August 30 is an important date in the history of Bible translation. That date in 2018 marked 100 years since Cameron Townsend first began to form the vision that would catalyze exponential growth in the rate of Bible translation (see below). That vision wasn’t a sudden “aha!” as much as a journey of discovery and conviction. It’s interesting to hear him describe in his own words the gradual transition of his thoughts.
Travelling with his Guatemalan friend Francisco Diaz, Townsend gradually came to realize that almost none of the missionaries to that country had “seen fit to learn any of the Indian languages.”
“This means that 60 per cent of the people in this republic have no gospel witness. The reason for this is the difficulty of learning the many difficult languages and dialects, all of which are unwritten.”
That brings us to August 30, 1918, when Townsend concluded that the difficulty and cost were worth it. The job had to be done. He recorded in his journal:
“I have come to realize that it is imperative this need be surmounted in this generation and the people be reached with the message of salvation. God has given me youthful vigor, faith and a challenge. Therefore, I have decided to devote my life to the evangelization of the Indian peoples.” (Hugh Steven, A Thousand Trails)
Townsend would go on to learn the Cakchiquel language in order to reach the people with the gospel. He would then translate the New Testament. Seeing the power of God’s Word in the vernacular, his vision finally galvanized around putting the Scriptures in the tongues of the indigenous people. All of them.
Giving all people on the planet access to God’s Word in a language that speaks to their hearts was a crazy vision for his time.
Think of what he didn’t know. At the time, there was very little language research, scarce knowledge of linguistics, almost non-existent mother tongue literacy efforts. No software, no digital strategies for distribution, no people to do the translation, no airplanes or boats to take them in. There were so many reasons this vision was absurd.
But God gave Cameron Townsend the faith to start what he knew would be a difficult and costly job. He and his fellow pioneers honestly believed they would “reach the unreached tribes with the Word in this generation” – that their generation would see it completed.
Our generation will. We are living in the generation today that will see translation started and completed for all the remaining languages. That’s a vision worth devoting your life to.
Above: A linguistics professor calculates that the number of languages with Scripture doubles every 41 years.