In 1935, William C. Townsend arrived in Tetelcingo with a vision to help lift the tribal people of Latin America to a new place of faith, education, and economic opportunity. At the heart of this vision was the task of giving them the Bible in their native language.
Just one year before, Townsend had founded The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Camp Wycliffe, which would later become Wycliffe Bible translators. SIL would focus on the linguistic aspects of developing a written language for these people groups, while Wycliffe would focus on Bible translation.
Tetelcingo would be Townsend’s home base for the next 10 years, as teams of both linguists and translators came to work among the many indigenous tribes across Mexico. Townsend himself worked on the translation of the New Testament into local Nahuatl language.
Fast forward to 2019. A man named Margarito walked into the Digital Bible Society offices in Conroe, TX. There, he saw a bookshelf with almost 500 Print-On-Demand Bibles in the languages of the world, many spoken by small indigenous tribes.
His eyes scanned the shelves for one language in particular — the Nahuatl of Tetelcingo. And there it was!
This was his heart language. Margarito was born and raised in the town of Tetelcingo, and still has family there. Having committed his life Christ, he was very blessed to hold a Tetelcingo New Testament in his hands for the first time.
Today, an estimated 3,000 people still speak this language in and around this town. Life and culture around them is primarily happening in Spanish and some of them are living somewhat caught between the two languages.
The Digital Bible Society has spent the last several years pioneering the processing of the world’s Bibles into PDF format, making them ready for Print-On-Demand.
A new and much-awaited development came at the beginning of 2020.
Now, two Bibles, either versions or languages, can be processed together into one diglot Bible, which places both texts in an interlinear format, verse-by-verse.
In Tetelcingo for example, the Nahuatl speaker would now be able to read the New Testament in their heart language with the Spanish directly below each verse. This latest Print-On-Demand capability opens the door for exciting new opportunities for meaningful scripture engagement for the millions who function between two languages.
In late January, the Digital Bible Society reconnected with Margarito. This new Print-On-Demand development was shared with him, and the idea was discussed of having our first interlinear project be the Gospel of John in the Tetelcingo Nahuatl language. He was overjoyed at the idea, and plans were made to print them as soon as possible and schedule a trip to hand deliver them to the pastor of the church where his family attends in Tetelcingo. The printing was ordered, and the trip was scheduled for late February.
The DBS team arrived at the church on the evening of their mid-week service, and the Nahuatl speaking believers there were thrilled to receive these Gospels of John in both Nahuatl and Spanish.
It was during this trip, that we discovered the story of William Townsend’s connection to Tetelcingo, and the historically significant role that this small Mexican village played in the formative years of Bible translation for the indigenous people of Mexico, and around the world.
God allowed the Digital Bible Society to be part of one of those “full-circle” moments in history. We were blessed and humbled to have that privilege.