Modern Myanmar Lisu

Contextualization and Modernization
in Modern Myanmar Lisu Context

I.         The Realities of Modern Myanmar Lisu

             Today, as the empire of 'Globalization' has a far reach on this earth; this ever-on-going dynamic process has been making all the arenas and realities of this globe to be a new picture of something. It is also formulating the world to be a better society as well as a worst society as well. Even the skip of this global empire directly based on economical setting, it is on one hand continually and consequently interacting and touching with all the political, social, environmental, educational, technological, intellectual and cultural circles and so on. The play of this vibrant and active process makes here and then something as opportunities or challenges to everyone, every country and especially to every small ethnic group positively and negatively.     

            Besides, not only that new blessings, so-called 'globalization' but also other turning points such as 'contextualization' and 'modernization' are also coming into at the very stage of being popularity especially for each minority or every small ethnic group throughout the world. The Lisu people, a small ethnic group who inhabit China, Thailand, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh especailly in Myanmar, are likely touching with these modern changes. Here, this paper, thus will deal with the actualities of ‘contextualization’ and 'modernization' from the realities and perspectives of Modern Mynamar Lisu people.


i.          Reception of Christianity and Its Impacts to Lisu Community


According to Burkey Richard, ethnic group is a community group based upon the ascribed status of a diffuse ancestry that is maintained by a shared culture, language, and or phenotype. Ethnicity is also a set of attitudes related to a sense of ancestral identification with a certain segment of human society, from simple food-gathering to complex post-industrial community, ethnicity has persisted.[1]


 In the same sense, Lisu, very small ethnic group in this ‘Global Empire,’ Lisu have their own joyful community, a loving shared culture, ways of tradition, language and their own valuable and living identities. Thus, Lisu are also known as Yawyin or, in a few places Yobin. The Lisu are believed to originate from eastern Tibet and Mongolia in Lisu 'Mukuya,' but recent historical linguistic work by Dr. David Bradley indicates that they moved to eastern Tibet/northwestern Yunnan in the 18th century. Not long after that, in the early 19th century, Lisu peoples began moving southwards down the Salween River Valley into northern Myanmar and northern Thailand.[2] Their religion is part animist and ancestor worship; curing took place through shamanism. However, some Lisu converted to Protestant Christians starting in the early 20th century. The first Lisu to be reached by Christian missionaries were the Salween branch of the Lisu in Yunnan Province, China. The Scottish missionary James O. Fraser was the first Christian ever to have Lisu converts in China.

In Myanmar the first Lisu converts began in Myitkyina. As early as 1898, George J. Geis, an American Baptist Missionary to Kachins in Myitkyina, visited a Lisu village and had taken with the people using the Kachin language. His continuation of contact had resulted in coverting a couple named Ngwa Tar and Gu Na Du. According to Geis' report, their baptism took place in October 1902.[3] And they, converted couple settled down six miles north of Myitkyina at a place called Manhkring, the Kachin Christian village in that area. Thus, Manhkring has become the birthplace of Lisu Chrisitanity. Other Lisu baptisms were reported in the following years and Lisu Christians moved down to Manhkring village, where later they established their own Lisu village adjoining that of Kachins. Tegenfeldt gives a footnote to the Lisu churches, 'they were a part of the Manhkring Kachin Baptist Church, although they held some services in their own tongue. After World War II, they formed their own local church, remaining, however, a part of the district association and the Kachin Baptist Convention.

In these current days, Lisu have their convention namely 'Lisu Baptist Convention.' This convention is combination of five associations: Mogoke, Myitkyina, Wai Maw, Shan, and Bamo association. Because of becoming Christian, there are many changes for Lisu positively and negatively.


ii.         Social Cultural Changes

 Jesus Christ introduced Lisu people with the dance of modern world. Jesus Christ lets Lisu to know everything. He opens all the closed eyes and ears and mends of Lisu. The Light of Jesus Christ makes and leads Lisu to the standards of higher spirituality, education, intellectual, economic, and living standards. After becoming Christianity, Lisu can breath and feel and touch the taste of all the developmental realities of 'global empire' and the lives of Lisu totally become very different from the past lives. There can now be seen many faithful ministers, educated young people.

