The History of the Akha-Church          

The history of the Akha church is fascinating. To understand it, it is important to know the religious background of these people.

The Akha/Hani religion is a combination of animism and ancestor worship. Their worldview is completely colored by their animistic belief, thus even the cultivation of rice is bound up with myths and rituals and must be done the “Akha/Hani way”.

The Akha/Hani people also have an understanding of a great world-creating divinity. All sicknesses are under the control of  this spirit, therefore, sacrifices must be made continually in an attempt to gain its favor. Every village has two spirit gates. The gates are situated at the village entrance and exit to mark the kingdom area of the spirit and its people. The villagers build new gates every year and dedicate them to the spirits with many sacrifices. The Akha/Hani people also are heavily involved in ancestor worship and show a remarkable knowledge of their ancestral past;most Akha/Hani men are able to recite over 60 names of their male ancestors.

Veneration of the ancestors is important because it is believed that the ancestors can bestow blessings on those still living. The ancestral altar kept in each home is well maintained. Nine times a year, on special occasions such as New Year and the beginning of the rice harvest, sacrifices are offered to the ancestors and to the demons whose paraphernalia also clutters the ancestor altar.


When the first missionaries came to North-Thailand they found that the Akha were very poor, despised and looked down upon by the North Thailand population. The death rate among children was high, many people were undernourished and some of them sick with no health care in their neighborhood.
The spirit gate at the entrance and exit of every village showed clearly that the Akha were under the slavery of demon- and ancestor worship. Fear that the spirits might cause sicknesses or that the ancestors would withhold their blessing ruled the everyday life of the Akha.
The poverty was due to the fact, that most of the older men were addicted to opium and everything valuable had to be sold to be able to buy the opium.

Up in Myanmar a dedicted Karen evangelist brought the Good News to the Akha around 1940. A young boy opened his heart to Jesus and was baptised when he was 13. This Karen evangelist was his friend, his model and his teacher. He often went with him on evangelistic trips and when persecution came and  Salalo Tu Jaw had to hide in the forest, the boy helped providing food for him. So he learned that to follow Jesus can also mean hardship.  


Paul and Eliane Lewis have lived and worked amongst tribal people (primarily Lahu and Akha) since 1947, first in Kentgtung State, Burma until 1966 and since 1968 in northern Thailand. They are missionaries of the Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, and have studied linguistics and anthropology. While working with tribal groups in the areas of literature production, primary health care, family planning, education and craft marketing, thy have observed and studied the cultures of the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha and Lisu.


The boy grew up and got married. One day his father in law came back from a shopping trip to the border town Maesai in Thailand and told his son-in-law that he had met a white missionary who was trying to reach the Akha with the Good News of the Jesus-way. They felt, that he needed help and with the blessing of their family and pastor Tu Jaw, they decided to move down to Thailand to help this foreign missionary.  


Peter Nightingale from Australia had met Jean  from England while studying Thai

They fell in love and got married  in l955. They got a warm welcome from the christian church in Nambokaw where they could live at the bottom of the hills where many Akha lived.

Jean, being a nurse and midwife helped many people with simple medicines. Peter made trips into the hills and tried to learn the Akha-language. He got no permission to live in an Akha village.


When Yaju with his wife Meechu found the Nightingales in Nambokaw and offered to help with the evangelistic work, the joy and encouragement was great, although it was not easy for Yaju to accept OMF rules, that after the exodus from China there would be no more paid evangelists from among the Nationals. They would have to support themselves. Yaju humbly accepted this and moved up the Kayeh hills where he lived outside the spirit gate and made his own fields to support his little family.  

Peter Nightingale supported Yaju by visiting him every Sunday and holding a service with the family. Yaju tried to be a testimony among the villagers but it took 4 years, until he saw the first-fruit of his labour: Two families decided to leave the demon-way and follow the Jesus-way. They could not live within the spirit-gate anymore as they would no longer sacrifice to the demons. And so they were driven out of the village with much derision and mockery. Nobody believed that a small village of 3 families could survive in the forest.  


It was 1962 that Peter and Ruth Wyss were designated to work with the Akha people and they were very happy to meet the two new christians and Yaju at Nightingales place in Nambokaw.

The younger brother of A Tsa also decided that he would leave the demon-way and joined his half-brother at the small christian village.

