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Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

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How Can I Become a Missionary?

We get a lot of emails and questions, mostly from people in America, asking how they can become missionaries to Thailand or other nations in the world. I'm a proponent of missions, and encourage anyone and everyone I meet to seek the missions call in their life. So, for those of you who hear the call, I want to exhort you with these words today. The principles behind becoming a missionary are straightforward: receive a call from God, seek direction from God and obey in each step. However, there is no consistent series of events on how these principles unfold. Through the Foursquare Church we have guidelines and an application process by which someone can become a Foursquare missionary, but, even with guidelines and processes, each story is unique - as ours testifies.

But becoming a missionary is much more than applying, interviewing for and accepting a job position. Becoming a missionary is aligning yourself with the identity God is calling you into. As we have grown in our experience in the field over the past five years, we have noticed a few patterns that are visible in the lives of long-term, successful missionaries. These patterns reflect what I believe is the identity of a missionary, and are things that we are hoping to see transformed into in our own lives. I want to share 4 of those patterns here today.

This is really for those who feel called into missions in some way, if that's not you, I recommend you take a look at some of these posts instead. Also, before I share with those of you who feel called into missions I want to make a few assumptions as to where most of you are coming from:

  • You know God and can connect with Him
  • You're confident you've heard His call to missions
  • You don't know what to do next

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

Pattern #1: Patience

There are a lot of life events that lead up to our call into missions: most importantly our conversion to Christ and our connection with the living God. Whether our conversion, connection and call occur as one instantaneous event (see Paul on the road to Damascus) or through years of laborious lessons, once we receive our call to missions the next step is the same for everyone. The first lesson we learn after our call through in the process of becoming missionaries is submission to God's Timing - or, the more difficult word, patience.

I'm going to use the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary after Christ, to help me with this pattern:

Galatians 2:15-18

When it pleased God... to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

For three years Paul knew that he was to go preach Christ "among the Gentiles". For three years he did not even go up and speak to the Apostles, the original "Missionary Sending Agency". But for those of us who feel called to long-term ministry to "the ends of the earth" it might get worse:

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

Here's the big news missionaries: God doesn't need us to save the world, God just wants us to obey Him (I Sam 15:22). I know the fire that burns in the heart when we hear that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. I know how that stirs us to hop on the next plane and never return. But the call to missions is a call to obedience before it is a call to action, and the first step in obedience is learning how to wait for God's timing.

Let me draw a crude analogy. When training a dog to eat on command, the dog is not obedient if he runs to the food the moment he sees it. The obedience is when the dog knows whats in the bowl, but it willing to "Sit! Stay" until the Master says "Go!".

God powerfully revealed the calling to Thailand in my life when I was 18, but I wasn't released to move to Thailand until I was 27, and am just now beginning to see the buds of fruit in ministry at 32. In 14 years I've had a lot of struggles with God as I told him how much I wanted to go and to serve and to do... and His silence told me to wait, and to trust the call He had laid on my life. But I found that each time that I waited; that I was silent; that I was still, my faith in God and my trust in His perfect timing grew.

I've seen good friends who have a call and anointing on their life for missions step out before God's timing arrived, and when all their plans crumbled around them they were broken and lost faith in their call. New life springs from brokenness, and I am confident that God will bring their vision back from death, but I am grateful that God carried us through the waiting period to see His timing fulfilled.

Pattern #2: Service

The world is full of opinions and voices. You're reading one right now. What the world lacks is humble servants*.

Humility: being able to know your gifts, talents and skills without thinking more highly of yourself than others. It is not humility for me to say "I'm not any good at tennis", it is simply truth. It is also not humility for me to say "I can't throw a curveball", which is a lie I throw a pretty mean curveball (or did 12 years ago), lying to be humble is false humility. True humility is recognizing your gifts without thinking highly of yourself because of those gifts (Ph 2:3).

Service: working for the benefit of another. Service involves a willingness to do things that you are not gifted in (Ex 4:10), or that you are not passionate about (I Cor 9:19-23). Service involves allowing others to do things that you could do (Luke 9:1-2). Service is exemplified by obedience, not by gifting.

