the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

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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!

Akha Women's Retreat - 2009

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

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

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

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

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