the reality was that we were taking the first step of obedience to the call that God placed on our life. We continued to travel between the United States and Thailand over the next five years; leading teams and growing in our relationship with each other and with the ministry to the Akha. Finally in 2005 we moved here full-time, and Akha Outreach Foundation had grown and matured in its ministry. By this time the ministry here was serving the Akha with three ministry focuses: House of Joy, a children's home for orphaned and high-risk kids; Akha Bible Institute, a training program for young emerging Akha leaders; Akha Outreach Services, a ministry to Akha villages and churches.

Earlier this month Akha Outreach Foundation celebrated it's 10th year of ministry. Nearly 2,000 Akha men, women and children came to participate in the event and to celebrate the heritage of ministry that Akha Outreach Foundation has fostered.

The 10-Year Anniversary celebration was a beautiful event that was well worth the months of preparation that we put into it by printing books, images, pamphlets and banners, editing videos, and coordinating visitors. It was amazing to see what God has done over the past ten years. Former drug addicts leading their villages in worship. Men and women who had been witch doctors and mediums smiling with the joy that comes with the freedom of the gospel. Christians from multiple denominations and backgrounds laughing, singing and eating together.

Akha Outreach - A Heritage of WorshipAkha Outreach - A Heritage of EqualityAkha Outreach 10 Year Celebration - A Heritage of FamilyAkha Outreach 10 Year CelebrationAkha Outreach 10 Year Celebration - A Heritage of Honor Akha Outreach 10 Year Celebration - A Heritage of CelebrationAkha Outreach 10 Year Celebration - Heritage of LearningAkha Outreach 10 Year Celebration - Heritage of Friendship

But as exciting as the look back was, and as encouraging as it has been to see what God is doing, the most exhilarating thing is that the vision for ministry to the Akha is just beginning. The barriers that have bound the Akha for generations are being broken, but this is just the start. As God leads the Akha into freedom, the barriers that exist between individuals, villages, regions, and nations are being broken. The rice is ripe and harvest is coming.

In Memoriam: Abaw Tsa, the first Akha Christian in Thailand, 1933-2010

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.

Read More...

Introducing Izabel

On October 13th at 6:55 am we welcomed Izabel Ruth into our family. She was born weighing 3.9 kilograms (8 lbs. 10 ounces) after about 2.5 hours of natural labor and childbirth. Both Izi and Lori are doing great. Thus far (she's only 5 days old as I write this) she's been a wonderful baby; she sleeps well, she eats well, and we've never seen her cry for more than 15 seconds. She's already using the toilet a couple of times a day as we are continuing with our EC practices. Abigail loves her little sister and making the life adjustment well. Our family has been staying in our city home in Chiangrai for all of October and we will probably remain here until the month is over as we adjust as a family to our new addition. We're excited to get back into our normal ministry pace, but have really enjoyed this time in the city preparing for Izi, spending time as a family, and working on our city-side projects.

We have been tumbl'ing images of Izabel over on her own blog - Our Izi Ruth - rather than fill up this blog with tons of kid pictures (actually we all have Tumblr blogs if you would like to follow our lighter and more personal posts: Izi Abi Lori Paul) but wanted to share a few pictures here as well:

Just Born Izabel RuthHappy Mommy and DaddySweet SleeperCalling our Parents in America with the Happy NewsIzi AngelI'm getting hungry!Sister KissesIzabel, Abigail, Paul and Lori VernonFirst time Abi held IziSister SnugglesTen Ticklish ToesSistersIzi going potty : 5 days oldYou can see a little bit of Izi's eyes as she works the potty

Voices of Worship

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):

My precious bride, the day is nearing When I'll take you in My arms and hold you I know there are so many things that you've been hearing But you just hold on to what I have told you

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."

Akha Outreach Media: First Project

Introducing Akha Outreach Media 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.

Excerpts from Akha Outreach Media's in-production cd: Worship Together! Tiqkawv lof-ehr jaceu ma!

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.

How Can I Become a Missionary?

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

If these assumptions are true for you, then the following patterns should be helpful as you seek your commission into missions: Pattern 1, Pattern 2, Pattern 3, Pattern 4.

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:

Galatians 2:15-18

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:

The chronology of Paul's ministry is not known with any certainty, but from Galatians 2:1 [Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.] it seems likely that more years went by before he begun active mission work (Orthodox Research Institute)

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:

I Corinthians 9:19-23

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):

Hebrews 13:17

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.

Pattern #4: Giving

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:

Philipians 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

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...

It all comes down to this: Maesalong Akha Update

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:

... We've seen a lot of death on the way. We've seen our ideas of what ministry looks like crumble. We've seen everything that we had "saved" lost. We've lost a baby through a miscarriage. We've seen our Akha church family torn apart by leaders who don't understand Kingdom Authority.

