Asholi Akamu tells how he and his wife Puii came to serve the Akha people in Thailand and outlines some issues they, as Asian members of what is basically a Western mission agency, faced—learning new languages and cultures, raising support, raising educating children, and coping with life after their children grew up and moved away. Asholi’s very personal assessment shows how long-term ministry takes one through various stages of life.
Rev. Asholi Akamu and his wife Puii are from Northeast India, where he worked in students’ ministry with the Council of Baptist Churches and served as the Executive Secretary of Mao Baptist Churches Association. Asholi and Puii joined OMF Mekong in 2002 and have worked among the Akha people group. They have four children and one granddaughter.
Our Missionary Journey
Mission Round Table17:1 (January–April 2022): 26–29
My father was the third convert in our village. After receiving Jesus Christ, my parents became very active in proclaiming the good news. When the first church and its property were forcefully occupied by the Indian army, my parents offered to build the church on their land. I remember worshiping in this little church with a grass roof and mud walls. The singing was so warm and heartfelt. As a small child, I remember the members were so united, so full of joy and happiness. All the church members would go out to neighboring villages to share the gospel. They would go and help people in need and give generously.
After third grade, I transitioned from a government school to a new school that my parents, along with some Christian friends, had started. It was in this school that I really came to know the true God personally. We heard stories about Jesus and also stories about missionaries who went to China, Myanmar, Africa, India, and other places. After coming to know the true Almighty God, I developed the courage not to fear the evil spirits any longer. I said to myself, “This is it! I am going to have this God—Jesus Christ—as my God, and make him my Savior, Lord, and King.” From then on, there was no turning back.
Since childhood, whenever I listened to stories about the lives of missionaries, I wished that one day I too would become one of them. But it wasn’t until later that I saw how that would come to fruition. As my wife Puii is a second-generation missionary—the daughter of Rev. Zauva and Awii, who worked among the Akha people in Thailand—the word “missionary” was not foreign to her. While she was still single, she too had committed herself to be “a missionary” somewhere, someday.
After I graduated from college, I went to Bible school, received my BD degree, and worked in youth ministry for six years doing campus ministry. Puii and I were married in 1993 and God blessed us with four children. After we got married, we served in our church association in my hometown for six years. In 1995, my father went to be with the Lord. Before he died, he gave us the assurance that he would be happy for us to do anything that God calls us to do, even serving in the mission field. It was at that time that my term in the church association was ending and a few calls came, inviting my family to work with missions in different regions. Two of these calls were from Thailand. One was to work among refugees, and the other was to work with OMF among the Akha people.
Our local church was divided about our going. One side wanted my family and me to stay so that I could take over as senior pastor since our senior pastor had just passed away. The other group said that the church had been fervently praying to send out one of their own missionaries and we were God’s answer to the prayers. We waited upon the Lord, trusting that he would open the door for us. Finally, everyone came to the agreement that if this is the will of God, no one could stop us from going and they gave us their blessing.
How did it start?
However, we found out it was not easy to join OMF. There were several things we needed to complete. One of the biggest preparation requirements we had was going to the five-month-long missionary candidate training course. This was organized by the Indian Evangelical Mission (IEM) in Tamil Nadu state, South India, and the journey there was one-and-a-half days by bus, plus three days and two nights by train. Since our children were going to school, we could not go together for the training. For this reason, I went first, while Puii stayed back with the kids. After I finished, my wife went the following year for the same training with our son, who was just six months old, while I stayed home with the three girls.
When I was about to leave to attend the course, my mother became seriously ill. Before I went, I visited her in the hospital. She blessed me to go ahead to do God’s will and not to worry for her. Deep down in my heart, I had a feeling that I would never see her again; however, she was so insistent that I go. She said,
Son, go! Don’t worry for me. Go for the training. Put all your trust in the Lord and serve the Lord with all your heart and do your best for the Lord. God will be with you and with me. My life and your life are only in God’s hand. Whether I die or live, it’s in God’s hands.
The day for me to leave came and I said goodbye to my mother, my wife, and my children and left for Outreach Training Institute in Mugalapali, South India.
I counted each day, week, and month, expecting and hoping to see my mother alive, but when I had only two more weeks to go, that fateful day came when she passed away. It was very difficult to accept. Suddenly, I missed her so much! However, her words of encouragement and assurance before we parted flashed through my mind and rang through my ears, and comforted and ministered to me. To this day, this story speaks loudly to many people who have lost their loved ones when they are away doing God’s work.
After the training, we thought we would be going soon, but that was far from the truth. Filling in forms and getting immunizations for six family members wasn’t an easy job, and it was made much more difficult as we lived in a rural village. Because it took so long, sometimes we started to doubt in our hearts if we could ever make it through. This was a big struggle for us.
However, we had committed ourselves and our family to serve God, no matter what. We had made Joshua 24:15 our family’s theme verse. I wrote a song on the theme, and sang it as a testimony, “… Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Finally, after three years of preparation, we received the welcome letter from OMF to join the Thailand field and go to Singapore for the orientation course. But we faced another obstacle—we had no money to purchase the plane tickets needed for the trip. Our church decided to contribute the majority of the amount for the plane tickets—for which we are forever grateful—but we still found the remaining financial need to be staggering. One day, my siblings came to our house to pray together and they decided that no single family or individual could afford that big amount and so they unanimously decided to sell their shared lands for the sake of the mission for the Lord. They said, “Whatever amount you get from it, use it for your needs.” So, by the time we left, we had more than we needed. In addition, on the commissioning day, not a single person who came to shake our hands was empty-handed. We were so moved and blessed by their love for the Lord, their love for the lost, and their love for us.
Joys and challenges of learning new languages and cultures
When we moved to Thailand, we found ourselves having to adjust to three different cultures. Adjusting to the Thai and Akha cultures was not a great challenge for us. These cultures felt familiar and we quickly felt at home. The culture that was the most different from what we were used to was the Western culture, the predominant culture of the organization. For this reason, we struggled to adjust to new ways of living and doing things, but we appreciated our colleagues’ humility and helpfulness as we navigated new waters.
We greatly appreciated the way OMF ran the Language and Culture Learning Centre in Lopburi and the many kinds of support they gave to new missionaries so that they could adapt to their new environment more easily. This experience helped us to learn new things during our first year in Thailand. Before the term for my Thai language learning ended, I switched to learning Akha, while my wife continued learning Thai.
Because there were no books for learning the Akha language, my father-in-law, Rev. Zauva, quickly prepared Akha lessons and made arrangements for me to stay in an Akha village to learn the language. He engaged an Akha evangelist to come and teach me after his day’s work. The villagers built me a hut with a thatched roof, split bamboo walls, and bamboo floors. They also built me a small toilet out of the same materials. The hut had so many holes that I had to make double walls with plastic sheets and, of course, it became very cozy.
My wife stayed back in Maesai, as our son was attending a Thai school there, and continued Thai language study. I would sometimes join the villagers to plant rice, go fishing, or play with the village children. But most days, I was alone. Dust would pour into my house while chickens ran around under the floors. I would often stare at the thatched roof and wonder what I was doing there. Previously, I had been an executive secretary and associate pastor and I had been busy with so many tasks, but now, I spent day after day by myself. In the evenings, when my language tutor came for the lessons, insects swarmed in through the bamboo walls (especially in the summer) and we both huddled inside double mosquito nets, studying by candlelight. But in my times of questioning, the answer always came. I was there to learn the language so that I could witness and share the gospel with these people. Had there not been a call and commitment, I would have been overcome and returned home.
Challenge of support raising
Raising support was one of our greatest challenges in our missionary journey. In the beginning, it was strange and new for us to raise support by ourselves. Many times, we wished that the organization would raise it for us and we would have been satisfied with any amount they raised. Sometimes, knowing that we were under-supported, we almost felt inferior to our missionary friends. When friends and others talked so much about their ministry project funds, while we could barely raise support to meet our basic family needs, what should we do?
We often felt lost about how to raise our own funds and support. In the beginning, we asked ourselves, “How are we supposed to raise support when the policy was that we should not ask?” As time went by, we saw God’s faithfulness and learned the meaning of the principle “do not ask money from people” more and more. Later, when our family was adopted by OMF’s Singapore National Office as foster members, our support level slowly increased. In the midst of our fears and lack, God’s faithfulness proved true again and again.
