July 2014

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The Zhuang People: So Many, But So Unreached

by Keith Carey

If you were to walk through a crowded city street in China’s Guangxi Province, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell who is Zhuang (pronounced Zhoo-ung) and who is Han Chinese, even if you yourself were Chinese! The physical characteristics of the Zhuang and the way they dress are no different than the Han Chinese majority in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
But these 17 million people make up the PRC’s largest minority group. They have about 50 subgroups and 13 dialects. We will be praying for many of the subgroups this month. But since there is not enough information on each of them, during the last week of the month we will pray for unreached people groups that are related to the Zhuang.
According to a prayer guide called “31 Days for the Zhuang” found at: http://www.infomekong.com/downloads/prayerguides/31daysforthezhuang.pdf Zhuang peoples have lived in what is now China’s Guangxi Province for over 2,000 years. Though they are an ethnic rather than a linguistic group, their dialects come from the Tai branch. The term Zhuang was first used in 1950 by the new Communist government.
Although all 50 subgroups are still unreached, many of those who work with the Zhuang say they are receptive to the gospel message. One missionary who has tracked the situation with the Zhuang said, “Every time workers have been sent among these people, there has been significant fruit…but there are still so few workers.” Unfortunately, the Zhuang peoples are usually overlooked by Chinese evangelistic Christian efforts. The result is that only about one in 400 Zhuang individuals have put their faith in Christ.

The Zhuang People Have Good Reason to Embrace Christ

The Zhuang people hold festivals to appease spirits, ghosts, and fairies, and especially their ancestors. One of the most important festivals will happen from July 7-16, and it is called the Ghost Festival. This festival is to appease the ghosts of people who have either died in tragic ways or have died without family or children to provide sacrifices for their needs. Much like their Han Chinese neighbors, the Zhuang sacrifice animals to feed these hungry ghosts and make burnt offerings of fake paper money and clothes for the ghosts to use. They believe that if they don’t appease the hungry ghosts in this way, the ghosts will harm them. Thus, they are motivated by fear of bad luck.
For most Zhuang there is little distinction between their present family and the spirits of their ancestors. In their worldview the spirits watch over them and intervene in their daily lives. Rituals and festivals play an important part in their lives. They make regular offerings of fruit or incense to their ancestors. When someone in the family becomes sick or there is a tragedy, the family will take an offering to the local shaman. The shaman will tell them what the problem is and what they need to do to appease the offended spirit. Those who don’t engage in these activities are viewed as people who don’t respect their ancestors and do not wish to be part of the family. In such a culture where the family is supremely important, losing your family means losing your identity. Family pressures on new believers who refuse to worship in the traditional way are almost unbearable.
Like many peoples of the PRC, those who live in rural areas are more likely to believe in spirits than those who live in cities. The Communist government tried to erase the Zhuang religions from the Zhuang people groups by cutting down their sacred trees and teaching them science, evolution, and atheism. The atheistic worldview has caught on more with the urban Zhuang, but only about 15 percent of these people live in cities. About 85 percent of them are rural, but as China becomes more industrialized, more of them are flocking to the cities.

Barriers to the Gospel

There are many reasons why the Zhuang peoples are not being reached with the gospel. People tend to overlook them because they appear to be the same nationality as the Han Chinese peoples, and large numbers of the Han have a strong Christian presence. The diverse Zhuang dialects and the lack of Christian resources in their languages have posed difficulties.
Materialism is engulfing the peoples of the PRC, including the Zhuang groups. The quest for consumer goods has driven men to the cities where they work long hours and usually can see their families only about twice a year. People who work long hours have no time to think about having meaningful relationships with people or to cultivate their own spiritual lives. As the Zhuang prayer guide said, “They are just too busy working and making money to think about God.”
Special difficulties exist when trying to reach the rural Zhuang for Christ. They are so scattered that it will take many workers to reach them all. They have a traditional, animistic worldview (see above), which might act as a bridge to the various people groups or, in turn, it might act as a wall against those who want to share Christ. Over 80 percent of the rural Zhuang are pre-literate, so anyone who wants to reach them must be able to present the gospel through oral means, e.g. stories, skits, music, etc.
Pray that believers who are called by God will use creative strategies to move to areas where they have access to the rural Zhuang.

