the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

Filtering by Tag: stories

Beneath the Skin

Yesterday we were asked to appear as subjects / insiders for a media group called Emerge Network that will be coming into our village to create three short videos about our lives and the lives of the Akha in Mae Salong. We're very honored to help serve this team and are excited to see what stories these media-moguls-in-the-making decide to tell. Akha Baby Girl Tongue

During our time at the Emerge Network training center, the program directors showed a number of pictures that they had taken while visiting Doi Mae Salong, while sharing the importance of discovering the story behind the images. As the pictures of scenery, daily life, children, and elders flashed across the screen I began to realize that I perceived each picture so differently than the 30 other people who I was in the room with.

When they saw bamboo huts, I saw my home. When they saw jungle and winding paths, I saw my neighborhood. When they saw cute kids, I saw their stories. When they saw headdresses and smiles, I saw the strong, endearing, hardworking characters of our village family.

Lori hit on this point a little when she wrote a post earlier this month about some photographer friends who came to visit. In her post she wrote "After looking at their pictures, we’re reminded how differently we take pictures now that we’ve been here for 5 years. For example, we NEVER take pictures of the chickens anymore because we’re so used to them, but they really are a very important part of the village ambiance!"

Shortly after we arrived in our village in 2005, we posted these photos sharing images of our village kids. Looking back now I see each of those kids very differently because I have laughed, cried and shared in their life stories. The best parallel I can draw to this experience is a comparison to a classroom. As a teacher (or student), during the first days of a new class or new school the people around you are a conglomerate unknown, a shapeless mass. Slowly names are learned and faces are distinguished, but it is not until experiences and stories are shared that those acquaintances become connections, community, and friends.

Now, many of our posts are stories. Individuals. Friends. This post was originally going to be a mass of photos, but I couldn't get myself to post just the images without the incredible stories that go beneath the skin (which is what excites me about this video team that is coming up this weekend). So, instead, I'm starting a new tag, called stories, where we will intentionally share more than just a face.

We hope that you all enjoy these glimpses into the lives of our Akha friends, because we truly love sharing our lives with them.

Esther's Story...

Esther and VernonsIf you knew us back when we were preparing to come to Thailand, you probably heard us talk about how our desire and goal in ministry was to disciple young Akha leaders, who could then go out and minister the gospel to their own people! Arriving in country, we found that as much as we wanted to "disciple" we simply didn't have the language or cultural understanding to do so, and so we began the *long* process of language learning. As we lived in a village, God began to slowly lead us (almost without our knowledge) into a medical ministry to the Akha (which we now call the Akha clinic). While most of our official ministry for the past 4 years has been seen in more tangible ways like medical clinics and dental teams, our desire to disciple young people never left us. Let me go back a few years the beginning of Esther's story (at least the beginning of her story with us!) I was pregnant with Abi and had horrible morning sickness that kept me confined to bed or running to the bathroom most of the day! Paul was running himself ragged, trying to take care of a sick pregnant wife and keep up the with laundry, dishes and the house. Seeing our predicament, Nancy, a seasoned missionary, mentor and friend, encouraged us to hire a "helper". We grimaced at the thought, partly because we were too stubbornly independent to admit that we couldn't handle everything on our own, and partly because we hated the thought of having someone do our "dirty work", it seemed so elitist! Esther However, we were clearly in a pickle and even beyond that, we began to realize that our independence was more a reflection of our American culture than the community-centric Akha culture to which we were trying to assimilate.

So, we began to pray! We prayed that God would bring us someone who would be so much more than a housekeeper. We prayed that He would bring someone who really needed a job to help support her family. We prayed that he would bring someone who would become part of our family, someone who would be a disciple, someone who would be a co-worker with us in our ministry. Esther was the answer to those prayers.

Esther came to live with us full time. When we were in the city, she was there. When we went to the village she came along! We immediately began to see that Esther had so much potential! She is brilliant, passionate, bold and diligent. She has a great head on her shoulders and a desire to learn. We were immediately blessed by her ability to make friends instantly wherever we went; her personality was the perfect fit for our unusual mobile lifestyle.

Esther Akha HeaddressBut even more than that, we could see that she was hungry for God! She had grown up in a Christian home, going to church every week for her whole life. But like many teens, when she first came to live with us, she was doubting the faith she had grown up with, asking hard questions like "Is God really real? If so, how do I know?" Knowing the importance of the these times of struggling, we encouraged her to continue seeking God and stood by her through her journey.

Over the next few years, we had many amazing conversations with Esther. She always initiated the most interesting topics; we discussed polygamy to freewill, ethics to nose rings... and everything in between. About a year after she came to live with us she started saying things like "I think I'd like to go to Bible school... But I DON'T want to go into ministry! I just want to learn for myself." We secretly hoped that she would one day decide to go into ministry because we could see such great potential in her, but we were happy to see her faith growing and hoped, at least, that she would be a solid member of the local church.

