Joel’s Story and Mission Work

Joel was the eighth child born into a Christian family in northern Burma. Only one of the first seven siblings survived childhood. When Joel was born in a rice field he wasn’t breathing. But because his parents had already lost so many children, Joel’s father lifted the baby up and cried out to God to give the child breath and promised to dedicate the baby to serve God always. The baby breathed and the family was later blessed with two more boys.

It was obvious from an early age that Joel was a gifted Christian leader – he led worship songs, started a youth choir, taught Sunday School, and memorized many Bible verses. He attended Bible School in Putao, Burma for two years. At age 19 he moved to Chiangmai Thailand to study the Bible.

His desire was to become a native missionary and preacher. He finished school in 1973 and joined the North Burma Christian Mission as an evangelist. He traveled from village to village in northern Thailand sharing the Gospel with the Lisu tribes. During that time he joined with others to update, revise and add commentary to the old translation of the Lisu Old and New Testaments.

Joel comes from the Mongolian Anung tribe. The Anung had migrated to Tibet and finally to areas in China, northern Burma, and Thailand. They would move into existing villages of the Rawang, Lisu, and Tibetan people and eventually lost their tribal language and identity due to intermingling with the other tribes. Only the very old held onto their language and tribal customs. Joel felt compelled to rekindle that lost identity. There had been no written language for the Anung so Joel began work on developing a written language using the Standard English alphabet to make it easier to type and therefore more reasonably priced to print. Joel studied linguistics and worked with a prominent linguist to create an appropriate alphabet and tone marks. Right away he wrote a primer for the Anung language to teach them how to read.

Joel married Marilyn Morse in January 1979. Marilyn comes from the Morse family who’s grandparents, J. Russell and Gertrude Morse, were missionaries in Tibet in 1921 and had worked in China, Burma, and Thailand. Her parents were missionaries after them and her siblings, aunts, and uncles are still missionaries in Thailand with North Burma Christian Mission.

Joel and Marilyn enrolled in Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO in the fall of 1979. While there, they had their first child, Jesse, but due to lack of funds and extreme home sickness, they returned to Thailand just one year later to resume work in the mission field. While back home in Thailand, they welcomed their second child, a daughter, Saskia. Finally, in 1984 they were able to return to Ozark for Joel to finish his degree and to raise support for their mission work. After graduating in 1987 (and now with a third child, Shemaiah)) they returned to Thailand where Joel taught leadership training among the tribal people for eight years.  In 1988, Joel, along with the help of family members started working on translating the Bible and a hymn book into the new Anung language. As of 2016 the entire New and Old Testament and over 500 hymns have been translated and printed. During the time of translating, their fourth child, Uriah, was born.

In 1999, Joel and Jesse Yangmi started the Lisu bible Institute (LBI), with a campus located in ChiangDao, Thailand. Joel helped supervise the construction of the buildings and handled the finances. Joel taught in the school, was Dean of Students, and Administer and Financial Manager there. He also coached the soccer team that competed with other Thai schools and village teams. After 5 years of working with LBI, Joel resigned in 2006 to start a new work with the Red Lahu group in Thailand. He has conducted leadership training classes for three years. These leaders then go out into other villages to teach and preach. Many new believers have been added through their evangelism efforts.

Property has been purchased to start a Bible teaching school for the Lahu People – the Lahu Bible School. At this time, temporary bamboo houses are used for classrooms and living quarters. Work on a concrete structure has begun which will be used as a multi-purpose building. However, due to a financial shortage, it is not yet completed. That building along with dorms for boys and girls, bathrooms, showers and kitchen will be built once funds are available. Then the 4-year Bible School for the Red Lahu tribe will be ready. In the meantime, Joel is writing study books on different bible topics for use in the school and in seminars. Teachers of Bible, English and music will be needed when the school starts.

In 2005, Marilyn began a project to record Christian songs to be used as inspiration and encouragement in the villages and among the tribal people. Much interest has come from this work and a music video was produced which was even more effective and popular. Hopes are high that more Christian music can be produced and distributed. Some of the music has even been broadcast over short wave radio to countries all over southern Asia.