Introduction / History
The Iu Mien have a long history of fleeing oppression. This explains why the Chinese sometimes call them the Guoshan (Crossing the Mountains) Yao. Linguist Herbert Purnell explains, "The Iu Mien have been profoundly influenced by the Chinese over many centuries of contact. Perhaps the most significant development from these contacts has been the evolution and preservation of Taoist rituals written in Chinese characters. The Iu Mien have therefore possessed for several centuries what many other Asian peoples only dream of—an extensive written literature."
Where are they located?
The Iu Mien originated in China, but some were hired to help the French, and later the Americans, in their efforts to defeat the communists in Laos and Vietnam. After the communists took over Vietnam in 1975, many fled the country while others remained and suffered the consequences of crossing the communists. The Iu Mien people who live in Vietnam are in the northern part of the country.
What are their lives like?
Houses in Mien villages are made of durable hardwood and have packed dirt floors. They are large enough for ceremonial gatherings and sturdy enough to withstand strong hurricane-force winds and torrential rains. Villagers cultivate rice and corn, and gather wild jungle products such as resin and honey to trade with merchants.
Social status in Iu Mien villages is determined by behavior, accomplishment, generosity with others, and scholarship in religious studies. Within each village community, there are a select few who gain prominence because of their literacy in Chinese. Young men from well-to-do families study and master Chinese characters in the expression of Yao concepts. They become experts in the writing of ritual texts and family genealogies.
The basic village household may consist of a man, his wife, their unmarried children, their married sons and daughters-in-law, their grandchildren, and other relatives. Because the extended family lives together, child rearing is a cross-generational affair, with grandparents giving the young parents "on the job training."
Each person has a well-defined role in Iu Mien society. Women are generally responsible for the day-to-day essentials of life, while men are concerned with the long-term welfare of the family. Men are also responsible for relations between the living family, their dead ancestors, and the world of spirits. In the villages, men fell the jungle trees and burn the areas to be cultivated. The women plant, hoe, and harvest. Villages work together in building houses and clearing fields, and celebrate together at feasts.
What are their beliefs?
The religion of the Iu Mien is far more than a component of their culture. It is a total belief system that explains all the natural events of life and provides a way to gain control over those events. They are influenced by their ancestors, as well as by their animistic beliefs (the belief that the natural world around them is inhabited by spirits). Time and resources are spent to make sure that the ancestors remain content and the spirits are pacified. Rituals that reflect a blending of Taoist belief and animism are often conducted by well-trained priests.
What are their needs?
As with most animistic cultures, the Iu Mien live in fear of displeasing the spirits of ancestors or nature. A desire to be free from fear and their emphasis on kindness and generosity within society would provide an opening for the gospel. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached for Christ.
Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to live and work among the Iu Mien.
Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to mission agencies that are focusing on them.
Pray that the Lord will raise up long term workers to help with the harvest.
Ask the Holy Spirit to complete the work begun in the hearts of the Iu Mien believers through adequate discipleship.
Ask the Lord to raise up a disciple making movement among the Iu Mien people that will affect their communities in Asia and North America.
Text source: Keith Carey