YUNNAN, China – Yu Meili, 27, is one of the needy preachers supported by UBS. Her name, “Meili” means beautiful in Chinese. She is indeed a fine-looking lady and lives in Lijiang, a Unesco Heritage site well known for its historical sites and charming people. But beyond her appearance is a heart of gold especially towards the young people whom she ministers to in her county.
Yu, who is a third generation Lisu preacher, oversees the training and equipping needs of the believers in Yulong Naxi Autonomous County. That is where she grew up with people of various ethnic backgrounds and learnt to speak different languages besides her own, for example the Naxi language. “My family has many Naxi neighbours in the village where we live. I have many Naxi friends,” shared Yu. That probably prepared Yu for her future ministry and her sense of burden to reach out to people of different ethnic groups. China is home to 56 ethnic groups, out of which 55 are minority groups such as the Miao, Yi, Jingpo, Wa and Lisu. They constitute about 8.5% of the total population and reside mostly in remote, rural mountainous regions in the western part of China.
Since her graduation from Sichuan Seminary in 2013, Yu has been teaching New Testament and Old Testament Survey in a two-year program offered to young Christians, age 14 to 20, from various ethnic groups like the Miao, Lisu and Naxi. “As some of the youths are not able to complete their education, they usually either enter the work force early in life or they may be at a loss about what to do with their lives. So it is important to provide options for them by opening up these programs to further equip and educate them.” Trainees who are not able to pay for the program are mostly supported by the kind donation of church members.
Before she started full-time ministry, Yu herself was enrolled into a vocational dance school after completing high school and later joined a dance troupe. “I was in the dance troupe for two years but felt increasingly disturbed by some of the religious undertones of the traditional ethnic dances we were supposed to learn and perform. So I decided to leave the troupe.”
Little did Yu expect that after she quit from the dance troupe, God began to put in her the burden to serve Him full-time. “I was serving at a revival meeting in church and my mentor encouraged me to consider studying at the seminary to get myself equipped. I also saw the huge need for teachers and preachers to shepherd the believers.” In China, due to the rapid growth of the churches, trained pastors and preachers are in severe shortage. On average, one ordained pastor has an estimated 6,700 believers under his or her care.
However, choosing the path of full-time ministry for Yu is not an easy one. Her family of six survives by farming. So when her Mum fell seriously ill last year, they resorted to a bank loan that will take them the next 3-4 years to pay back. If she were to remain in the dance troupe, her income would be about 2000 RMB per month. Now as a preacher, she receives 500 RMB ($75 US) as part of her income and foodstuff like eggs and vegetables from some church members. “I know that my peers would earn at least 1,500 per month with food and lodging provided. Although life can be difficult for me and my family, I don’t look back.” Yu‘s father who is an itinerant preacher had a great influence on her as well. “I saw the joy of serving in my father’s heart even though he didn’t have regular income. I told myself, I wanted to share the same joy.”
Recently, her joy came. The first batch of 10 students just completed the two-year program and some have been sent to support churches in other counties. “It has been the most exhilarating journey for me. I am so happy to see some of them going to other counties to serve the churches there. They have grown from being on the receiving end to being able to serve and give. Some of them continue to keep in touch with me. When they share with me that they are teaching for the first time or about the difficulties they face, I will pray for them and encourage them.”
We pray that God will continue to raise up more workers like Meili who would train and teach younger believers so that they in turn will be able to teach others.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
Photo: UBS CP/ Jared Wong
2016 © United Bible Societies China Partnership