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Posts Tagged ‘Cakchiquel’

By Hannah Weiand

Hannah is a Wycliffe USA intern, attending Oral Roberts University. She will graduate with a degree in writing in May 2015.

a woman reads her Bible to her friend

Photo credit: Marc Ewell

Here at Wycliffe Bible Translators, we believe everyone needs the Bible in a language they can clearly understand. Well-meaning people sometimes ask, “Why not just teach people English?” Well, that would be like asking a native English speaker, “Why not just teach you Latin?”

It sounds funny put that way, but before the late 14th century, when John Wycliffe and others translated the Bible into English for the first time from Latin, that’s exactly what English speakers had to do if they wanted to read the Bible.

John Wycliffe believed the common person should be able to read and understand the Bible in their own language. But at that time in history, many people thought English was a vulgar language, unfit for God and his holy Word. So when Wycliffe and others translated the Bible, many church leaders were angry. Years after John Wycliffe died, they were still so angry that they dug up his bones to burn and destroy them. And they took one of his followers, John Huss, and burned him at the stake for telling people that everyone should be able to read the Bible in their own language.

Today, thanks to the sacrifices of John Wycliffe, John Huss and others, we can read the Bible in our own language. And we believe other language groups around the world should be able to have that opportunity too.

When Wycliffe Bible Translator’s founder, Cameron Townsend, went to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles in 1917 — before he ever started thinking about Bible translation — a number of people asked him why God didn’t speak their language. Cam was troubled to learn that they couldn’t clearly understand the Bible in Spanish. Their need inspired him translate the New Testament into Cakchiquel, and ultimately, to found Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

That’s why we think Bible translation is so important — because we want people to fully understand what God is saying. When people learn a new language, they usually don’t understand it as well as their first language, so it’s difficult to fully grasp the power and the meaning of the Bible in that language.

Bible translation is important because of the way it transforms people’s lives when they can clearly understand God’s Word. It’s not just about being able to read the Bible – it’s about being able to connect with what it says. Having the Bible in their own language allows people from around the world to make that connection.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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By Lindsay Benton

Lindsay is a recent Liberty University graduate and a former Wycliffe USA summer intern.

Many of us have heard the story of Wycliffe founder William Cameron Townsend—also known as Uncle Cam—who traveled the villages of Guatemala attempting to sell Spanish Bibles in the early 1900s. Uncle Cam soon discovered that many Guatemalans couldn’t understand these Bibles, because their primary language was Cakchiquel, which had never been written down and didn’t have a translation of the Scriptures. This hit home for Uncle Cam. If the Guatemalan people could not understand the Bible in their primary language, then they could not read or hear about the grace of God in sending His son Jesus Christ to save sinners.

God put it on Uncle Cam’s heart to live among the people in Guatemala. He was compelled to learn Cakchiquel in hopes of one day translating the New Testament into it. But the process of learning the language, recording it in written form, and translating the Bible was not a short or easy process. Many words and passages in the English Bible, which Uncle Cam was familiar with, had different meanings in the Cakchiquel culture. This did not stop him from dedicating years of his life to build relationship with the people and encourage their understanding of the Bible. “You have to learn the language accurately,” said Uncle Cam. “You can’t hand a book to these tribes and say, ‘This is God’s Word,’ if it’s full of grammatical errors. You’ve got to do a good scientific job. And that takes years—to learn the language and then translate the New Testament.”

John WycliffeIf people in Guatemala did not have Bibles in a language that spoke to their heart, then how many more people groups worldwide did not have a Bible in their heart language? As a result, Uncle Cam organized Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1943, years after he first arrived in Guatemala in 1917. His mission had transformed from selling Bibles to making them available in every language that needed a translation.

