The goal of Wycliffe's Last Languages Campaign is to translate the Bible for all of the 2,400 languages that still do not have one. Those represent about a third of all languages spoken and include nearly 200 million people, mostly in three regions — Central Africa, northern India-southern China and Indonesia-Papua New Guinea.
The translations are expected to take at least 17 years to complete.
Robert Creson, president of Wycliffe, would identify the cash donor only as someone with a longtime interest in biblical translation.
"It's a huge encouragement and a huge investment of faith," he said.
Samuel Mubbala, a Ugandan translator working on a Bible in his native language, knows how difficult the task can be.
Mubbala grew up speaking a non-written language called Lugwere that is used by about 500,000 people. He helped create an alphabet for it a few years ago and then started translating scripture into the newly written language.
Although the Bible already had been translated into a related Ugandan language, that version did not seem to speak to him intimately enough.
For example, Mubbala said, in one of the written languages of Uganda the word "believe" has three shades of meaning — accepting, agreeing and religious faith.
But in his native language, "belief" referred only to agreeing and accepting. So when some speakers of Lugwere heard their salvation could be ensured if they believed and were baptized, they happily agreed to it. But they didn't understand that the baptism ceremony was founded on faith in Jesus Christ.
Mubbala and others had to come up with a new linguistic construction that Lugwere speakers understood as something like "to trust in God or Christ as true."
Wycliffe was founded in 1942 by American missionary Cameron Townsend, who saw the need for native-language Bibles while working in Guatemala in 1917. The company was named for John Wycliffe, who initiated the first English translation of the Bible in the 14th century.