The Arduous but Rewarding Task of Translation Work


YUNNAN, China — What does it take for the Bible to be translated into a minority language? Time, money and language skills? From the experience of Bible translator Elder Zhang Quanwei (left), who comes from the Black Yi minority group, the answer would be God’s amazing provision. Throughout the last 12 years of translating the Bible into the Black Yi language, Zhang has seen God providing for him and his family. There was no lack even as he sent his children for university education and saw the passing on of his father. Divine provision was what enabled him to stay on the translation work till its final phase today.

Zhang comes from the Black Yi minority group. According to Jiang Zhulin, the former Vice Chairman of Yunnan TSPM, there is an estimate of 50,000 Black Yi Christians in 2009, mostly residing in Yunnan province.

Zhang, who graduated from Yunnan Seminary in 2001 and is the third generation of elder in his family, works with a team of four other translators and one Bible Translation consultant, Dr Yu Suee Yan on the Black Yi Bible translation, a project that is supported by UBS. He specialises in keying the Yi characters into the computer and the translation of two books in the Old Testament— Isaiah and Jonah.

“I didn’t know how to use the computer software at first but God provided help by allowing me to attend a two-week computer course,” shared Zhang who spends nine months doing translation work and three months back at his village for farming and harvesting every year.

The Black Yi Bible translation team at work. (Photo: UBS CP)

Now the translation project is in the final stage of proofreading. “We must be careful to standardise the language used because the Yi language varies according to location, in terms of the pronunciation, sound and intonation.”

Besides the task of keying in the Yi characters, Zhang had rewarding moments in the translation process as the truth of God’s Word shone upon his heart. “When I translated Jonah, God revealed to me that I was more disobedient than Jonah and I too have my own discrimination towards people who are different from me. Then I realised that we are all unworthy servants of God in need of his grace in our lives,” shared Zhang.

God further brought home the message to him when he translated the book of Isaiah. “I saw myself more clearly that indeed I am a sinner; unclean and needing God. God in His grace  reaches out  to the weak and lowly, promising hope (in the Person of Christ) to us. Like the Israelites who were not able to see the hope when Isaiah prophesied to them, we are not able to see our hope now. But it is there, God has already prepared it for us,” said Zhang.

One of the ways Zhang experienced the provision of God was through his church. “There were several brothers and sisters in Christ who gave willingly even though they were not rich. I was very touched by their giving.”

In a few months’ time, Zhang would complete the translation work. What is his future plan?

“I will return to shepherd the 26 churches and meeting points in my village and I also hope to work on an audio Bible for the Yi people,” shared Zhang excitedly.

Indeed, the work of God’s Word continues.

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