Social-culturally speaking, there are still some crisis and disagreement between the Gospel 'Good News' and the social-cultural identities of Lisu. Western missionaries or a form western Christianity just tried to force Lisu people to follow all the ways of western trends, ignoring all Lisu's own traditional and social-cultural ways. Missionaries to Lisu, they just shared and preached the Good News, and they omitted all other parts of their own loving identities. Likely, the experiences of identities crisis among Taiwanese converts 'Chiahh-kau-ye,' some wanted to eliminate everything related to their own way of life, in order to maintain their identity as Christians but some did not want to do it.[4] Lisu as well, most of them want to eliminate all old ways but some Christians and all Lisu animists don not want and they see them as destroyers of the culture and all ancestral identities and they are again regarded as the slave of Satan. This is the most problematic identity crisis social-culturally.          


iii.        Theological Changes

 Theologically speaking, Lisu people are influenced by animist religion. The ancestors of today's Lisu were originally animists. As Gailyn Van Rheenen notes, animists perceive that "all of life is controlled by spiritual powers" and in various ways "seek to manipulate these power."[5] Almost every area of life depends on spirits in the Lisu animistic culture. In spirit worship or practice, the first word charm was "Sar-Wu-Sa," meaning "Three Gods." With this word, "Sar-Wu-Sa," missionaries tried to identify with Trinity, God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. On one hand, worshipping ancestors was transformed into the Christian ways of respecting parents.


II.        Contextualization and Modernization

            The narration between Lisu people and the play of contextualization and modernization is going on and it is very interesting. As the color of those two realities is shaping and interacting with Lisu, the challenge is to know themselves (self-consciousness) as what that two are creating, needing, forming, changing, leading and demanding to Lisu. Indeed, Lisu have to be identified with that two: contextualization and modernization. Here, it is so important for every Lisu to aware of their inner and present voices in this new Age. Lisu people, thus must know that in what kind of context they live, in what kind of realities they live and how they can identify and maintain their identities with modernity. It is needed for them to do contextualization and modernization in accordance with their realities.  


 i.          The Need for Contextualization

 Modern Lisu misunderstand some ways of their ancestral festivals, beliefs, cultures and they regard them as ways of Satan. According to Theological Education Fund (TEF) of the World Council of Churches, "contextualization does not ignore traditional culture but goes beyond it in a dynamic way, taking into account contemporary phenomena."[6] Likely, Lisu really need to do 'contextualization' that they need to make clearly and solve the problem of identity crisis. In the same sense, they are to live with the realities of global empire. They also need to see and feel Jesus Christ in their loving culture and listen and follow all the ways of modernity in accordance with the Will of God faithfully. And it is needed to maintain their traditional cultures and adjust between their traditional culture and Christian beliefs and then it is needed to be one of modern participants of the word, as the contextualization of theology is the attempt to understand Christian faith in terms of a particular context which is really a theological imperative and it is very necessary in today's world and in today's understanding of Christian faith.[7]


 ii.         The Need for Modernization

 The term 'modern' comes from the Latin, modo, meaning 'just now.' It originally meant something like 'recent', 'present' or contemporary'.[8] In this sense, 'modern' refers principally to modern ideas, patterns of thought, philosophies, environment, politic, socialogies, ways of life, and all the present feelings, sufferings voices, situations, and expression in art and literature as a 'global norm.' Modernity is the intellectual and cultural heritages of the 'Enlightenment' project namely, the rejection of traditional and religious sources of authority in favor of reason and knowledge as the road to human emancipation.[9]

