The co-founder of one of the world's largest Bible translation ministries will be laid to rest on Saturday next to her husband, Wycliffe Bible Translators co-founder W. Cameron "Cam" Townsend.
Elaine Mielke Townsend, 91, died July 14 at 7 p.m. at a South Carolina hospital. The widow of Cam Townsend is remembered for championing the cause of bringing the translated Bible to those who speak minority languages. She shared with her late husband the dream of seeing the Bible translated into every language no matter how small the number of speakers.
"I'm passionate for Bible translation," Elaine had once exclaimed, according to Wycliffe. "The love of God compels me to keep telling others."
Together, Elaine and Cam founded Wycliffe and its affiliate organizations: SIL International and JAARS Inc. Wycliffe missionaries have translated the Scripture into 700 languages and are working on 1,600 more translations.
"If ever there was a first lady of Bible translation, she was it," said JAARS President Jim Akovenko, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Before her involvement with Bible translation, Elaine had a successful career as the supervisor of Chicago's special education programs.
However, she packed her bags and moved to Mexico at the beckoning of the then fledgling SIL. In Mexico, she taught the children of a husband-and-wife linguistic team for a year, then carried out literacy campaigns and prepared instructional materials for 17 of the minority languages in Mexico.
Later, she did the same in Peru, working with government educators to train literacy workers for a nation wide literacy drive.
Elaine met her husband Cam in 1944 and they were married two years later.
The couple began their ministry with a handful of linguists working in Mexico, which has now grown to over 6,600 members from over 60 countries and working in 1,640 languages worldwide under SIL.
"I realized I had not only married Cameron, but Wycliffe as well," Elaine once reflected, according to Wycliffe. "I have no complaints on either account. In fact, the result has been nothing but a life of rich, wonderful blessings."
Elaine was described by her friends as vibrant, full-of-life, quick, friendly, and kind.
"She always served tea in the afternoon at the beach," recalled Sanna Rossi, Elaine's close friend and widow of Tropicana Orange Juice founder Anthony Rossi, according to Wycliffe. The Townsends often vacationed with the Rossis at their beach house.
"She made life so pleasant and such fun. She [went] all out — [did] not do things halfway. She [was] full of energy and sparkle. Everything she [did], she [did] fast —talking and working!"
In the latter years of her life, and especially after her husband's death in 1982, Elaine has served as the face of Wycliffe International. She served as JAARS's and Wycliffe's elder stateswoman until she suffered a stroke at her North Caroline home in February 2006.
"It's kind of like our parents of the organization have gone now you know, the first generation has passed on," commented Wycliffe USA Senior Vice President Russ Hersman, according to The Associated Press.
Elaine will be laid at the Davis Funeral Service in North Carolina for the public to pay their last respect to her on Friday, July 20, 5-9 p.m. She will be buried the next day next to her husband's grave at the JAARS Center in North Carolina. Her memorial service will take place in the Townsend Building auditorium at the JAARS Center on Saturday.
Elaine is survived by her four children, 21 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.