Truth on the Tundra | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Truth on the Tundra

God’s Word for the Nenets, a nomadic, reindeer-herding people on the Siberian tundra

  • March 14, 2016
Work in Progress

The nomadic Nenets have lived for centuries in one of the most challenging environments on Earth. They follow the migrations of vast herds of reindeer in the forests and tundra of Siberia, where cold can reach -51 degrees C (-60 F), during months of lingering darkness. Still, even in the dark hours, the snow reflects what light there is.

Salekhard, Russia, is a place where few would choose to live. In this city — one of only two in the world located on the Arctic Circle — the average annual high temperature hovers around minus one degree Celsius (29 F). During the months of November through January, the sun comes out for an average of 14 minutes per day. Praise God that even here, in this faraway city, the ministry of Bible translation and Scripture engagement is taking place among the Nenets.


Understanding it Better in Nenets

It is a 17-hour journey by boat down the River Ob from Salekhard to the village where Nadya Padrovna was born and where she operates a business selling goods to the local Nenets population. Nadya travels frequently to Moscow via Salekhard on business trips. She is fluent in both Russian and Nenets.

Salekhard, located in northwestern Siberia, Russia has many old style wooden homes.

Nadya’s involvement in the Nenets translation project began when she was asked to read a translated passage of Scripture. It was the story of the herd of pigs that ran off a cliff after Jesus sent a legion of demons into them (Mark 5). She was troubled. The Nenets version did not match up with her prior understanding of the story, which she had always read in Russian.

“I think there is a problem with this translation,” she told Pastor Anatoly. He asked her what she had expected to read. She replied that she had always thought Jesus had sent the man to the herd of pigs and that all of them — the man included! — had drowned in the lake.

When she learned that her new understanding of the Nenets translation was correct, she exclaimed, “This is why we need the Bible in our own language!”

Nadya has made generous contributions to the Nenets translation project, including a donation toward printing the book of Mark. She also travels onto the tundra to read drafts to villagers and get their feedback on the texts.

In Praise of the Son

Tatyana Lar, Nenets poet and songwriter, has a deep regard and concern for her people. She sees how, like the months-long darkness that overtakes this Arctic region each year, a kind of cultural and economic darkness threatens to overwhelm their fragile lifestyle. Oil companies clutter the tundra with their derricks and pipelines. Fish stocks are decreasing in the rivers. Reindeer migration patterns are increasingly hindered. She also sees many Nenets being complicit in all this. And she wants to do something about it.

Tatyana Lar, Nenets poet and songwriter (Photo courtesy of Roslyn Nicolle)

Having experienced the transforming power of God in her own life, she wants her songs to both reflect that change of heart and provoke others to embrace Jesus, too. In Him she sees the only hope for the redemption of her people, their culture and livelihood.

Tatyana describes one song, titled “Yalyakoko” (Little Sun), written with this hope in mind. In Nenets, yalya can mean “light” or “sun,” an image that can also symbolize the hope that Jesus brings. “Without sun, we couldn’t live here on the earth. If there were not sun, it would be dark,” she explains. “The same way, if there wasn’t God, we also wouldn’t see anything. We would go blind.”

  • Praise God for a multi-national team that is dedicated to serving with the Nenets through the ministry of Bible translation.

  • Pray for success in Scripture engagement activities that are designed to help Nenets people use and apply translated Scriptures in their everyday lives.

  • Pray for wisdom and guidance for those planning and teaching storytelling and music workshops that will help to further the translation program.

Make a Prayer Connection: Learn more about Tracy and Brandi Welterlen, and send an online prayer note to encourage them. Tracy oversees work with partners in Bible translation and language development in the Russian Federation and Central Asia.