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William Cameron “Cam” Townsend was born in California in 1896 to a poor farmer and his wife. Cam was not a good student in school, but after a near drowning incident, he decided to focus on his studies and did very well. After finishing college, Cam decided he wanted to be a missionary and headed to Guatemala, a country in Central America, to hand out Spanish Bibles.
William Cameron Townsend (left) with one of his first ministry pilots
He was surprised to learn that, although Spanish was the official language, many of the native people only spoke Cakchiquel and couldn’t read the Spanish Bibles. During a conversation about God, one native man asked, “If your God is so smart, why doesn’t he speak Cakchiquel?” Cam realized that having a Spanish Bible wasn’t enough. These people needed a Bible in their own language, so he decided to give them one. It took him 10 years to learn and translate the very difficult language, but Cam gave the people a New Testament in their own language.
Cam dedicated himself to training Bible translators so other people groups could read the Bible in their native tongue. In 1934 he founded Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas. The camp was named after John Wycliffe, who translated the first Bible into English. Camp Wycliffe trained missionaries in language learning, translation, and in rugged living, since most missionaries had to live without basic comforts.
In all, Cam founded three ministries: Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Camp Wycliffe became part of this), and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service. These ministries are still making an impact today. Because of Cam’s efforts, and the work of the ministries he founded, the entire Bible has been translated into hundreds of native languages. Over 1,000 people groups have a New Testament in their own tongue, and translators are working in every region of the globe on nearly 2,000 language projects. By 2025 Wycliffe hopes to have started a translation project in every language group around the world.
Cam loved God’s Word and, because of his desire to see a Bible in every native language, many people now can read God’s Word for themselves and learn about the message of Jesus.