the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

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Village Life: Sharpening the machete

Paul & Abi sharpening the machete. We've had a bit of a blogging dry spell recently (and by that I mean "I've had a bit of a blogging dry spell." Thank goodness my husband has the motivation to post every once in a while!). Any how, I'm trying to get back into the blogging groove, so I just thought I'd share this cute picture of Paul & Abi sharpening the machete in front of our village home (hut). Not only is it a super cute picture, but I think it's a good representation of our life in the village. People are always asking us what we do in the village, and well, sometimes it's just this: doing life, village style.

The Story in Maesalong (or, "What all those depressing facebook updates have been about")

Before we get into all of this we have to first say a heartfelt "thank you" to all of you. Friends, family, strangers, leaders... you have all been so supportive of us and your prayers for Maesalong have been felt. I know that most of you follow us on facebook, but for those of you who don't, we want to share some of the "lowlights" in our status updates over the last few weeks:

Maesalong Status Updates

  • PAUL (July 18, 2010): ...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many. "Matthew 20:28."
  • LORI (July 18, 2010): Heading up to the village tomorrow to attend some meetings. Prayers appreciated. In other news, psych is back and does not dissapoint.
  • PAUL (July 19, 2010): lots of confusion in Maesalong right now. heading up there, but could use lots of prayer.
  • PAUL (July 19, 2010): near disaster in the meeting this morning, but some well timed apologies have led to some more mature conversation. keep praying for our church and for the Akha of Maesalong.
  • PAUL (July 19, 2010): is brokenhearted.
  • LORI (July 19, 2010): really rough day today.
  • LORI (July 20, 2010): home from the village, spent and brokenhearted.
  • PAUL (July 21, 2010): reeling from the last few days, I'm sitting in a meeting with all the pastors in our organization unpacking all that is happening in Maesalong.
  • PAUL (July 22, 2010): we get a break today from all that's been going on. teaching at the monthly pastor's training tomorrow then back up to the village on Saturday.
  • PAUL (July 24, 2010): change of plans. instead of going up to the village this weekend we're going to practice fighting this battle "not under our own power". pray for maesalong.
  • PAUL (July 24, 2010): heartbreak after heartbreak with news out of maesalong.
  • LORI (July 25, 2010): up at 4am worrying about the trouble in MaeSalong. prayers still appreciated. this can't be solved by human wisdom.
  • PAUL (July 25, 2010): "sovereign stillness whispers 'trust in Me'."

So that should catch most of you up to the vaguery of our 140-character updates. Now for the background story, it's fairly convoluted so please bear with me as I try to unpack it for you... For a number of months, we have heard rumblings in our village that an Akha pastor who lives in Bangkok has had a problem with our pastor and with the way the church in Maesalong is being run. We'll call the Bangkok pastor "Phillip" and our pastor "Joe". Six years ago, Phillip was on staff with Akha Outreach and was very involved with the Maesalong church. However, five years ago he and his family left for Bangkok and joined another organization which paid for Phillip to receive his masters degree. Currently, Phillip is neither a part of our church nor a member of our nationally recognized church denomination (Akha Outreach Services). He has had no contact whatsoever with the leadership within our organization, and refuses to answer calls or attempts at communication.

Phillip legitimately cares for Maesalong and loves the Lord. The people of Maesalong adore him. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in his study of leadership he has learned about earthly power and domination rather than the Authentic Authority of God. We heard, indirectly, that he was coming up to our village to have a three-day Bible study, but quickly realized that his sole intent was to remove Joe from his position as pastor of Maesalong.

Joe is a young pastor. As such, he's made a number of mistakes. These mistakes have reflected his youth, his inexperience, and his insecurity. In discussions with our organizational board, however, none of his transgressions are cause for removal. We have worked with him, watching him grow and learn as the church grows and learns with him.

