A Legacy of Missions Involvement for Three Generations - by Marcia Flaa, a close friend of Gate
Gate has an amazing Christian heritage and connection to early missionary work among the Akha people in Burma.
Paul Lewis, missionary, and Ya Po, Gate’s grandfather reunited again in 2002, 50+ years after they began studying the Akha language together. This would be the last time Ya Po and Paul would see each other on this side of heaven.
In the 1950s Gate’s grandfather, Ya Po, lived in Burma in the Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. A missionary in that area, Paul Lewis, wanted to learn the Akha language. In the previous 2 years Paul and his wife, Elaine, had learned the Lahu language and had started a Lahu Bible school.
This mountainous area called Pangwai was 17 miles from the nearest market -- a long ways away with no transportation. Ya Po would go and spend extended periods of time working in Paul’s garden by day and teaching him the Akha language in the evenings. Ya Po is what we would call a Master Gardener and was knowledgeable in growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Gate’s father followed in his footsteps and was an amazing farmer / gardener as well. Ya Po didn’t speak English, so they used Lahu as the language to learn Akha.
The work of Paul and Elaine Lewis
Paul, a gifted linguist, learned Akha quickly and developed a written form of the language for the Akha people. Paul produced books and magazines in Akha to help the Akha people learn how to read. Ya Po and Paul also worked on the Akha translation of the New Testament and a hymn book. All missionaries were expelled from Burma in 1966 by the Burmese government. Paul and Elaine moved to northern Thailand to continue their work among the Lahu and Akha people. There they completed major anthropological studies of the six main Hill Tribe people groups (as they are referred to by the Thai) and published many papers and books. To read a short biography of Paul and Elaine Lewis’ work in Burma and Thailand, click here. (This book of the Lewis’ was on our bookshelf!)
Ya Po and Paul developed a written script for the Akha language. Ya Po was maybe in his early 20s in this photo.
Ya Po’s legacy
The ripple effect of Ya Po’s willingness and ability to teach Paul the Akha language is still seen today in ministry among the Akha in Burma, Thailand, Laos and China. After working with Paul for some time, Ya Po became a believer, even though his father was very upset about it. Ya Po moved his family, studied the Bible and was able to preach effectively in Lahu, Akha and Kachin. Ya Po’s wife and children followed Jesus as well, and many of them have served their whole lives among the Akha people in Burma and Thailand. One of Ya Po’s sons studied the Bible in Yangon, became a pastor and has served among the Akha people in Burma and Thailand for over 50 years. Another Akha believer, Ya Ju, a relative of Ya Po, moved to northern Thailand in the late 1950s and was instrumental in the spread of the gospel among the Akha in Thailand.
Gate with her husband and son at the 2002 reunion lunch with Ya Po and Paul Lewis. Gate, also a devoted follower of Jesus, was actively involved in the Akha church here in Chiang Mai. Gate served as coordinator of the women’s group and treasurer of the church.
Small World Connections
We have Lahu friends here, Joshua and Smoley, who are from the same area of Burma as Gate’s family. (Joshua oversees the Lahu Living Word project which provides biblical training for pastors in those remote areas and beyond.) As I talked more to Smoley, I wondered if there were some connections between her relatives and Gate’s relatives in Burma. Smoley shared a paper with me that she had written to document the beginning of the Church among the Akha people in Burma. In it, I read about Gate’s grandfather, Ya Po, teaching Paul Lewis the Akha language. As I began to learn more about the work of Paul and Elaine Lewis I found out that in 1987 Elaine had started the New Life Center here in Chiang Mai for tribal women who were in exploitative situations. One of my classmates in my group Thai classes these past 5 months, Sarah Brown, works with the New Life Center. To read more about the New Life Center, click here.
Gate’s passion to serve the Akha people
Gate has been serving missionaries and their families here in Chiang Mai for the past 20+ years -- joyfully cleaning their homes, cooking delicious food for them, shopping at the market, taking care of their homes when they are travelling and building strong friendships with them. Gate’s high standards in all of these areas have gained her much favor and many recommendations for employment. Gate’s deep faith has kept her going through the many challenges she has faced in her life. As she thinks and prays about her new home, her desire is to use it as a meeting place to share the hope of Jesus with the Akha people in Chiang Mai. Gate has received comfort and strength from the “God of all comfort” and she is passionate to share that with others.
Thank you for reading more of Gate's story and your support for her house project.