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Wycliffe USA celebrates 75 years of Bible translation

By November 7, 2017

International (MNN) – More and more people are coming to recognize that Bible translation could very well be completed in our lifetime. But several decades ago, the worldwide movement of Bible translation had barely begun. One of the champions of the movement is Wycliffe Bible Translators USA.

Kristie Frieze of Wycliffe USA shares an exciting announcement:  “This is our 75th anniversary. It’s pretty exciting to think about what God has done for the last 75 years through this work. There are just so many great stories.”

To mark the anniversary and to tell these stories comprehensively, the group has released a coffee table book called “Till All Have Heard.” The book goes through the history of Wycliffe and partner ministries decade by decade to show how God has been working through the ministry. Frieze says it was exciting to be a part of the process of reviewing the stories from years past.

The beginning

Header photo: courtesy of Wycliffe USA. Above: Cameron Townsend in 1936, studying the language of a young Aztec man in Tetelcingo, Morales Mexico. (Photo/caption courtesy of Wycliffe USA)

William Cameron Townsend is the founder of Wycliffe USA. Frieze refers to him as “Uncle Cam”. He first became burdened for people to have their own languages when he recognized minority language groups among Spanish speakers.

“Uncle Cam went out into Mexico and Guatemala and he was selling Spanish Bibles and he realized that they didn’t speak Spanish and he wanted for them to have the Bible in their heart language. And L.L. Legters was the one who said to him ‘we need to think about this for the whole world’ and he really enlarged that vision.”

With this challenge, Townsend went on to found Wycliffe USA, SIL, and JAARS. These groups today are working side by side to meet the needs of the thousands of languages in our world that have zero Scripture. And so while they look to the past, Wycliffe USA is also staying true to their vision of getting Scripture into all languages.

Groundbreaking ministry

There are a couple of ways that Wycliffe has been and continues to be a groundbreaking ministry. Even at the very beginning, Wycliffe’s focus was unique in the Great Commision.

Frieze says, “It’s just exciting to see the beginnings of Wycliffe and how they really looked at that vision. It was just unheard of at the time and translation wasn’t always popular… To think that they were bold enough to do those things and to step out and prioritize heart language and translation is just really exciting for me to hear.”

Another way Wycliffe has been ahead of its time can be found in who was included in the projects. Frieze points specifically to the inclusion of women.

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe USA)

Despite Legters’ warnings that people would talk, Townsend sent a team of single women into a part of Mexico where even men had not been sent. The women, Eunice Pike and Florence Hansen, were excited to be a part of the translation work among the Mazatec people and they completed the rough draft of the New Testament in just six years.

Another story about the inclusion of women involves  JAARS—a subset of SIL and partner of Wycliffe USA. The first pilot on the team to fly their planes was Miss Elizabeth Green.

So weaved throughout their ministry is the affirmation that God can do amazing things through any individual who he calls into translation, regardless of who they are.

Today, Wycliffe and partners continue to pursue the most effective strategies in Bible translation.

“We’re still doing that 75 years later with technology and thinking about ways of making translation clear and accurate and reach all the people groups.”

But why does it matter to look back in this way?

Over and over again in the Bible, we see that God calls upon his people to remember his faithfulness in the past as a way to encourage them to go forward. This is the same principle for why Wycliffe is putting out this book. They are reminiscing in the ways God has provided.

“I think Scripture tells us that we need to do that, that we need to celebrate the milestones and remember what God has done, and I think this is how we can do that. We can look back on what God has done in these people’s lives… It’s just good for us to have those reminders that God will provide.

“When he sends us on the task, he provides the ways that we do that. And, I think that, you know, as I look back over these 75 years of Wycliffe, I see it over and over again. An unlikely hero that he provided … that you would never guess that these people would be called by the Lord to serve in such a way.

“One of my favorite stories is Jackie Huggins who basically—she translated the Kagayanen Bible in the Philippines. But before she became a missionary and served with Wycliffe, she was an atheist. She was out to convert all the Christians the other way. And God got ahold of her heart and changed her and used her to deliver the Bible to thousands.”

In other words, Frieze says when God calls us, we need to answer, and he will provide even if we cannot see a way forward.

So, if you’re even slightly intrigued with the history of Bible translation, consider picking up the book for yourself:

“I hope that it really sparks an interest and a passion for Bible translation as well, because these folks have been committed for years. We look at the linguistic training that has come out of our Wycliffe family of organizations and things that have just been so instrumental globally and looking at them, I think that that’s very inspirational. And of course we want everyone to have God’s Word in their heart language. So we need more people involved to make that happen. And I think if you’re a history lover, this is certainly a way to make that connection.”

You can order the book here.

You can also read the stories celebrating the 75 years of Wycliffe here.

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