However, pastor Phillip was apparently dissatisfied with the decisions of our leadership. When Joe was unable to answer a string of courtroom-like rapid-fire "answer yes or no" questions to his satisfaction, Phillip dramatically declared that he was leaving, that he would never set foot in Maesalong again, and that no one in our village would ever see his face again.

It was here that he had won. There is not an adult in that room, who had not had a husband or father threaten them in that way. Most of them have had fathers abandon their families, or husbands leave them - including Pastor Joe. As the tears poured and the emotion flowed "Please, don't reject us!", Pastor Joe's heart broke for his flock. Two hours later, Pastor Joe, with his face covered in tears and his body racked with sobs, resigned from his pastorate for the transgression of not meeting the standards of performance placed upon him as pastor.

That evening, the Bangkok pastor dissolved the church board of directors and appointed a new board. He said that he would be willing to allow our organization to appoint a new pastor, but it has later been made clear that if Phillip does not like the new pastor he will remove him as well and appoint his own.

In five years in Maesalong, we have had five pastors. The first left for money and opportunity, that was Pastor Phillip. The second was asked to leave because the established leadership did not feel that he respected them. The third left because although he pleased the 5-6 influential leaders, he had no interest in connecting with the members of the church and would only appear in the village on Sunday morning to preach and eat lunch with the leadership. The fourth, Pastor Joe, was cornered into resignation (although the core leadership played its role here again). The fifth pastor is yet to be determined.

Maesalong has a lot of problems, but every church, every person has problems. But recently in Maesalong some of the real core issues have become evident. When Pastor Joe resigned, there was true brokenness. All, but a very select few, were brokenhearted and in tears. One woman expressed the heart of the women in the group as she said, choking back her sobs "Pastor Joe, I don't know what's going to happen, but I can't express what I feel. I just really want to thank you... for taking the time... the time to teach us women how to read and write the Akha language... and now that you are leaving I don't know what we're going to do...". But it's easier to allow someone you love to sacrifice themselves for you than it is to be rejected by someone you love.

The Akha in Maesalong have been victims their entire lives. They are used to being threatened and unaccustomed to being loved. They cannot imagine going through the pain of being rejected again, so anyone who threatens to reject them holds power. A pastor who loves them and desires for them to get healed is constantly under the threat of being forcibly removed from the community, because he refuses to use rejection as a weapon.

In short, Maesalong has become a pastor-killing church. Each story has been unique, but at the core when things go wrong, the pastor receives the blame. However, the root issues of rejection are finally becoming apparent. "I will reject you before you reject me." Or "I will reject you because you rejected me". Performance. Power. The kingdom of darkness instead of the Authentic Authority of God.

We don't know what's next. We don't know if the village will become part of this other organization based in Bangkok, thus legally and culturally forcing us to leave. We don't know if the village will realize how they are being manipulated and respond in wisdom.

We do have hope. Our hope is for unity between the Bangkok pastor and our organization. Our hope is for unity within our own church. Our hope is that we will be able to continue to minister the love of God holistically to the Akha of Maesalong. Our hope is that all that the enemy has intended for evil, the Lord will use for good (Gen. 50:20).

Thank you for your prayers. Feel free to email us, facebook us or comment here on our blog with questions or comments that you feel led to share, and please keep praying for Maesalong.

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.

Just Like Pulling Teeth

Dr. Luce working on a Bible Student at House of Joy For the past 6 years, Dr. Luce and his staff have been giving of their time and skills to come to Chiang Rai and care for the dental needs of Akha children and Bible Students at Akha Outreach Foundation, as well as the occasional village dental clinic.

Last year Dr. Newman and his family joined the dental team, and the village aspect of the dental ministry began to really take off.

Dr. Newman teaching proper injection techniques.