Esther baptismIn August, she was baptized, publicly declaring her faith in God. And this last weekend, Esther announced that she wanted to go into full-time ministry, carrying the gospel to her unreached Akha brothers and sisters internationally . When I asked her what brought about the change, she said that she was thinking about her future (she had always imagined herself selling produce like many of the Akha women do) and realized that she wanted to impact people and do something "special" for God! We are ecstatic! We are so honored to be a part of Esther's life and hope that she will be able to impact areas that we cannot!

Please join us in praying for her future!

Open doors & direction for Bible School: There is a very important cultural directive in most Asian cultures which requires children to care for their parents financially. Esther's older brother and sister are both currently unable to send money home, which means that the responsibility falls to Esther. She has been struggling with the dichotomy between "Honor thy Father and Mother" and "You must leave your Father and Mother and follow Me". Please pray that she would have wisdom and the leading of the Holy Spirit as she tries to decide when and where to begin studying the Bible in a more official capacity.

A Husband: Please join with us as we pray for Esther's future husband. Pray that God will provide an amazing loving husband with a similar calling on his life. Someone who is strong enough to complement Esther's strong personality, yet graceful enough to allow her to minister in the full capacity that the Lord has equipped her for.

Personal Growth: Pray that God would continue to work on Esther's heart and prepare her for the many difficulties she might encounter on the mission field in the future!

..and the deaf will hear...

Many of you are familiar with the story of the two deaf children who live in our village. Those of you who have not heard this story, read a post here or here to fill yourself in. Anyone who has visited our village knows A-Paw, 8, is the younger of the two siblings. She is a beautiful and truly remarkable child. She is so smart and has a personality that just lights up a room. Her older brother, A-Wa, 15, is a handsome young man with a lot of confidence and potential, as well as a certain knack for getting into mischief.

Unlike many deaf children in America, these two have very little opportunity for "success". Without any method of communication (they have had very little exposure to sign language) they have no opportunity to succeed in school (the Thai / modern definition of success) and very little opportunity to find someone to marry (the Akha / premodern definition of success).

The, in June 2009, we were honored and blessed to host Kristin & Dave - who came halfway around the world just to be a blessing to this family. Kristin is an audiologist and is currently working for the Denver Public School system. They not only brought the expertise to diagnose these kids, but they also brought first class equipment and top of the line hearing aids which had been donated to give to this family!

It was an extraordinary experience to see these two children hear for the first time ever. Both children have very minimal hearing, so much so that if you were standing right next to them, yelling their names... they wouldn't hear you. But with the hearing aids they could hear even quietly spoken words!

After being fitted with her aids, we "spied" on A-paw as she was tried them out on the real world. She went outside, and was standing 50 meters from some of her friends who were playing with a bamboo stick by hitting it on the ground. As she heard the hollow, echoing sound of bamboo floating across the distance, her eyes grew wide and she looked back at us in amazement as if to say "Hey... that makes an incredible sound!"

We are so grateful for the opportunity that has been given to these kids. We know that the path will not be an easy one, as special needs education cases are largely ignored in rural Thailand. Also adding to the difficulty is the significant cultural and emotional adjustment as a child goes from a silent world to an audible one. We are hoping to get them some speech therapy (we might even do it ourselves if need be!) and help them to catch up in school, but these things will take time and patience.

Through this experience, however, we are again reminded and awestruck by the way our God lavishes his love upon the poor and the needy.

A-paw's hearing test,'Raise your hand when you hear the sound.'A-wa's new hearing aidsFitting A-wa's hearing aidsA-paw trying out the otoscope on her big brotherFitting A-paw's hearing aidsKristen & A-paw just hanging outDinner at A-wa & A-paw's family's house to honor Kristen & DaveGroup Photo: Kristin & Dave, Lori, A-wa & A-paw's Family

A(nother) Good Hair Day

Do you remember MiBya? She is one of the hard stories in our village. Back in October 2005 we wrote this story:

She [Mi Bya] 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.

Well we have since grown to know both MiBya and her little brother much better. They have a really difficult home life. Their mother is mentally ill, we are guessing the mental equivalent of a six-year old, and their father is flighty - often leaving for days at a time. We watched and helped as best we could this past summer as MiBya was taking care of her little brother all by herself. We even tried to get them into a home to care for them but the family has no paperwork, no record of any births.

As we struggled through that difficult summer, we were encouraged to see the village step in and care for the family. On one occasion when the father had run off, a girl from the village invited the kids to stay with her. This is one of the joys of living in a Christian Akha village.

Things have stablized a little, and although things are still rough at home, MiBya is able to go to school in Mae Salong. She loves school and is very bright.

Lori giving MiBya her Thai Schoolgirl HaircutThe other night, she came to our home and said "My teacher says I need a haircut". In Thailand all the schoolchildren wear uniforms, the boys have very short hair and the girls must have their hair cut above their earlobes and collars.

Lori, being the incredibly skilled woman that she is, pulled out her scissors and hair clips and went to work. An hour later (it was the first schoolgirl haircut Lori has ever given) MiBya was a different girl. The little crewcut girl from our Good Hair Day is growing into a beautiful young Akha. We literally don't recognize her anymore as she walks up to us with her great haircut and an even better smile.

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

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