the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

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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.

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.

Moving to Mae Sot

Moving from Chiang Rai to Mae SotWe are moving from Chiang Rai down to Mae Sot today and will spend the rest of September and most of October there. The foursquare missionaries who live in Mae Sot, Neil and Diana Gilbert, are currently on furlough in America and some health complications with the couple who was watching their home and ministry have forced them to return back to America as well - so we are filling in for a month and a half, helping with the home, coffee shop, English classes, English fellowship and local church ministry. Mae Sot is a border town between Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. Historically, many Karen refugees have come into Thailand seeking asylum and live in refugee camps in the area. Like many border towns, it has a mixture of languages and cultures packed densely into a small area.

It is a little daunting to move from a region where we can speak a very common language, Akha, to a region where there are very few Akha and the majority languages are Thai, Burmese and Karen. We are looking forward to the opportunity to increase our Thai language skills, and are grateful as always for the huge blessing that Esther is for our language needs. We speak to her in Akha, and she can translate it to Thai or Burmese as needed.

We don't really know what to expect in Mae Sot, but know that the National President of Foursquare Thailand pastors the church there and we are honored to get a chance to get to know him and his ministry a little more. Here's an excerpt from the Worldbase Thailand website regarding the ministry in Mae Sot:

The main church in Mae Sot is the Mae Sot Foursquare Church. Pastor John Somphon is the National President for Foursquare Thailand. We have several Hill tribes churches, an orphanage and a Refugee School for Burmese children (Elpis School). Pastor John has a heart for the many Karen refugees in the region and has started many churches in the Mae Sot area and in the surrounding Hill Tribes villages. Pastor John also oversees our church in Pitsanulok.

Podcast :: Pastor Jack Hayford ECFC Session 4

November 2006 ECFC Conference Bangkok, Thailand Audio

Pastor Jack Hayford continues his six-part series "Anointed to Serve" as shared with leaders, pastors and dignitaries of the Foursquare Gospel church at the Eastern Counsel of Foursquare Churches conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pastor Jack : Anointed to Serve 4 of 6 (right click, "Save As" to download)

Originally recorded and cast by our Foursquare friends at Mustard Seed Fellowship Canningvale, Western Australia. Used by permission.

Voices of the church :: Rick Warren

Certainly you have all heard of Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren. Whatever your take on the book, it's hard to deny that the phenomenon that swept through American churches a couple of years ago was a blessing to the body of Christ.
It brought people into the church.
It built community within the church.
It was a specific challenge to many individual lives by addressing the question "What are you living for?"

When our life purpose is in perspective, our global perspective is also aligned. Rick and his wife Kay wrote an article about the five giant problems facing the world today addressing this global worldview. A few years ago I would have written half of these off with glib remarks or even misused spiritual cliches because I would have been made uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the problems in the world. But good pastors (and good missionaries) challenge us in our comfort zones... so here is his list of giant problems that the church cannot ignore:

The Global Giants facing our World

  1. The first global giant is spiritual darkness.
  2. The second giant is the lack of servant leaders around the world.
  3. The third giant is poverty.
  4. The fourth giant is disease.
  5. The fifth giant is ignorance.

A spectacular picture of the pressing needs in this world. The article goes on to speak more in depth on the practical role the church needs to play in these needs. Take a moment to read Rick and Kay's full article Facing the World's Five Giants from

Do Apostles exist today?

I was reading some of the great Christian blogs today (my English church online) and found this article from Adrian's Blog about Apostles in the modern church.

Now, I'm a Foursquare Missionary with a Reformed (Calvinist) leaning - so I can be all over the map with this kind of stuff, but I really enjoyed what Adrian wrote here and agree with most of what he says (I also agree with some of the comments added at the end).

All in all, it's a good read. Check it out if you have the time:


Voices of My Generation :: Joshua Harris

Every generation asks questions about what the generation before it says about life, the universe and everything. This is true in every culture and subculture. My generation, and specifically the sub-culture of my generation that was raised in the church, is no exception.
We asked questions about worship.
We asked questions about ritual.
We asked questions about hypocrisy in the church.
We asked questions about relationships.
Specifically, we asked questions about the quality of the culture and environment that was created by dating.

Stop Dating the Church - Joshua Harris

During that time a young man voiced what many of us were developing in our own understanding of relationships in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. While we had arguments and disagreements about the firmness of the stances he took on the issue, in that book Joshua Harris emerged as one of the voices of my generation.
One of the voices that is listened to.
One of the voices that can reach into our generation and culture and put into words the events and philosophies on our hearts.