Let's look at what Paul has to say on the subject again:

I Corinthians 9:19-23

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;  and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;  to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Paul understood as well as anyone who he was and how he was gifted. He knew his strengths and often walked in them. But he was willing to humble himself, to be whatever it took for the sake of the gospel.

The fields we are called to don't need pastors, evangelists, teachers, or church planters. God has prepared His body with all the parts that are needed - and they're already living there. However, the local pastors, evangelists, teachers and church planters already living in the field need servants to come in humility and help them shine like a "city on a hill". This might mean that we missionaries serve as pastors, teachers, evangelists, or church planters or any other role for a season, but those roles are taken on to serve and to lead the church until it is healthy enough to take on those roles itself.

The world needs Kingdom servants, and servants of the Kingdom will win the world.

* The term "humble servants" is a reference to the teachings of Beth Barone, a woman to whom I am indebted and grateful as she has been instrumental in challenging me, my view of God, and my understanding of the Bible.

Pattern #3: Authority

The most important effort we can make before arriving on the field might be to spend time developing meaningful relationships with our local church and pastors.

Nearly every missions agency has a requirement for a local pastor to sponsor or to write a letter of recommendation for a prospective missionary. The requirement exists because these agencies have the foresight to understand that if pre-sent missionaries have already developed authority relationships in their home culture they are much more likely to succeed on the field.

Trusting leaders is a step in the growth process of Christianity. Haphazardly tossing leaders aside because they offend us (and they will because they're not perfect) is not maturity. Growth is shown when we trust God enough to allow ourselves to trust, and be hurt by, spiritual authority. That connection to God must exist first, but God leads us to serve under [imperfect] men and women wherever we are.

If our goal truly is "Service" than this is the reality: if we can't serve under the spiritual authority that is in our home church (or if we are unwilling to put ourselves underneath a spiritual authority), then we will be of no service to the church on the field.

Harsh words? Maybe. Let me soften them:

The church is full of broken people. The liturgy and culture varies from church to church, but the fact that church is filled with imperfect people does not. If we can't serve broken people and serve under broken leaders in America, we are exemplifying pride, and are probably interested in furthering the Kingdom of Ourselves instead of the Kingdom of Heaven.

You're right, that didn't get any softer. Sorry.

So lets go again to the Bible, where the Apostle Paul has some more great examples in I Cor 9:19-23 and Rom 13. Look them up, but the verse I want to highlight is in Hebrews (which may or may not have been written by Paul):

Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Ultimately, our response to human leadership reflects our faith in God. Do we trust God enough to submit to the (fallen, broken, imperfect) authorities that God has established in the church? Do we trust Him enough to know that those leaders must give an account for their decisions to God, and it's not our role to judge them, but to "obey them so that their work will be a joy"?

Again, we must be connected with God, I'm not advocating serving under a leader that God is directing you away from! It's true that authority can be misused and there are times to step out from underneath an unhealthy authority, but we must also remember David, who was called to continue to serve and honor Saul. The response of a mature believer is to have such a firm trust in God that we can submit to human authority and council that God has introduced in our lives.

I hear a lot of pre-sent missionaries say that they don't like the way that church is done in America so they want to be part of something new on the field. I understand the sentiment, but if we're unwilling to work with people who are doing things differently than we would, are we really ready to work with others? The pre-sent missionary who cannot trust the Father enough to respect and submit to authority is not ready to take on a position of authority in the church.

In our lives we've been fortunate. We were commissioned by our home church, we have been sent by Foursquare Missions International and we serve under Akha Outreach Foundation here in Thailand. Going through the requirements of these three groups took (and still takes) time and energy, but it provides a crucial covering that has kept us in good standing when the "honeymoon" period ended and the difficulties of ministry set in.

Bottom line: if we surround ourselves with Godly leaders and see what we can do to serve them and to impact our church family positively for the Kingdom we will be well equipped to serve the leaders on the field to which we are called.

