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June 2016: "One Thousand Tribes Untouched":
Elvira Malmstrom Townsend and the Founding of Wycliffe Bible Translators

 

One of the most significant chapters in the history of Christianity in the 20th century is the story of Bible translation. The Scriptures were translated into thousands of languages inn1900s, far more than all the previous centuries combined. The major agencies for this work were the institutions started by William Cameron Townsend (1896-1982), such as Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and Camp Wycliffe. And a major partner and co-worker in this ministry was his wife, Elvira, nee Malmstrom (1892-1944).

Townsend had already begun distributing Bibles in Guatemala when he met and married Elvira, a Presbyterian missionary there in July 1919. Together they joined the Central American Mission and together they opened a new missions station among the Cakchiquel people. The evangelized, started a school and began translating the Bible into the Cakchiquel language. It was while doing this translation, which took over a decade, that the Townsend started to develop some of the principles of linguistics and translation that would guide WBT in later years. In 1932 they left Guatemala and returned to the United States because of William's ill health. It was during this furlough that they met Leonard Legter, who urged the Townsend to begin a Bible translation work in Mexico. The next year they held the first Camp Wycliffe to train translators and began their work in Mexico. For the next ten years, until her death on Christmas Eve in 1944, Elvira was working alongside of William in expanding this work, as well as continuing in witnessing and teaching.

She was a member of Moody Church in Chicago, which supported her mission work from her first first arrival in Guatemala in 1917 until her death. Collection 330 contains some of the letters Elvira wrote to the church and its pastor, H. A. Ironside as well as the numerous articles about the Townsends that appeared in the church newsletter, usually in Elvira's own words. Below are links to a selection of these documents, which tell of the origins of one of the most influential ministries of the modern age.

         
         

 

Date

Location

Description

 

 

July 23, 1917

Good News (the church newsletter)

Newsletter article. Elvira's arrival in Guatemala

 

 

January 1, 1919

Good News

Newsletter article. Letter from one of Elvira's students

 

 

March 3, 1920

Good News

Newsletter article. Learning the Cakchiquel language

 

 

March 1923

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Evangelism in Guatemala towns

 

 

February 1924

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Meeting with the President of Guatemala

 

 

July 1931

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Distributing the first Cakchiquel New Testaments

 

 

March 1933

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. An erupting volcano

 

 

December 1932

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. William's illness

 

 

June 1936

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Visit from the President of Mexico

 

 

April 1938

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Faithfulness in Service

 

 

February 1939

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. One Thousand Tribes Untouched

 

 

December 30, 1940

Collection 330, Box 7, Folder 3

Postcard. From Elvira Townsend to H. A. Ironside. With transcript

 

 

June 6, 1941

Collection 330, Box 7, Folder 3

Letter. From Elvira Townsend to Moody Church

 

 

July 22, 1941

Collection 330, Box 7, Folder 3

Letter from Elvira Townsend to Moody Church

 

 

October 25, 1941

Collection 330, Box 7, Folder 3

Letter. From the Townsends to the supporters of Wycliffe Bible Translators

 

 

February 24, 1942

Collection 330, Box 7, Folder 3

Letter. From Elvira Townsend to H. A. Ironside. With transcript

 

 

November 26, 1943

Moody Church News (January 1944)

Newsletter article. Translating the Word of God

 

 

January 20, 1944

Collection 330, Box 19, Folder 4

Letter. From William Cameron Townsend to H. A. Ironside on the relation of Bible translation to Biblical prophecy

 

 

April 1944

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Bible Training for Indian Key Men

 

 

April 29, 1944

Collection 330, Box 19, Folder 4

Telegram from Elvira Townsend, Doris Needham. Mary Beaer (all of whom received support from Moody Church) to Moody Church about the upcoming Camp Wycliffe

 

 

December 25, 1944

Collection 330, Box 19, Folder 4

Telegram. From William Cameron Townsend to H. A. Ironside, announcing Elvira's death

 

 

December 26, 1944

Collection 330, Box 19, Folder 4

Letter. From H. A. Ironside, responding to Townsend's telegram

 

 

February 1945

Moody Church News

Newsletter article. Obituary of Elvira Malmstrom Townsend

 

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