Dr. George Cowan, pioneering Canadian missionary to Mexico and former president of Wycliffe Bible Translators International (now called Wycliffe Global Alliance), passed away this past Saturday at the age of 100.
Dr. Cowan was born in Kelwood, Manitoba in 1916. In 1942, he went to serve in Mexico, where he met his wife, Florence Hansen. They were married in 1943.
George and Florence came to a rapidly growing Bible college in Saskatchewan, now known as Briercrest College, where he directed training for future Bible translators. Briercrest, bursting at the seams, was just moving to its new location – Caron airport, now Caronport.)
The Cowans returned to Mexico, eventually studying the Mazatec language in the state of Oaxaca. The language became well known for its use of whistling. In 1948, Cowan wrote:
Eusebio Martínez was observed one day standing in front of his hut, whistling to a man a considerable distance away. The man was passing on the trail below, going to market to sell a load of corn leaves which he was carrying. The man answered Eusebio’s whistle with a whistle. The interchange was repeated several times with different whistles. Finally the man turned around, retraced his steps a short way and came up the footpath to Eusebio’s hut. Without saying a word he dumped his load on the ground. Eusebio looked the load over, went into his hut, returned with some money, and paid the man his price. The man turned and left. Not a word had been spoken. They had talked, bargained over the price, and come to an agreement satisfactory to both parties–using only whistles as a medium of communication.
Mazateco Whistle Speech
The Cowans collaborated with Mazatec colleagues to translate the New Testament, completing the work in 1961. During this time, the Cowan’s three children were born in Mexico. Dr. Cowan was the director of SIL Mexico from 1951 to 1953.
From 1956 to 1981, Dr. Cowan served as the director of Wycliffe Bible Translators International, while remaining very active in the work both in Canada and Mexico. In his later years, he continued to serve both Wycliffe and the Seed Company (which, by the way, is very active in Mexico, currently working with a Mazatec dialect).
Take a minute or so to watch this short video of Dr. Cowan. It applies not only to Bible translation, but to all the riches that so many believers have, physical but above all spiritual, that we must find a way to share.
For more: Veteran Wycliffe leader George Cowan dies (Wycliffe Canada)