Now the time had come when the missionary could finally move into an Akha village and with the generous help of the Nambokaw-christians an Akha house was put up. It was a bit bigger than the others as it also served as meeting place for the small christian community.
Nightingales furlough was due in August l962 and so the Wysses were asked to move up the hill to be  an encouragement to the small group of new christians. They did not know the language yet, but the Akha christians were good teachers and wanted them to learn their language as quickly as possible.  
Besides the language, every missionary also has to make himself familiar with customs and culture of the people he wants to win for Christ, so that he can understand the way of thinking and their reaction to things.
The small christian community met every evening for fellowship, singing and teaching from the word of God. Sala Yaju was the faithful leader of the group and with his gift of music, he was a great help to teach singing, something which the Akha love very much.
The missionaries taught literacy mornings and evenings to children and adults.
A small bamboo chapel was built and every Sunday Sala Yaju taught the Word of God and led the christians in their prayermeetings.
Whenever the fieldwork allowed it, the young christians went out to visit their relatives and friends in other villages to tell them about their new found faith. Gospel recordings were a great help and they could be left in the village. Years later it was evident that these recordings which could be listened to again and again had a great impact on the people in villages far off the road.  

Posters also helped to explain the Good News of Jesus to interested listeners.

But growth was very slow. Little did the missionaries realize at that time, that the christians were being watched very carefully all the time. What would happen, if you did not bring sacrifices to the demons any more? Would the fields still yield crops? Would the people still have children. God knew and during that first year in every family, including the missionaries , a baby boy was born. This picture shows the christian community in l963 in Kayeh.  


The christian men felt, that there was not enough room for real growth in Kayeh.

So they began looking around for another site for their christian village. In l968 they found a new place at the foot of Elephant mountain. Again there was a christian church at the foot of the mountains and the pastor helped them find the place and welcomed them to come and live in the hills above the village Hueisan.


New Testament Printing 1968
The New Testament was printed in Akha-language.
The village Hueisan or in Englisch called Elephant Valley in l968.
The Akha christian leaders asked Peter and Ruth Wyss to come to their new village and help them. When they put up the missionaries house, they added a large room to teach children and the new believers.

The christian community in Elephant Valley which now began to grow steadily.



Peter and Jean Nightingale were working in a new christian village behind Elephant Mountain, teaching the new believers. From time to time the two couples met to discuss the future of there service amongst the Akha churches in the home of the superintendent Peter Wyss.
The leaders realized that it was of great importance to teach the young people in the Word of God and  how to bring the Good News to the villagers who had never heard before. As the existent Bible Schools were all using the Thai language which was very difficult to follow for the YP who had never been able to go to school, it was decided to have their own month long Bible School in the Akha language at Phayao during School holidays.  

Sala Yaju and Sala Aju the two pastors of the first christian community were very eager to study the Word of God and to get help for their sermon preparation.

One great problem arose when the government decided that no more slash and burn method  was allowed for the hill farmers.



The hilltribe farmers tried to use the same fields again and used the hoe to get rid of the weeds. But when the monsoon rains came the danger of erosion and floods was evident. What could be done to help the Akha in this situation?

Peter Wyss had studied horticulture and he wondered if terraced fields could be the answer. He also had in mind, that many young people in his country should be given a chance to see the challenge of missionary work. He organized work parties to help dig a long ditch in order to water terraced hill fields and give the Akha a chance to see how it could be done.



Freddy Gasser together with Atsa, the headman of Elephant-Valley. He studied agriculture in Switzerland and he saw the problem and came to help with his know-how.



20 young people came during the summer of l973 and they worked ever so hard to give the Akha an example of what could be done instead of slash and burn method.


Ruth Stamm took part in one of the work-parties



in April l974  Ruth and Freddy  were married  in Switzerland and came out together to give agricultural help to the tribal people in Norththailand.    


Freddy Gasser uses a "Habegger" cable winch to move the large bamboo-rootstocks.  


Simple methods had to be used. It was very hard work and methods used hundreds of years are not easily changed. Since the farmers livelihood depends on the success of new methods, he has to be very sure that new methods will work.

Terraced rice fields above Elephant valley was the outcome of a lot of hard work It showed that this was one of many solutions to the problem of slash and burn.



Terraced rice fields need water. Freddy Gasser gives instructions how to bring the water into the fields.




Many Akha people in the Maechan area began to show interest to turn to the Jesus way and by 1975 there were 7 christian villages. How grateful we were to have those young people at Elephant Valley who had studied the Word of God and now were willing to go and live in one of these new christian villages to teach the Word of God and literacy to these new christians.Maeha was one of those villages and the headman was very eager to get help and have missionaries come and live in his place.


May Wilson was a new worker, just finished with her Thai studies and eager to live in an Akha village to learn the Akha language. Robert Mosimann was one of the work-parties of l974 and felt called to go to Bible School and then come back to work with the Akha. They were married in l986.


