YUNNAN, China – Si Zhonghua, 16, a West Lisu teenager living in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, received Christ two years ago. “I was asking myself what the purpose of my life on earth was. Then one day, a preacher came to my village and told us about Jesus giving us eternal life and that the Word of God is more precious than money.”
While some of his peers might be loitering on the streets and feeling aimless about life; today Zhonghua (left) is spending his time at a West Lisu Scripture Literacy Class supported by United Bible Societies. He is there to learn to read the Bible in the West Lisu script. “I want to learn the West Lisu script so that I can read the Lisu Bible, gain more Bible knowledge and be able to share my faith with others.”
Conversion and Literacy
It has been observed that conversion and literacy go together. J.O. Fraser, the first foreign missionary to the Lisu people, had created the Lisu script in the early 1900s. Later he and his team started translating the Lisu Bible. It was said that in the past, missionaries spread the gospel by reading the catechism (translated by Fraser) to the Lisu people after which they gradually gained literacy.
“In order to continue the work of spreading the gospel, building and strengthening the spiritual life of believers and passing down the Lisu language and cultural heritage, Scripture literacy is important,” shared Yu Yongguang, a member of the West Lisu Annotated Bible translation team. Besides Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan CC/ TSMP plans to conduct classes in two other prefectures in western Yunnan namely, Lijiang and Diqing for a total of 400 church youths, volunteers, preachers and pastors.
According to the National Census in 2010, there are 702,800 Lisu people in China out of which 668,000 are in Yunnan. It is estimated that nearly 50% of the Lisu people are Christians but many today are not literate of the West Lisu script as it is not taught in schools. As such, the West Lisu script is usually taught at home and in churches but this is not too common given the general low literacy rate.
Video: West Lisu youngsters reading from the Lisu Bible
Another participant of the Scripture Literacy class, Yuan Baomei, 18, shared, “More than half of the believers in my church are elderly believers who do not know how to read the Lisu Bible. Increasingly, there are some Lisu parents who want their children to learn the Chinese language due to economic and practical reasons. So after this class, I hope to be able to help other believers learn to read the Lisu Bible so that they can draw near to God through reading his Word. There are some non-believers who are keen to learn too.”
Lisu Bible’s Contribution to Society
In fact, non-believers who work in the Lisu language news media have been using the West Lisu Bible as their dictionary as it is the only written script offering a wide range of vocabulary. “Since seven or eight years ago, Lisu language news reporters and radio broadcasters have sought the help of Christians and consulted the Lisu Bible in their writing and reporting,” shared Rev Li Moxi, Nujiang CC/ TSPM Chairman. “We are grateful to Fraser for creating the script and very glad that the script could help in the development of our society today.”
“We are also very grateful for the support of UBS not just for our literacy classes but also in Lisu Bible publication and distribution. As more than half of the Lisu churches are on the mountains, they are relatively less accessible and in more difficult economic situation. We are thankful for God’s provision through UBS,” shared Rev Li.
It is our prayer that more West Lisu Christians, like Zhonghua and Yuanmei, will be able to read the Bible in their heart language and that their spiritual lives be deepened and strengthened.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
Photos and video: UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership