Support our work among the Akha

By Paul Vernon on Dec 24, 2011 in Site Help | 0 Comments

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Sweet Home Maesalong

We are back in Thailand, ready to continue in our tenth year of full time ministry after an incredible season of travel, connection and direction as we spent the last 5 months in 26 of the 50 United States of America. Coming back here reminds us how much distance causes disconnection, and we are busy reestablishing ties with our Akha friends. However, that distance and disconnection is also the reason we are so intentional about our travel and seeing so many of you when we do have the opportunity to return. For those of you we saw, thank you for connecting with us, your love and support is felt and appreciated. For those we missed, we are truly sorry and hope to connect again in four years or so… Or there is always the chance to connect with us here in Thailand!

Maesalong Akha

In the week since we returned, we have reconnected with our coworkers at Akha Outreach, our home church in the city (where we were asked to preach – surprise!) and our village family in Doi Maesalong. Amazing things have been happening everywhere, but especially in Maesalong, where their project to build a new church is really moving along. The pastor, who had been living in our home for the past two years, has moved into the parsonage on the bottom floor of the new church building. This means we get to “take ownership” of our village home again and Lori has grand plans to spend extra time with Izi and Jak in the village over the next year exposing them to more Akha language and culture while Paul continues to work at the foundation and produce Gospel media in the Akha language.

To prepare for our arrival, the village gave our home an overhaul: redesign and repair – and we are so thrilled with what we returned to! It is a blank slate and we are already dreaming of what our “Akha Hut v.3.0” will become. We made a little video for you to enjoy a tour of our new place:

Crowned with Laurels …or Silver

The name Lori means “Crowned with Laurels”, taken from a term used to give the winner of a contest a wreath on their head. It is not a wreath of leaves, but my Lori was recently “crowned” for a different honor many years in the making.

For years, Lori has loved looking at the beautiful Akha headdresses on the heads of our close friends. But she wouldn’t buy one.

Her reluctance reflected our ministry goal to incarnationally meet the Akha where they are spiritually, physically, emotionally and culturally. Although there were, and always will be, obvious differences between ourselves and our Akha friends, we did not want to show up and throw money around to make our outer appearance seem more seasoned, more accepted, than we actually were.

Our first truck was testimony to that, as was our first Akha home, and the fact that we didn’t have a bathroom in our hut for the first year.

In the same way, we didn’t want to just walk in and buy amazing Akha costumes and parade around in them as if we were Akha, we wanted to grow with our people incarnationally. Through the years we slowly received gifts of beautiful Akha bags and clothes, we purchased simple and then more ornate Akha coats and built our appearance as our language and relationships grew.

But Lori still didn’t have a headdress.

A few months ago we were going through our things and came across some old US silver coins that Lori’s grandmother had given her before she passed away. These pieces had new meaning to us after spending so many years inculturated with a people whose traditions lie in passing silver coins from generation to generation. We knew that we wanted to add these pieces to Lori’s headdress when the day finally came.

And after 9 years of full-time service, after naming 3 children and spending countless hours laughing, crying, teaching and learning in the Akha language, the day has finally come.

We bought Lori an authentic Akha headdress (made of metal, not silver) which she will wear “out” for the first time at the Akha Outreach graduation 0n March 1st.

The process of buying a headdress is involved because once you have found one that meets your standards, it then has to be customized to fit to your head… which means more Akha community! So Lori brought out her new headdress at the Women’s Conference last week and all the women joined in in customizing her crowning Akha glory.

Even this headdress is something that we will continue to build into through the years. We will slowly add real silver pieces to replace the metal ones, attach additional silver chains and ornaments and personalize it to my beautiful wife.

But for now, our American Akha beauty is very satisfied.

Turn Mourning into Dancing

After three difficult trips to Maesalong, we were honored to join our dear friends, Pastor Aga and Asaw, in celebration of their long-anticipated wedding. Asaw is a girl from our village that we have seen grow up to be an incredible woman of God. She has gone from being forbidden to be baptized by her mother (because then a rich Buddhist man wouldn’t marry her) to marrying a pastor and incredible man of God. We have have the honor of calling Aga our friend for about 6 years now and couldn’t imagine a more wonderful couple. Many of you know these two, and we wanted to share some of the moments they had on this special day.

