Like any other person, he had his own dreams. “I was not even a Christian then and had wanted to be a school teacher after my graduation,” recalled Yu, 30, who is from the Lisu ethnic minority tribe, one of the 55 ethnic minority tribe in China.
The turning point came in his freshman year when Yu attended church with his friends and teachers. What struck him most was the love and concern shown by his Christian friends and the guidance he received from older Christians. He became a believer and started to have Bible study with other Christians. (Photo: Yu Zhilin, extreme left)
After completing his university education, he returned to his hometown—Gongsan County, located in the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Region, Yunnan. Soon, his heart was burdened by the lack of pastors and preachers in the churches and began to seek God about serving in full time ministry.
As with many parts of China, the ratio of believers to pastors is high in Yunnan. On average, there are 6700 believers to one pastor in China and the ratio is not getting any lower with about 500,000 new baptisms each year. However, making the decision to serve God full time would mean forgoing his dream to be a teacher and the pay package that comes with it. It was not an easy decision for Yu. A teacher’s pay is seven times higher compared to the 600 RMB (US$ 90) he is getting now each month.
“It is almost unheard of among the Lisu people to have a university graduate enter into seminary. But I know the Lord’s calling upon my life and I see His grace and provision for me every step of the way,” shared Yu, who receives financial support from United Bible Societies.
After praying and obtaining blessings from his parents and the church, he applied to Sichuan Theological Seminary. “I really hope to contribute to the Lisu Church by equipping myself. One important area is translating more spiritual resources in the Lisu language as we currently only have the Bible in Lisu. There is a dire lack of Biblical resources in our language.”
However, Yu had not learned the Lisu script, which was developed by a British missionary James O. Fraser in the 1900s and later used to translate the Bible. As most ethnic minority groups in China depend on oral traditions, people who know the written script of their language are usually those who attend church as it is not taught in school. Hence, Yu devoted himself to the learning of the Lisu script while studying at the seminary. “I was glad I was able to read the Lisu Bible with relative ease after I graduated from seminary,” shared Yu. “I am now still sharpening my oral and written proficiency in the Lisu Language.”
Since graduating from seminary, Yu has been helping to oversee the area of equipping churches in Gongshan county, which has an estimated population of 5,600 Christians. One of the trainings he has been coordinating is a 6-month Christian Foundation course for young people, age between 16 and 32, many of whom are either fresh from high school or have already stopped schooling.
“It is very rewarding to see the youths growing spiritually. They are now more willing to read the Word of God. Some who have not been so forth coming in singing and worshipping are now showing a change in their attitude. They are now more participative and are giving more time for church life. This year we even have four young adults who went on to Yunnan Seminary for further equipping,” shared Yu. “For the younger youths, there are parents who gave feedback that their children are taking more initiative in helping out around the house.”
Besides the Foundation course, Yu also coordinates Summer Camps for children and youth aged between 6-16. These camps, held in the month of August with an average attendance of 150, are open to children from the church as well as those from the community. Teachers at the summer camps are usually volunteers or fresh graduates from seminary. “One of the most meaningful experiences for me is to see non-believers coming for the camps. Each year we have about 60% in the camp who are non- believers, out of which 20% will continue to attend church.”
Making a Difference for His people
Yu is one of the many Lisu preachers working in Gongshan county, for the betterment of his people. “We have seen how the Gospel of Jesus has changed the lives of my people. Most Lisu people are known for vices like drinking, smoking, fighting, and even stealing and in some cases, even kidnapping. But I think because of the presence of the Church here, there has been a drop in these vices and crimes.” Therefore, Yu is working hard to put together a Lisu Language Christian Foundation series. “I’ve consulted about 30 books and materials and am in the process of translating and adapting them for Lisu Christians so that we can grow deeper roots in our faith and see a transformation in the lives of people.”
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
2016 © United Bible Societies China Partnership