As a young child growing up in Thailand’s lush Chiang Mai province, Sarocha (Saro) Yotmanisakun assumed she was a Christian. When she was seven years old, her father completed a year of study and became a Bible teacher at their local church. Saro learned the stories of the Bible from him. However, she had not yet accepted Jesus as her Saviour.
“I had no peace and I felt that something was missing,” says Saro. “I tried to find what that was. It took me many years.”
That quest would lead her to a true faith in Christ, and a passion for Bible translation.
Impressed by Missionary
One of six children in a Hmong farming family, Saro helped her parents tend their vegetable garden when she wasn’t attending primary school in their village. When she turned 12, her family moved to another village in neighbouring Chiang Rai province so her father could work as a teacher in a Hmong Bible school.
In Chiang Rai, Saro had to speak Thai rather than Hmong, her mother tongue. However, she was still unable to fully communicate with her new friends.
“I attended a middle school in which most of the students were Tai Lu (a different ethnic/linguistic group). I normally talked with my friends by using Standard Thai and my friends would reply to me in Tai Lu.”
Though communication was challenging, Saro struggled most with the religious and cultural differences at her school.
“Many times, due to school regulations, I had to attend the Buddhist temple and join Buddhist activities. Also, every morning in school we had to memorize Buddhist teaching. I did not like it. It was kind of a new world for me.”
Life in the new village was also a vocationally formative experience for Saro. At the Bible school, her father worked with a missionary from New Zealand who had come to share the gospel with the Hmong people. Even though Saro was not yet a Christian, she was fascinated by the missionary.
“When I saw her, I thought I want to be a missionary like her. I could go to places that nobody goes and do many things that I have never done, as she did when she came to our people. I simply thought it would be fun. This thought became rooted deep inside me.”
An Encounter with Christ
Saro truly encountered Christ when she was 19, while attending a summer youth camp.
“Thank God, I found the answer—God was what I was missing. My thought that I knew Him, indeed, was wrong. I had neither accepted Him nor trusted in Jesus. I didn’t believe that Jesus was the only person who can redeem me from my sin and give me true life.”
Saro says during camp, God opened her mind to understand His love and His faithfulness.
“He made me realize that I was separated from Him and Jesus was the only way to get back to Him. I knew deep in my heart that I needed Jesus. From that time on, I knew that I am God’s child and have a new life in Christ. And I also desire to serve Him in whatever way I can.”
Saro began praying that God would give her opportunities to share Jesus with others. During her second year of university, she was introduced to Wycliffe Thailand through an event called “Cafe Wycliffe.” She’d never heard of the organization before, but was immediately intrigued by their presentation on language survey and Bible translation.
“Those two things captured my interest,” Saro recalls. “While I was listening to their presentation, I thought, "This is what I can do." I’m not good at sharing the gospel in public. However, as a Bible translator, I can share the gospel with others in a written book.”
Saro felt a personal connection to Bible translation because she remembers the first time she heard God’s Word in her mother tongue.
“It touched me deeply. I felt like God had spoken directly to me. Because of this, I want to see other people being touched by the Word of God in their mother tongue and being transformed.”
The director of Wycliffe Thailand, Tharawat Suebthayat, told her that she would need to study linguistics in order to prepare for Bible translation ministry. A master’s program at Payap University in Chiang Mai was the perfect fit.
Immersed in Linguistics
Created in 1989 as a shared vision between SIL (Wycliffe’s main partner organization) and Payap University, the goal of the program is to train students in Bible translation and language development, with a special focus on preparing Southeast Asian nationals to become translators within the region. Staffed largely by experienced field workers, it’s a rigorous program that requires students to complete 10 courses and a thesis.
Chiang Mai is an ideal location for the program, as it’s surrounded by a cluster of five distinct language groups.
Wycliffe provided Saro with a scholarship to attend Payap, and she began the challenging work of studying linguistics. The course has helped her understand the nature of languages, and how to apply what she is learning to Bible translation.
“In translating any text,” Saro says, “the translator needs to make sure it is translated accurately, naturally, and clearly. It is not an easy task.
“I feel that I need to be very careful as I am translating the Bible, because it is not just an ordinary text. It is the message from God to us, so that we will know who He is and what He does for us, as well as what He wants from us.”
Currently finishing her coursework at Payap, Saro hopes to help translate the Bible for a language group in a neighbouring restricted-access country once she completes her thesis and graduates. As she contemplates what it will mean to be a missionary, she is reminded of a pastor’s statement that a missionary can only serve people for a limited period of time.
“But [he also said] the Bible will be with them forever. And God will be with them, to teach and guide them and their children.”
Ruth Richert is a volunteer writer with Wycliffe Canada.
Project link: Payap University MA Program
Related content: Wycliffe Thai Foundation
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