Pattern #4: Giving

As I sit here and think of five or six of the missionary families that I respect the most, all of them are characterized by giving. In fact, missionaries usually fall into one of two categories: those who are always worrying about funding and support, and those who are willing to give the shirt off their back, the roof from over their heads and wheels from beneath their feet at the shortest prompting of the Lord.

I'm not advocating that you give all you have to the next person you see, this goes back again to your ability to connect to the living God, but if He asks us to give can we do it? Do we hesitate? Are we Matthew, who walked away from his fortune, or are we the rich young ruler?

It is a tremendous step of faith to quit our jobs and trust that the Lord will provide for our needs, but we must be careful not to fall into the trap of poverty, which believes that we do not have enough to give. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Powerful words. Not blessed are the poor, but blessed are the poor in spirit. If we can shed our love for money, if we can realize that nothing changes if we lose all that we posses, then we are poor in spirit. Then we will see seasons plenty and seasons of nothing, but we will always be living with a heart willing to give, even to death. (Remember the widow and Elijah?)

Paul stands out again, as he shows us how to be a missionary:

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

As we see the missionaries here in Thailand who challenge us, who call us to the next level in our walks with God and with man, we only see men and women who are givers. Givers of time, givers of money, givers of possessions. Givers are often hurt by takers, leeches who seek their own comfort. But obedient givers will continue to give, even to the leeches, if they are prompted by the voice of the Lord. True givers are willing to give no matter the cost, no matter the pain.

Powerful things happen in the spiritual realm when we challenge the kingdom of darkness, and that kingdom is shaken by selfless giving.

What am I missing?

Ok, fellow missionaries (pre-sent, actively serving, retired) these were my thoughts and observations. But I'm so limited. I live in a specific part of the world, I have few credentials, I have few years of service and I have a specific calling. I need your voices to help make this complete.

  • What have I missed?
  • What have I gotten wrong?
  • What do you agree with?

Please join in the conversation below...

It all comes down to this: Maesalong Akha Update

I've been trying to write an update on the story in Maesalong this morning and have been struggling to find the words. I just can't narrow down all the stories into a cohesive update. So instead of finishing that post, I began catching up on the emails that have been piling up on my task list. In one email, I'm connecting with a family that we have never met but has contacted us and has been praying for us along with their church. As I shared with them, a little bit of the background of our ministry I wrote the following paragraph, and felt that it would be good to share this paragraph with all of you:

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

The Washing of FeetBut we've seen life as well. We've seen God keep us in Thailand when financial arguments said it was impossible. We've seen Jesus minister through our hands and feet when we were called to keep our mouths closed. We've seen the birth of our beautiful daughter Abigail, and await the birth of our second daughter in October. And now we are seeing Jesus minister again as we are being called to display that the true Church does not function as a kingdom that imposes authority, but as one that humbly serves the broken children of God towards unity, in order that the lost children might see God by our love for one another.

That last statement shares the heart of where our ministry in Maesalong exists today. We are bridging gaps, [trying to be] loving to those who are hurting (read "hurting" both ways), and sharing our hearts with those who are willing to listen.

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

The Akha and the West: Relevantly Traversing the Cultural Divide

Many of you have read or heard some of our ministry philosophy "catch-phrases" here on our journal or as we have communicated with you in person. The study of the Akha culture, and the inevitable parallel study of my own American culture has led to a number of cross-cultural keywords that have become very important in my worldview. The biggest keyword that has emerged is Relevance, and I want to unpack it a little for you today. Please bear with me until the end because my heart is to communicate these ideas clearly. I want to start by sharing an excerpt from an insightful article entitled "Why we don't go or send much anymore" by Dr. Patrick Johnstone of WEC International (link goes to a repost of the article on John Lambert's blog):

Why we don't go or send much anymore... The Cultural Price

We are the “instant” generation.  We look for quick solutions.  Yet the Lord Jesus had to earn the right for 3 years of ministry through 30 years of manhood.  Without missionaries becoming one with the people to whom they minister, how will they ever earn the right to communicate the gospel?