The Washing of FeetBut 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.

Please continue to pray for our family, for Pastor Joe, for Pastor Phillip, for our Akha mom and for the Akha of Maesalong.

The Akha and the West: Relevantly Traversing the Cultural Divide

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.”

(emphasis mine)

My immediate reaction:

The Akha People: an ancient culture in a digital age.

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 sittingdrinking tea, discussing the weather and the cropslearning 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.

Slowly Gaining RelevanceOur 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.)

The Instant CommunityThese "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:

In the West, you earn the right to share life experiences with an individual by communicating your relevance to that individual immediately and effectively. In the East you earn the right to be relevant to an individual by sharing life experiences in a shared community over an extended period of time.

As for me and my house...

Being RelevantWe 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?

A Different Kind of Milestone: Noodles and Chopsticks

Every once in a while, I encounter a surreal moment where I think to myself, "Wow, my life is really weird!" Today was one of those moments. I had prepared a lunch of spicy fried noodles with egg and peanuts for Abi's lunch. (As I write, I'm realizing that this lunch, in itself, would probably be classified by most of  our readers as unusual, especially for a 3 year old, but this is normal for us.) Anyone who knows anything about Asian food, knows that noodles simply must be eaten with chopsticks. Of course, the Akha use chopsticks for every meal, but even the Thais, who use forks and spoons most of the time (bet you didn't know this!), ALWAYS use chopsticks when eating noodles. It's just the way it should be! Well, to get back to the story, Abi has been showing a lot of interest in chopsticks lately. At mealtime she always steals one of our chopsticks to play with and ends up trying, unsuccessfully, to stab at her food. So today, as I served up her noodles, I remembered a blog post I read recently about children's chopsticks. So, I threw together a pair of "training chopsticks" and she went to town. I swear she ate more at that meal than she has EVER eaten (at least when feeding herself!)

As I was sitting there watching her eat with as much parental pride as is legally allowed, I realized that the heightened degree of sentimentality with which I was viewing this milestone was not really normal (at least not for the majority of Americans). Most of our American friends will not have pictures of their children using chopsticks for the first time at the age of three. Nor will they forever cherish the first set of "baby-chopsticks" given to their children by their Akha Grandpa.

So, I guess I just thought I'd share one of the little differences about raising a child overseas. What are the milestones and memories that you have cherished from your child's life?

Abi concentrating hard to master the chopsticksSipping the super spicy tom yom goong brothThe obligitory drink of water after a really spicy biteOn her way to chopstick mastery- shoveling noodles asian styleJust bein' cute

Village Life: Sharpening the machete

Paul & Abi sharpening the machete. 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.

We're Having a Baby and it's a...

Over the past seven months we have had a number of ultrasounds, including an attempt to have a 4-d video ultrasound at the private hospital in Chiang Rai (the technician was not available) in order to determine whether we are having a boy or a girl, and until last night she just wouldn't cooperate with our attempts. But now we are pleased to announce that we are having a baby girl!!! Lori is due on October 16th and we are very excited for the newest arrival to the Vernon family. Pregnant in Paradise

This has been such a pleasant pregnancy that we haven't done too many updates as Lori has progressed. We keep looking for something to write about, but with a pregnancy the only "newsworthy" items are usually negative news like morning sickness or complications. Thankfully, this pregnancy has gone very smoothly, with the exception of a brief food poisoning stint, Lori and the baby have been wonderfully healthy.

Abigail has been doing very well with whole the process and she is always talking about how she's going to be a big sister and all of the things she is going to do with "her baby". It's really nice that she's old enough to absorb some of the changes that will happen in her life once her baby sister arrives. She has a good friend who just had a baby sister as well and has been able to observe a big sister and how to treat newborn babies.

We're excited about this new chapter for our family, and we are grateful for all of you around the world who play such important roles in our lives and ministry.

p.s. for those of you who are asking the inevitable next question, Lori and I are still discussing what we are going to name her. we do have a name that we are leaning towards, but I don't think Lori wants me to share it with everyone yet. I'm Zealous, Admittedly, But Enigmas Leavemystery.

p.p.s. yes, i did intend to remove the space between the last two words of the last sentence.

Paul and Lori Vernon Media Light Documentary

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.

A short 5-minute documentary style production by the 2010 Media Light team in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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

The Story in Maesalong (or, "What all those depressing facebook updates have been about")

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).

Thank you for your prayers. Feel free to email us, facebook us or comment here on our blog with questions or comments that you feel led to share, and please keep praying for Maesalong.

Boring Work is still Good Work

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.

balancesheet-1

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.

Crisis in Thailand : Update

I'm at the Thai stock exchange. Broken widows & fire damage o... on TwitpicAfter 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.

Bangkok is Burning

tanks 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.

Akha Women's Retreat 2010

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!

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