Dr. Paul and Elaine Lewis
In 1946, a young couple with a zeal for sharing God’s love heard that a certain tribal group residing in Burma had never had their language reduced to writing. This meant that no books, including the New Testament, could be written for this outstanding ethnic minority called the Akha. Appalled at this injustice, Paul and Elaine Lewis applied to the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. Their request? To be sent to the Akha and Lahu tribal groups of Southeast Asia.
In 1947 they were sent to serve the Lahu and Akha ethnic minorities living in the Eastern Shan State of Kengtung in northeastern Burma. They first studied the Lahu language, which later proved to be a bridge to learning Akha, since Paul could work with an Akha man who spoke Lahu. Within a fairly short time Paul was able to work out a script for the Akha language which is still used by many today. After working out the script, Paul published various books to help the Akha people learn how to read their own language. He also worked with Akha leaders in writing Akha books related to health, agriculture, Akha stories, and various themes related to God’s transforming love.
While in Burma Paul and Elaine started the Lahu Theological Seminary which, as of 2011, had 210 students and twelve faculty members. During their second and third terms of service in Burma, Paul also headed up translations of the New Testament into the Lahu and Akha languages. To this day the Akha New Testament which Paul helped to translate, is considered by many to be the most reliable version in both Burma and Thailand, where the highest percentages of Akha Christians live.
While living in both Burma and Thailand Paul was able to give time to studying the remarkable culture of the Akha people. This resulted in the publication of various books and articles, including the well known Peoples of the Golden Triangle, as well as an Akha-English/English-Akha dictionary.
In 1987 Elaine founded the New Life Center for young tribal women who were at risk of being sucked into prostitution, or who had been rescued from prostitution. It has received accolades worldwide, including a visit from then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1996. In October of 2011, the Royal Thai Government awarded the New Life Center the “Best Practice” NGO in the province of Chiang Mai. The New Life Center has helped thousands of young women throughout the years and continues to flourish today.
In 1989 Paul and Elaine retired from active service overseas and later moved into a retirement center called Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. In May of 2008, Elaine went to be with the Lord. Her home-going was honored in a memorial service in Thailand with the Akha and Lahu people whose lives she touched.
Paul continues to be thrilled when he sees God’s love shared in the various creative and dynamic programs carried out in the areas where he and his wife served. He knows, however, that much more needs to be done, especially for the Akha living in the country of Laos.