2019 December Herald Mission – N. Thailand

Northern Thailand Mission Trip
(7 – 13 December 2019)

The Objective

The aim of the mission team was two-fold:
1. To share the gospel with the Akher villagers in Chiang Rai, and the children of Jedyod Primary school in Chiang Mai.
2. To encourage and promote church work among the Lahu and Akher pastors.

History of the Akher race

The Akher race in SE Asia consists of fringe ethnic groups of villages that dotted in closely-knit pockets near higher elevations of the mountains of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Their ancestral roots can be traced back to China. The villagers of Akher descent are interrelated through blood ties. Due to political instability and religious persecutions, the ethnic minorities were constantly harassed and marginalized during the Tan dynasty’s despotic era. Subsequently, the effects of racial clamp-down drove a band of indigenous minorities to flee from their homeland, and seek refuge and comfort in the neighbouring regions during a civil purge in the early 20th century.

Today, these migrants have been absorbed into their new-found settlements across SE Asia, and a new generation of this splintered group has emerged from the old, retaining traces of its unique culture and traditions in the remote villages of Northern Thailand.

The Practice of the Akhers

The Akher is a race deep-seated in tribal origin and customs. They have a remarkably friendly disposition despite being sheltered from the buzzing changes prevalent of modern society. They still retain a central cult figure as the village head who wields substantial influence over the affairs of the entire village. Many are polytheists who still cling to their primeval worship instinct without the knowledge of the one true God.

Their gods come in all shapes and forms. The most prominent of their worship is symbolized by a skeletal Ox head with its attached horns. On auspicious occasions, the Akher people come together as a village to worship and make sacrifices to their gods in communal worship headed by the village chief. Being pantheistic in tradition, it is a small wonder many are also given to worshipping the natural elements for protection, good harvest and prosperity.

We were told that the local pastor, Joe, had created the Akher written language and assisted in the Bible translation in the Akher written language. Predictably, the Akher people are most comfortable interacting in their own native tongue. Under these challenging conditions, our team was prayerful and trusted the Lord to provide ways to reach out to the people with the word of God through local interpreters.

By the Grace of God, through local evangelical efforts, prayers and mission support, some have turned from their deep-seated, atheistic beliefs, and are now professed followers of Christ Jesus.

Church growth in the Chiang Rai areas

It was observed, in recent years, a few small churches have sprung up sporadically in the suburb and city areas. On our way uphill, we chanced upon some women clad in “tudung” head covering that is usually connected to the Muslim faith. Our driver informed us in halting English that the Akher people usually wear head gears for protection from the cold weather. For the uninitiated they might be mistaken to be Muslims who are predominantly found in the southern parts of Thailand. Some may have come from a different border country of origin. With this information, we realize that Islam has not yet penetrated into the Akher community.

The Mission team

There were eleven of us involved in this year’s mission trip. Most of the team leaders and helpers were veterans in ministering to the Akher people. Some of the more regular ones had been ministering to these people for a couple of years. With God’s grace, the team, headed by Deaconesses Chew Hoon and Patricia, were able to tap on their past experiences. The heavy lifting work came from pre-planning and an eye for fine details such as distribution of workload, preparation & provision, craftwork for the children, transportation, daily schedules and lodging. This pre-trip preparation was quite exhaustive and require good organizing skills and commitment with God’s blessings.

7th December 2019

The flight from Singapore to Chiang Mai took two and a half hours. Rev Nirand of Eternal Life B-P Church and Bro Birt met us at the Chiang Mai airport, and Bro Birt ferried us to the Akher village through undulating hills and knolls before reaching our destination.

The kind hospitality of our host was evidence by the kind reception we received on this trip. God has surely provided an open door for us to minister to the Akher people and the school in Jedyod. In retrospect, some of our more illustrious team members mentioned that the quarters and facilities in the teaching premises had improved perceptibly since their first mission expedition to the Akher region back in 2017.

The next morning started with devotion and breakfast. We had a window of opportunity to play with the children before the worship service commenced at 10:00am.

We sang songs of praise, watched the story of Noah’s Ark and quizzed the children. Dn Andrew taught a couple of new songs such as “Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah” in the Thai language. It was such a joy to see the children learning about the Bible story, and enjoying the songs of praise. We were also heartened by how the children were diligent with the art and craft work that were prepared for them. I was constantly looking around to seek out many children outside the church, and led them to join in the worship service.

Akher Christmas Event

Pastor Joe estimated that the villagers numbered at about 300, and the numbers keep growing. We witnessed a traditional wedding on our second day in the village, and were invited to the wedding.