Earning the right takes time – 7 to 10 years by my estimation.  Some missionaries never last that long.  Sacrificing our way of doing, being and living is hard.  When I was a missionary in Africa, some Africans would say, “That missionary loves us, but those others don’t.”

(emphasis mine)

My immediate reaction:

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

There is no question that we in the west are part of an "instant generation", and as digital-age missionaries to a pre-modern culture, we are constantly changing states, speeds and worldviews as we attempt to communicate to our unique world(s).

In working with the Akha we say the following statement all the time and, although it is admittedly an oversimplification, it is largely true: Relationships in Asia, and specifically with the Akha, have no relevance until they have history. Dr. Johnstone uses different terms, but the same idea lies within his article when he says a missionary has no "right to communicate the gospel" [relevance] until he has "one"-ness [history] with the people.

This doesn't mean that we don't correctly handle the Word of Truth as we build history. But too often we feel like we have all the answers, our pride gets in the way and we think everything has to get fixed now. Working in Asia we must realize that until we have history the words we speak have no weight - even if they are true.

Experiences with the Akha

In our Akha village, we have showed the love of Christ by spending a majority of our time sittingdrinking tea, discussing the weather and the cropslearning the Akha language within the context of community, and caring for physical needs without cost or discrimination as we experience the minutia of life within a community in order to build relevance. It is slow. It is unglamorous. But it is necessary to affect a community towards healthy long-term growth.

Slowly Gaining RelevanceOur ministry has only recently, after nearly six years of building history, earned enough relational relevance to be a resource of accountability, exhortation and truth in love in a way that will be productively and actively received by some of the people around us.

Unfortunately, this process of patience means that there have been many times where we have seen dysfunctional behavior that is unable to receive input from any source which is not equally as dysfunctional. So, in these times, we have had to stand silently, brokenhearted, so that we might maintain the relationships and history we are building, which, in turn, will give us the relevance to minister restoration to that dysfunction in the future.

The beauty of this worldview is the closeness of the community and the willingness to function in unity. The downfall is that dysfunctional behavior is also universally shared. Relevant voices of influence must show their commitment to unity within the community over a significant period of time without sharing in the same dysfunctions in order to effectively communicate functional life.

Experiences with the West

It is still true in the west that community and companionship are the key factors in administering life-impacting change, but the decision to include or exclude someone or something from our community is made nearly instantaneously. (The exception in this case is the influence of the core family-unit, but in my observation many people in America are even distancing themselves from those nuclear-family relationships that were once such powerful influences in the lives of an individual.)

The Instant CommunityThese "instantaneous decisions" have led to the onset of the online community phenomenons of blogging, forums, and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We in the western world are much more comfortable extending our attention and trust to someone or something with whom we have no history. We might respond to attraction, position, interests, goals, occupation, production, association, or marketing in our decisions to join or include others in a community.

Online communities make the world smaller, and that small world allows us to communicate globally without moving geographically. Personally, I have a list of missionaries from around the world that I connect with for advice, prayer, exhortation and empathy - but I have only met a few of them face-to-face.

The blessing of this openness to immediate inclusion is that we are free to give and receive the ministry of the gospel in the brief moments of community when our lives glance off of one another in the thousands if not millions of connections we make. We can quickly form meaningful relationships that have immediate positive impact on our lives, and receive Godly encouragement from near stangers. The downfall of this worldview is that we become judgmental, quickly dismissing as irrelevant things that don't capture our immediate attentions and passions and quickly accepting as valuable things that are at their core damaging but packaged to manipulate our passions.

Defining the Difference

Perhaps the simplest distinction between the Western world I know and the Eastern (Akha) world I have come to learn can be summed up in the following statement:

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

As for me and my house...

