EMMANUEL God with Us, the Black Yi People

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“I want to do everything I can so that the Black Yi people can read “Emmanuel” in our language to know that God is with us, with everyone in the world. He loves us.” This dedicated 43 year-old Black Yi Christian is Zhang Xuecai. He explained how he joined the Black Yi bible translation team in 2001.

– Testimony of Zhang Xuecai

Zhang Xuecai (张学才) home is in small village in Yunnan Province. He is a Black Yi who received Christ at the age of 12 when his relatives visited his home to share the gospel with his family. He was baptized in 1979 and started preaching at sixteen years old. After working for 8 years as a teacher, in 1985, he made an important decision to leave his stable job as a teacher to serve God fully.  From 1994 to 2002, he did the work of an evangelist. In 2001, Zhang was invited by the Black Yi bible translation team leader to assist in the bible translation work organized by the China Christian Council/ Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches, supported by the United Bible Societies.

Serving the Lord full time was not easy for Zhang. He has to support his parents, wife and two children. The family relies mainly on farming, rearing livestock and sometime picking Chinese medicinal herbs in the mountains to sustain themselves. Zhang is now a deacon in his home church and continues to preach weekly in the rural churches because it is his desire to bring God’s Word to the people. Part of his weekly routine involves walking 6 to 10 hours each Saturday to visit a rural church, preach there on Sunday, and return by making 6 to 10 hours trip home by foot on Monday. When he is away, his wife would take care of the family and Zhang is very thankful to God for giving him such a wonderful life partner. “I am very grateful to her”, he said, “While I am away, she has to take care of the family, even perform all the manual work a man has to do at home. Although she is uneducated, she loves the Lord and has been serving faithfully with me all these years”.

The Black Yi people are not well to do. Black Yi families would normally let their sons have priority to education if resources are limited. More than 10 years ago, girls could only start attending school at the age of eleven. At that time, when Zhang’s son was ready to register for primary school, his daughter had also turned eleven. Financially, it was a heavy burden to send two children for studies but Zhang managed. However, when it was time for their secondary school education, Zhang could only afford to send one. Which child’s future should he sacrifice? The family struggled immensely. They could not give up on their daughter’s education because she wanted to study theology to serve God fully.  Without a secondary school education, it is impossible for her to apply to a bible college.

Zhang’s prayer and desire has always been that the Lord will allow all his descendants to serve Him. The family did not know what to do except to look to the Lord, prayed and asked for His providence. In the mist of their struggle, Zhang met a gentleman who was helping the poor in his area. When this gentleman heard about Zhang’s difficulties, he was touched and agreed to sponsor for his children’s education. Zhang shared with great excitement and thanksgiving, “It is exactly like what was written in Psalms 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. I can lose everything, but I cannot live without my Lord. God loves me very much. Even the little things in life, He knows, He cares and He provides.” He taught his daughter to test her motives for wanting to study God’s words in a bible college. If she merely wanted to have a job, that would have been wrong. The purpose for studying God’s word is “to build the church, ready to carry the cross, and following Jesus”. His daughter is now studying in Yunnan Bible College, a wonderful testimony of God’s providence, goodness and faithfulness.

When Zhang turned 39, his family life was more stabilized. God provided for his children’s education, he began to pray and ask God for an opportunity to study theology. He would like to have a deeper understanding of the scripture. His prayer was answered in the subsequent year, in 2001. He was approached by the leader of the Black Yi translation team to help with the bible translation work.

A translated draft copy of Chapter 1 of Genesis in the Black Yi language.

Given the chance to learn more about God’s words, he readily agreed. Zhang said, “Even though I am not studying in a bible college, this is what the Lord has called me to do, I will give my all. God knows what is best for me. He loves me. I want to do everything I can so that the Black Yi people can read “Emmanuel” in our language to know that God is with us, with everyone in the world. He loves us.” Indeed, for Zhang, his greatest joy during the translation process is the part that requires him to understand God’s words. This could mean reading a verse 10 times before he could translate it. He enjoys this exercise because he is chewing on spiritual food. Zhang also explains that there is another kind of translation that he values, “Our lives should reflect our understanding of God’s words, active and living in us, so that we can live to please Him. Our lives should be a “living translation” of God’s words that others may see God.”

Interviewed by:
Ms YEO Tan Tan, Program Manager
United Bible Societies, China Partnership