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Missionarys daughter spells out need for foreign language Bibles
Grace Townsend-Goreth explains how nearly 2,000 ethnic groups do not have a Bible translated in their own language during a presentation Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Lanier Center Hotel in Gainesville. - photo by SAVANNAH KING

“When I read my bible, I realize that if I didn’t have the Bible in my own heart language, I’d be lost,” Grace Townsend-Goreth said.

Townesend-Goreth, daughter of the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, spoke to a crowd of 75 people Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn Lanier Center Hotel in Gainesville about the organization’s work and its progress in translating Bibles into all of the world’s languages.

Of the more than 6,500 languages in the world, Townsend-Goreth said still almost 2,000 language groups have not yet had a Bible translated into their “heart language” or first language. Wycliffe Associates, a ministry working to accelerate the Bible translation around the world, aims to have the remaining 2,000 languages translated by the year 2025.

“For the very first time, we’re under 2,000 (language) groups,” said Brent Nelson, Wycliffe Associates Southeastern area director. “We’re really excited that that’s happening. These Bible translation groups came together in 2000 and prayed ‘Lord, would you do something?’ So it’s gone from 3,000 (languages in 2000) to 1,967. That’s the fastest time in the last 12 years of any time in history that translations have occurred.”

Nelson told the crowd advances in technology have sped up the translation process which used to take on average 20 years and more than $1 million to complete. Bible translators working in the field are now using a “Bible Translation Acceleration Kit,” which is a basic computer powered by solar energy allowing translators to transmit finished work via satellite. Nelson said the organization estimates the average amount of time it takes to translate a Bible is about eight to 10 years. The cost has been reduced to $180,000.

Nelson said in areas today that have not received a BTAK, transmitting a section of translation can take two to three weeks because translators must physically carry their work to a mail carrier or a village with electrical access to send it to the organization.

Townsend-Goreth, who has first-hand knowledge of the challenges missionaries face, told the group stories about her youth in Peru as her father, Cameron Townsend, worked to translate and distribute Bibles in South America. She also told the crowd about the unusual situations of growing up as a missionary’s daughter.

She recalled a date she went on as a teen in which she and a young man paddled a canoe through the water looking with a flashlight for the yellow eyes of a baby alligator. The pair were trying to collect the small alligators to send to zoos in the United States. One of the alligators fell asleep in her hand and woke suddenly. She laughed as she explained how startled she was by the sudden change in the alligator’s temperament.

She also told the group about the struggles her father faced when trying to enter Mexico and how his strong relationships with Mexican politicians helped to ease their travel troubles.

She recalled the plane crash that established a much-needed branch for the ministry aimed to help translators with transportation issues.

In 1947 when she was 6 weeks old, her family boarded a pig plane in Mexico. She was asleep in a basket padded with diapers, but her father and mother had no where to sit. To steady themselves, they hooked their feet under the pilot’s chair.

The plane crashed in the Mexican jungle shortly after take off. Townsend-Gorath was the only person not harmed.

Though he was injured, her father took photos of the wreckage and showed them to businessmen. He explained the need for reliable transportation for missionaries and their families.

“It was through those pictures of an airplane accident that God used to stir three businessmen in the U.S. to say ‘Yes, missionaries need planes,’” Townsend-Goreth said.

The crash resulted in the creation of the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service branch of the organization. Townsend-Gorath said JAARS works to provide just about anything translators may need. Volunteers provide for the translators’ needs in multiple ways including building projects, education or translation assistance.

Nelson encouraged the audience to get involved with the ministry either through monetary donations or by volunteering their time to help JAARS. He said becoming a translator is always an option for anyone who is interested.

More information about becoming involved with the organization can be found online at