Scott and Lynanne Palmer brought their love for God and master's degrees in linguistics to this dusty village in the Grand Canyon's depths two decades ago.
Today, surrounded by the high red rock walls, they painstakingly continue the work of their hearts: translating the Bible into Havasupai.They have lived with views of vivid blue sky by day and brilliant stars by night, a short hike from the spectacular blue-green Havasu Falls. They have raised two daughters in a home smaller than a double garage.
They have earned trust and friendship and learned the Havasupai language, carefully guarded by a tribe that does not want its words scattered outside the canyon.
And with the help of a few tribal members, they have drafted about 6,500 Bible verses - most of the New Testament and 17 chapters of Genesis - into Havasupai, a language so different from English that each verse is translated meaning-to-meaning, rather than word for word.
The turn of the millennium will creep by before the Havasupai New Testament and Genesis are finished, likely in 2002, representing 24 years and more than $1 million invested.
All for a tribe with 670 members.
``For everyone who has grown up here, Havasupai is their language,' said Lynanne Palmer, a Wycliffe Bible Translator along with Scott. ``That's the language that is closest to your heart, and everybody deserves the chance to hear God's word in their own language.
``To be perfectly honest, we don't know how much this translation will be used. The church has always been in English.'
Wycliffe Bible Translators sends missionaries around the world to translate the Bible into obscure languages, based on the conviction that Scripture is understood best in a person's native tongue. The translators do not proselytize or build churches.
Each country's languages are cataloged and its people surveyed for interest in a New Testament project. That done, the Palmers went to Supai to find Christians interested in a translation and to get permission from the tribe.
Ida Iditicava was one of the first to help. Long before she met the Palmers, she had heard the Navajos had the New Testament in their own language. She believed in Jesus and thought maybe her people should have a New Testament in their language, too.
``When I read it in English, I kind of understand it,' she said. ``When I read it in my language, then I know it. It will be good.'\
It all began in 1978, when the Palmers were sent to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. They spent 1 years learning the language before starting the actual translation. The work is painfully slow, even with native speakers' help. Each verse is translated into Havasupai. The verses are typed into the computer; and the revisions, double checks and triple checks begin.
Havasupai speakers read the verses for comprehension. The passages are translated back to English as another check for understanding. The final step is a theological consultant who reads that English translation for biblical accuracy.
A typical translation project takes 15 to 30 years. The Palmers optimistically figured their project would take five. They both were working, and they had help from native speakers. The Havasupai language was written. They had computers. A church had been in the community for as long as most could remember.
Two years into the project, they experienced what Scott Palmer calls the death of their vision, and they became even more focused on God's vision.
``It's worth it to ask 'What does God want?' and to hang in there, and it's worth it to leave to God how it fits in with everything else,' Scott Palmer said. ``Sometimes we see it, and we're very happy about that and sometimes we don't see it. But what's important is not seeing or seeing. What's important is what God wants.'
So they stayed.
Their water heater is a large pot on the stove, and their bathroom is an outhouse down the path. Their refrigerator is smaller than those in college dorms. Ice and meat are a luxury.
The Palmers spend time out of the Canyon, traveling in their aged motorhome to talk to churches that financially support the project.
The Palmers' efforts have not caused a mass conversion to Christianity in the village. But Uquallah, an elder in the church, believes the translation is the only way his tribe will understand that Jesus is not a white man's God.
``When different people come in to test the translation work, I always hear something like, 'Oh, is that what it says? I didn't really understand that,' ' he said. ``I know that it's going to be a big help to my people. The word of God, that's a powerful thing, and they should be able to understand it.'
Another project volunteer didn't quite understand the gospel until she heard it in Havasupai, Lynanne said.
When the Palmers hike out of the Canyon for the last time, they will take a copy of the Havasupai Bible only if the tribe gives them one. They will not be credited as the translators, and years from now, no one may remember their names.
But Scott has this picture in his head of heaven, an image from a favorite verse in Revelation: ``There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne....'
Some of those people, he says, will speak Havasupai.