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The Jesus Film Incident - Campus Crusade

An Intentionally Inaccurate Translation into the Akha Language

The Jesus Film Incident
How the White Americans Killed Jesus
He was "white" after all wasn't He?

In October of 1998 we were told that a translation into Akha language was being planned for the Jesus Film, a project of Campus Crusade in the United States, the Jesus Film people being located in racist Florida.

Due to the fact that our translators knew that the Paul W. Lewis version of the New Testament for Akha was full of errors that would prejudice young readers against their elders and culture, we contacted the Jesus Film people and asked them if they would be so kind as to not use these same translations but correct ones instead.  We also voiced concerns that the film would be used for further war against traditional villages.

The words that we found particular fault with were the words:

"Ah Baw Chaw Maw"

Means 'old man' in Akha but also means the old men who are the elders of the village and decide disputes, etc. They are considered with reverance.  So if you were to say "I have to ask Abaw Chaw Maw" it would mean that you were going not to one old man, but to the group of old men or elders for your village who guide the village.  The same is said for their counterparts, Ah Peeh Chaw Maw, the old women elders.

"Peeh Mah"

This is the village historian, poet and healer, a revered position among the Akhas.

We asked that these words not be used!

We asked that these words not be used, because there were no Akha in Israel at that time, certainly no Peeh Mahs.
We asked that the translation be used that referred to the religious leaders of that foreign land, which in this case were Pharisees, and were not the same as Peeh Mahs.

The reason we asked this, is that these events took place in Israel, not Thailand or Akha country, and that the use of these incorrect words would prejudice the young people against their own culture, implying that these respected people in Akha culture had crucified Jesus as the finished Jesus Film in Akha states.

We communicated with the Jesus Film people our concerns.

We asked them why they could not use a more correct translation in consideration of these concerns.
To this they would not reply directly and put us off for considerable time.
Finally they informed us that the film was finished and that these words that we had objected to were used, as we verified by obtaining a new copy of the Jesus Film in Akha.

This kind of attitude just contributes to the impression, backed up by many such incidents, that the entire Akha traditional community should be converted to evangelicalism at whatever cost of the truth.

We think that the people at the Jesus Film Project are Liars and Racist against the Akha People. It seems quite apparent that to be a Christian, you have to be a Liar.

We advise people to follow the teachings of Jesus, not to follow mainstream Christianity for these reasons.

Below is an exchange of emails we had with Campus Crusade about this issue.

The Discussion With The Jesus Film Project Regarding This Intentional Exploitation Of The Akha People of Thailand, Burma, Laos and China.

A Request That Traditional Akha Culture Be Respected In The Film's Translation Into Akha

At the time as shown below in the email transmissions it was requested to the Jesus Film project that the same errors that were in the New Testament translation in Akha language not be repeated in the film. In the New Testament translation to Akha the words used are that Akha Elders Crucified Jesus.

We all know this not to be the case.

The people from the Jesus Film project never answered the concerns in these emails but evaded the subject, and then for months did not reply until we placed our questions on the internet.

But at that time they informed us that the film was finished and the use of the words had occurred, "oh well."

On seeing the video itself, the reference to the Akha Elders as the people who killed Jesus is not done once but repeatedly. We can only say, knowing the Christian Akha who backed this film, well paid by groups like American Baptist, that the slur against Akha traditional leadership is INTENTIONAL!

They deserve the condemnation they get, having lived fine lives off the betrayal of their own people for financial gain.


To: Doug Cady 
Akha Jesus Film
Date: Wed, 04 Nov 1998 

Dear Mr. Cady,

We work with the Akha Hill Tribe in Northern Thailand and are very concerned regarding accuracies in translation for a Jesus Film for the Akha project.

Do you know anything of this project, or who might, and how we can get a copy of the script being proposed?

In the only available translation of the New Testament which was done many years ago there are serious errors in the translation that twist in very harmful predjudices against the culture of these people.

For example, a name for a certain kind of elder within the Akha community is used in the translation of "High Priest" and since it was used in the context of the crucifixion of Jesus it would cause the automatic assumption that the Akha Elder was being blamed for this. Since a similar position does not exist in either foreign or Jewish governments it is not an accurate translation. Yet this serious error in the NT has existed for years with no attempt on the part of white missioinaries to correct it. As far as we know, there were no Akha in Jerusalem in the early parts of the first century A.D.

Akha Heritage Foundation 


And again.....

To: Mike Ball
      Akha Jesus Film
Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998

Dear Mr. Ball,

Numerous Akha people are aware that there are serious flaws in the translation of the Akha New Testament which casts desparagement upon Akha traditional culture without justification. These particular errors of a serious nature come in Bible texts relating to the crucifixion of Jesus. If these errors are passed on to the film, the film will place itself in a rather negative category.

All they would like to see is a printed copy of the script, and the choice of words that it uses. They would like to give their input into the correctness of the translation as used in the script for this film.

A copy of the script can be emailed to The Akha Heritage Foundation, we will print it out and give it to the Akhas who have requested it. (this request was never honored on the part of the Campus Crusade Jesus Film Project)

There is a long tradition here of the missions walking on the rights of the Akha to impose their highly financed churches in Akha villages and to forbid them to practice their culture. We can supply a huge number of photos and video testimony to substantiate this matter.

These problems are well documented at this time. The World Council of Churches section on indigenous matters is also informed of this issue. We should be very clear that no one says they are against the project but only voice the opinion that inaccurate tranlation will add to the propoganda that is being used by protestant denominations to damage the culture of these people.

This is a matter that could be solved readily but it is also a matter that could do serious damage if the film is used for propaganda purposes against the traditional culture of this tribe.

