the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

Filtering by Tag: language

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.

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:|titles=Akha.jaceu.sample]

Sound check "Hosanna" [audio:]

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.

Our Trilingual Two-year Old

We've told many of you how great Abi's language skills are in the 3+ languages that she is surrounded with. Her English and Akha are by far her strongest languages - and her Thai is not far behind. She also has about a dozen other words from other languages that she has picked up in her travels - Chinese, Burmese, and German (Prost!). For a while now, we've been trying to capture on film her nightly ritual of counting to ten in her three natural languages: English, Akha and Thai. Unfortunately, our video camera has terrible audio - so we finally got her playing with the microphone @ Dad's computer. So, for those of you interested in seeing a two-year old counting to ten in three languages, check out the video below!

(and those of you who would rather see some ministry posts & updates, why don't you look here)


The last few months I have been working with Aje on the publication of an Akha primer. Part of that work has meant that I have had the honor to listen in on the meetings of Akha leaders from Thailand, Myanmar, China and Laos as they discuss the newest Akha orthography.

Orthography: a method of representing the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols (Princeton Wordnet)

Akha Language Books The books that have just been published, and are shown here, use the historical Lewis Orthography, created by Dr. Paul Lewis - a dear friend and servant to the Akha for many years, and (perhaps) the most accomplished Akha linguist to date. Most Akha texts in Thailand currently use this writing system, and it will continue to be used for a number of years in the future until a more universal system can be incorporated, and existing texts (such as the Bible, Akha histories, medical texts, etc.) can be updated and republished. Lewis Orthography of Akha Language As you can see from the picture, the Lewis Orthography incorporates tone marks (such as ^ ^) in order to delineate Akha tones. However, since a unique font must be used for this writing system (making computer usage less universal) these Akha leaders from 4 countries are in the process of deciding upon a universal writing system which requires no additional font sets and instead uses ancillary Roman characters (such as q,v) to delineate tones.

OK, so it really is that dull. The exciting thing is that the Akha people are taking their language, their script, and their future into their own hands and making an effort to preserve it in a way that is relevant to the current world.

Because of those efforts, we are giving a lot of our time and energy in order to concurrently publish the primer of the unified script, and hope to see that work published and distributed by the end of May.

Akha Leaders Deciding on their Orthography

In other exciting news, we will also be working with Aje and Nancy on an English publication this year: the background story of Akha Outreach Foundation as it enters its tenth year of service to the Akha people.

So stay tuned!

Akha Women's Retreat - 2009

In January, I had the honor of participating in the annual AOF Women's Retreat. While any women's retreat is a blessing and allows for the women to "get away from it all," this is especially true for Akha women who labor from morning til night, working in the fields, carrying water and firewood, cooking the meals, and hand washing the clothes & dishes! My role in the event was mostly "observer" with a little bit of "translator" and "photographer" thrown in. For one of the sessions, we were blessed to hear from an American friend, Marlene. Having been a family counselor for many years, she shared out of her expertise about the different stages in a woman's life. This is an important topic for Akha women, because in traditional Akha culture it's generally considered taboo to talk about things like menstruation or menopause, which often leaves women unprepared and scared when natural changes occur. In any case, I was elected to translate for this session.

Although I've been here for nearly 4 years, my language is not what you would call "microphone worthy". So I stumbled through the session saying things like "Do you understand me? Did I say that correctly?" and "How do you say _________?" It was like being tossed in the deep end and told "Sink or swim!" While moments like this are difficult, for sure, I'm grateful for the opportunity to step up to a challenge and find that, even if I can only doggy paddle, at least I didn't drown!

My other, less challenging, job was to take pictures during one of the craft times. My mission was to capture a picture of every woman for the slide show scheduled for the final night. As an added bonus, I got to witness the skilled craftsmanship of nearly a hundred women making traditional men's headdresses. Take a peek at the pictures to see for yourself!

Lori & MarleneAkha Women listeningAkha women sewingUsing straw to make an Akha headdressTwo Akha women sewing an Akha headdressChicken feathers used for decorationAkha woman with man's headdressAkha HeaddressesGroup photo

Lesson 3 : Family and Goodbye

After learning Lessons 1 and 2, you are now able to politely greet, ask about general well-being, say where you are from and give your name in Akha. Now, with a few more phrases we will share how to ask about family and to say goodbye.

