Editor’s note: The following are select tributes to Dr. Ralph D. Winter as they appeared in the May-August 2009 issue of Mission Frontiers, the bulletin of the U.S. Center for World Mission (www.uscwm.org). Winter passed away on May 20, 2009, after a long battle with cancer. He was 84.
Vonette Z. Bright
Co-Founder, Campus Crusade for
Ralph Winter and Bill Bright were classmates at Fuller Seminary. Ralph was a full-time student and Bill attended as his business would allow. The two remained friends and consulted each other on occasion. Bill’s questions for Ralph consisted of more theological matters and Ralph’s questions related more to business management and personnel concerns. There were few men in whom Bill had more confidence. We enjoyed Ralph and Roberta’s company on many occasions. After Roberta passed away, Barbara and Ralph visited in our home and were among the last couples we entertained before Bill became bedridden.
I often used a quote Ralph made at a gathering of classmates at the home of Dan and Ruth Fuller. It was certainly a statement of which my husband and I agreed. Ralph was concerned that so many of their classmates and colleagues were beginning to retire at the ages of 55-65. He elaborated that if a person begins his ministry at the age of 30 (ages of Ralph and Bill) and lives to the age of 90 he is only half through at the age of 60. Ralph pointed out some of the most significant work accomplished in ministry and in the secular world is accomplished by persons in their seventies and beyond. Dr. Donald McGavran, at the age of 80 with the Church Growth Movement, is an example. Ralph and Roberta invested their lives in missions and the education of young people. They have been stalwarts in maintaining conservative points of view of theology. Their brilliance and zeal will be missed. Their example and influence, however, will live on in countless numbers in whose lives they have invested. Ralph set a standard of achievement for which young theologians will desire to achieve in the future. It will be exciting to see how God leads others who will stand on the shoulders of this great man.
Founder, Prison Fellowship
The Church on earth recently lost a great visionary. If you’ve ever heard the terms “unreached people group,” “frontier missions,” or “10/40 window,” it’s because of Ralph Winter’s catalytic effect on the Church to fully embrace the Great Commission.
Winter burst onto the international stage in 1974 at the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization. There among Christian leaders like Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and John Stott, Winter blew the lid off some of the most pernicious misconceptions of the day. Because the gospel had gone to every continent and nearly every country, many people had begun to assume that the work of missions was over. They thought that the only thing now was for local Christians to engage in evangelism.
In a paper circulated prior to the gathering, Winter wrote, “The awesome problem is . . . that most non-Christians in the world today are not culturally near neighbors of any Christians, and that it will take a special kind of ‘cross-cultural’ evangelism to reach them.”
Winter knew that if every Christian in the world shared the gospel with his neighbors, only half the world would hear it.
To illustrate his point, Winter explained the case of the Batak church in Indonesia, where the gospel had taken root and people were actively evangelizing. But because of Indonesia’s mosaic of languages and people groups, for the Batak to reach others-even in their own country-they would have to engage in cross-cultural missions.
With America becoming more and more multicultural, and with our secular neighbors not even speaking our language, we would do well to see our evangelism at home as Winter taught us to see it around the world.
Ralph Winter’s strategic emphasis on reaching not simply every nation with the gospel, but every people group, dramatically altered the strategies and budget allocations of missionary organizations around the world. In fact, Billy Graham wrote, “Ralph Winter has . . . accelerated world evangelization.”
A few years later, Winter founded the U.S. Center for World Mission and soon after the William Carey International University. He had no financial backing at the time, and only $100 to begin with. Audacious? Yes. But as Winter wrote, “We were willing to fail because the goal we sensed was so urgent and strategic.”
But the center did not fail. Since then the center has not only trained thousands of missionaries and support personnel, but also has worked tirelessly to bring the vision of reaching hidden peoples to the wider Church. In 2005, Time magazine included Winter as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals. Last year, the North American Mission Conference gave him the lifetime service award. But no doubt Winter will take greater pleasure in meeting the men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation who praise the name of Jesus in glory-all because of his passion to spread Christ’s message.
Founder and Chairman Emeritus,
Focus on the Family
Dr. Ralph Winter is being Remembered as a pioneer of the modern world missions movement, and indeed, he was. I remember being moved and inspired by the courage he demonstrated when he purchased the old PasadenaNazarene College campus back in the 1970s. We all knew at the time that Dr. Winter was faithfully following the Lord’s leading, but we were also aware of the serious financial obstacles that seemed to stand in the way of his dream.
But with every financial challenge that arose, the Lord made a way around them. God’s people caught the vision and responded generously, and the U.S. Center for World Mission and William Carey International University were born. The establishment of these institutions represented a tremendous answer to the prayers of many people, as well as a significant advancement to the cause of world missions. I did what I could, but it was Dr. Winter who led the charge in those days. Everyone who cares about the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ-and who is passionate about the salvation of lost souls from every tribe and tongue and nation-owes Dr. Winter a debt of gratitude. He was one of a kind, and he is sorely missed. But his legacy lives on.
World Evangelical Alliance
On behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance and our entire global family, I want to extend our deepest sympathy to the Winter family, friends and colleagues in ministry. I first became aware of Dr. Winter in the fall of 1974 during my missionary training in Chicago. I had the privilege of having Paul Little, the program director of the Lausanne '74 Congress, as one of my trainers. Through Paul’s teaching, the content of the historic congress, including Dr. Winter’s landmark speech, were outlined to us. However, as a young missionary I was not fully aware of the impact that Dr. Winter would make on the late 20th century mission movement.
In the years that followed I became more aware of Dr. Winter’s teaching through his provocative and mindstretching writings. I watched with amazement the vision, the purchase and ultimately the development of the U.S. Center for World Mission. I was deeply inspired by his audacious faith and trust in God.
Dr. Winter profoundly impacted my thinking about the task of world evangelism and my work as a missionary, a mission mobilizer and a mission agency executive.
In my current capacity as the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, I travel to many countries and meet with hundreds of leaders. It is very evident that Dr. Winter has influenced the thinking of much of the evangelical world.
(I am writing this report from Korea,which now has the second largest mission movement in the world. It is clear that the global strategies of the Korean church have been strongly influenced by Dr. Winter’s insights.)
In recent years, my personal interactions with Dr. Winter revolved around the integral nature of the gospel and how it is needed to transform every arena of society. I was deeply enriched by these conversations.
I will miss the prophetic voice of Dr. Winter. However, his impact for God’s Kingdom will continue through the thousands of people he has influenced throughout his lifetime.
It is my prayer that the Church around the world will continue to be inspired to see the gospel taken to all peoples and transform the nations.
On the Web
For more tributes or to write your own reflection, go to: www.ralphwinter.org