Aphi's Story

This is the first in a series of posts written by Jaime Garcia, a young missionary who we have partnered with for some work in Thailand.

Akha ladies in traditional dress

On the rolling hills of Chiang Rai Province, Thailand, a quaint village was nestled deep in the throbbing heart of the mountains. For centuries, this remote settlement had been called Mae Suai by the locals, meaning ‘the beautiful matriarch.’ During the 1960’s and 70’s, turmoil in the Laos and Myanmar forced tens of thousands of minority peoples to flee their villages. They slogged through precarious tangles of overgrown jungle, to cross the bloodstained, Thai guarded border. With great anxiety, throngs of newcomers arrived in ‘the land of freedom.’ Thailand became, for many, a place of asylum and opportunity, and for the Akha people, a rugged group of hunters and once-famed warriors, it became a place to proliferate their heritage unfettered from the oppression of their homelands.

The Akha people were known for being hard line animists, believers in a spiritual world that suffused itself in the land, the trees, the animals, and the forest. Aphi was born into this environment. He understood from a young age that these “evil and good spirits”, were lurking behind rocks, in bamboo shoots, and hidden within certain animals. As subsistence farmers, the Akha believed that virtually everything that touched their lives was at the mercy of the spirits, even life itself! Life for them was consumed with satiating the spirits through annual rituals, ornate ceremonies, building edifices in a certain fashion, consulting the diviners, saying certain incantations, as well as the daily offering up of oblations. They lived close to nature, and utterly simply. Yet, they also lived in agonizing fear of the spiritual realm and its inescapable power.

In this oppressive atmosphere, a fellowship of Christians began meeting nearby. These brave believers were committed to only “One God.” They followed Christ, called on the Father, and trusted in the Almighty Spirit. Word of their gatherings, and their unique beliefs, spread rapidly through the community. Small children, normally left to wander the village or play together, were warmly welcomed to the gatherings. During the lessons, the person and work of Jesus were gently shared. Even as young as he was, Aphi began gaining a deep sense of trust for this Heavenly Man, and by the age of 7, he had come to a sincere and personal faith in Christ!
(R to L) Alphi, Jaime Garcia, Nawnipawn, daughter and granddaughter  

Within the confines of his old-world village, years passed by like clouds in the sky. Now in his teens, Aphi met and married a local girl. They united their lives together, and split away from their parents, to work and to foster their own family. Those first years, as they recount, were seared by tumult and trial. The only work Aphi could find was, labor-intensive and his wage was exploitive. “My pay was so low, our family felt like we were not going to survive at all,” he declared.

As their family trudged through the murky depths of poverty, he prayed to his Heavenly Father. “I asked God to help my family,” he shared. Thereafter, the atmosphere subtly changed. The royal family of Thailand, known for their benevolence, set their sights on the poverty-stricken tribes of the North. Desiring to better the lives of the tribals, who depended on growing crops for the drug trade, a plan was laid to replace these crops with a profitable alternative. With sincere generosity, Queen Sirikit officiated over the royal project. Its goal was to exterminate the production of opium, and to create self-sufficient families and villages. With these convictions, they commissioned a road crew to carve a large road over a harrowing mountain pass in the ‘Mae Fa Luang’ mountain range. A new village was fashioned in these high, cloud-covered mountains.

Aphi’s family was one of the few chosen for this royal project. They were overjoyed! They were eventually relocated to a fertile plot of land high in the mountains. The soil was raw, and aching to be cultivated. They were provided with a modest dwelling place, starter seeds, various agricultural tools, access to community solar cells, and a small elementary school. Eagerly, they begun to sprout coffee beans provided to them by the government. They were to produce organic, pesticide free, top-grade coffee. Meanwhile, the beautiful cloaks of dignity, purpose, and self-sustainability were wrapped warmly around their lives. God was answering their prayers.

At the start of the project, the family worked hard to clear the plot and plant their coffee. In total, they planted five-thousand plants on their hilly plot. Even though they experimented with different techniques, their coffee yield was minimal, and they yearned to see more for their efforts. At this point, the couple were introduced to members of the FARMS loan committee. They found them to be very understanding and helpful. They applied for a revolving loan, and received $300. With this, they sped off to purchase organic fertilizer. Their yield greatly increased, and the loan was paid off in rapid fashion. Subsequently, they received several larger loans, and used the funds for the same purpose. "It was amazing to watch,” he divulged. “We had so little fruit at the beginning, yet, now, we were getting more than twice the coffee we got before!" Aphi, joyfully continued, saying, "We just got a medium size roasting machine. In the future, we dream of starting our own coffee shop, and eventually, we want to create our own brand!”
Mike Phillips (missionary), Jaime and the FARMS committee pray for Aphi’s family and the village

As we finished our conversation they remarked, “Our health is very important for our work. Pray for this and pray for our village. We want to see the whole community become Christians. Out of the eleven families here, only four of them have faith." On the creaky, shifting floor of their bamboo and grass hut, we all cried out to God together. Many eyes were filled with gentle tears of joy.

Jaime Garcia

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