After a sumptuous meal at the wedding reception, we were right on target to kick start our evangelical efforts in inviting the villagers together with Pastor Joe. As advised, we distributed basic household needs to the villagers. The villagers were appreciative of our visit, and glad that we were on a goodwill tour of their village. Their children seemed happy, mingling and interacting with our team in the house-to-house visits.

Occasionally, we met folks who were professed believers in Christ, and were grinning cheerfully in our presence. Gauging from their smiles at our overtures, we have good reason to believe their sincerity.

Thankfully, the Sunday school children were willing volunteers and were excited about the home visits. They were eager participants as they accompanied us along the dirt tracks, crisscrossing undulating knolls and craggy surfaces of the hill, bearing the goodwill gifts for every household we visited. The villagers were invited to the finale night of the Christmas programme with a promise of a great bonfire to keep our audience warm throughout the event.

In the evening, we were exhilarated with the huge turnout of the villagers. When all the outdoor benches and chairs were occupied, we lit the bonfire to warm up the crowd on the chilly and foggy night. The temperature was dipping close to 4 degrees Celsius. The seats were cold to touch and some of us paced the ground to fight the cold as the Christmas event started to unfold. The excited audience was visibly enthralled with the Christmas programme, the warm outdoor bonfire and the screening of the video of “The Prodigal Son”.

Deaconess Chew Hoon surprised the villagers with an ice cream treat through the services of an ice cream vendor she had engaged just for the event. The highlights of the programme included Bible quizzes and generous prizes for the attentive participants. Even the Akher adults, with their children in tow, raised their hands in the hope of winning prizes.

The event ended at about 10:30pm. Everyone was happily involved in cleaning up the place. Our objectives in the Akher village were accomplished. We praised God for His blessings, and prayed that the gospel seeds will thrive in good fertile hearts among the Akher villagers. We were hopeful and prayed that God would grant us greater grace and blessings for the following day in Jedyod.

Preparation for the ministry in Jedyod

On 9th December 2019, we had porridge for morning breakfast in the Akher village, and prepared to head out for our new destination at Tarin Hotel at Chiang Mai, a kilometre’s walk from the school in Jedyod. The food dished out by Pastor Joe’s wife was simple, but agreeable to our tastes.

Our mission team was divided into two groups as planned, one heading further north to the Lahu village, and led by Deaconess Chew Hoon, with John Lim and Deacon Steven Neam. The other group led by Deaconess Patricia Lee was to focus on the ministry in the Jedyod School.

Prayers and devotion were an integral part of our mission. We thanked God for His kind provision, good weather and safety as we left the Akher village at noon. In Chiang Mai, our team was thrilled over the cozy accommodation provided at the three-star Tarin hotel. Though the Akher lodging was comfortable, many of us were not used to the extreme  cold at the time of the year. Only the more adventurous such as Deacons Steven Neam and Andrew were tough enough to defy the severe cold for a quick wash before leaving on our separate trips.

At Tarin hotel, we were slightly dismayed after we discovered that the central boiler for the hotel was not functioning. The temperature of the water ranged from slightly warm to reasonably hot at certain hours in the day. It was totally different later in the evening as the taps yielded only cold water. We suspected that the central heater might have been turned off to save energy consumption through a timer switch. After some adjustments, most of us managed to get a quick bath in the morning and later afternoon before the central boilers got shut down.

We had a late lunch and were quickly whisked away to Makro, a local wholesale Hypermart in Chiang Mai. We bought and prepared the stationery, teaching aids, gifts and necessities in preparation for our school programme in Jedyod.

First Day at Jedyod, 11th December 2019

Packing of prizes and other resources were done collectively in our hotel room before we made our way to Jedyod Primary School the next day. After a ten-minutes drive, we arrived at the Jedyod school compound. Deaconess Patricia, Kay Ang and Cindy Chua greeted and shook hands with the new Principal and teachers. Initially, we were quite wary of the Principal’s response, after all the school was notably sponsored by the Buddhist community. However, we were amazed at the good reception we received from him. He turned out to be dignified, civil and friendly, and even participated in one of the prize ceremonies later.

Our team was assigned a bigger space for the running of our programme. In previous years, the mission team was given only a small room for the activities. The newly assigned facility was a canteen area where the children had their lunch break . After the break, a group of students, led by a student team leader, was rostered by the school to clean up and prepare the place for the next lesson. This process seemed regimented, but effectively accomplished much in a short time, and they readied the area for our next session.