Both dentists have been encouraging us to learn how to anesthetize a patient and perform simple extraction techniques, but we've been slow to respond to their urgings (Lori once had a mild fainting spell when watching an oral surgery). Earlier this year, however, Dr. Luce was at a meeting for the Christian Dental Society and saw a presentation training nationals to do rural, village or jungle dentistry and his heart was really stirred to see the young Akha leaders trained in dentistry as well. Dr. Newman, who has also used his skills to minister in Africa, was equally excited by the vision and the two of them prepared a 3-hour training to supplement multiple days of observation, along-side training and hands-on extractions.

Joe was very sympathetic as he watched the teeth being pulled.The training was a wonderful experience. These young Akha leaders jumped right in to the action, and Lori and I got up the courage to join them. After learning about the root structures of different teeth, safety and cleanliness precautions, and what types of teeth are within our skill set to extract we all practiced administering anesthetic to each other. You know you have a good trusting relationship as husband and wife if you can let each other practice sticking needles into your gums. After the training day, we had a village dental clinic in Doi Chang and we 6 trainees (and our pastor Joe, who couldn't stomach the shots, but trained as an assistant) treated a majority of the 40 patients we saw that day.

The trainers and the trainees.In total, the Dental Team (Bill, Rick, Jana, Lisa and Pam) put up some very impressive numbers in the short week they were here.  In the villages, over 200 teeth were pulled. At House of Joy, 40 wisdom teeth were pulled, 40 fillings were given, 2 tooth repairs were made, 13 additional extractions and 137 cleanings filled their week. In addition, they trained a team of 7 locals to continue dental care for remote villages as we are traveling in and out of them. Pray for M, Nuey, Anm, Adeu, Lori, Paul & Joe Akha as an assistant, that we might have opportunities to continue to minister to the needs of the Akha wherever we might go.

..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

Akha Dental Clinic (Video)

At the end of this month (August 2009) our annual dental team will be arriving in Chiang Rai. Dr. Luce and Dr. Newman will be with the team to provide free dental care for the children's home, Bible students, and various Akha villages. Dr. Luce has been coming out for years, and Dr. Newman joined him last year - spending some extra time with us in our village running a village clinic. This year will be a whirlwind trip, just one week, but we are all looking forward to their visit. It's incredibly late, but I've gotten a video up from last year's village clinic.

The video is of a removal of an oral cyst (at least I think it was an oral cyst, Dr. Newman you can correct me in the comments if I'm wrong) from the lip of an Akha teenage girl. It's a graphic, bloody video, so if you are one of our weak-stomached viewers, here's a happier video for you.

Vacation Bible School 2009

April is summer break here in Thailand, so this year Paul and I decided to do Vacation Bible School Camps for couple of the Akha villages in our area. While we played games, sang silly songs, ate snacks & did crafts, the highlight, for me, were the teaching times. The challenge of, as our old pastor used to say, "taking the cookies off the top shelf," or simplifying a Biblical Truth so that everyone (kids included) can understand it, was exhilarating. And, of course, doing it all in the Akha language made it even more exciting when I looked out and saw a glimmer of understanding dawn on those little faces. However, I think one of the best stories came from a moment when the kids where having a hard time understanding...

One of the teachings we did was based on the story of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18. We talked about how important each person is to God and that God loves everyone and seeks a relationship with everyone! After the teaching, we split the kids up by age groups to do the craft and work on the memory verse for the day. I was working with the older kids (age 9-13) and we were learning a separate but related sheep verse, John 10:27, 28. After repeating the verse several times, I asked the kids if they understood what it meant. They all stared back at me blankly (not even a glimmer of understanding!)

As I struggled to find the right words to explain this metaphor to kids who had never seen sheep, one of the kids piped up and asked a village grandpa (who was there repairing our roof from the storm the previous night and seemed to be enjoying eavesdropping on our little lesson) if he could explain the verse. Sure enough, he had the perfect illustration! He explained, "You know that if a chicken wanders off, and it's owner goes looking for it, the owner doesn't only look with her eyes, but she calls 'Ku Ku Ku'. And the chicken knows the sound of its owners voice and will come running when it hears its owner calling. We can know God's voice just like that chicken!" Simultaneously, the kids all had an "Ah-Ha" moment! Three cheers for Grandpa! This is what I love about living in a village; nearly everything is done with a little help from our friends!

In the end, we did a VBS in three different villages and ministered to about 90 kids (not to mention many parents and grandparents who hung around to enjoy the fun!) This was the first year we have done this and we were really pleased with it's success; I'm sure it will become a yearly tradition!

Red light, Green light.Rice sack races!Duck, Duck, Goose!Lining up for Snack Time!Silly Songs!Lori Teaching the Wordless Book LessonAkah coloring sheets!Craft time: Cotton ball sheep!Everyone gathered under the village hut to hear the lesson.

Night Ambulance

I'm writing this update on my phone from our hut in Maesalong as Lori is driving to the hospital with a woman from our village. A few minutes ago (about 10 pm) we were called on to come see a woman who is having severe stomach pains. It was quickly obvious she needed hospital care so Lori is racing off with her to the nearest hospital (about 45 min away) while I stay back in my recent role of night caretaker for Abi (who, we are happy to report, is night weaned!).

Please pray for this woman and for safety as they travel to town!

In other news, day 1 of our village VBS has been a huge success. For our village and surrounding area we have 40 children participating in the event! This has been a long time coming and it is wonderful to see the fruits of the labour. Please remember us in prayer as we hope to do a total of 3 vbs's in different villages this month.

Thanks to everyone for keeping us covered in prayer and for all of your love & support!

New Zealand Medical Team

We always welcome guests with medical expertise who can assist us with our Mobile Clinic and help us broaden our medical knowledge in the process! Our recent medical team from New Zealand was no exception; the team consisted of 8 medical students and 1 medical doctor. They were scheduled to be with us for 6 nights and we had planned to do 4 clinic days in 4 different villages. Unfortunately, due to Abi's hospitalization we had to cut our time short a bit, which left us with only 2 full days available for clinics. However, through the teams hard work, we managed to squeeze in clinics at all four villages and we ended up treating over 150 patients!

Three of the four clinics we did were especially exciting for Paul & I because they were in villages not associated with our organization. As is the case in much of the world, sometimes, here in Thailand, church groups have trouble getting along.Unity among Christians and Christian organizations is one of the areas that Paul and I really have a heart to see improve among the Akha. So, in providing a "no strings attached" clinic, we hope to not only bless the individual receiving the medical care, but to build relationship with village and church leadership which might remind them that the body of Christ can still function even outside of denominational affiliation!

January Travels: Bangkok, Hat Yai & Mae Salong

In January we were blessed to have my (Lori's) parents in country for a visit. Their arrival coincided with the Grand Opening of the new Foursquare church and ministry center in Bangkok. We flew down to meet them in Bangkok and while there took the opportunity to see a few sights. Can you believe that this was their fifth trip to Thailand and they had never been to the Grand Palace! (We must not be very good tour guides, eh?)

After a few days in Bangkok, we headed down to Southern Thailand for a few days at the beach! We ended up staying in Songkla (just outside of Hat Yai) for 3 nights. Our little hotel was right on the beach and we had such a nice relaxing time!

Esther (who has lived with us for almost 2 years now) and one of her friends came along as well. Neither of them had ever flown in a plane or seen the ocean, so it was exciting to be with them as they experienced these new things. It was also Abi's first time seeing the ocean (Although, it certainly wasn't her first time on the plane... she's been on nearly 30 plane rides thus far and she's not even two yet!) and, of course, she loved it! (Some photos of her at the beach are bound to show up on the baby blog sooner or later. So stay tuned!)

After we made it back up north, we all headed up to the village for about a week. My parents were troopers, braving the cold showers and hard beds with ease. We stayed pretty busy pouring a concrete pathway and building a deck as the finishing touches to our "new" village home. My dad, the builder, loved getting his hands dirty, working alongside the Akha men and noticing all the differences in how things are done here. And my mom, (not so keen on getting her hands dirty) was the resident baby sitter and kept Abi and her village friendsoccupied and out of harms way.

