Today started out with a 30-minute bus ride to Katete Victory Church where we were greeted with hugs by many...
As tough as I pretend to be, I could not help but tear up as I watched Pastor John’s wife, Nut, break down into tears on stage. It was the final stage of the dedication ceremony, and as always, Pastor John and Nut were trying to serve others by giving them gifts. Thankfully, the head deacon, Moses, interrupted the program so that the congregation could thank the couple that had influenced and changed all of their lives. His words of thankfulness that followed brought most to tears.
A friend of mine once said you can only do three things with your life. You can waste it, sell it, or give it away.
A friend of mine once said you can only do three things with your life. You can waste it, sell it, or give it away. Some people waste their life through reckless living and addictions, some sell it to the highest bidder in hopes of money and success, but some people give it away voluntarily, not expecting any compensation in this world. Pastor John and Nut have given their lives away for others, and as thousands of people gathered on that day, we were able to experience the fruit that such lifestyle can bear. It was a moment of joy and happiness, a moment well earned.
Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Earlier that morning, we all gathered at around 7 am, about 3 kilometers down the road from Akha Baptist Church, for the pre-dedication parade. However, the parade was only the beginning of the ceremonies for the day. It’s purpose was to spread the word of the Church further across the city, and at least 4,000 people did the 3 kilometer walk. Though I started in the back, I did manage to march all the way up to the front of the parade, but my colleague Tee was more resourceful (cheated), and got a motorbike to take him all the way to the front. I would argue that I got the full experience, and he would argue that he got better pictures. Nevertheless, it was a great start to a great day.
Eventually, after all the formalities were completed, the official ceremony started around 9:20, which is very punctual in ‘Akha time’, based off the 9:00 o’clock goal. As soon as the doors were opened, it was a truly a battle as people attempted to enter and find seats in the limited unreserved rows. The place was packed! Thousands of Akha people from all around Southeast Asia had gathered for this 20 year anniversary, including an estimated 600 pastors. There was no room for anyone else to even stand in the back, and kids were sitting side by side along the spiral stair cases. Outside, the entire soccer field was equally packed with people watching on the big screen TV, and many others sat at the other various screens scattered around the church property. It was vibrant, it was full, it was joyful, and everything came together in one way or another.
Just like any other Akha event, the service was filled with a seemingly countless amount of performances and songs, as many of the different larger Akha congregations from Southeast Asia, performed. As I stood on the edge with Pastor John’s pastors, trying to adequately fulfill my picture taking duties, I couldn’t help but continue to glance over at Pastor John who was joyfully praising the Lord the entire time. Knowing all the time and work he had put in, I felt especially happy for him in those moments. Other than the many performances, there were about 15 students who graduated from our Bible school, baptisms, awards, and of course the emotional part at the end when Pastor John humbly thanked the three couples he considered to be his Parents. If you didn’t cry when Moses gave Pastor John and Nut gifts a few minutes earlier, you definitely shed some tears by that point…
But what made it all so beautiful?
As I looked through the mass of people sitting in the auditorium, I enjoyed picking out the people who were actual members of the church. All of them have a story, and all of them have played a part in this church.
In the middle of the auditorium, I saw head contractor sitting with his family, smiling, as he looked around the beautiful new building. He works for just over 10 dollars a day for the church, when he could easily work for at least twice as much anywhere else, and had worked until around midnight for about the past two months. Then, there were the Sunday School teachers, scattered around the building, wearing big smiles across their faces as the kids they had spent many nights tirelessly teaching, rocked their performances. And of course Ayi, who basically took another part-time job without pay, to go along with his real job (Founder and CEO of non-profit organization), to do many of the technical and tedious tasks for the dedication.
Unfortunately, all the specific stories cannot possibly be contained in a blog post. However, one thing is for sure, all of the other construction workers, church staff, and church members as a whole, could have only been amazed at how it all came together, as they watched from their respective seats. They all played a part, and they all did it together through God. It was a very happy place to be!
This is what made this day so special! The togetherness of the community was evident! Akha people from all around the world came to see what was different about this church in Chiang Rai. The difference is very simple, Akha Baptist Church always remained true to the full teaching of the Word of God, and its principles. This persistence brought up a community of people who were all willing to step in, and do their part with the church. The community then was able to display what the full body of Christ at work can achieve. It’s not that the church building itself is anything to be praised, but instead the people of the church who came together to achieve things for the Lord, and in turn bring Him glory. This idea of the whole body working as one comes straight from scripture:
1 Corinthians 12:4- “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”
As great as the day was, it is far from a final destination of Akha Baptist Church. In fact, the sermon preached during the dedication was from Joshua 1:2, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” In this passage, Israel was going through a transition. Many great things had been done through their leader Moses, but now Moses was dead, and it was time for them to achieve God’s bigger plan for them.
Similarly, Akha Baptist Church is going through a transitional phase. They have seen God do amazing things so far through their church, and many of their achievements had never been accomplished in the Akha Church before. But, God’s plan for this church is so much more than just the Akha people in Chiang Rai, and definitely more than this new building.
Many of the Akha people are still unreached, and Akha Christians are persecuted in many of the other countries they reside. This reality was brought to life as we brought one of the new Bible School graduates up on stage for prayer, who is now a missionary in Laos, before his return to the field. For his safety, his name and picture cannot be shared, as he has already spent over a year in jail, where he was tied down in chains all day long, for what he believes. This man is one example of many men who have not only been sent from this location, but also one of many who have experienced persecution to this extent.
These people are the real heroes, and these endeavors are the real missions of Akha Baptist Church. These are God’s missions, and it is humbling to be a part of it!
Please pray that Akha Baptist Church will continue to pursue God sized missions as they enter a new chapter of their history!
To God be the Glory!