Opportunities for Evangelism: The Arts

The gospel needs to affect the heart as well as the mind. The arts are a great way to reach the heart. In the AD400s, Irish monks won the local chieftains in Ireland to Christ by presenting them with illuminated manuscripts of Scripture, decorated with beautiful artwork and even precious jewels. In today’s world workers can use Zhuang art forms to present the gospel to the people in a way that they can understand and appreciate. 
The Zhuang peoples have a song for almost any occasion. Music is an important part of their lives, and the Zhuang people sing anywhere, anytime. Music is enjoyable, and it also helps one remember. Saint Patrick and his team used music to win Ireland to Christ in only 15 years. Likewise, culturally appropriate music can be used to help the Zhuang learn Scripture verses and stories from the Bible. Potentially Zhuang people could sing songs about Jesus while doing their daily workaday tasks.
Though most Zhuang education is done in Mandarin, the trade language of the PRC, there are a few Christian materials available in some of the Zhuang dialects. On day 12, you will pray for an evangelistic movie created in a Zhuang language. The JESUS Film and a 30-minute gospel radio program are also available in a Zhuang language.
Pray for God to raise up people to translate the JESUS Film and radio broadcasts into the 13 major Zhuang dialects. Pray for successful efforts to duplicate and distribute Christian materials to spiritually hungry Zhuang people. Pray for God’s protection and wisdom for translators. Pray for God to raise up talented Zhuang artists and songwriters to produce culturally-appropriate materials that will touch the hearts of these 17 million people.

Needed: A Church Planting Movement

At this time the church is either weak or non-existent among every Zhuang subgroup. There is a lot of work to be done. Jesus told us very clearly to pray for workers.
These workers can come from a variety of places. The Zhuang people who live in urban areas are most likely to be reached first. Some of the urban Zhuang attend universities where there are Christian communities that can tell them about Christ. Han Chinese believers from the PRC and elsewhere can also be used by the Lord to reach the Zhuang peoples. Han businessmen might hire Zhuang workers and tell them about Jesus. There also might be expatriate workers among the Zhuang who are believers. These workers need an effective platform such as teaching English, community health, agricultural development, etc. to reach the people.  Others can start businesses that employ Zhuang. Short-term teams can help by teaching English, reaching out to Zhuang children, or going on prayer walks.
Church planters will have to be able to teach church-planting strategies, biblical truths, and leadership development at the local level without the aid of seminaries. As new Zhuang believers learn biblical truths, they will be able to share them with others, who, in turn, will share them with more people. Zhuang fellowships will need to be small so they don’t call attention to themselves from the government authorities who might see them as a threat. The Zhuang church will probably need to be house-church based and ready to multiply. New believers will also need to know truth from error so they can evade the efforts of cults that seek to damage the Lord’s work.
Pray for many mature believers to give up the comforts of home and go to rural Zhuang people groups to disciple indigenous believers in the word. Pray for believers to have a burden to adopt the Zhuang peoples and work with them until the Zhuang can do effective work on their own.

For more information:
http://www.infomekong.com/downloads/prayerguides/31daysforthezhuang.pdf
http://www.omf.org/omf/us/peoples_and_places/people_groups/zhuang_of_china
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuang_people
http://unreachedresources.org/clusters/322
http://www.china.org.cn/e-groups/shaoshu/shao-2-zhuang.htm
If you would like to receive regular prayer materials for the Zhuang peoples, write to: js74361@pobox.com

From the Editor

by Keith Carey, editor, GPD

Dear praying friends,
After centuries of hard work, almost all of the Han Chinese people who make up the majority of China’s population have been reached with the gospel. Today the largest minority group in China is the 17 million Zhuang (pronounced Zhoo-ung) people, which can be divided into 50 subgroups. We have prayed for the Zhuang before in the GPD, but we usually cover either one group or a couple of the major subgroups. This time we have attempted to cover as many of the subgroups as we could. However, information is still lacking for many of them, even on the Joshua Project web site. The last couple of days this month we will cover related people groups.
What is unique about the Zhuang people groups? They have their own languages, and they are so big in number that their province, Guangxi, is often referred to as the “Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.” The vast majority of the inhabitants are rural, though they are moving to the cities in great numbers. Another distinction is that there are Christian groups which already pray for them. You will find out how to get in touch with these groups at the end of the opening background article.
Last, but not least, the Zhuang peoples have a festival that they celebrate every July 7-12, so we are praying for them at the right time of year! See day seven for more details.

PS—How many of you would like to help the GPD or Joshua Project by volunteering a couple of hours a month for writing, research, or computer work?