This is a miracle! Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, for the first time in 60 years, an East Lisu New Testament (NT), translated by the local East Lisu people, has been published and distributed successfully in China this year.
The gospel first reached the East Lisu people in 1903. (This was 7 years earlier than the Lisu people, a different people group, who were reached by J. O. Fraser in 1910). Today, more than a hundred years later, the East Lisu people could finally read the NT in their own mother tongue. It is estimated that there are 50,000 East Lisu Christians today. Undoubtedly the East Lisu NT translation gave them a lot of pride as it was their own people who have translated it, with the support of China Christian Council/ Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CCC/TSPM) and the United Bible Societies (UBS).
The East Lisu Church
Taogu Village is situated 2000m above sea level. It is regarded by the East Lisu Christians as the birth place of the East Lisu Church. In 1906, a British missionary, Rev. George Edgar Metcalf, and his family came and lived among the people. He became their pastor and started translating the New Testament into the East Lisu language. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark were translated in 1912 while the Gospels of Luke and John were finished in 1917. The entire New Testament was finally completed in 1947. However, the New Testament was not able to be published until 1951. In that year, Rev Metcalf managed to take his manuscript to Hong Kong and the East Lisu NT was published by the Hong Kong Bible Society in that same year. For reasons unknown, copies posted back to Yunnan at that time never reached the East Lisu Church. Rev Metcalf passed away in 1954.
The next period was the dark ages in China’s church history: it was the Cultural Revolution where churches were closed and Bibles were burnt. It was not until the 1980s when church services were allowed to resume that the East Lisu church leaders were confronted with the pressing need to have the Bible translated into their own language. Many East Lisu people have difficulty understanding Chinese.
In 1984, the first East Lisu Bible translation team was formed by 6 elderly men. Yang Hanquan (now age 73), is the only surviving person from this original team today. He participated in the translation work until a few years ago and was so joyful to finally hold and read the NT in his hands after nearly 25 years of hard work and waiting.
Since 1990s, CCC/TSPM has invited the United Bible Societies (UBS) to support and participate in various minority language Bible translation works in China. UBS Translation Consultants – Dr I-Jin LOH, Dr Suee Yan YU and Dr Simon WONG – have over the years worked with various minority language translation teams. They provided training for each team in basic translation principles and computer knowledge. UBS has also provided resources to Yunnan CC/TSPM to establish a Bible Translation Center at Trinity International Church in Kunming City, and a work area for the translation teams at Wuding County.
The East Lisu translators produced their draft using the Chinese Union version as their base text with reference to Today’s Chinese version and Rev Metcalf’s 1951 East Lisu translation. UBS Translation Consultants would meet with the translation team, and check each verse against the original Greek NT, referring also to some other English and Chinese versions. Trial editions were also produced to garner feedback from readers. The whole process had been long and tedious nevertheless it was certainly very thorough.
A thanksgiving ceremony was held at Taogu Village Church for the distribution of the East Lisu NT. The translation team is currently working on the Old Testament. May the Lord bless His people and see this translation project to its completion.
Article written by:
Ms. YEO Tan Tan, Program Manager
United Bible Societies, China Partnership