Being RelevantWe must exist in both worlds. The world we come from and the world we have been sent to. It is important for Lori and I to continue to engage in our Western culture, even as we minister in the East. So we strive to be transparent, available, and vulnerable in our efforts to communicate via these "instant" platforms: Our blog: The Vernon Journal; Twitter (Paul); Facebook (Paul | Lori); Tumblr (Paul | Lori | Abi).

Through these mediums, we try to frequently communicate our otherwise slow ministry to those of you who cover, support and partner with us while we geographically remain in the midst of that ministry. We know that there are thousands of causes, ministries and opportunities out there to partner with, and we want you to know that we value your partnership and desire to share with you how your partnership is furthuring the gospel in us, among the Akha, and throughout the world.

How do you connect with your communities? And how can we best communicate our lives and experiences to you and your communities as we minister to the Akha?

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.

Bangkok is Burning

tanks For those of you who don't follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, we want to let you know that our family is safe and life is relatively unchanged here in the city of Chiang Rai. As of this evening, we have access to internet, and hope this continues to be the case as these events unfold.

For those of you who have not heard, this afternoon the military began to shut down protests that have been going on for weeks in Bangkok and the conflict has erupted into violence, shootings, looting and arson.

Over a dozen buildings in Bangkok, as well as buildings in other provinces (and possibly the old provincial building here in Chiang Rai, though this is unconfirmed - link) have been destroyed by fire.

A curfew is in effect for (basically) the entire country and everyone is expected to remain in their homes from 8pm until 6am. ATMs are likely going to be closed through the curfew and may remain closed until next week, along with schools, government offices, banks and other target areas.

Please join us in prayer for the safety of the people in Thailand, and remember with us our fellow Foursquare missionaries in Bangkok who are right in the heart of the conflict.

Thanks for your prayers & support.

Akha Women's Retreat 2010

Regardless of what corner of the globe or what ethnic group, it's important for women to have the opportunity to retreat from their usual daily routines and be with other women for rest, encouragement and spiritual renewal. In January I had the privilege of joining with many women for the annual Akha women's retreat at Akha Outreach Foundation. This year was especially exciting for me because a large group of women from the villages around Mae Salong came down for the retreat. Everyone (about 20 passengers total) piled into our truck for the 2 hour drive down to the city. Upon arriving, they quickly embraced the freedom of being away from the duties of children and work. It was awesome to watch women hug and reunite with friends from other villages (most of whom they don't see except for this one time each year).

The sessions included some amazing speakers and worship. During one session in particular, the healing presence of the Holy Spirit was so rich and the worship was so beautiful that most of the women were weeping (which is quite unusual, as Akha rarely show this kind of emotion.) There were also plenty of times filled with joy & energy ; everyone enjoyed many silly songs, games and dancing (check out the pictures below!)

Last year I merely translated, however this year I was honored to be asked to teach one of the sessions. I taught on parenting, mostly encouraging the mothers that God has prepared them for job he has set before them. Too many Akha parents believe the lie that they are not equipped to raise their children because they haven't had any formal education. This is the reason that many Akha children are being sent to be raised in boarding homes unnecessarily, which, in turn, is slowly destroying the family system. I taught in Akha (though admittedly, it was rough at times) and tried to use several examples from daily Akha life to further convey that God values the Akha people and way of life and that they have something so valuable to offer their kids!

One of my favorite parts of the women's retreat every year is the craft time. I've lived in an Akha village for 5 years, so I'm fairly accustomed to seeing Akha women working on their various sewing projects, but there's just something so awe inspiring to see so many women, so much skill and expertise, so much culture all in one room! This year they introduced a new aspect to the time. During this craft session, the Bible students (aged 18-25) living at Akha Outreach Foundation were encouraged to join in and learn from their elders. While most young women know how to do Akha cross stitch, some of the more uncommon skills are being lost to the younger generations. The female students sat amongst the mothers learning how to make pom poms and sew applique, while the young men sat with the grandmothers (whose eyesight no longer permits them to do the intricate work) and wrote down Akha proverbs, Akha stories, and the stories of their lives. It was an awesome sight to witness the passing down of traditions from generation to generation!

