A New Vision for Missions: William Cameron Townsend, the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the Culture of Early Evangelical Faith Missions, 1896-1945

By William Lawrence Svelmoe | Go to book overview

Note to Reader

This is the story of William Cameron Townsend. To be strictly accurate, it's the story of his first forty- five years or so. When Uncle Cam (as he came to be known around the world) died in 1982, Time magazine referred to him as a “pioneering Protestant missionary” in an obituary in its “Milestones” section. Heads of state, educators, and Christian leaders from around the world sent letters and cables of condolence. Evangelist Billy Graham wrote, “No man in this century has … advance“d” the cause of Christian missions as “has” Cameron Townsend.” Townsend achieved his greatest notoriety as the visionary founder of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the Wycliffe Bible Translators, the largest, most innovative, and most controversial Protestant mission of the twentieth century.

The truth of the matter is, however, that I'm as interested in other things as I am in Townsend. His first wife, Elvira, is an intriguing case. I love Dr. Becker, and I only talk about him for a couple of paragraphs. Then there's R. D. Smith. If you see his demise coming, you're pretty sharp. I didn't. In short, I find missionaries fascinating. Whether for good or ill, they changed the world.

The title mentions faith missions. Some of you, diehard evangelicals of a certain generation, know what those are, or were. If the term means nothing to you, well, you'll know all about them by the time you finish this book. Understanding their culture is what the book is really about.

I also want my readers to get a sense of what it feels like to be an evangelical Protestant. Along with its heart, which has always been large, I'm searching for the evangelical mind. If you're an evangelical, I hope you see a bit of yourself in my subjects, your good self, and the self that makes you wince from time to time. If you're not an evangelical, I hope you at least learn a bit about what makes us tick.

That last line gave me away. I'm an evangelical myself, or at least I like evan-

-ix-

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