Lisu here need to realize that there are many positive features to modernity and post-modernity which they absorbs even they reject the ideas of the modernity. Modernity in another sense refers not only to the enlightment project, but to the social, economic and political developments associated with and sustaining it. The emergence of the democratic nation state, the progressive secularization and rationalization of society, economic growth, technological and industrial development, and urbanization, have all transformed all societies.[10]

As to describe modernity and post-modernity thus is not to dismiss their culture and identities as worthless or to encourage a simplistic rejection of the contemporary world, Lisu are needed to know all about it and needed to do 'modernization.' They need to modernize all their minds, hearts, ways of life and cultures in accordance with the Will of God and the true sense of cultural-respected mind.


 iii.        Interaction and Mutual effects between Contextualization and Modernization

There are actual relationship, integrating, cooperation and real mutual realities between contextualization and modernization. One cannot ignore other and one is important for the other in order to have a real norm. Here it can be called with the word 'Contextualizatio-Modernization.'    



III.      In Search of a New Paradigm Shift

 In search of a new paradigm shift for Lisu, Lisu-consciousness and Lisualization are very important as essential tools. Lisu has to build a new norm in accordance with their minds, feelings, voices and cultural realities. They have to see Jesus Christ in their culture and try to transform themselves as a modern Lisu. A new paradigm shift for Lisu is Neo-Lisu.



i.          Lisu-consciousness and Lisualization

         Concerning with the word 'Lisu-consciousness,' Lisu have to have new perspectives, concepts and minds on their own identities. They have to know who they are, from where they came, to where they are going and what are their own loving identities. Lisu-consciousness is very important for every Lisu. Knowing, maintaining and developing own identities here means trying to struggle for the fit as to be one of God-created ethnicities and it is glorifying the Name of God, the Creator.


As cartoonist Walt Kelly (Pogo) points out, 'the enemy is often us.' Though Christian experience and theological input enable Lisu to better understand the messages God wants us to communicate, an anthropological perspective makes it possible for us to avoid being crippled by the enemy within us, our own ethnocentrism.[11]


            There is a 'capital R as REALITY God above the small 'r' as reality cultural world in which humans live. Lisu commitment to that God and His purposes requires that Lisu have to go beyond simply accepting culture-bond human behavior.[12] It is a very great deal about the need to take their culture seriously. As committed Lisu Christians, it needs to combine this insight with the fact that God desires to use human cultures to interact with His creatures, to change their allegiances, their perspectives and their behavior in the direction of His deals.[13]


           In the sense of 'Lisualization,' it has many dynamic actions. At the first sense, it encourages all Lisu people to be a real and true Lisu. It means 'Lisu is Lisu.' With the touch of pluralistic society, most of Lisu forget and ignore that 'they are Lisu.' It is very important to know that they are Lisu. On another sense, Lisualization defines, solidarity amidst diversities of different religious beliefs: Lisu Christians, Lisu animist and  Lisu Buddhists, and different denominations: Baptist, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ and Lisu Christians and so on. Lisualization, thus here means intending to lisualize all the Lisu to be a real and true Lisu and willing to have unity or solidarity amidst all Lisu people in the world from their present realities.    


ii.         Neo-Christ and Neo-Lisu

    All people on earth are shaped in part by worldviews. Cultures and lifestyles vary, expressing different worldviews. Worldviews touch every dimension of life: social, educational, economic, political, and especially religious. Different worldviews account for varieties of living styles, thinking, speaking and images of society among cultures and in different religious communities.[14]

Kraft points out four functions of a worldview:


            1. A worldview provides 'an explanation of how an why things got to be as they are and how and why they continue or change.'

