William Cameron Townsend

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William Cameron Townsend (July 9, 1896April 23, 1982) was a prominent Christian missionary whose ministry began in the early twentieth century. The organizations he founded, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL International), remain active, and focus on producing translations of the Bible in minority languages, and on facilitating literacy in minority languages.

The ethos of these organizations is that once the Bible is available to a culture, the Christians of that culture can become far more autonomous, and the locals should be the leaders of their church. Local Christians should be freed from depending on other organizations or cultures for training and leadership.

When the young William Cameron Townsend tried to sell Spanish Bibles in Guatemala in 1917-18, he discovered that the majority of the people he met did not understand Spanish. Neither did they have a written form of their own language, Cakchiquel. Townsend abandoned his attempts to sell Bibles and began living among the Cakchiquels. He learned their language, created an alphabet for it, analyzed the grammar, and translated the New Testament in only ten years.

Concerned about other minority language groups, Townsend opened Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas in the summer of 1934. Named for the first translator of the entire English New Testament, the camp was designed to train young people in basic linguistics and translation methods. Two students enrolled. The following year, after a training session with five men in attendance, Townsend took the five to Mexico to begin field work. From this small beginning has grown the worldwide ministry of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Wycliffe Bible Translators, Wycliffe Associates, and the technical and logistic department of SIL known as JAARS.



These sources could be used to substantiate and balance the article:

  • Benjamin Feinberg: The Devil's Book of Culture: History, Mushrooms, and Caves in Southern Mexico (University of Texas Press), ISBN 0-292-70190-X, p. 77f.
  • Hugh Steven: Wycliffe in the Making: The Memoirs of W. Cameron Townsend, 1920–1933 (Wheaton, Harold Shaw 1995).
  • Ruth A. Tucker: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Zondervan ), ISBN 0-310-23937-0, p. 376f.
  • Virginia Garrard-Burnett: A History of Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem (University of Texas Press), ISBN 0-292-72817-4.
  • Larry Ziegler-Otero: Resistance in an Amazonian Community: Huaorani Organizing Against the Global Economy (Berghahn Books), ISBN 1-57181-448-5, p. 52ff.


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