This is the day that …William Cameron Townsend was born into a Presbyterian family in California, in 1896.
In 1917, after joining the Student Volunteer Movement in his teens, he was selling Spanish Bibles in Guatemala. But 2000 Cakchiquel Indians had no use for the Bible in Spanish, a language they could not understand. He was confronted by the question: “If your God is so smart, why hasn’t He learned our language?” That did it! For the next 13 years Cameron Townsend devoted his life to mastering the Cakchiquel language and translating the Scriptures for them to read.
It was 1929 when he completed the New Testament, by which time he had caught the vision that became “the world’s largest independent Protestant missionary organisation (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker, page 353), to assist missionaries in the task of learning a foreign language, reducing that language to writing, and translating the Scriptures into it.
In 1934 he founded Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas for that very purpose – now known as Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics.
By the end of the twentieth century a mighty missionary force about 5000 strong was busily engaged in translating God’s Word into hundreds of languages and dialects, dedicated to the task of reaching the thousands of tribes who still had no Bible in their own language.
Billy Graham described him as “the greatest missionary of our time” (ibid, page 351).
It is to be confessed that “Uncle Cam” never quite fitted in to the evangelical framework of the majority of his workers, or supporters. Involving his translators in “government-sponsored social programs”, his defence of socialism in Mexico and his co-operation with Roman Catholics, have all caused controversy for Wycliffe Bible Translators over the years (see ibid, pages 353-354).
But none can argue with his conviction that “the greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue.” And thousands of dedicated evangelical missionaries are doing what they can to bring the gospel to every nation, in their mother tongue.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.