Introducing Abigail Hope...

That's right,everyone - as of this morning Abigail Hope Vernon has been officially welcomed into the family. Lori did amazing and things progressed pretty quickly: we left for the hospital at 6:00 am and were holding our baby girl at 10:30. I will let her share all the details with you over the next week, but here are the vitals: Date: August 10th, 2007 - 10:30 am Weight: 3,550 grams :: 7lbs 13ounces Length: 55 cm :: 21.5 inches Everything Else: PERFECT

We are overjoyed, ecstatic, awestruck and amazed. Praise God for this beautiful baby girl!

Here are a couple of pictures to hold you all over until we are back home with a camera and computer (sorry, no thumbnails and I didn't resize them so they are pretty big. If you want easy pictures wait for our next posts)

Pregnancy Cravings

Everyone always wants to know what pregnant women crave. I think this is because it makes for great conversations at parties! Someone says "Listen to this, I once knew a woman who craved jalapenos stuffed into chocolate cake while she was pregnant!" and the crowd responds with exclamations of disgust or amazement! Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) I haven't had many exciting cravings thus far.

Double Cheeseburger

Since my appetite has returned in the second trimester, I've been craving fruit (mostly mangoes and watermelon since they are in season right now), dairy (milk, yogurt and ice cream), smoothies (which are, of course a combination of the fruit and dairy), eggs and cheeseburgers. Luckily, all of these things are pretty readily available here in Thailand. Even the hamburgers are not too hard to find, as there are a couple restaurants here in Chiang Rai that serve a decent burger. However, what really satisfies my burger-craving is a McDonald's Double Cheeseburger... which can be obtained with a mere 3 hour drive to Chiang Mai! We had to go to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago and the Micky-D cheeseburgers almost made me cry, they were so good!

I've always been a "chicken girl". So much so, in fact, that my husband teases me about how every recipe I make calls for boneless-skinless chicken breast! But lately, I've really had an aversion to chicken. While I can eat it, I don't really enjoy it and can't usually finish a full serving. So, my standard lunch meal of Khao Mun Gai has been replaced by the tofu, eggs and bean sprouts of the famous Pad Thai. In the past, Pad Thai was never my really one of my favorites, but today's lunch was the third day in a row where nothing but Pad Thai would do!

All in all, I'm really enjoying food lately (that is, aside from spending last week in the hospital with an over-glorified stomach bug; I was not enjoying food last week!) And Little George seems to enjoy food too! After almost every meal the kicking and punching starts up with vigor. I'm know it really has to do with increased blood sugar levels giving him that extra energy to move about, but it's so much more fun to say things like "Oooh, George must really like mangoes!" Anyway, it seems like there's something about pregnancy that brings a whole new meaning to the word "satisfied"! After some meals, I just sit and bask in the glory of a happy mouth, a full tummy and a kicking baby!

A Good Hair Day

This last month has been school break for many of the schools in Thailand. It's always fun for us to have all the kids around. During this break all the teenagers went to a camp run by Akha Christian Youth (ACY). When most of the adults had left for the fields we found ourselves with a large group of 8-12 year old kids. So all day long, while Paul played various games (mostly soccer and football) Lori took on the incredible effort of "doing hair" for all of the girls in our village. Akha women are amazing, they are incredibly strong and their daughters learn quickly how to work hard. But on this one occasion we were able to give them a chance to feel beautiful. Half way through all the hair-dos one little girl came up to the group. She is a particularly tough case, and lives in a difficult home in our village. We never see her smile and although she is intrigued by us "pa la" she usually observes us from a distance. Like many children in Akha villages she has very short hair (lice & scabies). She was watching all the girls and their fancy hair braids and was just stoic in her observations. Our hearts were broken and we knew we had to do something for her. Lori remembered she had a handkerchief in our house that she might be able to use. We pulled her aside and made a big deal out of her new "hair". Once it sunk in that we really thought she was a beautiful little girl, she ran off. When she came back she had cleaned herself all up and had put on a dress! This little girl who never smiled was grinning from ear to ear for days - knowing that she truly is lovely.

