By Melissa Chesnut
Each year, National Hispanic Heritage month (September 15–October 15) honors the histories and cultures of Hispanic nations and remembers the anniversaries of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile. This four-part “Throwback Thursday” series will focus on different aspects of Wycliffe’s work among Hispanic countries and language communities.
“The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue,” Wycliffe founder Cam Townsend once said. “It never needs a furlough, is never considered a foreigner, and makes all other missionaries unnecessary.”
When people experience the Bible in their heart language, the truth of Scripture is brought to light. What might have once been confusing is suddenly understandable. Often this leads to amazing testimonies as lives are changed by the power of the Gospel!
But first the Scriptures have to be translated into the heart language.
When Cam started translating the Bible for the Cakchiquel Indians of Guatemala, he thought that there might be around one thousand languages that needed access to God’s Word in their own language. But as time went on, he learned that there were many more needs than he had thought. In fact, estimates indicated there were over 1,300 languages needing translation in Papua New Guinea alone! To Cam, the task seemed huge, but he knew that through God’s help, each of them could be reached.
Wycliffe’s work began in Mexico and spread throughout the Americas, reaching countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and more. It reached to other continents too, as doors opened to begin work in the Philippines, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and other islands of the South Pacific, Europe, and Africa.
One of the reasons the work spread so quickly was Cam’s technique of partnering with the local education system and working to improve it by advocating language and literacy work in the mother tongue. With the belief that mother tongue education was crucial to understanding the Scriptures, Cam found favor in countries where missionaries were typically not welcome.
The goal of Wycliffe and its primary strategic partner, SIL, was—and still is—to improve peoples’ lives through education, and ultimately, to provide the Bible in the language they understand best.
At his 75th birthday party, Cam reminded his friends and family of his vision.
“Out there are two thousand tribes who still don’t have the Bible!” Cam said. “I believe God is going to help us reach them all. Don’t you?”
Today Cam’s legacy is being carried on by those who share his vision—that one day every man, woman, and child would be able to read the Bible in the language that they understand best. And it all began with a young man who started pursuing his dream of reaching the marginalized Indians of Latin America with God’s Word in the language they understood best.