Spread throughout a large, remote, mountainous area roughly the size of Colorado, the Yao People have lived without the light of the gospel for centuries. One of China’s official 56 minority groups, the Yao are made up of many languages and dialects, and also have significant populations living in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They are Taoists, worship their ancestors, and believe in a complex spiritual realm. But very few of the Yao have heard the name of Jesus Christ, and there are no evangelistic media resources in the heart languages they speak.
So when the opportunity came for Create International Taiwan to partner with workers on the field to produce an evangelistic animated short film for the Yao, we were excited about the possibilities.
Each spring in Danshui, Taiwan, we host a six-month training program called the School of Cartooning and Animation for Missions (SoCAM). This school is part of YWAM’s University of the Nations, and trains artists to use their skills and talents to produce cartoons and comics to help reach the unreached. Topics such as contextualization, human figure drawing, JapaneseManga and digital animation are thoroughly covered during the first 12 weeks (the lecture phase). This is followed by a 12-week field assignment where staff and students produce an evangelistic resource for an unreached people group.
In March 2014, our two SoCAM students, Grace (from Korea) and Joe (from Madagascar) arrived in Taiwan to begin their training. Plans were already underway for an animated evangelistic gospel presentation for the Yao people, and our staff and students together began writing script ideas and producing concept art. By the time we left for China in June, we had a final script and a good idea of what the film would look like.
For reasons related to his visa, Joe was unable to participate in the field assignment phase, and so we said farewell to him in Hong Kong before the four of us entered China to begin filming, recording voices, and visiting various Yao sights for research. After ten days, we had recorded the voice track in four different languages, shot some amazing scenery footage, and amassed a wealth of research on the Yao People.
Returning to Taiwan, we all got to work producing the 8-minute short film called, “Open the Door, See the Mountains.” The title is based on an old Chinese proverb that typifies the life of a Yao person, and connects to the scripture that we use at the end of the film (Psalm 121:1,2). We incorporated elements of the Yao culture in the themes of the story (Taoism, animal sacrifice and agriculture) and also used many visual motifs from the Yao style of art. Even the colors used in the film were based on a palette used in Yao religious paintings. A talented musician scored the cartoon based on Yao melodies and instruments. The goal was to create a cartoon that would speak directly to the heart of the Yao People.
After months of tedious work, we completed the rough cut just before the SoCAM graduation in August. As of this writing, the animated short film is being field tested in China as Yao people watch the film and provide feedback on any problems with the audio and visual aspects of the film.
Our hope is that this film will go viral among the Yao, and that we will record other Yao languages and dialects in the near future. Our prayer is that each Yao person who views the film will look to the mountains, and truly know where their help comes from—the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.