YUNNAN, China – 2015 was a significant year for the White Yi Christians in China. Almost a century after Christianity first reached the White Yi people; they finally have the New Testament in their heart language. Today they have another task ahead of them.
“We spent years translating the New Testament but the work is not yet over. Now we are teaching our people how to recognize and be literate in the White Yi script,” shared Su Laiyou, one of the members of the White Yi Bible translation team, who was at Dongchuan County to conduct White Yi Scripture Literacy classes supported by UBS.
Literacy Complementing Translation
The Yi ethnic group is one of the 55 ethnic minority groups in China, of which the White Yi is a sub-group. They live in mud brick houses, plant buckwheat, corn and potatoes, as well as rear sheep and pigs.
The population of the White Yi in China stands at 400,000, of which 60% are Christians. The Yi language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese Group of the Chinese-Tibetan Language family.
Due to the tradition of oral culture and the fact that only Chinese language is taught in schools, most White Yi people are not literate of the White Yi script. “To complement the translation of the White Yi Bible, White Yi Scripture literacy class supported by UBS was held at Xundian County in 2010 even before the completion of the White Yi NT and recently in Dongchuan,” shared Ng Hwee Hong, a UBS China Partnership programme coordinator.
For Greater Understanding of and Intimacy with God
Despite the distance and difficult travelling condition, more than 100 White Yi believers from across four counties gathered at Qihei Christian Church, an old building perched on a mountain 2600 meters above sea level for, a ten-day stay-in literacy class. The church stood amongst the houses surrounded by hills, fields and rice terraces in hues of red, green and yellow.
Participants slept in the church hostel rooms on make-shift beds propped up by cement bricks and wooden planks and spent their time learning the White Yi script from the only two teachers amongst them – Su Laiyou and Huang Kaiming, both members of the Bible translation team juggling between literacy classes and translation of the White Yi Old Testament.
Why is learning the White Yi script important when the young are taught the Chinese language in schools and are supposedly able read the Chinese Bible? “I may be able to read Chinese but I don’t fully understand what I read. However, when I read the White Yi Bible I can understand it much better and feel more satisfaction,” said Wang Chunmin, 13, one of the youngest students at the literacy class.
Sun En You, 17, shared, “It is a good thing that we have the Bible in our own language. It should be this way so that our language can be preserved.”
Enthusiastic and Fast Learners who will Pass it on
“We were expecting about 80 people but 100 turned up and we are so glad to see not only adults but also younger adults who took leave from work and travelled 3-4 hours from the towns and cities to come back here for the class,” shared Huang Kaiming. “Since White Yi are able to speak the language, it is easier when it comes to learning the script. So we are confident these preachers and church volunteers will be able to pass on what they have learn to their churches after about two rounds of training.”
The participants who were mostly preachers, elders and church volunteers from 100 churches and meeting points in the four counties. Church Elder Yang Sousou (left), 38 who oversees about 200 White Yi believers in his church, is one of those excited to conduct literacy classes when he goes back.
“We are really able to gain more understanding reading the White Yi Bible compared to the Chinese Bible which not many are able to read, especially older believers who did not go to school. So I look forward to helping my church learn it.” He demonstrated his confidence by reading aloud a few verses from Matthew 28 fluently.
Also for Evangelism
Not only are the believers coming to learn the White Yi script, non-believers are expressing their interest too. “We have non-believers, for example White Yi school teachers who teach Chinese in the schools wanting to learn the White Yi script from us. We foresee that this will be a great opportunity to share the gospel with them,” shared Huang excitedly.
Indeed, with the completion of the translation of the White Yi New Testament Bible, the work continues, be it Scripture literacy, evangelism or translation of the OT. Like the yellow fields and rice terraces that are ripe for harvest, the harvest field in Yunnan is ripe too. Let’s continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers into His harvest field.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership