Story of a Dry Yi Bible Translator

“God has a special blessing for the Dry Yi Christians!” Yang Wen Hui, 43, an ethnic Dry Yi.

YUNNAN, China – The Dry Yi minority group belongs to one of China’s largest minority groups – the Yi ethnic minority where there are almost 7 million Yi people spread across Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces in China’s southwest. Traditionally, the Yi people practiced a feudal system all the way until the Communist Party reforms came into effect in the 1950s. According to 2009 estimates from the provincial Christian Council/Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CC/TSPM), the total number of Christians from the Dry Yi group is estimated to be 30,000.

“When missionaries came to China a long time ago, they established many churches amongst the Dry Yi minority group. Unfortunately many of the Dry Yi believers lost their faith during the time of the Cultural Revolution. When the Church was allowed to be reopened and when there was more religious freedom, there was a great revival in the Dry Yi Church!” added Yang. “As of 1989, a large proportion of the Dry Yi people are Christians.”

Need for a Bible in Dry Yi

The Yi people are agricultural folks. Being hardworking farmers, the heavy reliance on subsistence farming prevented many of the Yi people, especially those from the older generation, from getting a formal education in school. Hence many older Dry Yi Christians, who are more proficient in their own Yi mother tongue, are unable to read the Bible which is written in the Han Chinese language. There is, however a New Testament (NT) which was in the Black Yi language. Many of the Dry Yi Christians rely heavily on this NT, using it day and night for all their church services. Yet a complete Bible in their own heart language is lacking.

With more and more people turning to Christ each year amongst the Dry Yi people, the hunger to know more about God’s guidance in their lives and to understand His Word is more accentuated. This motivated the Church in China to embark on a Dry Yi Bible translation project with the support of the United Bible Societies (UBS). Yang Wen Hui was asked to come onboard the translation team as a “keyboarder” (the role of entering text into the computer).

Yang’s Testimony

As a third generation Christian, Yang started going to church with his grandparents and parents when he was still in primary school. The memory of his entire family, from old to young, attending Christian gatherings three days a week from 7:30 to 11pm, is still deeply ingrained in his mind. He still remembers fondly the adults singing praises and listening to short sermons preached during these meetings.  Growing up in a strong Christian family, Yang attended a 7-day Bible training class with his parents after he graduated from Junior High (secondary) School.

His faith took a beating in 1984 when he left his hometown in Wuding County in search for work in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province.  During that period, he did not attend church regularly and neglected his faith. In 1989, feeling spiritually dry and empty, he decided to leave Kunming and his work there to return to his hometown.  There was never a better time to return to the Lord. The period 1985 to 2002 was the time of revival for the Dry Yi Church. Like the prodigal son, Yang’s faith was not only revitalized when he returned home, it deepened and strengthened with time.

In 2002 he took over from an elderly deacon in the church to serve as deacon and in 2006, he began to working as a deacon in the cluster level (15 churches in one cluster).  In Oct 2008, Yang joined the Dry Yi Bible translation team.

“I am honored to be part of this team.  I wish I had invested more time into the studying of the Bible in my earlier years as my Bible knowledge is not good enough.  Still I am very happy and proud to be on the translation team.  I hope to see the completion of the Dry Yi Bible very soon,” Yang said in the interview. “We are indeed privileged to be God’s children. We long to know God more. As we know Him more, we long to see a greater revival in our mountainous area so that more Yi people will come to believe in the gospel. Thank you, UBS donors for giving generously. Because of you, our dreams of having the Bible in our own language will soon be fulfilled.”

Bible Translation  work of the Dry Yi Old Testament  is targeted to be completed by June 2014.

Story: Pamela Choo
Interview transcripts translated by Ellyne Kok and Ng Hwee Hong
2014 © United Bible Societies China Partnership