by Craig Combs
Tatyana Lar, Nenets poet and songwriter, performs her work in a style intended both to celebrate the cultural values of her own people and—for those in whom the Spirit is at work—to draw her listeners toward a relationship with their Creator and Savior.
In pieces like “Numd hynumd” (Pray to God), she sings of the blessings that come from prayerful dependency on God: “If your heart is sleeping, you will never understand the meaning of life. If your heart goes after evil, the real meaning and beauty of life will always be closed to you. Instead, be like a flower; turn towards light and lift your hands up to God. Then you’ll be strong, happy, and start to grow as a flower.”
The lyrics of the song reflect Tatyana’s own journey and offer a gentle invitation to join her on it.
A closed book
Tatyana Lar (Photo courtesy of Roslyn Nicolle)
Tatyana had no interest in anything ‘Christian’ until her eldest daughter and a close friend both began to encourage her to attend church in Salekhard, Russia—a town situated on the Arctic Circle and accessible from the tundra and forests where her people follow the migration patterns of their reindeer herds. Wanting to support her daughter, she began to attend services at the Good News Church.
Soon after, she was asked to help with translation of the Gospel of Mark into Nenets. As she was exposed to the translated Scripture, she discovered how obscure the Bible was to her and how very difficult the translation process was as a result. But this wasn’t a case of linguistic confusion—Tatyana realized her struggle stemmed from her unbelief.
“If you don’t believe, it’s not an understandable book for you and stays as a closed book,” she says. “I read and I didn’t get it; I didn’t see anything amazing or exciting there. And it wasn’t understandable.”
The prayers that opened the book
In the meantime, Eunsub Song, a Korean who serves as the exegetical advisor to the Nenets translation project—and who had asked Tatyana to participate—was praying regularly for her. Eunsub also enlisted the prayers of her friends around the world.
Tatyana is quick to acknowledge these prayers as a turning point.
Nenets Gospel of Mark (Photo by Marc Ewell)
“For me, this book was opened thanks to prayer, thanks to Eunsub, and all those people who prayed at that time.”
Suddenly the Scriptures came alive to her. She realized what a close friend had been saying was true, that the message was “amazing”—and moving.
“When I read my translation … in some places as I read, tears were just running by themselves,” she shares. “When I read the translation I made, all of it went inside me.”
While admitting that the translation process remains a challenge, she now realizes how meaningful prayer is. “As you pray, that’s how the work succeeds.”
Caught in the middle
Tatyana 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.
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.”
A song to empty hearts
Through songs like “Pray to God,” Tatyana encourages her fellow Nenets to welcome God into the center of their hearts. She wrote this song, in particular, to address the spiritual needs of Nenets youth. They have “emptiness in the heart,” she says, which “can only be filled by God.”
She hopes that its lyrics will point the Nenets to truth—that they will “fill up their inner being, their soul, their heart, with God, so that God would always live inside of them. Then the life also will be wonderful and beautiful. Like blossoming, they will grow spiritually.”
This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.
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