A Journey of Faith: Bible Translation and Language Preservation on Remote Island Southeast of Taiwan

TAIWAN — Christianity is central in Lanyu, a small island in southeastern Taiwan. Almost 90% of the island's 5,000 residents are aborigines from the Tao tribe. Due to social changes, the number of people under 30-years-old who can speak the Tao language has dwindled. The UN agency, UNESCO, has classified the Tao language as endangered. Language preservation is a challenge facing the Tao people today.

In order for the Tao people to read the Word of God in their own language, in 1994, the Bible Society in Taiwan published the first Tao New Testament in the Latin alphabet script. In 2019, they completed the Tao audio Bible. Next they plan to revise the New Testament and begin translating the Old Testament, a project which will take an estimated 10 years to complete.

Pastor Wang Jung-Chi, Langdao Presbyterian Church

Taos are a minority in Taiwan. Because of Mandarin education, our children lost the ability to speak Tao.

Pastor Chou Shih-En, Chair of Tao Presbytery

The talented and wise scholars in the church are mostly pastors. We need to finish the translation, while they are still healthy. I asked God to give them willingness and vision to do this.

The story of the Tao Bible translation has something to do with a remote people group in the Philippines. The Tao language is closely related to the Ivatan language found on the Batanes Islands of the Philippines. Both are a part of the Malayo-Polynesian language subgroup. No other aborigine language in Taiwan belongs to that subgroup. Starting in 1987, suitable Bible translators began to emerge, including Pastors Wang Jung-Chi and Chang Hai-Yu in Lanyu, and three foreign missionaries who took part in translating the Bible into Ivatan in the Philippines.

Pastor Wang Jung-Chi, Langdao Presbyterian Church

They were in the Batanes translating the Bible into Ivatan. They finished in 17 years. They heard Tao closely resembles Ivatan. So they applied to the Bible Society in Taiwan to come and translate the Bible in Lanyu.

Retired Pastor Chang Hai-Yu, Dongqing Presbyterian Church

Except during meals, we were always in discussion, and we compared with other translations. We had to compare with other translations. We compared with Filippino minority languages, over 10 Bible translations. The elderly people loved reading the Bible. Their Bibles were very worn.

Presbyterians, Catholics and the Assemblies of God, a total of 13 churches in Lanyu took part in this translation project, which has brought them closer despite their tribal and doctrinal differences.

Pastor Wang Jung-Chi, Langdao Presbyterian Church

Every time we had peer-review, we got to know each other, and gradually we became a team.

As the "Island of Christ," Lanyu's Tao people are the first aboriginal tribe in Taiwan to have an audio Bible in their own language. In 2019, churches in Lanyu formed a joint team to record the audio Bible with assistance from the Chinese Wycliffe Translation Association and several other organizations. The project took 8 weeks to complete, and the Tao Audio Bible app was born.

Feng Chia-Hsi, Secretary-General of Chinese Wycliffe Translation Association

Very few people can speak Tao fluently. Originally, we wanted do a dramatized audio Bible. But we couldn't find enough Tao speakers.

Retired Pastor Chang Hai-Yu, Dongqing Presbyterian Church

We are the first tribe with an audio Bible, because they cared about our tribe. It's also a sign of God's love for us.

Revising and translating the Bible has its challenges. The annual cost is around 40,000 US Dollars. Also, the aging generation of fluent Tao speakers adds to the difficulties. But despite these challenges, this "Island of Christ" continues to carry the Great Commission, while preserving and passing on the Tao language and culture to the next generation.


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