The name “Wycliffe” came from the reformation scholar and Oxford professor John Wycliffe. In the 14th century, Wycliffe rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church by translating the Bible in a language the common person could understand. His actions took courage because, at the time, the people of England could only receive the Bible through the priests or read it in the Greek, Hebrew, and Latin languages. The translation came from Latin because it was the only source available to him. Because he translated the Bible into the common language, John Wycliffe was ridiculed by the church even after his death. Religious leaders dug up his remains and burned them as a result of his devotion to Bible translation. One of Wycliffe’s supporters, John Hus, promoted the idea of common persons reading the Bible in a recognizable language. Huss was threatened by the Roman Catholic Church and later burned at the stake in 1415.

John Wycliffe2Because Wycliffe chose to make the Bible available to everyone, he was known for his English Bible translation across Europe. Like current missionaries who serve overseas, sacrificing time and energy while pouring into the lives of unreached people groups, God used men like John Wycliffe and William Cameron Townsend to affect generation upon generation through the power of God’s Word.

Today, Wycliffe has aided Bible translation projects in over two thousand languages. However, there are over nineteen hundred languages that still need a Bible translation project started. Will you join the team at Wycliffe and fulfill the need for Bible translations around the world by praying, going, or partnering with us financially? Help us reach these Bibleless people groups and spread the Word of God to all the nations.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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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.

It all began in 1917.

William Cameron Townsend (known by friends as “Cam”) was a passionate twenty-one year old, fueled by a vision to obey Jesus’ command to take the Gospel to the nations.

“The greater need is where the greatest darkness is,” Cam said. “Our orders are to forget self and to give our lives in service for the Master.” While many of his friends and peers were fighting in World War I, Cam decided to fight a spiritual battle—a battle for lost souls. He packed his bags, said goodbye to his family, and moved to Guatemala to sell Bibles to farmers and villagers along the sparsely populated trails of Central America.

young cam

When Cam stepped off the boat, his youthful enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel was high, but he soon realized that most of the people he was meeting didn’t understand the Bible in Spanish!

Cam faced a dilemma. If they didn’t understand, how was he reaching people for Jesus? Frustrated and disappointed, Cam began to wonder if he’d failed. But God had others plans in mind.

As he continued to travel around Guatemala, Cam soon learned about the Cakchiquel Indians. People of Spanish heritage often thought of them as inferior and uneducated members of society, but Cam disagreed. Instead, he was impressed when he met the Cakchiquel man who first brought the Gospel to his own language group and led forty people to Christ—all without a Bible in his own language! After sharing a short testimony in Spanish, Cam decided to put behind his first failure and help reach these people with the Gospel. So he abandoned his attempts to sell Spanish Bibles to non-Spanish speakers and began serving as a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians by helping start a school to teach them how to read and write.

Still, Cam didn’t have any Scriptures in Cakchiquel. When he’d brought Spanish Bibles to men who only spoke Cakchiquel, they’d asked him something that really made him think—why didn’t God  speak their language? Was he only the God of English and Spanish speakers?

Deep down, Cam thought everyone—man, woman, and child alike—should be able to read God’s Word in the language of their heart. So although it would end up taking almost ten years of his life, he decided to learn the complex Cakchiquel language, create an alphabet, and translate the New Testament.

When he was done, the Cakchiquel Indians finally had God’s Word, but thousands of other languages still needed it. So in 1934 Cam started “Camp Wycliffe,” a linguistic training program named after John Wycliffe, the first translator of the entire Bible into English. Less than ten years later, the humble training camp had grown into two affiliate organizations known as Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International).

Cam served for over sixty years in Latin America, witnessing the work spread across the continent and reaching language communities in Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and more. SIL International established an SIL Americas branch, focusing on reaching people with the translated Word of God in the language they understand best. Cam’s work in translating the Bible for the Cakchiquel Indians was just the start!

Almost one hundred years later, Cam’s legacy lives on. Today there are over 1,500 translation projects currently in progress, with 518 language groups having the entire Bible and 1,275 having the New Testament in the language they understand best.  And it all began in 1917 when a man’s eyes were opened to a people who were vastly overlooked and desperately needed to know that God spoke their language too.

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