It should be said that in the past there have been repeated attempts to get the missionaries to see that they can assist the Akha without banning their culture, forbiding them to practice what the missionaries for the most part do not understand.

But this effort has failed. The churches go up, usually in the center of the village as the attatched photo shows, the people are told to stop practicing their culture, all traces of it are removed or burned and so the matter goes on. The people in the village where this photo was taken were catholic for 15 years, very small quiet parish, then this monstrosity was pushed into the middle of this otherwise bamboo village. It could have been located outside the village as to not be disruptive, in any direction say 100 meters. But that is not how these people do it, why be bashful when you are going to push it all aside anyway?

We hope that we have made clear the concerns regarding this matter. There are a whole lot of people listening on how this matter is going to go, not just here in Thailand.

While general conditions for the Akha continue to deteriorate because they have not the same human rights guaranteed as you or we, the missions continue to take as much advantage of this situation as possible. Many have even said that the woes which the Akha are experiencing as people who have no civil rights, are the hand of God because they have chosen to live in darkness and bondage. In village after village the Akha tell me that they were forbidden to practice their traditional culture. This is not a right that the missionaries have and it will continue to be publicized that they are doing this to a greater and greater international audience.

It is not our intention to be adversarial, just to state plainly how serious this matter is.

There is a continued refusal of missionaries to give room and regard to Akha traditional culture. There is a continued behavior to feel they have the right to forbid the culture if these people want to learn about Jesus.

Akha Heritage Foundation

Mike Ball's Response:

To: Akha Heritage Foundation

I’m an Asia Coordinator for JESUS film Recording projects. I’m following up this question with A-Je and Rodney Guenther, who spent two weeks last month recording "Akha". A-Je has a computerized uncorrected script, I believe. The recording is still in process, here.

I will let you know what I find.

God bless you !

Mike Ball

Re: Akha Jesus Film
To: Mike Ball
Date: Sun, 15 Nov 1998 

Dear Mr. Ball,

We hate to take issue but you are not answering our question. We have asked you if it is possible to see a copy of the Akha Script because various Akha wish to view it.

This is a project that will be released to large numbers of Akha, the public in fact.

If there is no concern, then although it may be a nuisance and bother to you, there should be really nothing to hide in sharing the script.

It can be conveyed electronically. However, if the Jesus Film for the Akha is actually a partisan work, then you possibly have reason to protect the fact that it is in reality a partisan work.

If I were translating the New Testament for the Akha and an atheist asked to see a copy, although we might very dislike what their intention "might" be we would realize that once we had chosen to enter the public sphere, we expose our work to the attention of any and all and follow through accordingly.

However, our original statement to you was that the New Testament had serious flaws in it. This in combination with a partisan religious agenda has done and continues to do serious damage to the Akha as a people, not something that we think Jesus Christ intended.

If a simple request to view a script, not for the purpose of interfering with your project, but just for the purpose of getting the opportunity to express concern over certain content if it should exist, and try to open up a discussion regarding it in an appeal to fairness and justice.

If this is an affront to the way the project is being run then it raises more serious issues which we were not intent on finding.

As we have told you before, the behavior of the western financed missions regarding the traditions of the Akha is not acceptable, because for one thing, it is illegal.

We have explained the reasons.

We should also say that we did not get the impression from speaking with Rodney that he either understood or had any concerns for the culture of the Akha from comments he made. It appears that the conveyance of his particular spin on his particular agenda is more important than the issues that people have been raising for years about the way in which particularly American based missions have treated the Akha.

It may be very possible that not all the Akha disagree with the Missions and what they are doing, particularly those that are paid well to help, if you know what we mean.

But it should also be noted that many Akha who are Christians are adamantly against the missions as well.

We do not know if there is anything in the script that people should be concerned with. We would hope not. However the lack of openess and transparency on the part of the missions here does not do much to ensure any one.

If your answer is that you will not make a copy of the script publicly available before production, that is your choice, but keep in mind that this will be noted for the record and that it duly adds to that suspicion for which there is already a substantial basis as a result of many years of mission behavior of this very same nature. It casts a shadow on the willingness of the people on this project to be open to the issues that exist and increases the feelings that the missions will come here and do as they please.

Akha Heritage Foundation

To: Akha Heritage Foundation 


I received your letter expressing your concern about the recently recorded translation of the JESUS film in the Akha language.

Concerning the script, it was translated by an Akha, not taken directly from the Akha New Testament. The script was then approved by several Akha. The final recording was approved by an Approval Committee of Akha people from various regions. All of them approved the translation and the recording. We were looking for a translation that would be understood by all Akha, not just the Thai Akha. I want to encourage you that every effort was made to assure that any errors were found and corrected by allowing people whose first language is Akha to repeatedly scrutinize the script and recording.

While I know that in the end, any production will have it’s shortcomings, it’s my prayer that this film will be a great benefit to the Akha people in all countries.

Mike Ball

Our Reply:

To: Mike Ball

Mr. Ball;

In the end a script full of flaws and racial and cultural slurs was completed. "Its finished" they told me at a meeting, "can’t be changed now". 

"God will judge you for every Akha you keep out of heaven by opposing this project". 

"Paul Lewis (of sterilization fame) is a ‘Man of God’".

Please protest the release of this film to the emails of the people of the Jesus Project Listed. We have copies of the Jesus project in Akha and it is very insulting to Akha people. It backs up the prejudices that the missionaries from the west, places like the US, consistently teach to the Akha children as to how bad their culture and elders are.

Please Forward.

Jesus Film In Akha Language: Racism at its best!
The Jesus Film Project

In the end, Campus Crusade and the Jesus Film Project, in conjunction with AhJay and others, went ahead with the inaccurate translation of the Jesus Film script into Akha language.

Copyright 1991 - 2006 The Akha Heritage Foundation