Dr. George Cowan, former Bible translator and president emeritus of Wycliffe Bible Translators International, (now the Wycliffe Global Alliance) went to be with the Lord on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, at the age of 100.
“No one exemplified Wycliffe and commitment to reaching people with the Good News in a language and form they relate to best more than George Cowan,” said Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe USA. “His passion and prayer life are legendary, and he will be missed greatly by the whole Wycliffe family.”
George was born in Manitoba, Canada, on Feb. 23, 1916. He received a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University and later moved to the United States, where he then got a master’s degree in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a second master’s degree in linguistics from the University of North Dakota.
In his early years, George served on the staff of Young Life and pastored a church in south Texas. In 1942 he moved to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Florence, a fellow North American who shared his passion for linguistics. George briefly worked among the Amuzgo people in Mexico. Later he and Florence settled in Huautla de Jiménez and published various technical papers about the Mazatec language and culture, including a description of the now famous whistle speech. They also collaborated with Mazatec colleagues to translate the New Testament into Mazatec, completing the work in 1961.
George served as director of SIL Mexico, one of Wycliffe’s primary partners, from 1951 to 1953 and as president of Wycliffe Bible Translators International (now called Wycliffe Global Alliance) from 1956 to 1981. In addition, he held the position of SIL area director for the Europe and Africa areas, extension director for fieldwork in Mexico, and director of linguistic schools in Canada, England, Germany and the United States. He sat on the boards of directors for SIL, JAARS, Wycliffe Associates and Wycliffe Bible Translators among others, and was intimately involved in the development of SIL linguistic training programs in Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
George was the editor of Translation Magazine and published numerous linguistic and anthropological publications over the years. He also wrote three booklets entitled “Dear Bob” (published by Moody Press), “Your Training or You?” (published by InterVarsity Press), and “The Word That Kindles: People and Principles That Fueled A Worldwide Bible Translation Movement” (published by Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc.). In 1970, Biola University conferred an honorary doctorate on George.
He also joyfully led Wycliffe USA’s Prayer Ministries department and coordinated the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project from 1982 to 1995.
In recent years, George continued to pour himself into the work of Bible translation as a volunteer with Wycliffe USA and Seed Company. He served as a spiritual advisor to the two organizations and spent much of his time in prayer for the Bibleless peoples of the world.
“Dad considered his prayer ministry a joy and privilege, on par or higher than anything else he did in life,” said George’s daughter Ruth. “He loved to pray and enter the Lord’s presence.”
George’s unwavering passion was summed up well in this quote he shared a few years ago: “I’ve got more versions [of the Bible] than I know what to do with,” George said. “But what about that poor guy out there? … He’s got nothing. What should I pray for him? … I can only ask that God give him the same as he’s given me.”
George is survived by his daughters, Esther and Ruth. His son, Paul, and wife, Florence, preceded him to heaven.