Faye Edgerton Gave God's Word to the Navajo

Dan Graves, MSL

Faye Edgerton Gave God's Word to the Navajo

The Navajo Indians gave Faye Edgerton a name: "The One Who Understands." The reason was simple: she had spent close to half a century with them, learning their language (they called it Dine bizaad) and translating the New Testament into it. To the Indians it now seemed as if God spoke Navajo! In fact, they challenged her when she tried to revise it. How dare she change God's words!

Faye Edgerton was born on this day, March 26, 1889. Her youth was one long social whirl, although she did well in school and became a competent musician. She had sought God at a young age and even become involved in church work, but had never known Him as a presence in her life. A bout with scarlet fever nearly killed her and left her virtually deaf for several days. This forced her to acknowledge her purposeless ways. When her hearing returned, she praised God. From then on, she was His.

Immediately, she showed a new concern for her parents. And as soon as circumstances permitted, she studied at Moody Bible Institute and became a missionary. On a long voyage across the Pacific, she studied Korean. By the time she reached the peninsula, she could read it well. But Korea proved hard to her. The cold sapped her strength. She had a nervous breakdown her first year. But she learned lessons of obedience. Finally bad health forced her home.

After her father died, she took up mission work in Arizona, where she hoped the climate would be kinder to her health. Increasingly she became aware that the Navajo people needed the Bible in their own language. After taking a course at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, she became convinced she could do the work and that God wanted her to. But finding the necessary time was impossible. She decided to leave the Presbyterian mission and join Wycliffe Bible Translators.

It was still many years before the New Testament became a Navajo book. But she had several willing helpers. One of them, Roger, had taught himself to read his native language from an English-Navajo dictionary while recuperating in a hospital! He once said, "This is not just a missionary talking to us in another language--this is God's word in Navajo. It is just like God talking!" The expression for soul was "that which stands up in you."

Near the end of the translation, Faye became worn out. And then she was thrown out of a car and dragged a great distance. Miraculously she survived with minor injuries. In 1954, the completed translation was sent to the American Bible Society for publication. It was not until 1956 after proofreading, revisions and corrections that the book finally came off the press. It was an instant success, a bestseller in the tribe. It spurred the Navajo to new efforts to learn to read their own tongue. Even before the book was off the press, Faye, now in her sixties, with a helper named Faith, began learning Apache so they could translate the Bible into that language. Nine years later the Apache New Testament also went to press. But Faye did not stop working on new translations and revisions until just days before her death in 1968.

Bibliography:

  1. Wallis, Ethel Emily. God Speaks Navajo. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

Last updated May, 2007.

  • Editors' Picks

    What Is Maundy Thursday?
    What Is Maundy Thursday?
  • What the Cross and Resurrection Mean
    What the Cross and Resurrection Mean
  • Be Faithful in Small Things
    Be Faithful in Small Things
;