July 2011

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Finishing the Harvest Among China’s Miao Peoples

by Wesley Kawato

If the definition of a people group is a people who share a common language and culture, then the Miao “nationality” actually includes more than 100 people groups! Linguists have classified the languages spoken by the Miao peoples into at least eight language families. Many are no more interrelated than the vari- ous Native American groups in the United States. Among the Miao groups are the Hmong peoples. Many people don’t realize that there are many people groups in southeast Asia and south China that include “Hmong” in their names, even when they aren’t related.
What happened was that the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) grouped many tribes together that live in the southern provinces of China like Yunnan and Guizhou, and called them “Miao.” In doing so, they created a cluster of peoples that we will pray for this entire month.
Many people associate the Miao peoples with Southeast Asia, not realizing that there are also many Miao peoples living in southern China. Names can also be confusing. Miao people groups may call themselves Hmong or Hma, or some varia- tion thereof. Miao groups with similar names may in fact speak languages that belong to entirely different language families!

There is much confusion in Western countries because most people are only aware of one Miao people group cluster, the Hmongs. This group lives mainly in Vietnam and Laos, though some live in China. The Hmongs helped America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) fight the Commu- nists during the 60s and the 70s. After the Communist victory, many Hmongs fled to the United States to avoid persecution.

The Hmongs are not typical of Miao people groups. Most Miaos live in southern China, not Southeast Asia. Most Southeast Asia Hmong groups have many follow- ers of Jesus Christ, though there are some that remain unreached that we will pray for from days 3-7. Most Miao people groups are still unreached. Spiritually there is a wide disparity between the various Miao people groups of our world. Many Southeast Asian Hmong groups have strong churches today, yet they are an offshoot of a Miao people group living in southern China that has few if any followers of Jesus Christ.

A Brief History of Mission Work Among the Hmong and Miao Peoples

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, there was a shortage of missionaries in southern China. Missionaries tended to concentrate on people groups that responded early to the message of salvation. The Ga Mu people of southern China was such a group. They responded eagerly to the preaching of J.R. Adams in 1907. Adams couldn’t disciple all of his new converts, so he called for help. The Dau Hmong lived next to the Gha Mu. One of the missionaries that answered Adams’ call for help abandoned his efforts to reach out to the Dau Hmong. Today the Gha Mu have more followers of Jesus Christ than most people groups in China, while the Dau Hmong remain unreached.

Missionaries have faced other obstacles in reaching out to the Miao peoples with the message of salvation. There have been periodic outbreaks of persecution in southern China. Several missionaries were killed during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Many more fled the country. During the missionaries’ absence, the Boxers, who hated for- eigners and foreign influenced Asians, killed many Miao believers. When missionaries returned, their flocks were greatly reduced because of Boxer persecution.

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty collapsed, and warlords took over much of the country. For many years China ceased to have a strong central government. Sometimes the various regional warlords fought among themselves. Even when they didn’t, crime be- came a problem. Roving bandits made travel dangerous, and missionary work suffered.

In 1937 Japan invaded China. The Japanese Army feared that missionaries might beforeign spies. They sent some of them to prison camps. Other missionaries managed to flee the country. The Japanese usually didn’t persecute Chi- nese Christians, but the departure of the missionaries left many new Miao converts without sound Bible teaching. Before World War II ended in 1945, some Miao believers fell away from the Lord. Others were killed by the general chaos of the Japanese occupation.

Things didn’t get any better after World War II ended. By 1949 Mao Zedong’s Communists drove the Chinese Nationalists from most parts of China. The fighting prevented many missionaries from returning to southern China. Missionaries who returned to the Miao’s homelands were expelled after the Communists won the civil war. China became closed to mission- ary activity, and the Miao followers of Jesus were left to fend for themselves. Communication with these believers was cut off for several decades.

After 1949 mission agencies turned their attention to the Miao peoples who lived in Southeast Asia, rather than China. Most of these groups were offshoots of those living in southern China. Prior to 1911 racial discrimina- tion and attempts at genocide had driven many Miao people groups out of China. There were some booming revivals during the post-1949 period in Southeast Asia. The revival among the Hmong people groups living in Vietnam and Laos is the best-known example.

During the early 1980s China became more open to missionaries. Returning missionaries found that Miao people groups that had eagerly responded to the gospel prior to 1949 still had strong churches. However, little had been done to reach out to the Miao people groups that were unreached in 1949. Dur- ing the days of Communist persecution there had also been a strong revival among the Han Chinese majority; but many Han people had poor relations with most Miao people groups. They made no effort to reach out to the Miao.

The Needs of the Miao Peoples Today

Today there are both obstacles and opportunities for sharing the message of salvation with the Miao people groups of southern China. Poverty is a huge problem. Also many Miao peoples have suffered from discrimination by the Han Chinese majority. There is an opening for believers to show kindness to the groups by beginning community development projects to reach out to them.

There is a hunger for education among the Miao peoples. The Chinese government has made only a minor effort to build schools in Miao towns and villages. Despite Communist talk about racial equality, discrimination still exists in China. There is an open door for Christian teachers to start schools that teach both basic skills and the message of salvation.

Reaching out to the Miao peoples will be a daunting task. The Miao speak languages that belong to at least eight language families. Many of these lan- guages lack a complete Bible, and many do not even have a single Scripture portion. Miao languages are also difficult to learn. A typical Miao language has nine tones; one of them has 13 tones. By comparison Mandarin Chinese has only five tones. Many Western missionaries find it difficult to learn tonal languages because they speak languages that have no tones. Korean mission- aries face the same problem because the Korean language also has no tones.


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Dear Praying Friends,
It wasn’t long ago that I never would have considered doing a GPD issue about the Miao peo- ples of southern China. This is because many of their subgroups have been reached for Christ in China and Vietnam through the Far East Broadcasting Company
(FEBC) radio and the efforts of missionaries, the JESUS Film, and local Christians. Also, in recent years a number of people from some Miao subgroups have moved to Western countries where there have been people movements to Christ. In the April Global Prayer Digest we prayed for an unreached Miao subgroup living in Paris France.
There has been a partial harvest. We aren’t at the gleaning stage yet. Both the Joshua Project web site and Operation China list a number of unreached groups in south China who have never heard about the Lord.
The fields are ripe for the harvest. Let’s uplift the work with prayer so that missionaries and loving Christians who want to reach these people will find open hearts.
In Christ,