Monday, May 25, 2009

Ralph Winter, Missiological Giant, Dies

Republished with permission from ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA Visit our web site at: -- E-mail: Thursday, May 21, 2009. In June of 2007, I met Dr. Winter at the USCWM. He was one of the most utterly humble and dedicated men of God I'd ever met.

Prominent Missiologist Dr. Ralph Winter is with Jesus

By Mark EllisSenior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- One of the most significant missiological thinkers of the twentieth century, Dr. Ralph Winter, passed away last night at his home in Pasadena from complications of cancer. He was 84.

Dr. Winter founded the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) in 1976 and the William Carey International University a year later. His 1974 address to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization created a seismic shift in mission strategy, with his call to evangelize people groups outside the focus of established mission efforts.

Family members and staff gathered at Dr. Winter’s bedside last night. “It was a bitter-sweet time, with three of his four daughters and Barb around the bed, singing to him,” said Greg Parsons, general director at the USCWM. As the word spread, more of his staff arrived to share stories and sing hymns.

“As they rolled his earthly tent in front of us out to the waiting car I came to these familiar verses,” said Parsons, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?"

As a young man, Winter’s keen intellect was honed by a degree in engineering from Cal Tech, an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from Columbia University, a PhD from Cornell in Structural Linguistics, with minors in Cultural Anthropology and Mathematical Statistics. Then he graduated from Princeton Seminary and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church.

“He was constantly thinking outside the box,” said Dr. Dale Kietzman, a professor at William Carey. “He did this to such an extent that you weren’t sure what the box was anymore.”

As a missionary to Guatemala with his wife Roberta from 1956-66, Winter became a key leader of the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) movement throughout Latin America. “Winter and senior missionary Jim Emery brainstormed on what could be done to get the training to those who needed it but couldn’t come to residential programs—the recognized pastors in rural areas,” Greg Parsons notes. Winters – along with others, promoted TEE concepts around the world and helped forge a network of extension educators.

At Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission, Winter taught mission history and leadership training. He treated his students more like research assistants than pupils, according to some. This enabled him to collect an enormous body of data on the state of the church worldwide.

In 1968, he and Roberta founded the William Carey Library, which has a primary emphasis on publishing missionary literature. A few years later, he helped launch the American Society of Missiology and the International Society of Frontier Missiology.

Many believe Dr. Winter’s address to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 changed the face of missions. “His paper became a watershed,” Parsons says. Prior to his address, many believed churches could be encouraged to complete the Great Commission by reaching their own people.

Building on the work of Donald McGavran, Cameron Townsend, and others, Dr. Winter’s well-researched address awakened his audience to the thousands of people groups outside the reach of established churches and mission efforts. After this, the missions movement was never the same.

In 1976, Dr. Winter walked away from a tenured position at Fuller Seminary to found the USCWM and William Carey International University. He and his wife, Roberta, and their four daughters knew it was a step of faith. “They had no funding or backing to begin a ministry and purchase a college campus three miles away,” Parsons notes.

But they were carried along by a lofty and inspired goal: To raise awareness about global frontiers, and help establish Christian movements among unreached people groups. He was captivated by this question, according to Parsons: “How does the church go where it isn’t?”
His Perspectives Course -- first written at Fuller in 1973, was further developed at his new campus and proved a significant mobilization tool, with over 70,000 graduates today. Other ministries launched under his leadership include the Global Prayer Digest and Missions Frontiers magazine, as well as World Christian Foundations, a curriculum for field missionaries.
Wife Roberta was deeply involved in his activities. “I’ve never seen a couple who worked together so closely,” Parsons notes. “She was totally engaged in his work – even grading his papers.” Roberta passed away from cancer in 2001. Ralph recalled his wife as an “intelligent, vivacious and utterly honest person who was ready for anything.”

In September 2008 Dr. Winter received a Lifetime of Service Award from the North American Mission Leaders Conference in Denver. With his body weakened by cancer, Dr. Winter still used the occasion to present an 8,000-word paper titled “Three Mission Eras and the Loss and Recover of Kingdom Mission, 1800-2000.” His second wife, Barbara, was at his side at the conference.

“He died with his boots on,” Parsons says. “Even up to a few weeks ago, he was working on articles that would challenge people with God’s purposes,” he says. “He was always thinking about how to do something differently or better.”

“He continued to look for additional frontiers or problems to be solved—issues that block the spread of the gospel of the Glory of Christ to the world. To Winter, identifying the right problem to solve is the most important step in solving it,” Parsons noted.

According to Billy Graham, Winters “accelerated world evangelization.” Peter Wagner once said “history will record Winter as one of the half-dozen men who did most to affect world evangelism in the 20th century.”

Memorial services are tentatively scheduled for June 27th.

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