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Saturday, April 24, 2010
The United Methodist Church in the Far North
The new United Methodist congregation in Chiang Rai province is in an Akha Tribe village set in the hills of the far north of Thailand, near the border of Burma. There is not a flat piece of land to be found, with huts and small homes clinging to the hillsides.
The Akha village has many seniors and many children, but not many of the middle generations, who must live in the city to work. They are very hard workers, farming in the hills is difficult work. I saw many of the seniors there carrying heavy loads on their backs as they trudged up the steep hills to their homes in the late afternoon.
The older women wear their traditional hat with coins attached as well as traditional Akha clothing. But the older men and the younger generations no longer wear Akha clothing, and instead blend in with Thai culture.
Eating Akha traditional food was an exotic experience. I saw the mother of Pastor Guy going to a tree next to her house. She began scraping the bark from the tree. When I asked what she would do with the bark, everyone told me we would be eating it. Later, one of the dishes, called “Lahp”, was a mixture of bark and meat. It was actually quite good. They don’t use many sauces in their food like Thai people do. Instead they rely on strong natural flavors. One vegetable dish was quite bitter, but was delicious when eaten in combination with other foods.
Pastor Guy and his wife, Teacher Kwan gave a tour of the village. I (Mike) was able to meet many of the villagers (many were at work in the valleys, so they were not home). One man we met was the village “witch doctor”, who was the man who founded the village. He was making some type of grain offering as we tried to speak with him. He is deaf now, so it was difficult to do anything but smile and greet each other with a bow.
One thing that interested me was an archway at the side of the road. Pastor Guy said this was the “ghost gate” (see the picture with this article). It was believed by the Akha people who are not Christian that evil spirits would be tricked into going into the Ghost gate, rather than using the road into the village. The Akha people put much effort into protecting themselves from evil spirits. The Akha who are Christian are freed from this fear, because they know Christ is more powerful than any other spirit.
Everywhere we went, people came out to greet us. This is Pastor Guy and Teacher Kwan’s home village, so they are well established here. The children seemed to flock gleefully around Kwan. She has an effective children’s ministry already established here.
At night, we had a special service to dedicate Pastor Guy and Teacher Kwan as God’s servants for their village. About 80 people participated in the service, and the older women and one young girl dressed up in formal Akha attire. One part of the service was presenting a special gift from Petrie Memorial UMC of Elkton, Kentucky. The sisters and brothers of Petrie Memorial sent a gift of a kit for teaching the Bible using Felt figures. It is a complete set that teaches Bible stories from Genesis through Revelation. The Akha people were in awe of the kit, and even Pastor Guy said that you cannot find these in Thailand. The church elder came up to receive the gift and send their thanks to their church family at Petrie Memorial. Teacher Kwan will now have curriculum to use in teaching the children about Jesus Christ.
The next day, we went to see Pastor Ekerin in Chiang Mai. He is pioneering a new church next to a university in Chiang Mai. He has 2 cells groups that meet at the university and one that meets in his home. Please keep Pastor Ekerin in prayer, because pioneering is a difficult task. We were very pleased that his ministry in Chiang Mai has started out very well.
Today, Sherri and I will go to the west of Bangkok to Nakhon Pithom for the dedication service for Pastors Akerat and Da. Believers from the other UM churches will participate in this service. Pastor Sarah of the Pradumri First UMC in Chonburi will preach at this service and we will offer the prayer of dedication.
God is good! Blessed be the name of the Lord!