History of the Akha Outreach Foundation
Akha Outreach was birthed out of a conviction in the hearts of the directors, Dr. Aje and Nancy Yehbyahgu, to raise up leaders for the Akha people. While studying the Bible in America, Dr. Aje set aside a day for prayer and fasting. The Lord gave him a vision of a dry, arid land with cracked earth – a picture of the state of the Akha people. Suddenly, rain began to fall and plants, trees and flowers sprung up all around. This was God demonstrating His great love for the Akha and His desire to soak them with His blessings.
The Early Years
The dream was to build a Bible school and children’s home on the same compound, everyone working together as one family. In November 2000, two American businessmen visited Thailand to learn more about this dream. During this visit, the men committed to purchase five acres of land located six miles southwest of Chiang Rai in order to fulfill the dream. In January 2001, the land was purchased and several months later the Yehbyahgus traveled to the States to form their board of directors and file the paperwork establishing Akha Outreach Services (AOS) as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.
Our first ministry was House of Joy which began with two little boys and a girl. A Singaporean friend, Chan Foo Wah, who had helped mentor Dr. Aje in university, organized funding for the children’s care. Then Greg Ressler, a friend from Colorado, donated for the first building: a dining hall and kitchen. By the 2002 school year, House of Joy had sixteen orphans living in a bamboo hut while awaiting the completion of the dorm. The Johnson family stepped up to the plate and paid for the dorm and the director’s home.
Akha Bible School
By this time, over fifteen people had signed up for the very first term of Akha Bible Institute which commenced in May 2002. Since its inception, the Bible school has been generously funded by New Covenant Church in Georgia. Pastor Steve Bradshaw and Charles Reneau took and ran with the vision and Pastor Mike Caulley has faithfully kept it before the congregation. During the summer of 2002, Faith Bible Chapel sent a youth group to pour a basketball court. To keep up with the growth, we hired maintenance worker Uncle Saocum.
The church planting branch of the ministry, Akha Outreach Services, began in 2003 as a practicum for the Akha Bible Institute students who had completed their first year of training. Through this branch, students began to spend weekends in Akha villages, witnessing to non-Christians, helping Christians and just building relationships. Eventually, we began to invite village pastors to come to the compound once a month for Bible training and fellowship. The response was overwhelmingly positive as the pastors exchanged advice and grew strong roots in the Word.
The ministry continued to grow and our need for a full-time administrator became clear. In 2003, God sent Buzi, a graduate of Bangkok Bible College whom Dr. Aje and Nancy had mentored in high school, to oversee governmental paperwork and the accounts. Through her hard work, Akha Outreach was recognized by the Thai Department of Social Welfare for the Tribal People. In 2004, we became an official Thai foundation. On the compound, we were very proud of our first harvest (rice field courtesy of Faith Bible Chapel) which yielded enough rice to feed everyone for two months. In 2005, we hosted our first Akha Women’s Conference, sent out our first Akha Bible Institute interns, and began our annual Akha Outreach youth camp. In addition, Dr. Paul Lewis, another of Dr. Aje’s mentors who had, decades ago, reduced Akha to writing and translated the New Testament, graciously began visiting to help proofread the Chinese-Akha translation of the Bible. Under the church planting branch, Don Hoffman donated funds to relocate Akha villagers in Doi Mae Salong who were working under a Chinese landlord in terrible conditions for unfair wages. They became Christians and soon after we placed missionaries Paul and Lori Vernon in this village to work with the Akha long-term. We also purchased land in villages to relocate several families and build churches.
Leadership Training with Haggai Institute
During this time, Dr. Aje began training with Haggai Institute, an international leadership training group. He was invited to return as faculty and now teaches in Singapore and America several times a year. Also, Dr. Luce and assistants from Colorado began annual dental clinics for the children, students, and villagers. We completed the enormous Uncle Greg Meeting Hall (another gift from Greg Ressler), which doubles as a gymnasium during rainy season, just in time for our first official Akha Bible Institute graduation in March of 2006. One of the interns, Atu, joined the staff long-term to teach Akha and guitar, and do maintenance.
Building the Family
That same spring, YWAM friends Dan and Cathleen Thom from Twin Falls Reformed Church (TFRC) in Idaho began regular visits to help with construction projects. Along with Nancy’s brother-in-law Russ Bohl, they built a playground for the children. This was the beginning of a strong relationship between two parts of the Body of Christ, and in just five years they had brought seven hardworking teams to help with various projects. In the spirit of development, board members Charles and Martha Reneau from Georgia purchased a rice mill for the ministry and we broke ground on the Satterfield Dream Wing educational building, a gift from Jan Satterfield.
