Monday, January 7, 2013

At the Foot of the Snows

Review of At the Foot of the Snows: A Journey of Faith and Words among the Kham-speaking People of Nepal, by David Watters with Steve and Daniel Watters (Seattle, Engage Press, 2011, 375 pages, £9.43).

In the spring of 1990 the Peoples' Movement for Democracy ushered in a new era of political and religious freedom to the country of Nepal. I had been out of the country for a year due to what we might call a difference of opinion between myself and the immigration authorities. I was set to reenter when the movement reached its height and the army opened fire on a huge protest killing fifty unarmed protestors. Within 48 hours the king capitulated to the will of the people and a multi-party constitutional monarchy was reinstated. Two days later the border opened and I got on a bus and crossed the border from India. The change of view on the part of the authorities was astonishing. I began planning how we might make the most of that new openness while it lasted and four months later three trucks that were having to leave India were headed up to the border laden with good literature. Up to this time it had been impossible for us to import literature into the country. Now they just waved the trucks through, papers duly signed. One of those trucks stopped off at Duncan Hospital on the Indian side of the border to pick up a box of 400 Kham New Testaments that had been sitting at the hospital for five years waiting for this moment. This book is the story of how that NT was translated, and what a great story it is.

David and Nancy Watters entered Nepal with their three-year-old son Steve in 1969. Daniel was born soon after, while David and Nancy were learning the national language. They had joined a well-equipped team of linguists who had secured a written agreement with the government to map the minority languages of the country, reduce them to writing and establish their grammars and linguistic relationships. Their purpose was to translate the Word of God so that all the peoples of Nepal could read it in their heart language. David and Nancy were led through extraordinary providences to a little known group called the Kham, a people living in the West of the country in the high valleys 'at the foot of the snows'.

The narrative moves swiftly, though perhaps somewhat choppily, through the initial forays into the area, establishing a home in very difficult conditions, identification of a language helper, and the labour of a lifetime in learning the language and translating the NT. All the while, in the background, are the momentous changes going on in the country which came to have a huge impact on both the translators and the people.

This is a story of hardship, discouragement and pain, and faith, endurance and joy. In turn I was moved to tears and elation at the way the Lord led the Watters and answered their prayers, and I have been deeply challenged about my own faith and commitment. This is the best missionary biography I have read in a very long time. Get yourself a copy and have your vision stirred and your faith stretched.

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