International Ministries

Reflections on a new Akha Bible Script ... and Bible for the Akha people

September 3, 2015 Journal
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Now, as I am in the States on our home assignment, I have been thinking about the Akha people in Thailand and their situation as it exists in 2015. It is important to think about what God is doing among this ethnic minority people group.  The current situation regarding the Bible is an interesting one and is one more area where change is going on.

In the early 1950s, Paul and Elaine Lewis, American Baptist missionaries went to Burma to serve the Lahu and Akha peoples. They went because they heard that these groups of people did not have a Bible in their own language. Paul Lewis felt that this was unfair. As the story goes, Paul and Elaine went to Burma, settled in Kengtung, Eastern Shan state, which is about a 5-hour drive directly north of Chiang Rai, Thailand where we live.  Later, when Burma closed down to missionaries in 1966, Paul and Elaine began new work with the Akha and Lahu in  Thailand.

Paul created a script for the Lahu and the Akha languages and then translated the Bible into the Lahu and Akha languages. Elaine became an expert in the Lahu language and also was involved in many ministries such as the New Life Center and Thai Tribal Crafts in Thailand.  Their life story is amazing.  Today, from Paul, the Akha received the New Testament, and the Lahu received both the Old and New Testaments.

One day while walking in the market, Paul overheard a young Akha boy saying to his father, in the Akha language, that he wanted to go to school. This would mean Thai school. Paul spoke to the boy’s father saying that he could offer them an opportunity to go to school in a nearby Karen village where there was a school  for tribal kids. The boy’s name is Aje.

Aje went to this Christian school and grew in knowledge and faith in Christ. He came from a non-Christian family.  Later, he went to college in Bangkok, on to a Bible school in the US for two years, then back to Thailand. Today, Aje holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from seminary. He is married to Nancy and has two boys who have both graduated from the Chiang Rai International Christian School where Ruth teaches.  Since 2002, Aje and Nancy have run the Akha Outreach Foundation and the Akha Bible Institute.

Aje is leading a team that is creating a new script for the Akha language, as well as a new Bible translation. The changes in the script have been approved by a group of linguists from Thailand, China, Burma and Laos with the goal of producing a unified Bible to be used in all 5 countries where groups of Akha reside. At this time, the Akha in China, Laos and Vietnam do not have the Bible in their own language. One of the disadvantages of the old script is that the tone marks were difficult to reproduce in typed form.  The Akha language has five tones. Making the necessary tone marks is necessary to understanding the language.

This whole project is not without its politics, disagreements and passionate feelings among the Akha Christians. The reason for some of the resistance is that the cherished Bible and script from the time of Paul Lewis is unacceptable to the Chinese linguists from the Chinese government. In spite of the difficulties, a new script and accompanying translation of the Bible is coming soon. Some Akha groups have gotten in their corners and are holding firm to their script and Bible; it is a threat to the old familiar ways. This might be compared to the battle between the KJV people and the NIV people in the US.

The Word of God is important. I am working with the Akha leaders to help with the new script for the future.  But, I am used to the old script myself, so I know the challenge facing them. Ruth and I have hosted the translation team in our home for the past three or four years. We cook for them, help transport  them to and from the Bible school and generally partner with all those involved with the translation project who are helping to make the new Bible a reality.

Please pray for the Akha Christians in Thailand, that they would accept one another even though different groups have loyalty to one script over another.

The picture attached shows Aje signing the agreement with Bibles International representatives.  They will print the Bible and the Fellowship of Akha Christians in Thailand has certain rights to the use of the copyright. The other picture shows many of the Akha involved with the project and the foreigners who directed the program.