The Tai Yuan number over 6 million and the vast majority are found in North Thailand where they are also known as Khon Muang, or Khon Phoern Muang, Lanna Thai or Northern Thai. In the 1800’s however they were included under the more general name of Lao. While the name Yuan is not popularly used by this group in Thailand there is no other name that is acceptable for this people group in Laos. So while it is always important to call people by a name that they find acceptable it is equally important to recognize that they are the same people whatever they may call themselves.
The Tai Yuan are found throughout Northern Thailand and along the rivers that flow into the Mekong River from Northern Laos. The Yuan are a bridge people to neighboring Khun population in the Eastern Shan State of Burma and also to the Tai Lue in Thailand, Laos, Burma and China.
Their native script is very similar to that used by the Tai Lue and the Khun. In temples in Laos the written language has always been taught to novices in the temples. There is now a renaissance of the language in Northern Thailand. The written script is believed to have supernatural attributes and tattoos or amulets which use this script are considered to be very powerful.
The Tai Yuan have been lowland rice farmers for centuries. They have also been skilled craftsmen, producing fine pottery, bronze ware and idols, as well as locally woven silk and cotton materials. Many aspire to positions in the government. More recently opportunities have opened up in with the growth of the tourist trade in Northern Thailand and Northern Laos.
Religion and Beliefs
The Yuan are very devout Buddhists of the Theraveda sect. Buddhism spread among the Yuan about 700 years ago at the time that they were migrating South from China into their present location.
Chiang Saen on the Mekong River was their first capital in what is now Thailand and many temples were built there which housed beautifully sculptured Buddhist images. In Laos Buddhist practices were discouraged for a time after the communist takeover of the country. But now the government is supporting the restoration of temples. While not all men go into the priesthood it does appear that more are doing so than before.
A strong attachment to the spirit world exists among the Yuan. Shrines to local deities and to ancient heroes are being erected throughout North Thailand and these shrines attract many petitioners who make prayers and offerings to the spirits connected with these sites.
The Basic Strategy
The work among the Yuan was well begun in Chiang Mai in 1867 and in the Chiang Rai area in the 1880’s. The work prospered for several decades and has been experiencing renewal in the present day.
Chiang Rai is due to become a major trading center as the Mekong River Basin becomes a major corridor for trade between Indochina and China. Sowing generously in this province, especially among University and secondary school students will provide a core of educated, spiritually mature young people who will naturally seek their futures along the upper reaches of the Mekong River basin. These young people in turn will be instrumental in reaching out with the Gospel wherever they go.
We will work with existing Christian groups and individuals wherever they are:
>> solidly evangelical
>>open to interchurch and inter-organizational cooperation
>>desiring to promote a Church Planting Movement among the Tai Yuan
>>committed to putting close culture Christians to the forefront of their outreach efforts.
Workers must be willing to take personal risks for the sake of the Gospel but will avoid doing those things which will put local Christians at risk of retaliation for our activities. We will encourage the development of local congregations of believers who will function as complete churches even though they may not have formally trained workers or official meeting sites.