As reports of Wycliffe’s accomplishments rolled in, he would listen with gratitude—then quickly return to the goal that eluded him.

In remote Papua New Guinea, a barefoot Iwam tribesman wearing a bone through his nose and a Hoosier T-shirt imprinted with a map of Indian steps up to computer typesetting terminal. In the Ecuadorian jungle, an Auca Indian, once a ferocious headhunter and now a polio victim, hobbles along a sun-dappled jungle trail with the incongruous help of an aluminum walker. And in Peru, a young Piro Indian who has never seen a car nor held a pencil boards a float plane for the first day of school. He will study first-grade reading for three months, then return to teach the rest of his tribe, always keeping just one semester ahead of his students.

Bizarre scenes like these are the fallout from civilization’s collision with the primitive world. For the past 46 years, the U.S.-based organization known overseas and in the scientific community as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, founded by the late Cameron Townsend, pioneered in the discovery and education of neglected peoples like these. With its sister organization in the U.S., chartered as Wycliffe Bible Translators, “Uncle Cam” Townsend’s linguistic descendants comprise a staff of over 4,200, scattered across the globe with a singular goal: to translate the Bible into every spoken language. It was the lifelong vision of that remarkable man, who died last April at the age of 85.

Working against great odds, Townsend founded and led the movement that became a worldwide phenomenon. (For an in-depth treatment of Wycliffe and SIL, see CT, Feb. 19, 1982). His life spanned a century that has seen most cultures, including the advanced West, undergo tumultuous changes. ...

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