“How can I know these promises aren’t just for the white people?”
An Arizona Navajo woman, Mrs. Nez, had lived a long time—103 years! When missionary Roy Hendershot taught her John 3:16, Mrs. Nez’s heart resonated with the beauty and power of God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The missionaries and Navajo Christians who taught her could see that she was close to salvation, but something was holding her back. Then Mrs. Nez explained that she didn’t have confidence that the teaching was for her, that it wasn’t just the white man’s religion. If she could read it in her own language, she would know that God’s promise was for her.
In Roy’s early years on Arizona’s reservations, missionaries had used the Navajo language in their ministries. Over time, however, English became more prominent among Navajos, and many younger people never learned to read their complex Navajo language. So to better reach the Navajos, missionaries switched to English. But for Mrs. Nez, Navajo was her mother tongue, the language of her heart, and the words she trusted.
Then in 1986, the complete Navajo Bible was published. The missionaries ordered copies as quickly as they could. One of the first people they took it to was Mrs. Nez, who immediately leafed through the pages until she found John 3:16. Moved with emotion, she read in Navajo phrasing of the holy God who gave His only Son so that instead of “death not ending” she could have “life not ending.”
Mrs. Nez died not long after receiving her Navajo Bible. But when she did, it was not death not ending; it was life not ending in the presence of her holy God! After seeing that God spoke in her language, too, Mrs. Nez had joyfully given her life to the Savior who gave His life for her.
Today, BMM missionaries are using the new Navajo Interlinear Bible (Navajo and English side-by-side). This is helping Navajos relearn their written language and understand their Bibles with greater clarity.
The rest of the story: In Navajo culture, most of the older ladies raise sheep. Because of Arizona’s desert and sparse vegetation, the ladies sometimes take their sheep to the Little Colorado River, staying two or three days for grazing and watering their flocks. Even at her advanced age, Mrs. Nez continued to make this three-mile journey. On her last trip, her family became concerned that she hadn’t returned, so they sent some boys to find her. They discovered her resting with her back against a tree. Evidently she fell asleep and simply died there, waking up in heaven.