Mom & Dad... thanks so much for coming! We can't wait for your next visit!

Best Buds

Oh, how I wish this picture wasn't so blurry! But it is so cute, I'm posting it anyway! This is Abi and her best friend Mary (or Ma-li in Akha) who is 3 years old. Ma-li lives across the road from us in the village. Her and Abi have become great friends in the past few months since Abi has started walking. If Abi is ever out playing in the village common area, she will always head strait to Ma-li's house to look for her! We're thrilled with this friendship; Ma-li is an absolute sweetheart and loves Abi like a sister! Also, she holds a special place in our hearts because she was the first baby born in the villageafter we arrived.

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On the Road to Elephant Mountain...

A couple of weeks back we had the opportunity to accompany a missions team from Singapore to the Akha village of Doi Chang (Elephant Mountain) to attend the Christmas celebration there. We had a great time and even enjoyed the cold cold weather (temperatures in the 40s), but the trip was not without adventure! On the way to the village, after driving for about an hour up the dirt road, we heard a loud "clunk". A rod used to brace the frame had jiggled loose and simply fell off. Our poor truck, it has a hard life, driving on such rough village roads all the time! Luckily we were able to locate a couple of tools and Paul with his "MacGyver-like" skills was able to re-attach it. We finally made it to the village and finished the rest of the trip without incident. Needless to say, we got the truck into the mechanic as soon as we got back to the city. Luckily, he re-attached the the rod (with all the proper tools) for free! Here are a few pictures from our Singaporean friends! Thanks guys!

Truck driving through waterDriving up the mountain roadsThe broken partPaul underneath the truckThe men talking about a solutionPaul & Lori working on the truck togetherLori helping to fix the truckTalking by the truckElephant MountainPaul & friends eating dinnerPaul translatingPaul and Abi

CMCC 2008 Missions Team

We have had (and will have) visitors and teams from all over the world in these months from July to September.We've had doctors from Singapore and Germany who offered their expertise in free Akha village clinics. We've had an old Colorado friend who now lives in Scotland come through for a few days. We are about to have a number of dentists from America come out to do volunteer dental care for the Akha. And we had a missions team of international students living in Chiang Mai, Thailand who attend the CMCC youth group come spend a week with us in Mae Salong on a work project building stairs in the common path areas of the village.

Although all of these visitors deserve their own posts, notes, pictures and videos - the group that spent the most time in our village was the CMCC team - so we put together a video of their project to share with them and with the village. Take a look here...

(there's also a short moment of Abi in all her village glory ...dirty, dirty, dirty! and loving it)

Here's the clip:

In case you are wondering. All these videos are finally getting completed because I am in the city helping teach a young Akha man who is reaching out to his fellow Akha in Laos how to edit videos. He is editing videos of Laos trips on his desktop while I edit videos right next to him on our computer. It's a strange time for the Akha world... Grass roofs, dirt floors and nicely edited home videos on the television. Pray for he and his coworkers in their wonderful work.

How to Take a Village Shower

Recently I've been thinking about how much you (our beloved readers) still don't know about our lives in Thailand! Even after three years of blogging, we haven't begun to scratch the surface of all the interesting things we see and do on a daily basis. So, I'm hoping to start blogging a bit more about everyday topics (in addition to the special events and stories that we already try to post) to help help you better understand our lives and ministry to the Akha. I've often been asked how I bathe in the village, so I thought I'd give you a step by step tutorial on the process! When I first arrived in the village, I had no idea how to shower at the public wells and had to walk about a mile to our Akha mom's house to bathe in her indoor bathroom. Luckily, some of the young women in the village took pity on me and taught me all the ins and outs of bathing modestly in public! Of course, with our new house (We promise a video tour of the finished house is coming soon!) we have an indoor bathroom, so indoor bucket showers are also possible. However, I actually enjoy being outside and have become quite accustomed to showering like this, so I still prefer sarong showers (weather permitting).

