Yang Hai’en, 40, is currently serving in a church in his hometown at Taogu, Yunnan Province. Yang was born into a Christian family. Through their service to the church and community, his family has blessed many among the East Lisu ethnic minority group at Taogu.
In the early 1900s, British Protestant missionary Rev George E. Metcalf introduced the Gospel to the community at Taogu. Yang’s great-grandfather, Yang Shouwang, was one of the first Christian converts in Taogu and served as the first director of the East Lisu Churches. He worked with and aided Rev Metcalf in the preaching of the Word and in church-planting. The senior Yang was also one of the pioneer members who began work in the translation of the East Lisu Bible, and his son succeeded him in Bible translation work some years later. His grandson, Yang Xianguo served as the leader of the East Lisu translation team, which was officially established by the Yunnan Christian Council/ TSPM in 1992.
Yang Hai’en followed in the footsteps of his father, Yang Xianguo, and joined the East Lisu translation team in 2002. He was responsible for entering translated texts into Paratext. Paratext is a software application for translation, checking, and revision of the Bible from the original text into different languages. Yang served faithfully and witnessed the publication of the East Lisu Bible in 2016. He expresses thanksgiving that his family, for generations, were able to take part in the monumental project of the translation of the Bible into their heart language.
To have seen the Bible made available in his mother tongue has been one of the most fulfilling and significant milestones in Yang’s years in ministry work. Another significant project is the minority language Scripture literacy program that Yang has been closely involved in.
“If we preach the Scriptures to the East Lisu believers using the Chinese language, it would be more difficult for them to comprehend the messages conveyed to them, as many of them do not speak and understand Chinese. Thus, having the Bible in the East Lisu language, together with the East Lisu Scripture literacy classes, helps the believers learn God’s word effectively.” Yang shares.
Like many other ethnic minority groups in remote regions, most of the East Lisu community did not have access and resources to formal education. Hence, the illiteracy rate is high. Many believers are not able to read the Bible.
The Scripture literacy lessons focuses on teaching students to first read and write commonly used East Lisu characters. “As soon as they [believers] are able to read these characters on their own, they would progress to reading the Bible. If they can read the Bible on their own, they would be able to learn God’s Word!” Yang smiles as he shares.
Yang recounts of the inaugural class of the Scripture literacy program. “We printed 2,000 copies of Scripture literacy materials. I was filled with excitement, knowing that 2,000 East Lisu brothers and sisters would learn to read and write in their own language, and they would go on to read God’s Word!”
The implementation of the Scripture literacy program was not without challenges. The teachers involved were, at the same time, serving in their local churches as lay preachers. On top of pastoral roles, they had to support their families through day jobs like farming.
Also, the classes had a mixture of both the young and elderly, with varying degrees of learning capacities. Moreover, due to the demands of domestic life, many of the students were not able to attend the classes regularly. It was also common for the younger generation to leave for the cities in search of job opportunities. Nonetheless, the East Lisu Christians were still keen to learn and many have learned to read the Bible in their mother tongue through the literacy classes.
Yang shared, “Although we, the teachers of the Scripture literacy classes are very busy, we are very happy to conduct lessons for the students. I want more people to know God’s Word through the Scripture literacy classes. This is my heart’s desire for the East Lisu brothers and sisters.”
Story: Marcus Xiao and Elaine Ho
Photo: UBS CP
2021 © United Bible Societies China Partnership