William Cameron Townsend faced the future with openness, spontaneity and creativity. He was an explorer who chose not to follow existing models, but forthrightly forged ahead, believing God was guiding his dreams.
At the 25-year celebration of SIL’s work in Peru, Mr. José Jiménez Borja, an assistant to the Peruvian Minister of Education years before, told this story.
“I remember the day Mr. Townsend came into my office in 1945. He presented the most ridiculous plan I had ever heard.“He wanted to go into the jungle with a group of linguists. They were going to learn the languages of the people, form alphabets, teach the people how to read and translate the Bible into those languages. He wanted my blessing on this impossible project. Our conversation went like this:
Mr. Townsend, who is going to do all this work?
It will be done by trained linguists-young men and women with college degrees who are willing to spend their lives among the indigenous peoples.
This is a difficult task. How many are willing to go?
None, yet. But when I go back to the U.S. and challenge them, many will volunteer.
The jungle is impossible. How will you get those people out to the villages?
I plan to use airplanes to land on the rivers and airstrips that can be cleared in the jungle.
How many planes do you have?
None. But when I share the need, God will give us enough planes.
Who will fly these planes?
Hundreds of young people, seasoned pilots and mechanics will volunteer.
How many pilots and mechanics do you now have?
None, but God will send them along.
There is much disease in the jungle. How will you stay healthy?
We’ll have clinics staffed by doctors and nurses.
How many doctors and nurses do you have?
None, but God will supply them.
Who will finance all this? The U.S. government? A wealthy foundation?
No. I’ll go home and tell the people of the United States about this plan. God will supply. All the workers will raise their own support.
At this I stared at the strange man and told him, “When all that comes to pass, come back to me and I will bless you.”
He got up, gave me a big hug, and said, I’ll be back soon.
“When Mr. Townsend walked out of the door, I turned to my secretary and said, ‘Alla va el gringo mas loco que jamas he visto.’ (There goes the craziest gringo I’ve ever seen in my life.)
“A few months later, Mr. Townsend was back and ready to start! Now, 25 years later, all he dreamed has happened, plus much more. Only God could do such a mighty thing.”
Adapted from an article by Bernie May in Beyond, Vol. 30, No. 1