Remember to click on the pictures below in order to read the captions and view the full size photo.

Shower SuppliesBamboo towel rodWashing my feetWashing my hairPutting my hair upSarongGetting WetWashingRinsing offFixing the PVC pipeWashing my faceReaching for my towelChanging sarongsTalking with my friendWalking up the hill

Pray For Lori (and Abi, Esther & some Germans)

While I'm stuck in meetings discussing the new Akha orthography (actually, a really cool experience that I will fill you all in more on later) Lori is much more literally stuck in Mae Salong with a broken vehicle. You heard it right, our truck is broken again.

A very similar problem to all our other vehicle issues, actually, as there seems to be a crack in the feed from the radiator to the engine.

She has the baby, Esther and two German visitors - (one of whom is a doctor who just helped out with a free clinic in a local village, I'm sure that's another cool story that we will fill you all in more on later) - so her hands are full.

Please pray for peace for them, for safety and for a tow truck that actually can tow a vehicle (as opposed to the rope/bamboo contraption we dealt with before.)

Don't worry, we'll leave the vehicle in Mae Salong before we have Lori do anything dangerous.

Thanks for your prayers.

Building a Home with the Akha (Video)

Our director is off to Singapore tomorrow to teach on the subject "Communicating the Gospel in a Pluralist Context" for Haggai Institute. I have had the privilege to help him prepare for these 8 lectures: we have been working on the powerpoints for months, and intensively over these past two weeks. The time is upon us, however, so ready or not (hopefully ready) he is off to teach leaders from around the globe.

We have visitors and teams coming beginning tomorrow through the remainder of this month, so that gave me today to get caught up on some of our communication to all of you.

We mentioned a few months ago that we were building a new home in Mae Salong. The home that was built for us upon our arrival was built to last 3-5 years. With our three years up, we decided to build a home that will last us closer to 10 years as we continue to live and work with the Akha.

Once again, our village was incredibly generous, donating their time and expertise to our need. Our new home features such ammenities as cement on the floors (it's not level, but it's not dirt!), an indoor bathroom, indoor running water (when available), and electrical outlets and lights in each room. These modern conveniences are still coupled with bamboo walls and a grass roof, which we love and will probably never go away from (it's so much cooler!).

It's a huge blessing for us as a family and also for the village who are now using our first home full time as the village community house.

We have a video of the entire construction process - take a look...

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For those of you who are wondering, the song (Big House by Audio Adrenaline) is an homage to our old Campus Crusade days at the Colorado School of Mines. Good times, good times... but you probably had to be there.

I'll get a video tour of the "lived-in" house up on the site next (who knows when, but it's my next project).

Thanks for following our lives here at the Vernon Journal!

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Signing Time!

A-Paw

This is A-Paw. She is hearing impaired. When we first arrived in the village three years ago, she was an outgoing, playful little four year old who had no idea that there was any difference between her and her friends. Unfortunately, without any exposure to sign language, in the past three years we've seen her eyes glaze over and her temper flare more and more often as she realizes that she doesn't really understand what's going on around her and that she can't adequately communicate her own wants and needs.

Kids watching Signing Time!

After visiting us last fall, our good friend John really wanted to help A-paw and her family, so he donated the first six DVDs in the Signing Time Series. Now that we have our new house built, we've brought up an old TV and started showing the series once a week to anyone that wants to come! A-Paw is a brilliant little girl and, after only a few lessons, has most of the words memorized. We're hoping that this, admittedly limited, exposure to ASL (although slightly different from Thai Sign Language) will give her a bit of an advantage should she ever end up at a school for the hearing impaired. If nothing else, we hope that she can have a few more words with which to communicate with her family and friends.

