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

1
In Which Townsend Drops Out of
College and Decides to Be a
Missionary for a Year
1896–1917

Limitation / Oh hateful word / That halts your aspiration / That downs
your dreams / And brands your schemes / As filmy speculation / And says
you shan't / Because you can't / In the face of limitation.

—William Cameron Townsend, 1917

It is tempting to record that the man who would one day be called “the greatest missionary statesman of the twentieth century” first went to the mission field on a whim. While such an assertion would not be entirely accurate, it also would not be far from the truth. When the impossibly slight youth (with thin brown hair, protruding ears, and wearing a wool suit) bounded up the gangplank of the S.S. Peru on September 15, 1917, bound for Guatemala, he was not the typical evangelical Bible institute graduate burning with a long and zealously nurtured passion for the lost heathen. No, William Cameron Townsend came late to his interest in missions. When asked in college at a meeting of the Student Volunteer Movement why he wished to join the student missions organization, Townsend could not articulate a clear reply. Probably he joined at the urging of friends, and because the Student Volunteer band seemed to have more “enthusiasm,” as Townsend put it, than did the ministerial students with whom he originally associated. That he embarked now for Guatemala had more to do with the restlessness of a young man bored with college and on the point of being dispatched into the mud of the European trenches, the challenge to leave the farm and gain significance in the wider world, and the nagging inner question of many a youth reared in a pious family, the question of whether he really had the goods spiritually.

-1-

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