In the end, all the girls took their new hair-dos and made them Akha. Picking flowers from all around our village they made themselves laurels and - of course - wanted their pictures taken.

Akha Girl with FlowersAkha Picture of Good Hair DayAkha Village Girl PictureAkha Girl in Doi Mae SalongAkha Village girl, Flowers in HairAkha Girls smiling with Lori in our Village

Down a Slippery Slope...

We've just returned from several great weeks in the village! It seems like every trip to the village yields some great stories and this trip was no exception to the rule. As you may know, it is currently rainy season in Thailand. It rains almost everyday for at least an hour or two, but sometimes it seems to drizzle or rain all day & night. (Which by the way, makes it very difficult to hang your laundry out to dry... but that's beside the point!) Well, one of those especially rainy days we were invited to visit a another village in our area. Now, our language is progressing, but often we don't quite understand all the details of what is being told to us. So, we were somewhat surprised to learn that the village we were visiting would take an hour & a half on foot over muddy paths down the side of a mountain. Paul & I consider ourselves to be somewhat athletic & coordinated people. Unfortunately, it seems that any coordination we ever possessed was left behind in America! As we progressed down the mountain we were slipping & sliding all over the place! The combination of a muddy path & slippery, wet sandals was just too much for us to navigate. To add insult to injury, our guides were two older Akha women (who couldn't have weighed more than 100 pounds each) and neither one of them mis-stepped once!

At one point, both Paul & I went clumsily careening down a certain section of path to find ourselves muddy and wet at the bottom. Our Akha traveling companions thought that we were the funniest thing they had ever seen and we all had good laugh! I'm sure we were quite a sight!

Well, long story short, we ended up abandoning our sandals and taking most of the trip in our bare feet. (Quite fun!) We had a great visit at the village and the trip back up the mountain was much less eventful. Apparently, “going up” takes much less skill than “going down.”

After a long, wet, adventurous day we could only be grateful for the experience. This is why we are living in the village after all, to learn & understand all the nuances of Akha culture.... like their uncanny ability to maintain their footing on a slippery slope!

Unnecessary Roughness

Four nights ago Lori had begun feeling sick so we were laying low for the evening. We had a wedding recently and a new family was moving into our village which meant building a new home, so there had been a lot of things going on. When big events like that are happening there are many more social gatherings, meals and tea. While we were lying low for the evening we suddenly heard a loud rumbling. Down the hill from us we heard dozens of voices screaming in what was obviously quite an argument.

Minutes later a young man came running up to our home saying "Get your truck ready, you have to go to the emergency clinic". I ran inside to get my keys and came out to see four men carrying another man who was drifting between crying and unconsciousness with blood all over his head.

We loaded him into our truck and I left with he and his two brothers. I had no idea where I was going, it had just gotten dark and was pouring rain. As we drove we had to scream at the man with the head wound to keep him awake. About 15 minutes heading out of town we came to a clinic and brought him in. Once he was in the emergency techs hands I tried to find out what had happened. All I could figure out was that he had been hit with something harder than a stick but less than a machete.

Lori had an entire other set of worries. She went from a restful evening to having her husband drive off with a bloody man going who knows where or when he would return and everyone coming to her home to decompress. She learned that somehow the fight had begun when a child who had been acting up all day threw a piece of fruit. Somehow from that there erupted a fight and the injury we had seen. Her reaction was to go to our pastor and to say (in her broken Akha) "Tell them NOT to HIT".

The injury was stitched up, morphine was given for his pain and other medicine as well as instruction to care for the concussion. We returned and went to the home to pray for the peace of the family who was there and the incident faded away.

It's apparently not uncommon. So many people with so many wounds and no way to release them. There is so much council needed and healing in order to begin a change from hatred and fear to love. It was a real shock for us, and we covet your prayers as we continue deeper and deeper into the Akha culture and the lives of the men and women God has brought us to.

Arachnophobia

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.

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