Jesus Film – Children’s Version
Later, our children, students and staff helped record the children’s version of the Jesus Film in Akha. In addition, we attended a seminar on deliverance and received a new level of freedom along with helpful ministry tools. Mike Hutchings came to conduct a staff retreat during which we clarified our mission statement and core values.
In 2006, our Akha Outreach Services church ministry was recognized by the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand, making all three aspects of our ministry official with the Thai government.
In 2007, God sent Ajaan Palagorn, a Thai from Bangkok, as the answer to our children’s homework problems and his wife Micu became our faithful cook. Juliana also came as Nancy’s assistant and brought our administrative output to a more professional level.
We started off 2008 with a flurry of busyness in the church planting ministry as we broke ground on a two-story church building in Ban Doi, Dr. Aje printed a 200-page book, “Akha Sermon Outlines,” and we held our first annual Akha Men’s Conference.
Growing in Prayer
Later, Marianne Riztman, a dear friend from Overseas Missionary Fellowship who mentored Dr. Aje in middle and high school, spent time teaching us more about the depths of intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare. A drought that summer exposed our need for another deep water well, which was purchased for us by Flatirons Church in Colorado. In August, photographer/videographer Kevin LJ produced a full-length documentary DVD for the ministry. During this time, we began an annual day of prayer and fasting for the entire compound and our churches. Later, we celebrated the selfless life of Elaine Lewis (Dr. Paul’s wife) in an Akha/Lahu memorial service.
Best Foundation Award
Then, on Christmas Day 2008, Akha Outreach received prestigious awards for Best Foundation in the Northern Provinces, on both local and regional levels. But the crowning glory of these years was the graduation of the first class of pastors – thirty-five in all – from our monthly training program. Dressed in formal black gowns, they marched into the auditorium with their heads held high, living testimonies to the redemptive power of the Gospel.
Several New Staff
In 2009, we were thrilled with the addition of several new staff members. Sala Ageu and his wife Sara came to help with Akha Bible Institute and kitchen duties. Mibeu and Ana, both Akha Bible Institute graduates, came back to work with us after stints at other organizations. Mibeu joined the House of Joy children’s team and also worked wonders for our book sales, while Ana took charge of the Akha Outreach Services church ministry and designed and built a beautiful outdoor baptismal, complete with a waterfall, for the compound.
Akha Outreach Media
Toward the end of 2009, the Singaporeans donated a new computer, mixer and video camera for our budding media center. Then Project Video joined the fundraising effort and Todd and Lisa Gerlings from Colorado paid for a sound room. Thus, Akha Outreach Media became the fourth branch of ministry. Amae, another Akha Bible Institute graduate, came on board to help with media and to work with our teenage boys. A few months later, two students and two staff members took part in a MediaLight week-long media seminar with an emphasis on Christian leadership. We also published a revised Akha hymnal and Dr. Aje and other staff helped record the revised audio Bible in Akha with the Faith Comes by Hearing ministry.
Outreach with the Church Ministry
To strengthen the village church ministry, which had grown to eighteen churches, we did village outreach and dental training with Dr. Luce and Dr. Newman and they taught seven members of AOF how to pull teeth. That year, we also held our first village church Christmas on the compound and invited all eighteen churches to participate, as well as several Singaporeans. A team from Idaho sponsored and helped begin construction on new staff housing. And the organizational structure of House of Joy was adjusted for the influx of teenagers as our children grew up. In March of 2010, our first group of House of Joy children graduated high school.
Attack and Rebound
The season of excitement and outreach was followed by a period of persecution both at home and on the field. Locally, we experienced a church split in Doi Mae Salong. Our entire staff was affected by the betrayal, but it knit our hearts closer together as a team as we learned to be examples of forgiveness and grace. The Doi Mae Salong villagers followed suit and were ultimately strengthened as a result. Another result of the conflict was a return to the staples of Christian life – prayer and worship. Throughout the school year, we had several days of prayer, meetings and times of worship together. Almost immediately, we saw results in the improved behavior of our teenagers who were growing unmanageable but now opened their hearts to the Lord’s work.
The dean of Dr. Aje’s Bible school in the USA and one of our favorite visitors, Dr. Russ of Joshua Nations ministry, came to do Bible training with our pastors and preach at a revival with our children and students. His prophetic words for our students were right on target and strengthened their resolve to finish well. We also held a baptism of twenty-two children and Bible students at this time. To develop the counseling end of the ministry, Nancy attended training in central Thailand.
Looking Toward the Future
On March 5, 2011 we celebrated our ten-year anniversary along with over 1,200 Akha guests and more than 30 international visitors. It was certainly a celebration of God’s faithfulness, and we eagerly look forward to the fulfillment of the vision God gave us so many years ago, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).