When H’Ngoih Ten Thong Goi was five years old her parents were murdered and she was enslaved to a neighbouring tribe. She was a member of the Bunong ethnic minority group in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region.
Pastor Kun from another ethnic minority group, the Rade, had come to the area to share God’s Word with the Bunong people. When he heard what had happened to the little girl he rescued her and took her into his home to raise her as one of his own children.
Ended her education
She stayed for two years, then moved back to her home village with one of her aunts. This ended the young girls’s short education as she had to work in her aunt’s fields all day.
Several years later, Pastor Kun brought her a Bible, not in her own language of Bunong, because this was not available, but in his own language – Rade. To her surprise, and to the shock of those around her, the young girl found that she was able to read and understand it.
“I couldn’t believe it – it was truly a miracle!” recalls Ms H’Ngoih, who is now 64. “I was just a poor country girl with hardly any education. God had saved me from enslavement but then he also gave me the miraculous gift of being able to read and understand the Bible, even though it was not in my own language.
“I read that Bible over and over again. Our God is so good!”
It was only years later that Ms H’Ngoih caught a glimpse of the Scriptures in her own language as a project to translate the Bunong Bible progressed. The project was started in the late 1960s but came to an abrupt end in 1975, when the Vietnam war ended and a communist government was established. The translation manuscripts were lost.
The two decades that followed were dangerous years for Christians in Vietnam, particularly for ethnic minorities. Many suffered persecution, including the Bunong, but this made them hold onto their faith even more strongly, secretly hand-copying and sharing the few draft Scripture booklets that were available in their language.
Today, around 75 per cent of Vietnam’s 32,500 Bunong people are Christians. Around 10 per cent of the 2,000 Bunong people in neighbouring Cambodia are Christians, too. Both groups are delighted that the Bunong Bible translation project, which began last year, is making good progress.
The project is being undertaken by translators in Vietnam and Cambodia and co-ordinated by UBS’s Vietnam Partnership, The New Testament will be published in 2014, followed by the Old Testament in 2020. The Bible will be produced in two scripts: Khmer script for Cambodia and Roman script for Vietnam.
Story provided by Grace Smith, UBS Vietnam Partnership