Learning Akha : How many children do you have?

To the Akha in Thailand, this is like asking about the weather. Invariably the question of children comes up in a conversation - especially if you are traveling as a couple. If you have initiated the conversation and have made it through the greetings this is the question you should ask next.

The question: "How many children do you have?"

The response:
"I have no children yet"

Learning Akha : Goodbye!

There is no actual phrase for "Goodbye" in Akha, but there is a phrase used when you are about to leave. To understand this you have to remember that the Akha are a mountain people. When you leave you need to know where you are going geographically. You will then say "I am going back down now" or "I am going back up now" based on the direction you are going (up or down the mountain). It can be confusing, so remember that since the Akha live on mountains, the odds are good that you will be going "down" when you leave.

The statement:
"I am returning down now"

The statement:
"I am returning up now"

Learning Akha : Go slowly!

To reply to the statement "I am returning (up / down) now" the Akha say "Go slowly back (up or down)". This is another peek into the culture and personality of the Akha people. Take your time, don't hurry. The mountain may be slippery, don't fall down. Keep your eye out for food along the way. Enjoy the world around you. All of this is summed up in the phrase "Go slowly"

The response:
"Go slowly back down"

The response:
"Go slowly back up"

That's good advice for language, too. Go slowly. Use opportunities to get to know the people you are talking with. When you spend time with the Akha mountain people you won't regret the time you took.

Happy learning!


Lesson 2 : Small Talk

In our last Akha language lesson we shared three simple greetings in Akha, with the third greeting being "How are you doing?" or "How's life?". This is a very polite question, and a great segway into further conversation.

Learning Akha : How are you?

All cultures have small talk, be it about the weather, family, food, business or environment. Unlike Americans, however, if you ask an Akha how they are doing they won't always say "Fine". You will most likely receive one of two responses.

The first response: "I am living well" or "My life/health is good"

The second response:
"I am not well" or "My life/health is not good"

Learning Akha : Where are you from?

Most Akha would love to talk with you and are interested in you personally. In Akha culture, the first thing asked of a visitor is what village the the visitor is from and who they are related to. Since you are reading this blog in English, you are most likely a pala (this is what the Akha in Thailand call non-asian foreigners), so one of the small-talk conversations they will want to have with you is where you are from. You also can ask them (especially if you meet them in the city) what village they are from - they'll get a kick out of that!

The question:
"What village are you from?"

The response:
"I am from [dama gojo]" (replace [dama gojo] with America or Deutschland or with appropriate response - add Thai tones to your country if you know how)

Learning Akha : What is your name?

If you make it this far through a conversation the person you are speaking to will certainly want to know your name. They are likely to ask and you are welcome to ask in return.

The question:
"What is your name?"

The response:
"My name is [Mi-Nym]" (replace [Mi-Nym] with your name)

That's all for this lesson! Remember to imitate the TONES of speech very carefully: they are critical. Once you get these phrases down you can greet an Akha and begin a small conversation in which you discuss 1.Your general well-being, 2.Where you are from, and exchange of names.

This conversation will lead to more questions about family (children, etc.) but we'll save that for next time.

Happy learning!


Lesson 1 : Greetings!

In Northern Thailand there are three appropriate greetings (salutations) you may use when greeting the Akha. All are thought to have been influenced by other cultures, but the Akha, especially in Thailand, will understand and appreciate them all as gestures of goodwill.

Most of all, they will appreciate it if you greet them in Akha instead of Thai or English (although they are likely to greet you with a Thai Sawadee or a big English Hello! because they will assume you did not take the time to learn any Akha).

Learning Akha : Greeting One

The first greeting is obviously a result of Thai influence. It is most commonly said by the younger person to the older person (as is also true in Thai tradition) and is often responded to by an affirmative eu (comparable to our affirmitive uh huh) by the person receiving the greeting.
The translation of the greeting is: "I bow my head in greeting to you"
Generally this would be accompanied with a nod or with a Thai-style Wai.
To greet someone this way, Wai them and say "U du ta ma de"

Learning Akha : Greeting Two

The second greeting is thought to have been introduced to the Akha in Burma by missionaries, and that is the handshake. Nearly all the Akha in Thailand would prefer to shake hands than to Wai, so it seems most appropriate within their culture to greet them in this way.
Very few Akha (especially the adults) will Wai back to you, but they will nearly all shake hands.
To greet someone in this way offer your right hand (you may hold your right arm with your left hand to show it is being offered and say "A la sta ma".

Learning Akha : Greeting Three

For the courageous at heart, do not just greet them, but ask how they are doing. This is often done while shaking hands, just like you might be accustomed to.
To ask about themselves personally (literally: are you living well) say "Jaw sa daw mia lo"

Next time we'll learn how to answer the question "How are you doing?". Happy learning!


More Fun with Language

I'm always whining about how difficult it is to learn a tonal language, especially a tribal one without classes, books or cds. (See, don't you feel sorry for me?!) Tonal languages are notoriously difficult to learn for ....well, anyone who's native language is not tonal.

Anyway, my last post reminded me about another funny language compilation. I say "funny", but I'm sure that if I were learning English I would call it "infuriating!" All these homonyms make me wonder how the English language has made it all these years without tones to differentiate between them. See for your self...

  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  • We must polish the Polish furniture.
  • He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  • Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
  • A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  • When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  • I did not object to the object.
  • The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  • There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  • They were too close to the door to close it.
  • The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  • A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  • To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  • The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  • After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  • Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  • I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  • How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  • I was proven right that I had the right of way

(Click here to read more "Reasons why the English language is hard to learn.")


Fun with language

In my recent desperation to overcome a serious case of writer's block, I did a google search on "tips for writing". Somewhere amidst the flurry of clicks, I ran across this silly page about How to Write Good. While it didn't automatically cure my writer's block, it did give me a needed break from the somber post I was writing. Just "follow these tips, and you'll be writing gooder in no time!"

A few of my favorite are:

  • Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  • Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  • Parenthentical words however must be enclosed in commas.
  • It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
  • Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  • Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake
  • Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors - even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  • Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

Finally, in honor of my high school writing teacher, Mrs. Trow, who made us write excruciating papers without a single "to be" verb....

  • The passive voice should not be used.

I love these things! Does that make me a total nerd? Oh well!


How do you say EGG?

My husband is always teasing me about how I say certain words... like "egg" and "leg". (I say them with a long "a" instead of a short "e" ...which he insists is the proper way.) We've always been curious to unravel the mystery of my little accent , so this silly little questionaire, which supposedly tells what type of American English you speak, caught my attention. Here are my results...

My Linguistic Profile:

70 % General American English
20% Upper Midwestern
5% Midwestern
5% Yankee
0% Dixie

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?


All of you now know that we are living in a bamboo house (see our pictures). There are, of course, many gaps and openings for any number of things to get into our home but generally we do not have problems with bugs or lizards or anything bothering us. The great thing about the open air environment is that little critters can get out as easily as they can get in. And, as the saying goes, they're more scared of us than we are of them. While that old saying is generally true, it becomes irrelevant if the intruder is a spider, for there Lori and I share a common phobia. In Colorado, especially in Golden, we came across a number of Black Widows in our time and quite honestly the idea that something so small can be that dangerous was enough to set a pretty permanent fear in us. It was really the only thing we hoped to avoid when were moving to Thailand (well, that and Lori had this thing about leeches, which by the way is another story you should ask me about sometime).

So the other day we were cleaning the sawdust left from all the insects who are slowly eating our home from our containers (we keep everything in containers for cleanliness, dust and bugs) when Lori very animantly called me over with a "Oh my goodness there is a huge spider". I had heard this statement before and my common response question of "how big?" was caught in my throat as I saw an enormous spider on our shelf, almost eye-level to Lori. It probably would have fit very comfortably in the palm of my hand, although I don't believe I ever could survive such and experience.

But worst of all, worse than the giant spider, was the fact that it was holding beneath its body a sac of eggs about the size of an old 50-cent piece. We went about talking how to kill it but it was very fast and after a number of attempts to smash it and trap it, it ended up on one of the posts that supports our house. We swung at it but it circled the post and ended up on a bamboo beam that goes over our bed. An interesting thing about bamboo. Because it is hollow you can tap on it like a drum, and as that spider raced across the beam over our bed we could hear every step it took clicking on the bamboo. Of course it was a brave moment for us, Lori began screaming and I ducked away as the spider crossed into our living room.

