YUNNAN, China – One of the beauties of the Bible is that it consists of several different genres – narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, gospels, epistles, apocalypse. It is a collection of books rich in history, culture, stories, instructions, counsel, prophecy and more.
Imagine the variety of styles of writing and the breadth of vocabulary relating to a wide range of fields as diverse as worship rituals, law, flora and fauna, geography, tools and weaponry, etc.
Now what if you are being called upon to translate the Bible not because you are knowledgeable but because you consider this your calling in life? In fact, you are lacking in theological training and language skills. To make matters worse, your family is struggling to make ends meet. Would you have felt overwhelmed by the insurmountable task and contemplated quitting?
Many ethic minority Bible translators in China felt this way in this arduous journey of Bible translation for their minority groups. Li Shaoxiang, 51, a Ganyi Bible translator is one of them.
Li came to know the Lord at a young age. He had grandparents and parents who were believers and showed him the outworking of Christian love. “We love and care for one other. I grew up singing hymns and worship songs, and listening to Bible stories.”
Drawn to the Ganyi Language
What sets him apart from the other believers? Li is particularly interested in the Ganyi language and began learning the Ganyi script in church.
“When I was young, we had an elderly believer who was very proficient in the Ganyi language, he had a rich knowledge of it which impressed me. He taught some of us the Ganyi script.”
Like many ethnic minority groups in China, most of the Ganyi people live in poor and remote mountainous regions. Many did not have much formal education. The language of instruction is Chinese while minority languages are usually used at home or informally. A few ethnic minority churches might conduct literacy classes to teach believers the writing script of their own language. It is not common for ethnic minority people to be literate in their own mother tongue. People like Li were rare.
The Calling to be a Bible Translator
So when the Ganyi church wanted to set up a Bible translation team, Li was naturally encouraged to participate. Even though he too did not have much formal education, he has a flair for the Ganyi language. The job is done pro bono because rural churches being poorer are not able to pay Bible translators a regular salary. As a result, most ethnic minority Bible translators in China are self-supported.
“The initial phase was especially difficult. I had to work doubly hard to understand the Chinese Bible by reading it several times, consulting reference books and discussing with my fellow Bible translators. Then I had to consider how to translate it accurately into the Ganyi language.”
The Road is Long and Arduous
It was so challenging that Li wanted to quit several times. “I recall the first year of involvement when my son was to enroll into school and we were financially very stretched. I felt really bad that my parents and wife had to carry the full burden of providing for the family by working so hard in the fields.”
Yet, it’s been 16 years now since Li was involved in the Bible translation work. The team recently launched the trial edition of the Ganyi Old Testament as well as a few books from the New Testament!
But Four Groups of Support Kept Him Going
What keep him on track? Looking back at the years gone by, Li attributed it to four groups of people. “Support from my family, the translation team, the church and the United Bible Societies (UBS) helped me to persevere in this work.”
“My wife and parents told me, ‘Don’t give up, we are people of faith, we face difficulties together as a family. We will back you up.’ Their unwavering support for me is very precious.
“My fellow Bible translators are always cheering me on, helping me to deepen my understanding of the Bible. My church also gave me a lot of moral support and prayed for us all these years for wisdom and understanding from the Lord. I know they are all longing to see the Word of God in their own language.
“Support and visits from UBS staff also encouraged and helped me. They travelled from afar on bumpy roads to come and see us in our village to offer technical and financial support. I am really grateful to them.
Since early 2000s, United Bible Societies started supporting the Churches in China in ethnic minority Bible translation by providing computers, software for Bible translation, Bible translation training and consultation, as well as living allowances for the translators. Scripture Literacy classes, also supported by UBS, go hand in hand with Bible translation as local believers need to be taught the script of their own language. Let’s continue to pray for the Ganyi Bible Translation Team as they continue working on the New Testament and for the believers to be more engaged with God’s word in Ganyi.
Story: Cynthia Oh and Zipporah Zu
Photos: UBS CP
2022 © United Bible Societies China Partnership