January l977 Word came from Mala village near Maechan, that a number of people wanted to be baptized and so another christian village was waiting for teaching.



March 1977

In March l977 word came from Maeha that they had gathered all the necessary material to put up a house for May and Joyce. A visitor from Switzerland, Samuel Schweitzer, was very eager to go along with Peter to see how an Akha house was put up in 2 days.  On March 16 they were expected back so that Sami could fly back to his family in Switzerland the next day. They never arrived in Maechan. When Ruth with friends Ann Burgess and Joyce Parkin went to look for them the next day they found them both shot in the jungle about 20 min walk from the village they had left the evening before.  

It was a great shock to the whole christian community in North-Thailand and many friends gathered around to help and to take part in the funeral. Peter Wyss was buried in the christian cemetry in Denha near Chiangrai.

Peter Nightingale had to go home because of cancer and now Peter Wyss was dead .The Akha said later: We felt like children who had lost their fathers. But then we realized that now we had to grow up and be leaders for others.




In l987 The Akha church-leaders felt, that they would like to celebrate the silver Jubilee:

25 years since the first two couples had trusted in the living God. All missionaries who had worked with the Akha during these past 25 years were also invited for the festival. A new gate stood at the entrance with the text: Come to me and I will give you rest – all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Matth. ll, 28.  

More Pictures under: Jubilee 1987

It was a great joy to the old missionaries who had to leave the field not by choice but by circumstances, to see how many Akha had come to the Jubilee. And they were just representatives of their respective villages. 22 Jesus villages were represented and the first missionaries rejoiced in the goodness of the Lord.
What a joy to meet old friends, to sing praises together, to listen to all the many choirs and to the testimonies and the teaching. The first two families were still there and had faithfully followed the Lord all these 25 years. Sala Yaju and his wife had faithfully witnessed, taught and evangelized through almost 30 years and could now see the fruit of their labor.  

Paul Lewis translating Ruth

Fritz Fankhauser, now the 2nd husband of Ruth Wyss who had been at that work-party in l973 went up to the valley where they had worked so hard to dig that long ditch to water the terraced hill fields. How wonderful, the whole valley was planted with rice. The labor of those young people had not been in vain. The fruit was growing.



Robert and May Mosimann, Zauva and Awii Lalthanzauva, and the Gasser family (from left) 





The Centre was opened in l992 and mainly used for leadership training and for Conferences. The Swiss missionary Robert Mosimann was the main initiator of this centre and also played a big part in constructing it. Unfortunately the Mosimann family had to return to Switzerland  because of health problems.





Obviously the Akha love to celebrate. So they felt that the year 2000 should also be celebrated with a large conference. 

More Pictures under: Conference 2000

Old Testament Printing 2000 The Old Testament was finished and printed



Many came from far and wide, nowadays by truck and no longer on foot.  And they had a blessed and wonderful time together. The Lord let them see a miracle when in answer to prayer a great storm suddenly was calmed. It rained and blasted all around Elephant mountain, but at the conference site there was calm and no rain.


How grateful were all the many people who camped along the hillside, that there was no rain. What a good God we have!
The program was enriched by many schoolchildren on holidays who sang some of the songs they had learnt at school. The many visitors enjoyed the choirs, the testimonies and the teaching.

No more slash and burn method. The Akha have adapted their farming to new methods: fruit trees in the lower hills, cash crops in order to buy rice on the market.



Pine apple fields on the plains help the farmers to make a new livelihood.



A big dorm  for the many children who want to go to school and need a place to stay during the week was erected at the Akha-Centre.


More about the Akha church centre in Akha-Centre

Ladys conference in the Akha-Centre




In Banana village  a second Discipleship training centre was built. The younger missionaries Puii and Asholi (Daugther and son in law of Zauva and Awi), who live in Maechan, are spending their weekends in this village and are training the young people. Puii has started  to train Sunday School teachers in the Thai language, as the children who go to School have to use the Thai language there.

Zauva and Sala Abyeh (son of Lawpa and Buja) have started Akha Radio work.

This is a new Milestone in the Akha ministry. The first message was broadcasted on the 27th October 2008.

Praise God His loving Gospel will be broadcasted to all Akha/Hani people every evening.



ACT churches have renovated Peter Wyss's tombstone. They covered all sides with tiles, renewed the inscription and added Peters picture to it. The villagers have contributed the money for this project.



Golden Jubilee 2012

From March 7th to 11th the golden Jubilee of the Akha Christian Church in Thailand was celebrated at Hueisan (Elephant-Valley). About 2000 people took part. A large  tent with a stage, illumination and an immense amplifyer system was errected for the festivities in a Lychee Plantation near the village.