Going the Distance
Reaching Remote Peoples of China with God's Word
With two new Bible translations completed in 2009, God now speaks in the heart languages of the East Lisu and Big Flowery Miao people of China.
In thanksgiving ceremonies last fall, church leaders unveiled the newly translated Bible for the Miao and the New Testament for the East Lisu people. The ceremony for the East Lisu was held in one of the area’s largest churches, Taogu Village Church, high up in the mountains of Yunnan province. Taogu Village Church, sitting more than a mile above sea level, is the birthplace of the East Lisu Church. It had been more than 100 years since a missionary first presented the gospel to the East Lisu people. Getting the New Testament in their language was a long time coming.
On that day, people came great distances in hopes of getting a personal copy of Scripture. A group of choir members said they walked 12 hours to reach the church in time for the ceremony. Some, knowing the church would be filled beyond its capacity, brought their own benches and stools so they could sit outside and be part of the celebration.
One of those on hand to receive a copy of the New Testament was 73-year-old Yang Hanquan. When translation efforts began on the East Lisu New Testament in 1984, most of the six members of the translation team were elderly men. Hanquan was the youngest and today is the only surviving member of that early team.
The Rev. Yong Haiwen, a fourth-generation Christian and a pastor to the East Lisu people, held the New Testament with reverence. “I am now holding the New Testament that for generations my ancestors had hoped to see,” he said.
As a pastor and member of the translation team, Haiwen knows the problems of not having Scripture in people’s heart language. He explained that when people hear the Bible in their own language, the stories become much more relevant to them.
“In the course of translating God’s Word, I am particularly fond of Luke 14.15-24, ‘The Parable of the Feast.’ To read this parable in East Lisu speaks volumes. The parable [speaks] about throwing a great feast, marriage ceremonies, buying a field and oxen. We can relate to all these activities as they are close to our East Lisu customs,” said Yong.
So many languages
Prior to publishing these translations, the Big Flowery Miao and the East Lisu did not have God’s Word in the languages they speak every day. (The Miao New Testament has been available since 1917.) They are not alone. Of the 516 people groups in China, more than 82 percent of them (according to the Joshua Project) are considered unreached by God’s Word, and one of the main reasons they remain unreached is the language barrier. The Bible has been available in Mandarin since 1819. But Mandarin is not the heart language of all 1.3 billion Chinese. In fact, there are 55 other languages in China, besides Mandarin — the official language — and countless dialects of the languages used by the 55 minority groups. Many members of minority people groups, such as the East Lisu, simply don’t speak Mandarin.
It may be hard to conceive, but China — a country with a geography slightly smaller than that of the United States — has a population more than four times as large. This makes translation work even more critical for spreading the gospel in the world’s most populous country.
Spring/Summer 2010 Barbara Delp
Uncover the Word