Burma (Myanmar) ranks #23, according to the Open Doors’ World Watch List, among the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith. One man has dedicated his life, in the face of religious and political persecution, to seeing that one group of Burmese Christians can have the Bible in their native language, known as Zokam.
Born into a Christian family in the Chin state of Burma, H. Gin En Cin read a very simple paraphrase of the New Testament that was written in 1938 by American missionaries. For years he had felt his language needed a more dynamic translation of the Bible; something closer to the original Greek and Hebrew, and more like the English translations he had seen in school. In 1983 Gin heard a voice calling to him. This voice was telling him to create it. That point 33 years ago began a physical and spiritual journey that would result in the creation of the Zokam Laisiangtho, or Zokam International Version (ZIV), and bring Gin to America.
Zokam is the language spoken by the Zomi people, who live in the Chin state of Burma and in the Manipur state in India. Though they share a common language and distinct culture, these people were separated by the colonial boundaries established between Burma and India.
With an 8th grade education and no formal theological training, Gin En Cin was determined to answer the call he heard. First he wrote a translation of the New Testament based on the New International Version (NIV) in English and other versions. To be sure of the accuracy of the work, he formed a committee of scholars from the Evangelical Baptist Conference in Burma and India to review and edit the translation. Though that translation took three years to complete, it wasn’t published until 1994. Even then, the family personally financed most of the printing costs to bring this translation to reality for the Zomi people.
The process was painstaking. First, Gin would translate and write by hand. That work was typed and sent to the committee for review and editing. The committee’s edits would then be typeset into a computer by Gin’s son, Thang Pil Mung, and daughter, Niang Muon Kim. Afterward, Gin’s wife, Don Khaw Hau, who worked as a nurse, would proofread. The family would go back and forth until it was correct. Of the family dedication to this project, Gin recalled, “When the Bible was ready, God gave us a son and daughter with computer skills.”
Once the New Testament was published, Gin began working on the Old Testament, first publishing the wisdom books in 2010. But during this time, the family was separated because of the war, conflict, and persecution of Christians in Burma. Thang Pil Mung, had to flee Burma because of oppression by the military government against student political opposition. As editor of a student newspaper, while he was in university, he was in danger for opposing the government’s oppressive policies. After fleeing to Malaysia, Pil Mung was admitted to the U.S. under the refugee resettlement program in 2007. Likewise, Niang Moun Kim, found safety in Hong Kong, and Gin and his wife made their way to the capital city, Yangon. Despite their separation, the family continued to work together on the translation, using email and the internet to share the documents. Pil Mung petitioned for his parents to be able to join him in the U.S., and in May of 2015, the family was reunited in Wheaton, where they live today.
Wherever the family moved, space where the translation took place became holy ground. They approached the work with reverence and focus, knowing the immensity of the task. Each day Gin would take off his shoes, wash his hands, and clear his mind before working. This is “holy work,” he would explain to his family.
Finally, in 2014 the Old Testament was completed, achieving a side-by-side translation with the NIV. Gin felt God’s presence in the translation. He completed it at the age of 77 and considers it the work of his lifetime. As the Zomi people are scattered around the globe – Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and Norway to name a few places – this translation is going with them wherever they go.
In the summer of 2014 Gin En Cin, along with people around the planet watched Germany win the World Cup. Celebrating their lifetime achievement, the German players repeated the ritual of kissing the cup before holding it in the air. That September Gin remembers kissing and raising the final printed version, the first complete ZIV Bible, to mark what God had done through him. “It took one life to get it done,” he said.