Mehter is a huge village with over 70 "roofs", as the Akha like to say, and around 500 people. Built on a hillside high above a valley where the air is cool, this village is beautiful when the golden rays of the setting sun shine on the straw roofs. Although this village is non-Christian and the headman a dedicated spirit worshipper, we received a warm welcome when we visited in our mission Toyota pickup truck.
The village has a gate on one of its roadways, fashioned out of bamboo. The gate is shaped like a rainbow and has carved figures like birds placed around the gate. In Akha beliefs, when you enter through the gate you enter the world of humans and outside the gate is the world of the spirits, which are often evil. The primary function of the gate in the words of Paul Lewis is "to protect the village from hawks and wildcats, leopards and tigers, illness and plague, leprosy and epilepsy, vampires and weretigers, and all other bad and wicked things" (Peoples of the Golden Triangle).
The Akha are animists, which means that they constantly think about the world of the spirits, both good and evil. They often have to appease the evil spirits by sacrificing a chicken or other valuable animals to keep the spirits away that cause evil things to happen to them. In western culture, we may not have much of a belief in spirits that control our daily life, but this is a reality for hill tribe people. Their world is a spiritual world and the spirits control much of what happens to them. If something bad happens, they are wondering what evil spirit has been offended.
I visited this village with two evangelists from the Akha Churches of Thailand, our partners in mission to the Akha people. Our goal with this visit was to establish an authentic friendship with the headman since he controls almost everything that enters the village. If in the future we would want to share the Gospel with the people of Mehter, we will need the permission of the headman. But the probability of the headman allowing us to share something of the good news of Jesus is not possible at this point since he is still very much a dedicated spirit worshipper. In other instances, in northern Thailand, when people in villages believe in Christ and leave the worship of the spirits, they are forced out of villages. But the good news of this story so far is that the headman welcomed us and we began a friendship that has lasted. We bought some pork and vegetables in the village and had a wonderful Akha meal. Later I had to listen to several hours of Akha conversation, which is often difficult for those of us who only speak Thai, but I wanted him to know that we wanted to help with any problems that he had in the village, if we could. The headman gave us a tour of the village and he told us about some of the people who were suffering.
The next month when the cool weather came among the mountains, we had the opportunity to visit with some sweaters that were sent by the First Baptist Church of Greensburg, PA. We offered them to the headman to give to those in need. Often in the hills of Thailand in the cool season (Nov. to Feb.) the temperature drops to the 30's and 40 's F, and some hill tribe people have died because most of them are used to 95-degree weather.
Nonetheless, the high point of our friendship with the headman came when he told us 35 men were addicted to opium and asked if we could help. I had not expected that he would ask us to help, but thought that this would be an opportunity to show God's love to this village.
As I started to search for a drug rehab program in northern Thailand, I found one that was associated with our American Baptist Mission, called the Intertribal Drug Rehabilitation and Addiction Program. Swedish Baptist missionary, Jonas Thorangen helps to administer this program.
Jonas was contacted and we began to make arrangements to send 17 of the 35 drug addicts to the program, located in the mountains outside Chiang Mai. The program lasts for three months, the first month for detoxification and two months for Christian discipleship training. God has been with us because who would have imagined a non-Christian headman allowing 35 of his people to go to a Christian-oriented drug rehab program! We had one crucial meeting with the villagers and headman when we were making arrangements for his opium-addicted friends to leave the village in which I felt God was opening doors of opportunity for us.
I ask for your prayers particularly on April 22, as we will try to transport the initial 17 addicts from a village in the northernmost part of Chiang Rai province to Chiang Mai, a trip of about 8 hours by car. Another surprise in this whole event is that the headman asked if he could go visit the program for the first week.
(1) Please pray for the physical deliverance of these men from their addiction to opium.
(2) Please pray that their hearts will opened to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(3) Please pray that the headman will continue to be open, and that God's spirit will touch his heart.
(4) Please pray that this experience will open other opportunities for further witness in the village.