This canteen was equipped with enough power outlets to run our laptops, projector and amplifiers. We had arranged for two sessions of activities. One for the lower primary, and the other for the upper primary. Our plan for Jedyod was carried out without interruption, and the children were enthusiastic and well-behaved during the craft sessions.

We were thrilled as Bro Andrew, Sister Kay, Jai Ling and Gillian did exceptionally well, interacting and leading in action songs, craftwork and games for both junior and senior sessions. We also were thankful that our team photographer, Deacon Ken Horn, worked tirelessly behind the scenes, silently labouring to capture the perfect and memorable moments.

At the end of the day, we were back in our hotel, We learned of the good news that the team to the Lahu people  would be reunited with us in the evening. They arrived at the hotel lobby on schedule, and in good spirit, though visibly exhausted from their trip up north. We were all glad for their safe return as the weather conditions up north were more challenging than that in the Akher village. During the night devotion, Deaconess Chew Hoon and Deacon Steven shared with us the good report of their ministry among the Lahu people in Eternal Life B-P Church in Bongmai and Samygan.

 At Eternal Life B-P Church (Bongmai)

On reaching the destination, all the pastors, evangelists and church members, including the neighbours, were seated round a fireplace to warm themselves while waiting for us. We set up the projector as quickly as we could to continue Part Two of the Westminster Shorter Catechism lessons in the afternoon. The evening ended with sweet fellowship dinner with Rev Nirand and Asst Pastor Chris, and an evening devotion among ourselves.

It was really cold the next morning, like the night before. We had a satisfying warm breakfast and proceeded to continue the last part of the Catechism lessons. The participants were attentive and sought clarifications along the way. We embarked to read the book of Ruth (the great grandmother of King David), as well as the book of Colossians, outlining Apostle Paul’s letter to the church. We had received an invitation to join the church at Samgyan to pray for a Lahu church member (of Akha origin) who was going to work in South Korea, and her elderly grandmother. Pastor Samuel of Eternal Life B-P Church (Samgyan) led the prayer meeting with songs of praise and Rev Nirand delivered a short sermon. The villagers who attended the meeting contributed love gifts for the family before gathering round a small table to enjoy a sumptuous meal prepared by the family. It was such a blessing to be with our Lahu/Akher brethren.

We completed the study of the book of Colossians on the morning of Day 5. We gave each Pastor a bag, and the participants some moisturizing lotion as our love gifts for them. Pastor Lipu, on behalf of all the pastors, thanked us for traveling from Singapore to study the gospel and sharing God’s love with them. We left Bongmai in an uplifting spirit to join our Jedyod team in Chiangmai.

Jedyod – 12th December, 2019

After our breakfast on the second morning, we bade farewell to Deacon Andrew. Sister Cindy took over as our new song leader for the sessions with the Jedyod students. The second day’s programme was run with no less enthusiasm as that of the first day. Upon our arrival, the students were readily assembled in their classroom. They were ready to learn new action songs in English. The looks of excitement and their response to the new songs were priceless.

In the afternoon, we were joined by Deacon Steven, Deaconess Chew Hoon and John. They had a good rest, and had gone to the city to source for more materials in a Christian bookshop in preparation for our next mission trip.

During the craft session, the students were encouraged to use their initiative and skills to create in pictures the Bible lesson that was taught earlier (The Prodigal Son). All the materials and stationary needed for their imaginative skills were provided. The masterpiece each group created in a short time was no less astounding and beautiful than those done on the first day.

At the close of the programme, the students presented two hand-sewn pillows to our mission team in appreciation of the work done for the children in Jedyod. Our team leaders invited the Principal and school teachers to a dinner in the evening in appreciation of their kind support and hospitality. The Principal and staff accepted our invitation, and arrived punctually for a sumptuous dinner, and promised continuous support for our mission team in 2020.

We bade farewell and thanked Birt and wife, Nate the interpreter and her family for their unstinting support throughout our stay in Chiang Mai. We returned to our hotel lobby after 9:30pm. After dinner, our deacons and deaconesses met with Pastor Nirand for feedback, and talked about other matters at the hotel lobby.

13th December 2019

We packed our belongings, and had breakfast with Pastor Nirand and assistant Pastor Chris before heading towards Chiang Mai airport. We were not able to use a short route through the military installation in Chiang Mai but had to make a wide detour round the city to reach the airport. Bro Steven and I spent the extra detour minutes fellowshipping with Pastor Nirand in his pick-up rover. We arrived in Singapore after 3:00pm, and later had dinner with our families.

Thank God for His mercy and grace throughout the mission trip, and granting all participants a memorable, wholesome and enriching mission this year!

Michael Lee
on behalf of the Mission Team

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