We grew, we married, we experienced life, and Josh Harris continued to write books on these experiences. Now we're the adults in the world. We're the ones having kids, running companies and shaping ministries. As we enter this new phase of life, Josh has once again written a book that looks with insight into the ideas that our communities are talking about in his newest title: Stop Dating the Church

...this book is marking a very important transition in my life. The church isn't some other generation's responsibility—it isn't somebody else's business. I have to take responsibility. I have to be passionate and committed to it. Through the pages of this book I'm calling my generation to do the same. -Joshua Harris

Once again, he says it all in the title. With the exception of my friend Andy, who has been part of the same church for years, most of us wandered from church to church in our younger years. We actually embraced the fact that they were the wandering years of our lives. I havent read Joshua's newest book, and being on the other side of the globe I might never get to read it, but it's not hard to see this is my generation's new challenge: Dig In.

If there is hypocrosy, weakness, dullness, whatever-ness in the church we have a choice. We can continue to "break up" with our churches when things aren't what we want and move on to something easier, something new and sexy, but that road leads to dirty old men, set in their hypocrisies. Isn't that what we had problems with in the first place? Or we can dig in, we can follow God and impact our brothers and sisters around us to do the same.

Many of us are still young, still prone to run, but it is time to dig those heals in and make the church our family, not a one-night stand.


Sunday School Teacher Dismissed

A few weeks ago, upon receiving the letter from the Church council citing 1 Timothy 2:12, an 81 year old woman named Mary Lambert was dismissed from her role as Adult Sunday School teacher in a small Baptist church in Watertown, NY

Since then, there has been a media frenzy, with news sources as far away as China, & Quatar covering the story. As expected, the blogosphere has responded in force. A simple search from's front page yields hundreds of results, most of them condemning the Christian church for being backward and sexist, decrying the injustice and inequality of this situation. Christian blogs, not wanting to be left out, have joined the discussion as well and lively conversations about 1 Timothy 2:12 and the role of women in ministry have ensued.

While I'm usually all in favor of a good discussion on the roles of women in ministry (having been a female bible student the subject is not unfamiliar to me), it seems to me that there are many other issues surrounding this situation, which are not being addressed by anyone!

According to statements released by the church board and the pastor, it seems that Ms. Lambert's dismissal didn't really hinge on the "women shall not have authority" argument. In fact, the church openly states that currently 55% of the board members and 87% of Sunday School teachers are women. It turns out that the 1 Timothy 2:12 argument cited in the dismissal letter was simply the scapegoat reason that they used on advice the of legal counsel who were doing everything in their power to avoid a messy lawsuit.

If I've just lost you with the whole lawsuit thing, let me backtrack a bit to explain. The pastor explains in his statement that this story actually began months ago, when a small group of parishioners, "unhappy with new members [and] changes that were being made" in the church, "decided to forgo the mechanisms that [are] in place for dealing with conflicts or disagreements within the church and elected to hire a local attorney and aired their grievances in a letter to the Watertown Daily Times." After an official "reprimand" from the church board and an encouragement to settle church matters within the church, "several of those individuals continued to engage in activities the Board viewed as detrimental to the church family."

I would say the real issue at hand is this: The state of the Christian church, in which parishioners bring legal action against their church, change and growth in the church is so violently rejected, and it's considered normal for a long-time member of the church to go to the local newspaper to air his/her complaints instead of working things out with the church directly. Let's talk about Matthew 18 and the way we can work out differences in love, instead of displaying our dirty laundry for the world to see. Maybe it's not nearly as controversial or exciting as 1 Timothy 2:12, but it's obviously needed.

The press wants to make this whole thing about "women's roles in the church" where the church becomes the big bad "chauvinist" wolf. Like I said before, I'm all for discussing "women's roles in the church"; it's an important and intersting topic! But as a Christian community let's call apples "apples" and discuss all the issues surrounding this situation, instead of simply reacting to the "spin" of the press!

So, those are my thoughts. Hopefully they'll stir things up in the blogosphere! Any comments?


Albert Pujols with Dr. James Dobson :: Podcast

Barry Bonds. Terrell Owens. Kobe Bryant. As spectacular as it may be to watch them hit baseballs, catch footballs or play basketball, these names don't immediately bring to mind ideas of high character. In fact, there are personalities in all sports whose names leave a sour taste in our mouths. But here's one to encourage us:

Albert Pujols.

The Dominican kid who became the Major League MVP and who, despite fame and fortune, values his family, marriage and faith in Christ. If you have an MP3 player, or if you just want to listen on your computer, take the time to listen to Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson and his conversations with Albert and Dee Dee Pujols:

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