Pastor Aga is a graduate of Akha Bible Institute (ABI3) and pastored the Akha Outreach church in Maesalong for about 2 years. We want to thank all of you for your partnership with us and with Akha Outreach over the years. If you would like to know more about how you can be a part of equipping Akha leaders for life, marriage and ministry please read more!

Green leaves also fall

We’ve been to many funerals in 9 years serving as missionaries with the Akha people.

Some of those early funerals were shocking experiences, like the time when I was awoken, placed on a motorcycle and driven to a neighboring village without any understanding what was happening until I came into a hut and saw the body of a woman who had died from AIDS on the floor, a casket beside her, and a family of mourners looking for a pastor. Other funerals were almost comical experiences, like the time when Lori and I tried to walk with two 60-year old women to a funeral during rainy season, only to arrive an hour later covered head-to-toe in mud and the butt of every joke that the mourners told that day.

But as the years went on and our Akha family grew, we have gone from being outsiders observing a funeral to mourners attending one. But nothing has been like this past month.

We have been to Maesalong three times in this past month. We have taken part in a funeral each time.

It has been very hard. Not for those who have gone on to peace, but for those of us who remain behind and who feel their absence.

We lost an Akha mother, who has cared for us and for teams that have visited our village. Who loved and served the church, her family, her people and even strangers until she succumbed to her battle with kidney failure.

We lost an Akha grandmother, who invested her life into her grandchildren and held tightly to Akha traditions, never removing her headdress, even as she held tightly to her Saviour until her advanced years took her peacefully.

We lost an Akha brother. A young man, and one of our first and greatest village friends. One whose massive frame held a gentle spirit, and who always would put others ahead of himself. He was taken from us shockingly, when his poor decisions and the irresponsibility of another driver took him from us suddenly.

It is in these events that we know we have become knitted together with our family here. When our tears fall alongside theirs, when we question “why?” together.

And we answer the “Why?” together as well, by sharing peace from the Author of peace; by the life of the community that goes on; through the Word that brings hope; and through the truth woven into the fabric of Akha culture through their proverbs:

Falling is not solely for yellow leaves,
green leaves also fall

- Akha proverb -

To every thing there is a season.

Please join us in prayer for our Akha friends and family in Maesalong as we walk through this season of loss together.

Our newborn boy, Age-2

At 13:50 on December 31st, we welcomed the newest member of our family. Jak was born at a healthy 3.9 kg (8 lb 10 oz) and 58 cm (23″). Mom and baby were both champs and we have loved every minute with him.

JakJakobBaby Jak

Less than 24-hours after his birth the messages began coming in from our Akha friends via texts and Facebook: “Your son is 2-years old!” “Happy parents of a 2-year-old!” It was a modern twist on a cultural phenomenon that we have witnessed for years. The Akha calendar follows a 12-year agricultural cycle with an animal representing each year, similar to the Chinese zodiac. The animal year you were born on is your age-1 year. So Jak was 1-year old when he was born on the last day of the Akha year of the Dragon* and on the next day, the first day of the Akha year of the Horse, he turned 2. All this before he was 24-hours old as we count!

We were able to observe another wonderful tradition this past weekend, but this was one that we have seen before with Abigail and Izabel. When we went up to our Akha village in Maesalong, Jak was given his Akha name, Yaelah (Yaerlanq), by the elders of our village. After he was named, all the people came up and held him, shook his hand, greeted him in Akha by his name, and placed money (20-100 baht) and/or boiled eggs into his hands. This is a beautiful tradition in Akha villages where neighbors can bless a family with money and food without it seeming like charity… very similar to our casseroles and baby showers back in the United States. It is beautiful and humbling when our friends who have so little are so generous to us.

Akha grandmaAkha Jak AqkaqzaAkha naming

We truly love our life with the Akha!

* Actually the Akha year for 2013 wasn’t Dragon but another mythical creature that we don’t know an English equivalent for.