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Musings and Memories

A true Navajo hero

Doug Dezotell
Posted 9/10/22

The Navajo People called her “The One Who Understands.”

The reason they called her that?

Well, Faye Edgerton, this single white Christian woman, spent nearly 50 years living among …

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Musings and Memories

A true Navajo hero

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The Navajo People called her “The One Who Understands.”

The reason they called her that?

Well, Faye Edgerton, this single white Christian woman, spent nearly 50 years living among the Navajo, learning their language, their culture, and their customs.

And then Faye spent years of hard work translating the English New Testament into Dine bizaad, what the Navajo called their language.

When the completed work was first published, Faye worried about the cost for the Navajo to buy a copy of Dine bizaad New Testament; at that time, a copy was 75 cents, a lot of money for most of the Navajo people.

God was in the details though, and Faye soon learned that she didn’t need to worry.

One hot afternoon in August of 1956, Faye Edgerton opened her mailbox and saw the package she had anxiously been waiting for.

Standing in her dirt driveway, she tore open the package she had just received from New York City, and found a beautiful hardcover volume, the pages edged in red, the title, Diyin God Bizaad: Aha’deet’a Aniidii, printed in gold script on the front cover.

She lifted her eyes toward Heaven and praised the Lord!

It was the first-ever translation of the New Testament in the language of The People, The Dine’, The Navajo.

The first edition of 2,500 volumes of God’s Word in Dine bizaad sold out in just five months.

Two more printings sold out just as fast; and by the end of 1967, their New Testament had been reprinted seven times.

God’s Word was in the hands of The Dine, The People, all across the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Dine were amazed, because it seemed to them as if “God actually spoke Navajo!”

In 1954 (the year I was born, by the way), the first completed translation was sent to the American Bible Society in New York City for publication.

It wasn’t until two years later, after the proofreading, the revisions, and the numerous corrections that the first ever Dine bizaad New Testament finally came off the press.

Having the New Testament in their own language got so many Navajo People taking a new interest in learning to read their own ancient, native tongue.

Faye had some hardworking, willing helpers along the way.

One of them, a young Navajo man named Roger, had taught himself to read his native tongue from an English-Navajo dictionary while he was in the hospital!

Roger once said after the completed project was in his hands, “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 to my soul!”

The Navajo expression for soul is “that which stands up in you.”

Faye’s other assistant was an older Navajo gentleman, who just happened to be blind. His name was Geronimo Martin.

Faye said of Mr. Martin, “His keen mind was only made keener, and his spiritual life deepened by his affliction…He was a strict teacher of the language. As I read back a translation to him, he would detect even the faintest error in pronunciation—which reflected and error in spelling.”

(Faye Edgerton is a hero of mine. I love the Navajo people, and I have many Dine’ friends I’ve made over the years who live and serve the Lord on the Navajo Nation.)

It was in 1918 that Faye first became a missionary. She prayed that God would send her to a people where no one spoke English.

She first went to Korea with the American Presbyterian Mission, and she spent her time studying Korean on the journey there by ship.

Faye lived in Korea until 1922, when she returned to America due to ill health.

When her health improved some, the hardworking servant-of-Christ, moved to Ganado, Arizona to teach at a boarding school on the Navajo reservation.

The climate in that part of the country was thought to be better for her health, which it was.

While there at the school, Faye found out that the children were only allowed to speak in English, rather than their native Navajo.

Back in 1924, the education of Native American children in government and mission schools was based on “the philosophy of assimilation,” and they were ‘encouraged’ to adapt to the culture of the white man.

They were given permission to speak to each other in Navajo for only several hours in the evenings.

(I have friends who were educated in those schools, and found it to be stifling, and a real ‘nightmare.’)

Faye really wanted to speak to the children in their native tongue, but she didn’t know the language.

She also realized that the Navajo people needed the Bible in their own language so they could fully understand God’s Word, and especially within their own cultural setting.

It was there in Ganado that Faye Edgerton came to realize the work that God had called her to do.

In 1944, Faye joined Wycliffe Bible Translators with the intention of learning the Navajo language.

She immersed herself in the Dine’ culture, living for years among the Navajo on the Reservation in New Mexico and Arizona.

She lived in a Navajo hogan, and at other times in a small trailer amongst the pinon trees of the high desert, God had answered Faye Edgerton’s prayer…to live where no English was spoken.

This dedicated Christian woman made it possible for the Navajo Nation to have their first copies of the Word of God in their own language.

Please pray with me for my Navajo friends who preach the Gospel across the beautiful landscape of their ancestral lands on the Navajo Nation. May they be fruitful in their ministries bringing their people to Christ.

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