Signing Time notes

The added benefit of the Signing Time series is that it's a great way for the hearing kids to learn a bit of English. Our village has been nagging us to teach English ever since we've arrived, but we've been reticent to start official lessons, knowing that most of the kids in our village go to Thai school all day, and then head off to Chinese language school for three hours every evening. We just couldn't imagine that they would have any time or brain power left to sit through another lesson! Luckily, Signing Time seems to be a great solution because it makes learning fun! It uses songs and great visual footage to help the kids remember each new word, not to mention the, signs themselves, which are so intuitive and help the memory as well!

The Akha Wedding

The Akha Wedding ceremony is a long process, beginning in the wife's family village and ending in the husband's family village. The big "wedding" event occurs in the husband's village with the "Wife Celebration". There is a lot to be told about this event, and for Lori and I there is still a lot to be learned about this event, but today I just want to share some pictures of a young Akha bride and groom from a wedding ceremony in our village. Specifically, I want you all to see the long, involved process that is the donning of the traditional Akha headdress and attire.

An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride An Akha Bride Putting on the Akha Headdress Putting on the Akha headdress Putting on the Akha Headdress Putting on the Akha Headdress An Akha Groom The Groom's Family An Akha Bride and Groom The young Akha Groom The Young Akha Bride

Beautiful, is it not? We were honored to take pictures for two weddings in our village just before Lori became sick, and promised to put together a video slide show of the pictures for both couples' families. We are planning to head back to the village this weekend to give out the finished videos.

It is a strange world the Akha live in today - they sit on dirt floors in their bamboo huts and watch family wedding videos on their televisions. Talk about an ancient-future experience.

The Salamander and the Sparrows

Well, our trip back to the village was a very successful one, in many ways it felt like we had never been gone at all. Sure, some things have changed, like little baby Ma-Li taking her first steps, three new homes being built and many relatives returning from their jobs around Thailand for Chinese new year, but for the most part the village was just as we remember - full of people we love and who love us. There is a really bad cough/cold/fever that is going around the village - one mother has a baby girl whose temperature is hovering around 104. We were able to get medicine to all of them, but please join us in praying for their safety and recovery as we are back in the city over this next week.

Our biggest fear going back to our village home was that it would be infested with families of rats and monstrous spiders. When you leave an empty structure that is open to the elements this tends to happen. We didn't need to worry, however, as we came into a dusty house without the telltale droppings of either of these scary little beasties (on a side note, that should show you how big these spiders are - you can actually see their droppings).

We hope that we have finally learned how to seal everything up well enough to not attract the rats into our home, but the lack of spiders is directly related to our two newest house guests: Ricky and Lucy.

Our Guests: Ricky and Lucy Sparrow

These two little birds have taken up residence in our roof, and we are happy to have them. The Akha like it when birds nest in their homes, and they build little platforms under the nests to keep things clean. The birds keep the bug levels down and provide a much more pleasant alarm clock than the standard village roosters.

Lucy and Ricky are a young couple, and have not yet decided if they are going to live in our home long term as they are currently just perching in our loft. Our hope is that they get the baby itch soon and decide to build a more permanent nest. Currently they spend all their time in playful flirtations as all newlyweds should.

We also had a slightly less welcome guest: a thirsty lizard made his way into our toilet and could not get himself out. Lori found him and scooped him out, hopefully a litter wiser for the experience, but not before taking this frightening footage...

...actually, he's kind of cute. if he sticks around we might have to come up with a name for him too.

For those of you who have been to our village: No, we did not take the rough 4-wheel drive road to get there. Instead, we took the long, curvy route. This way Lori didn't get bumped around - just a little carsick. No, the shortcut is off the route list until sometime after the baby arrives. Lori did really well all three days in the village, eating Akha meals and not getting morning sick at all. She did smell fish during our after-church lunch meal and lost it, but sensitivity to smells is still better than the misery of morning sickness. Thanks for all of your prayers!

We will be heading back up again this weekend and hope to have more news from our prospective helper/language teacher. We'll keep you all informed.

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