             2. A worldview serves as a basis for evaluation, for judging and validating experience.
3. The worldview provides psychological reinforcement for a society's ways if life.   4. A worldview serves and integrating functions for new information, values, philosophies and experiences.[15]
            Thus, Lisu have to evaluate all of their worldviews.                                       

            According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word 'Neo' means new, modern or a new or revived 'form of.' Thus, Neo-Lisu means modern Lisu or modernized Lisu and Neo-Christ means Modern Jesus Christ and Modernized Christ as seeing Jesus Christ with modern eyes. Day by day, the global empire is indirectly or indirectly demanding to everyone to modernize in the context of the world, if one does not, that one will be out of the world. Perceiving Christ with modern eyes is very important.


 iii.        A New Paradigm Shift for Doing            Contextual Theology in Lisu Context          

             In betterment of searching a new paradigm shift for doing contextual theology in Lisu context, Lisu have to adopt the basic 'Lisu must' chart as a new paradigm shift:       

1.   Lisu must believe in One God: the Father, the Son Christi, and the Holy Spirit.

2.   Lisu must be faithful in living the Words of God.

3.   Lisu must love and maintain their cultural identities.

            4.  Lisu must believe that 'they themselves and all their identities are created by God.

5.  Lisu must see and identify Christ in their culture.

6.  Lisu must study the facts about the world.

7. Lisu must feel a profound and troubled concern for the state of the global     empire.

8.   Lisu must keep in close touch with the world situations.

9.   Lisu must pray, daily invoke God's Will on earth.

10. Lisu must live accordance with the ways of Jesus Christ.

11. Lisu must witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of change.

12. Lisu must work for the unity of the church.

13. Lisu must remain faithful. 

            14. Lisu must love the all His creatures including themselves.

As everyone has special challenges to face and struggle for the running-race with different kinds of 'Global Empire,' it alerts everyone to find out the ways to be librated to be the fittest of the age.

For Lisu, they also have to fulfill the Will of God in their context on earth. They are given their own loving history, language, culture, ways of tradition and identities. They must love all identities and they all need to be 'Lisu.' Lisu-consciousness is encouraging all Lisu people to know themselves. Lisualization alerts all Lisu people to be real and true Lisu and to have solidarity amidst diversity of Lisu.            

The theology besides Lisu has to be contextualized modernized theology. They have to see Jesus Christ with not only their own identical eyes but also with modern eyes. Neo-Lisu is as Neo-Christ and Neo-Christ is as Neo-Lisu. A new paradigm shift for doing contextual theology in the context of Lisu is 'Contextualizatio-Modernization.'




Burkey Richard M, Ethnic and Racial Group, (London: Cumming Pub: Com, 1978)

Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness, (New York: Orbis Books, 2005)

______________, Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979)

Gailyn Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animist Contexts, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991)

Howard A. Snyder, ed., Global Good News: Mission in a New Context, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)

Joshua Yang, "Jesus and Lisu," (D. Min Thesis, Saint Paul School of Theology, 1975) 

Philip Sampson. ed., Faith and Modernity, (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 1994)

Stephen B. Bevans, Model of Contextual Theology: Faith and Culture, (Manila: Logos Publications, Inc, 2003) 

T. Dayanandan Francis, ed., Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment, (Madras: The C.L.S Press, 1992)

Virginia Fabella, M.M. ed., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, (New York: Orbis Books, 2000)

"," September 13, 2006.


[1] Burkey Richard M, Ethnic and Racial Group, (London: Cumming Pub: Com, 1978), 25.

[2] "," September 13, 2006.

[3] Joshua Yang, "Jesus and Lisu," (D. Min Thesis, Saint Paul School of Theology, 1975), 45. 

[4] T. Dayanandan Francis, ed., Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment, (Madras: The C.L.S Press, 1992), 322.    

[5] Gailyn Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animist Contexts, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991), 96.

[6]  Virginia Fabella, M.M. ed., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, (New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 58.

[7] Stephen B. Bevans, Model of Contextual Theology: Faith and Culture, (Manila: Logos Publications, Inc, 2003), 3. 

[8]  Philip Sampson. ed., Faith and Modernity, (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 1994), 13.

[9] Ibid.

                [10] Ibid.

[11] Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness, (New York: Orbis Books, 2005), xiii.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Howard A. Snyder, ed., Global Good News: Mission in a New Context, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), 191.

[15] Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979), 54.