I suspect that when William Cameron Townsend moved into a stick house in Guatemala (about 10k from where I was on Wednesday evening last week), he couldn’t see as far as I’ve seen. And I don’t say that because I have some sense of greatness. I have literally seen the impact of Bible translation beyond what I believe Townsend imagined.
I know he had a vision of all people having access to God’s Word in the language they understand best — that’s the vision that propelled him, along with a few others, to found organizations which eventually became SIL International and Wycliffe Bible Translators. At that time, he thought there were about 1,000 languages in the world, total, and it turns out to be closer to 7,000 — but I’m not referring to a limitation of scope. I have no intention of devaluing his limited vision. I’m so grateful that God planted that vision in his heart and mind and used him to do some pretty extraordinary things.
God continues to use those organizations and others to move toward the fulfillment of Townsend’s dream. The majority of language communities lacking access to God’s Word in their heart language in the mid-20th Century were what we might classify as “indigenous.” Indigenous peoples are any ethnic group who inhabit a geographic region with which they have the earliest known historical connection. (In the U.S. we call indigenous people Native Americans; in Canada they are called First Nations) Many were living in isolated locations and their lives were often characteristically privative rather than modern. These are peoples who often were ignored or oppressed by colonizers who brought plans of unified languages and large nations.
Uncle Cam (that’s what some call him) had a vision that was both expansive and limited. He saw a day when people from every language community would have access to God’s Word and therefore could decide for themselves whether to enter into a relationship with Him or reject that invitation. That vision is in the process of being fulfilled. Today there are just over 2,000 language communities with no access to Scripture who need it, and around 2,000 with a translation in progress.
What I saw this past week was not simply the first fruits of the Bible translation movement — something we often illustrate or express with a New Testament dedication or a statement of an individual who puts her faith in Christ alone for salvation. I saw a harvest that I’m pretty sure was beyond Townsend’s purview.
This week I sat under the leadership and teaching of people from a numver of indigenous communities in Central and South America who are leaders in growing mission movements.
These are people who have not simply entered into a relationship with God; they have become a part of the Kingdom of Priests who extend the invitation to others. They are crossing barriers and boundaries for the sake of Christ. They are filled with the Spirit and guided by the Word of God to act boldly, to extend grace, and to worship their Creator who loves them extraordinarily…perfectly…completely.
They called me (and many others with me) into greater obedience, deeper commitment, and a hope that is indescribable by their wise teaching and godly examples.