God’s Written Word A Century After

White Yi ladies beaming with smiles as they received their copies of the New Testament. Photo: UBS CP/ Jared Wong

YUNNAN, China— “Christianity came to the White Yi people about a century ago. Today, a century after, I am so thankful that we finally have the New Testament in our own language. A part of our culture was lost for many decades, now we have our language in written form,” said Li Wangsan, 42, an elder of Ao Zi Christian Church at the launch of the White Yi New Testament Bible.

The Yi ethinic group is one of 55 minority ethnic groups in China, of which the White Yi is one of the sub-groups. They live in mud brick houses, plant buckwheat, corn and potatoes, as well as rear sheep and pigs. According to Yunnan CC/ TSPM, there are about 60,000 White Yi Christians in Yunnan today. The Yi language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese Group of the Chinese-Tibetan Language family.

Thanksgiving and Celebration

Hours before the service, more than 300 White Yi believers, young and old, male and female had arrived at the beautiful castle-like church which stands at 2500 meters above sea level, surrounded by mountain ranges. The men were in their multi-coloured traditional costumes while the ladies had theirs patterned with embroidered flowers and head-dresses weaved out of sparkly beads. Some of them even travelled for hours from other villages, not wanting to miss the historic launch.

The celebration started with an alfresco lunch feast where people were sitting on stools and eating at low tables. It was followed by a Thanksgiving service at the church where the choir sang beautifully, giving thanks to God and the elder gave an exhortation to a packed sanctuary.

The White Yi New Testament was distributed amidst eager hands and wide smiles. Many were seen quickly opening up their own copies to touch and read it. One elderly believer teared upon receiving his copy of the New Testament.

The elderly believer who was moved to tears upon receiving his copy of the New Testament. Photo: UBS CP/ Jared Wong

Li Wanxing, 55, leader of the translation team said, “It means a lot for us to have God’s Word translated and expressed in our own language. It is not enough for us to only listen to God’s Word, we need to read it too.”

Li, together with five other translators, spent the past six years working with UBS translation consultant, Dr. Yu Suee Yan at Kunming city, straddling translation and farm work. “It is challenging as I need to tend the farm three to four times a year during the sowing and reaping season. But by God’s grace, we did it!”

Zhou Fuliang, 42, a deacon of the church added, “We thank the UBS donors for giving towards the translation work. We feel very grateful to have the written Word of God in the White Yi language.”

Continuing the Legacy

“As the White Yi language is not taught in schools, many White Yi people do not know how to read and write it. They only speak it,” shared Elder Li Wangsan.

Hence, to prepare the White Yi believers to receive the written Word of God in their own language, Scripture Literacy classes were organized by the White Yi church and sponsored by UBS. The purpose of these classes is to enable to the White Yis to read the Bible with relative ease.  With the launch of the White Yi New Testament Bible, not only would adult believers benefit, so would the younger generation.

“Now with the New Testament Bible, the church can use it to teach our young people the language! Our children are coming to church after they finish school in the afternoon to learn the White Yi language,” continued Elder Li Wangsan.

In fact, the leader of the translation team, Elder Li Wanxing, had introduced Zhu Wansheng, 22, to Bible translation work recently. “Even though I am young, I am interested in translation work and keen to do it if there is an opportunity for me,” shared Zhu.

One of the translators, Pu Guiying, with Ao Zi Christian Church in the background. Photo: UBS CP/ Jared Wong

Some White Yi like Pu Guiying, one of the Bible translators, teach themselves the language.

“By God’s grace, I was able to learn both the White Yi and Chinese language on my own and with some help from the elders in church. That is how I could serve as one of the Bible translators. I look forward to using it to teach our young people the White Yi language. Thank you UBS donors for your generous support in helping us to have the New Testament in our own language. Now, my heart’s burden and wish is to have the Old Testament in White Yi language too.”

Kua Wee Seng, Director of UBS CP said, “It is so sad that the White Yi Church has to wait for a century before they could have the New Testament in their own mother tongue. But today, we thank God for blessing the White Yi Christians with this precious gift, the Word of God in their heart language. Pray that the White Yi people will not have to wait for another century before having their own Old Testament.”


See photos of the White Yi New Testament Launch here.
Read about the White Yi Scripture Literacy Class here.


Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
2015 © United Bible Societies China Partnership