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!