Celebrating 75 Years!

By Steve Russell

Christ commanded us in Mark 16:15 to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” All the world … whole creation. While this seems a daunting task in geography and ethnicity, this has always been the scope that William Cameron—“Uncle Cam”—Townsend had in mind.

Steve and Cindy, his wife, talking with people in the hangar on JAARS Day October 2022

When our organization was formed 75 years ago in 1948 as Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, it had been a dream that was already 20 years in the making. In 1917 when Cam was a young man in college, he felt called to go to Mexico with a friend to preach the gospel and provide Bibles. By the time America entered World War I, Cam had been released from service to realize his mission dream, this time in Guatemala. While distributing Spanish Bibles in local communities in Guatemala, Cam was sometimes asked why God spoke only Spanish, and not Cakchiquel, the local language of the people.

Realizing that Spanish Bibles had little benefit for people who didn’t read, write, or speak Spanish, Cam felt compelled to learn Cakchiquel himself and provide God’s Word to them in their own language. Thus began one of the greatest Bible translation movements in the world. Cam made good on his promise and by the mid-1920s had produced portions of the New Testament in Cakchiquel, and eventually he completed the entire Bible.

By the late 1920s, Cam saw that the methods he learned could be taught to others and had grandiose ideas about how to reach the most remote people on the planet with the most advanced technologies—including airplanes. He drafted concepts to create a summer institute to train linguists, provide a method for their financial support, and develop an organization to transport and supply them. This was no foolhardy dream. God had given him the vision. In 1932 he founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics, now SIL International. In 1942 he founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, now a major global conglomerate of organizations, and in 1948 he founded Jungle Aviation and Radio Service. In Cam’s lifetime, he realized Bible translation and literacy operations for literally hundreds of language groups worldwide representing millions of people—most of them in remote jungle and rainforest areas. All the world … whole creation.

Bob Russell, Ralph Borthwick, and Don Hesse pray in front of the hangar at Yarina Cocha in Peru, where the first JAARS base was located.

Today we continue Cam’s legacy and celebrate our 75th anniversary. As rich as our heritage is, the task is not complete. When Cam started, he thought there were several hundred languages to be translated but quickly realized there were over 2,000. While the work of SIL, Wycliffe, JAARS and their partners has added hundreds of ethnic groups to those who possess God’s Word in their own language and has given them the gospel, more than 600 million people speaking roughly 5,100 languages still have less than a full New Testament in the language they value most. We have much work ahead, but the task is achievable. The Lord of the Harvest has ensured it.

JAARS is entering a new chapter in our quest to ease burdens, reduce barriers, and deliver God’s Word. To emphasize this work, JAARS has made a slight adjustment to the name to incorporate our 75-year heritage—Jungle Aviation and Relay Service. As we strive to maintain an operational focus, we do so by relaying the Word, the missionaries who translate it, the people they minister to, and the supplies they need.

Why do we do it? For the same reason that you give—to participate with us in Christ’s great calling. The same reason we as a body of Christ support one another. “For they gave according to their means as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3–5 ESV).

For 75 years we have taken seriously the stewardship of your generosity and have done so with commendable accountability as recognized by Ministry Watch, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and the EFCA. Your continued partnership will enable us—together—to equip the next generation of saints to finish the task.

Join us throughout the year in celebrating the many ways that God has used JAARS to spread the gospel these last 75 years!

This letter from JAARS president Steve Russell first appeared in the 2022 Annual Report.