Bible reaches China’s Black Yi Tribe

Hazel Southam tells us what life is like for the inhabitants of China’s Cloudy Mountains and one woman’s wait for the Bible. 

The air is thin, clear and cold in the village of Zhi Chao in China’s Cloudy Mountains. The village, home to Zhang Yaofang, 74, and 200 other people, lies at 2,800m above sea level – twice the height of the top of Ben Nevis. Yaofang was born here and has farmed this land with her husband Wenfu, 80, all her married life.

Today, because she’s dislocated a shoulder, she leaves the work in the field to her daughter-in-law and grandson. The family grows maize, beans and potatoes in the fields outside their home. The maize harvest has just been gathered and the two-storey white house is festooned with ropes of corn-on-the-cob that are drying in the sun. They’ll provide food for the family during the winter months.

The view from Yaofang’s front door is incredible: fields and tree-clad mountains, with a peerless blue sky. “I like it here,” says Yaofang. “The condition of my house may not be very good, but it’s familiar and I like it.”

Yaofang is a member of the Black Yi tribe, one of China’s officially recognised 55 ethnic minorities. She wears colourful traditional clothing and speaks the Yi language, not Chinese.

Zhang Yaofan and husband, Wenfu

Now, thanks to your support, she’s just received the Bible in the Black Yi language. In January, she and her husband will attend church-run literacy classes, as neither went to school, which will unfold the Bible to them.

But already, Yaofang has pages of her new Bible bookmarked revealing her favourite verses. Chief among them is the baptism of Jesus.

She rises with the sun and is asleep by 10pm. Her day is set by the natural rhythms of the seasons and the weather. Daily life for Yaofang revolves around maintaining the home, cooking for the family (“fried potatoes are my speciality,” she says) and caring for the household’s livestock.

Four cows stand in their stalls inside the walls of the house’s courtyard. Yaofang is keeping them fed with the husks of the corn-on-the-cob, which makes them lick their lips with pleasure.

A large white pig, thirty-four stupendously colourful chickens, a smattering of white geese and a dog, also keep her busy every day.

On Wednesday and Friday evenings, when tea has been eaten and work is over for the day, the family walks along the white concrete path to the village church and hear pastor Zhang Wenfu, 76, preach. He spent 14 years contributing to the translation and couldn’t wait for the Bible to arrive.

“I rang repeatedly asking for it to be hurried up,” he says. “Now, the Yi people can understand the message clearly,” he says.

As the sun sets behind the Cloudy Mountains and the temperature drops sharply, Yaofang shuts the animals up for the night. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges. But the New Year will bring education and revelation as the Bible is opened up to her. 

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