When we look back now, we are speechless as to how our four children were able to live in an international dorm and study in an international school and how they could all pursue their tertiary education abroad. God always supplied each need, just in time. At times, individuals just came forward with specific gifts for our children’s education. This has left us with great testimonies about how each of them received their education support.
We can confidently say that we have been able to stay and survive in the field because of faithful prayer and financial supporters in different countries. Yes, our God sees our needs and he supplies them accordingly in his perfect timing. However, this was, and is, and will be a big challenge for prospective candidates who come from a background such as ours.
Children and education
Our three girls went to a Montessori school for about eight months, the only English medium school we found in Chiangrai. My parents-in-law graciously took care of them for about one year while we studied language and culture in Central Thailand. However, we found that the Montessori education system and the Indian education system were very different. We wanted to send them to a school that would be similar to what we knew, and we found there was only one, which was in Chiangmai. After much prayer we decided to let them stay in an OMF dorm that was then called River House (now known as Mountain View) so that they could attend Grace International School. After three years, our son Azuo joined his sisters as a first grader.
It was hard parting with them, but we didn’t want the feeling to overwhelm us, and we overcame it with the help of God. The desire for them to have a good education was strong in our hearts. That helped us to go through the parting, for which we now rejoice.
As our children grew up in the dorm, we tried our best to encourage them in their personal lives, studies, and spiritual walk. We tried to encourage them through letters, emails, and phone calls. Whenever they came home during holidays, we tried to be very intentional with training and teaching them because we had only a limited amount of time. The children may have become tired of those teachings but we prevailed by focusing on what the results could be. And now they are very happy and understand all the hard lessons we passed on to them. Though boring at times, the training has borne fruit and we all thank God for giving us a good family.
We give much of the credit for how our children turned out to the two long-term dorm parents and, when they were on home assignment, the other two dorm parents who deputized for them, as well as a number of dorm assistants who came and went over the years. These people made the dorm for the children feel like a home away from home. They did so much on our behalf by taking on many necessary tasks so that we could serve in our ministry without any worries. We cannot omit mentioning Grace International School (GIS) in Chiangmai either. If it wasn’t for GIS, we wonder how our children would have turned out. Besides providing a very good education, it was a place where the children were able to develop their spiritual lives, social lives, and good character. It was truly a place of all-round development.
One challenge we experienced in sending our children away was that we found ourselves facing cross-cultural experiences when we got together with our own children. Since the dorm and school were of a more Western culture, they adopted customs and ways of thinking that we didn’t grow up with. This caused disagreements between us at times. Not only that, we found that we sometimes had to act as mediators between our children and our people back home, who may not understand some of the decisions our children made. Our children may similarly not understand some of the desires of our people. The discussions around this challenge continue, but our family has become more culturally adept because of it.
When children are away from us
As we have mentioned, our children went away for school at an early age. Now that they are overseas for their tertiary education, it doesn’t feel too different. This could be because the development of social media and other technology allows us to talk face-to-face more often. It could also be that, as they get older, they understand their parents’ desire for more frequent calls. They try to call us more often than when they were in school. It is, in fact, easier. To know that they are in good health and doing well in life helps us continue our work and tasks here in the field and we are able to keep our focus.
We praise God that our children are walking in his way thus far. Some of them are serving him with their own limited gifts and abilities. Currently, our oldest daughter, Penpen, is with Cru Singapore. Our second daughter, Dondon, graduated with a master’s degree from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She is married to Taylor Baird and the Lord has blessed them with a daughter, Mercy, who is eight months old. Both of them are praying that one day, God willing, they will serve the Lord in Asia. Our third daughter, Shanshan, is back with us here in Thailand and has been working with an NGO called TonCedar (Cedar Tree) since February 2022. Our son, Azuo, was studying in Michigan and graduated in May 2022. He has enrolled to continue his studies by doing a master’s program in intercultural studies.
Along our missionary journey, we have faced challenges, like losing my parents while preparing to become missionaries, raising four children while our support levels were low, learning new languages, and sending our children away for education. But we could press on because we stood on the shoulders of those who had given so sacrificially, who had also counted the cost in sending and supporting us, and also lost something. We never allowed the challenges to become stumbling blocks. Our eyes were fixed on Jesus. We had faith that if he is the one who brought us out to work among the Akha people, he would supply our needs. We never had a moment when we wanted to quit. We were convinced of Jesus’ promise when he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).