Hello, my name is Luka Chermui and I’m from Chiang Rai in North Thailand. I went to the U.S. in 1991 for one year with IVEP. I am from the Akha people group. We are not a big group, but now we have a little more than 100,000 Akha people in Thailand. We Akha are mountain people and I was raised in a village where my father and mother were farmers. My parents came from Myanmar and were some of the first Akha people to become Christians in Thailand in 1962. They were kicked out of their village by the other villagers because of their new faith.
I was 27 years old my IVEP year, and I was mostly interested in improving my English. I also wanted to learn more about farming in America, things that I might be able to use in Thailand. I knew that America was very different from Thailand, so I also wanted to learn about our cultures.
My life was changed during my time in the States. At first, I was assigned to work with different families in the Mennonite community of Watertown, New York. I mostly lived and worked with the Mary Ellen and Hubert Gingrich family, who were dairy farmers. Then I went to Henderson, Nebraska, with the Eugene Friesen family and studied pork production. So, I was able to see the family life of many different families. Before going to America, I was not in a hurry to get married but after seeing the lives of these families, I understood more about Christian family life. I saw that families can really live together and work together as Christians. I also learned about cooperatives and how farmers can work together.
Sometimes it was hard when I was in America. Sometimes I missed my family and my life in Thailand. However, God took care of me and helped me to feel a part of the community there in Pennsylvania. He helped me to learn new things, and to meet people who are still part of my life.
The things I saw and learned made me want to get married, to have my own family, and to have a good family life. When I went back to Thailand I started to work in a Christian foundation for Akha people. I also met my wife, Ghan, and we got married in 1994. I think my time and experience in the Watertown and Henderson community also helped me to think about the importance of education and caring for people. Ghan and I started working with drug addicts and we started a drug rehabilitation program in 1995 (Akha Medical Clinic) and in 1998 we started Akha Youth Development Center. Then in 2002 we started Thai-Akha Ministries Foundation. Some of the patients became Christians and returned to their villages. Some of them wanted a church in their village, so we began to help them. With God’s guiding we have helped to start 13 churches, and we help local pastors to make a living. Some of the things and ideas I learned about agriculture in America are still useful because many of the church members where we work are also farmers, and many of our own family members are farmers.
Thailand-Akha Ministry Foundation, and the Akha Youth Development Center, is where we help kids from rural areas. The kids sometimes come from villages where there are no schools, or where the local schools are of a low standard. They come to live in the dormitories at the foundation, and they go to local schools in the city area. While they are with us, we also try to help them learn about Christian family life, and how Jesus can help them to have strong families. These are the things I remember seeing in the communities I lived in during my time in IVEP, and now Ghan and I try to model these qualities to the students. We know that it is important for them to see a husband and wife who love each other, and care for each other. Sometimes it is more important for all of us to see something with our own eyes than it is to just be taught about it. I know that I learned much about the Christian faith and the Christian family while I was part of IVEP, and I am thankful for that time. Even today we still contact and write to other IVEPers.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Thanks to God for the opportunity.
Brother in Christ, Luka Chermui