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.
Ralph Winter was a man of God who gave a vision to many Christians of a world in need of the gospel. I used to meet with him on many occasions, often in small group prayer. Some of my vision for world evangelization came from my interaction with him, and I am grateful.
Jack W. Hayford
Foursquare Churches, Founding
Pastor, The Church On The Way
Personally, I am touched deeply by Ralph’s homegoing. I have never known a more diligent servant of the gospel; one so marvelously wrapped in the giftpackaging of a profound scholar, missionary, pioneer thinker and friend. The imprint his footsteps have left in the sands of Church history will not wash away with time, for the impact of his life has literally become an engraving in the minds and souls of a host of pastors and Christian leaders just as truly as they have my own.
In behalf of Anna and myself, as well as my fellow-laborers across the global body of the Foursquare Church, we rise to say, Thank you, Lord for Your servant and our brother, Ralph Winter.
Pastor of Preaching and Vision,
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Nobody in the area of missions had a greater impact on me. Others, like Jonathan Edwards, had a greater impact on me in the area of missions, but no one actually in missions affected me more than Ralph Winter.
First, he was a professor of mine at Fuller Seminary and introduced me to the stunning works of God in missions in the last two hundred years. His vision of the advance of the gospel was breathtaking.
He wore a bow tie in those days, iconoclast that he was, and was fined by the seminary for not returning our papers on time. None of us begrudged him his scattered approach to life. It was thrilling in those days.
Second, in 1974 at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Winter reached up and pulled the unseen rope called “unreached peoples” that rang a bell that reverberates to this day.
This concept, and the subsequent emphasis on unreached peoples (as opposed to unreached “fields”) has been globally seismic in the transformation of missions. It gripped me and shaped all we have done in missions at Bethlehem ever since the mid 1980s.
Third, in the 1980s he bought a $15 million college campus with virtually nothing in his hand to start the U.S. Center for World Mission; and he paid for it by persuading enough of us (thousands) to give “the last thousand.” Brilliant! I think I sent $2,000. Couldn’t resist the vision.
The point of the U.S. Center was to trumpet the vision that there are unreached peoples in the world, and then equip the church to reach them.
Fourth, Ralph Winter was probably the most creative thinker I have ever known. I mean, on any topic that you brought up, he would come at it in a way you have never dreamed of. He saw all things in relationship to other things that you would never think of relating them to.
This meant that stalemates often became fresh starting points. If you were struggling with a tension in your church, he might say: “Well, think about the Navy.” Or if you were having a marriage problem, he might say, “Did you notice how that bridge was built?”
Fifth, Ralph Winter befriended me. He encouraged me. In my most restless early days, he would tell me to stay at Bethlehem because I could do more by sending than by going.
Finally, he did not waste his life, not even the last hours of it. He was busy dictating into the last days. He taught me long ago that the concept of “retirement” was not in the Bible. What a gift he was to the church. To the world. Thank you, Father, for the legacy of this visionary, risk-taking, creative, encouraging lover of unreached peoples who lived unstoppably for the glory of God.
On the Web
For more tributes or to write your own reflection, go to: www.ralphwinter.org