In 1917, while distributing Spanish Bibles in Guatemala, American missionary Cameron Townsend was challenged by his Mayan guide Fransisco Diaz to translate the Bible into his native Cakchiquel language. It was Diaz's long-held dream for the Cakchiquels to have Scripture in the language of their birth. Surely, Diaz told Townsend, God could speak to the Cakchiquels just as he could to the Spanish-speaking people. Townsend took the challenge and went on to learn the oral-only language, create an alphabet and translate the New Testament. The project took 10 years and inspired Townsend, in 1942, to found Wycliffe Bible Translators, named for John Wycliffe, the 14th-century Oxford scholar who first translated the Bible into English.
Since its inception in 1942, Wycliffe has been involved in more than 700 Bible translations. But there are still more than 2,200 languages spoken by over 350 million people without access to the Bible in their heart language. In November 2008, despite an economic downturn, Wycliffe announced the Last Languages Campaign, a full sprint effort to start a Bible translation program in every language still needing one by 2025. Today, Wycliffe and their partners are involved in the greatest acceleration of the pace of Bible translation that the church has ever witnessed to help unlock God’s Word for the least, the last, and the lost.