the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

Filtering by Tag: Akha

Crowned with Laurels ...or Silver

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

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

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

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

But Lori still didn't have a headdress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green leaves also fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Akha proverb -

To every thing there is a season.

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

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Our newborn boy, Age-2

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

JakJakobBaby Jak

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

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

Akha grandmaAkha Jak AqkaqzaAkha naming

We truly love our life with the Akha!

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

My Girls Eat Worms

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

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

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

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

Take 50 from 1.1 Billion

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

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

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

Life with the Akha (Video)

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

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

Paul and Lori Vernon 2011 Update

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

[Image Text]

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

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

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

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

Traditional Akha Vocals :: presented by Akha Outreach Media

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

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

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

©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...

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.

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?

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.

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.

Akha Food Overview and a Recipe (Reblog)

reposted from a guest blogging article written at JasonRuggles.com Food Friday: Eat like an Ahka

FOOD FRIDAY: EAT LIKE AN AHKA

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!

Guest Blogger: Lori Vernon

Guest Blogger: Lori Vernon

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.

2. PICKLED:

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.

3. BOILED/SOUP:

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.

4. DIP:

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.

5. RAW:

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.)

Eating Akha Style

Eating Akha Style

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.)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

  1. Boil/blanch tomatoes and chili peppers for several minutes… until the tomato skin splits. Remove from water and let cool.
  2. Chop peanuts roughly in a Cuisinart.
  3. Peel skin off of tomatoes & add tomatoes in with the chopped peanuts.
  4. Add blanched chili peppers and garlic clove. Use the pulse setting to chop/mix.
  5. Add salt to taste
  6. Remove from Cuisinart.
  7. Stir in chopped green onions & cilantro to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish on top.
  8. Serve with raw vegetables or over rice.

- Lori Vernon

Into Indochina

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.

Abi playing with the Kids 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.

An American from Singapore showing Akha kids a Russian toy in Burma.Abi cooking breakfast with Esther's momAkha boys travelling to the fields on bicyclesEsther's grandma and and Akha girl talking with Lori and AbiEsther and her parents

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.

The new Foursquare churchLittle Lahu boy wearing ThanakhaGirl wearing Thanakha face paintAbi with all her new friendsAbi with her Thanakha makeupThe church celebration

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.

Beneath the Skin

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. Akha Baby Girl Tongue

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: Olive went home to be with Jesus today.

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

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