It was at this point Lori decided we needed help. She ran out to the village and told the first woman she saw that there was a large something (we don't know the word for spider) in our home that needed to be killed. The woman asked "How Big?" and Lori put her hands in a circle. The woman screamed to the men in the village and four of them jumped up, grabbed huge sticks and came racing to our house. Lori was very impressed at their exuberance.

However, when they arrived in our home to find me threatening a spider their excitement faded. You see, they thought we had a four-inch diameter snake in our home. They knocked the spider down and killed it with their sticks (see it really was that big) and left quite humored by the "Pa La"s.

Now we're just scared of enormous snakes.

A Hill people...

The Akha are a people of the hills. We came to understand this fact intimately during our first stint in an Akha village. One of the first bits of language that we learned was how to say “good bye”. There isn't really an exact equivalent. Basically, the person leaving says one of two things: “O iˇ ma de” (I'm going up.) or “O le ma de” ( I'm going down). And the person who is staying responds with either : “O la loe o iˇ de” (Go slowly up) or “O la loe o le de” ( Go slowly down.) We found out that there really isn't a word for “go” at all. It's either “go up” or “go down”. And boy is that true! We walked up and down so many hills that even though our Akha Mom (Lydia) was feeding us near to bursting three times a day, we didn't run the risk of gaining any weight!

Learning the language...

When we arrived, we really couldn't say anything (or understand anything) in Akha. Well, actually, we did know how to say “Hello” & “Thank you”, but we found these two phrases woefully unhelpful in most situations. For about the first 48 hours, people would speak to us and our eyes would glaze over; we had no idea what they were saying and didn't even know how to say “I don't understand”. (We didn't have any translator with us... this really was “immersion”!)

By the third day, one of the young men (A-Go) decided to take us under his wing and tutor us. For the next, few days we spent 3-4 hours a night drilling Akha words with him. Now, there is no such thing as an Akha primer, so we used a book that the Thai schools use to teach English. So, the three of us would huddle around this book and A-Go would point to a section. We would read the word in English and he would see the word in Thai, then tell us the word in Akha. It was quite a process, but we finally started getting familiar with the basics. After a few days of evening sessions, A-Go had to travel to another village, so our lessons ended for the time being. But it was just as well.... our brains were sufficiently full and we were ready for a break and ready to practice what we had learned.

Thank you for your prayers for our language. We really feel like we've accomplished a lot in the two weeks that we were in the village. However, keep praying because we are keenly aware that our current progress is just a “drop in the bucket”. We still have many years ahead of us before we can actually “minister” in this language.

Mmmmmmmm... Illiteracy!

Oh, the joys of illiteracy! Take our experiences yesterday. We were looking for breakfast and ended up in a 7-11 (finding this to be the least "risky" of the available options... we're still pretty new at all of this). We settled on two strawberry yogurts and a bag of plain white dinner rolls. But I digress. Back to the joys of illiteracy. What is it like not being able to read anything around us? Sometimes it makes life fun, just guess and hope that what you get looks like the picture.

muffinsOther times it can be rather humbling, like today when we went cell phone shopping. The best and cheapest way to communicate here seems to be with a cell phone, but the cell phone system is totally different than the one we have in the states. We were completely lost and surely would have been ripped off if not for the help of our friend Neng. He taught us everything we needed to know about buying a cell phone... and we taught him a little about the importance of communication in marriage (example: when Lori wants the pretty phone and Paul wants the phone with all the gadgets).

We have met a number of Thai and Farang (the Thai call western foreigners "Farang") friends here at the Good News Study Center in just a few days time. This area is teeming with the young adults that we seem to click with. While we have enjoyed our time in Bangkok (which is a first for us), we look forward to getting out of the city and up to the North. So now, armed with a cell phone that does not work (we have to buy a "little microchip card with a telephone number" when we get to Chiang Rai) and all 300 pounds of our luggage, we're on the move again.

We leave for Chiang Rai this afternoon and hope to settle in a little before guests begin to arrive for graduation on March 12th. Please continue to pray for us - as we know that these first few weeks will be crucial to our adjustment to life here. Pray that we would be especially attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit – especially in what we say. Continue to pray also for our marriage and devotional lives as these next few weeks will be especially busy.

All content Copyright 2014, humblethorn designs