“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
These words from John 3:36 (NIV) define Nguyễn Van Nhung’s* life. He belongs to an ethnic minority tribe in Vietnam and holds tightly onto this verse. Before trusting in God, Nhung had many bad habits – such as excessive drinking and smoking – but, he says, “Jesus freed me from those bad habits through his word, through this verse.” Now that he has the Bible translated into the language of his own tribe, Nhung can see God’s love for him and that his promises are true. “I want to shout that we are loved by the Almighty God…I can fully understand his word and I feel very close to him.”
Nancy* is also from a Vietnamese ethnic minority and faced many disappointments early in her life. “I was full of self-pity,” she remembers. “I compared myself to other women and felt so small. I was single and childless, doing manual work on the field, and thinking about that made me bitter.”
When Nancy met a Christian evangelist, she heard the words of God for the first time. “The evangelist witnessed to me, saying that only faith in Jesus could save us. Our ignorance had been causing us to sin against God. I objected, arguing that because I did not kill or steal, I should not be condemned as a sinner. But the evangelist pointed me to Romans 3:23, which reads: ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’, and I was convicted.”
Nancy returned to her village and put her faith in Jesus. The word of God changed Nancy into a new woman. She shared: “After knowing God, I learnt his Ten Commandments and I knew that being jealous of other women having children was not good. Now I am free of hatred and revenge in my heart. I no longer felt hurt if people made fun of my singleness.” Devoting most of her time to spreading the good news of the kingdom to others in her tribe, Nancy clings to the word of God and his promises, as she explains what the Scripture says to those around her.
She often prays for a full Bible in her language. “I think that a full Bible written in [this] language is utterly important and useful when witnessing to people in my community. When we need to explain something to them, we can point them to the Bible and if the Scripture is in [our language], they can read for themselves.”
Thrac*, who also belongs to a Vietnamese ethnic minority, received a Bible in the Vietnamese language which she treasured, but could not understand easily. Instead, she learned how to pray. She prayed, “Lord, you know my need… please show me your word so that I can understand it better.”
In 2006, Thrac was diagnosed with cancer. She continuously prayed to God, and testifies, “He healed me and showed me the verse, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you don’t know’ (Jeremiah 33:3).” When Thrac went for a check-up with her doctor a year later, he was surprised by her good health and asked what medicine she had taken. Thrac replied, “The Bible is my medicine.” Thrac still finds the Vietnamese Bible hard to read, and says, “I was so thankful when I heard that our tribe had been favoured by God, as he set up a team to translate the Bible into [our] language. I hope that my people will interact with the word in our own language, and they will come back to God, who is their Saviour.” These stories of Nhung, Nancy and Thrac demonstrate the amazing power of single Bible verses. These faithful Christians are holding on to whatever part of God’s word they have in their language.
“The Bible is my medicine… I was so thankful when I heard that our tribe had been favoured by God, as he set up a team to translate the Bible into [our] language. I hope that my people will interact with the word in our own language, and they will come back to God, who is their Saviour.”
The work of Bible translation is vital to them, and is underway in many of these Vietnamese ethnic minority languages. The translators’ efforts are bearing fruit, slowly but surely. Pastor Laily, from one ethnic minority shares, “When the Bible [in our language] was published it was like a shining light for [our] people, helping them to understand the Bible more.” While they wait for completed translations, Christians among the ethnic minorities are already engaging with single verses and Bible portions.
Bible Society Vietnam is helping people engage with whatever parts of God’s word have already been translated into their languages. This year, they are developing, printing and distributing books – Stories of Jesus, The Gospel of Mark, and Bible study guides – in the languages of five ethnic tribes. Bible study groups are being formed for both believers and non-believers, giving them the chance to discover the power of even just one verse of the Bible, as it speaks to their hearts.
Elsewhere, a Bible translator working with a different heart language tells this same story, about the power of every verse of the Bible. Tsendee, one of the translation team members in Mongolia, reflects, “As I translated, my aim was to bring the strong messages of the Minor Prophets with their powerful images to the heart of Mongolians so that they will tear their hearts, not their clothes.”
The Mongolian translation team are working to bring a new translation of the Bible, from the original biblical languages into Mongolian, to their own people. Mongolian believers have been longing for a Bible which is easier to understand and flows more naturally in their language than the current version, which was translated from English. A representative of the Mongolian Pastors and Elders Association, Mr Tumurkhuyag explained, “The time [came] when we, Mongolian Christians, [took] up the challenge of translating the Bible into our own language and culture.”
“As I translated, my aim was to bring the strong messages of the Minor Prophets with their powerful images to the heart of Mongolians so that they will tear their hearts, not their clothes.”
Approximately 65,000 Christians are eagerly waiting for the Mongolian Standard Version Bible since the translation project commenced in 2015. With a projected completion date of 2025, Mongolian Christians are so eager for their Bible translation that they are already holding on to one verse at a time.Every time a book of the Bible is complete, the Bible Society team load it onto the mobile app – “Bible MSV” – where they can read the advance translation, engaging with God’s word immediately. As well as the app, for the last few years, Christians have been able to read newly translated books of the Old Testament via the website, www.msv.bible. As a further source of encouragement, Bible verses with background images are released almost every day for users.
In response to a Bible verse posted on Facebook, one user said, “Absolutely love it. Waiting for it to be published…THANK you guys.” “I am so blessed to be a part of this project translating the Bible from its original languages, learning its richness and beauty in the language and also learning about God,” Tsendee says. “I also see how great Yahweh is. He is all-powerful and sovereign over all the nations, yet his love and faithfulness (are) so deep and wide that he cares for his people and always gives a chance to the nations to repent and return to him. I love my work.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities