Dr. Ralph Winter was a man of many ideas. This is what he was known for throughout his life by all who interacted with him. Sometimes he would write memos to himself in order to express his ideas in writing, as he did on March 12, 1985. As his initials were RDW for Ralph Dana Winter, the memo begins with TO: RDW and FROM: RDW. He is discussing the stewardship of the campus that the mission organization and international university he started are located on in Pasadena, California. He emphasizes that God desires the community on campus to be able to value the property, to understand it and to have purposes for it that advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Dr. Winter states, “I don’t see any reason why, once a month [the] auditorium…should not be absolutely packed with people interested in missions with a program that would [be] televised and shown all over the nation…We have that great big basketball floor [which is] just an ideal television studio floor and the entire auditorium could be a studio audience. It could be a time of tremendous inspiration that would [ripple] across the earth.”
Dr. Winter laments the fact that people in the community do not seem to be dreaming, praying, longing and reaching out for the world mission center that this campus was intended to be from even before Dr. and Mrs. Winter arrived. He says regarding the houses that surround the campus and belong to it that folks should be praying about whom they want to live in those houses. “What do we want those people to be doing? What is the [rental] income from these houses for?” he asks. Dr. Winter ponders whether God might be so disappointed with people’s dull hearts that it is too late for Him to give the property to them to be used for His purposes.
Another indication in this memo of Winter as the idea man is that he mentions that he has often thought of all the doctoral dissertations over the years that desperately need to be pursued and achieved but he has not gotten any of those ideas written down for various reasons. He reminds people that the battle of faith must be collective and not just individual. Dr. Winter compares the community to babes needing milk rather than adults needing meat! He was never one to shy away from stirring up people’s thinking and feeling with controversial topics to be contemplated and discussed.
A woman in Nairobi, Kenya wrote a letter to Dr. Ralph Winter on October 20, 1984. She says she met him at the headquarters of the Navigators in Colorado Springs a few years before. “I was the woman whom you tried to recruit to fly to Burma immediately to get your handful-of-rice story.” Dr. Winter told her about his idea of a National Geographic magazine about unreached peoples. Her idea was to have a regular section on unreached peoples in a Christian TIME magazine. She has written a paper about this idea and is sending a copy to Dr. Winter for his perusal.
The writer hopes he will read her paper and put her thoughts into his think tank in Pasadena, CA. She has prayed for her idea for 10 years but cannot implement it herself, so she wonders if Dr. Winter has personnel or means to make it a reality. She comments, “I also produced a multi-media slide show (two slide projectors and a dissolve unit making the slides from one projector dissolve into the fading slides of the other projector) about the Navigator work in Kenya.” She dreams of a similar project about various unreached people groups that can be shown in their geographical contexts.
Dr. Winter replies to this woman and after thanking her for the mail she sent mentions that a magazine entitled “World Christian” that is produced on his campus may be an example of her idea already. He encloses a copy of the magazine for her to read and evaluate for herself. He closes by inviting her to correspond further with him on her idea.
Dr. Ralph Winter received a letter dated January 3, 1985 from a gentleman in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The writer describes how he taught an electronics course to rough young men in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The low paying school needed his skills of creating video tapes that communicated the basic information effectively. He says, “The object was to reduce the size of the teacher’s job down to answering questions and supervising lab exercises.” The students were generally able to learn topics like circuit theory, logic and binary math from the video presentations.
The writer goes on to discuss with Dr. Winter a linguistics program that could be introduced to secondary schools in which linguistics is taught by using the models of English and New Testament Greek. He argues that the Greek component would effectively prepare students who plan to go on to Bible school or seminary, and the others would understand the scriptures more as a result. It would also be good preparation for potential missionaries serving in Bible translation at younger ages. Such a program “is better than a course in one conversational language, because it prepares the student to learn any language which he may need to learn, potentially a language never previously spoken by a cultural outsider.”
This writer disagrees with the secondary schools’ total dependence on the modern English language without exposing students to older forms. He thinks classes should have “readings in the middle and early modern periods with study of the changes which have occurred in spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.” If students have a grasp of some middle English, they will more easily understand the concept of a dialect in a foreign mission field, if they begin by learning in their mother tongue first before needing to move on to Hindi or Chinese. Students would be reminded of the blessing of having the Bible in English because in early church history, Christians did not have access to the Bible in their mother tongues for several centuries.
Dr. Ralph Winter was a knowledgeable man with education in a variety of subject areas. One of the treasures of his archives collection is all of his writings. He wrote only one full-length book in his life but dozens of articles that were published in various journals over the years. The archive to highlight this week is an article in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research published in January of 1995. A lot of it is autobiographical in nature, and Dr. Winter discusses about how when he was young, his parents and elders wondered what his career of choice would possibly be. He writes, “Would I continue in engineering? Then why…go…to a Christian college to learn Greek?…Why did I shift to an M.A….in Teaching English as a Second Language?…Why did I decide to go on for a Ph.D. at Cornell? There I majored in structural linguistics, minoring in cultural anthropology and mathematical statistics.” Afterward, Dr. Winter earned a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
He was also a creative thinker and strategist. While on the mission field in Guatemala in the early 1960s, Dr. Winter risked proposing that the local shaman be taught certain medical skills in order to protect the local people from careless medical practice administered by him, and as a means to get to know him in friendship. The idea was too controversial, so he had to settle for teaching national pastors business skills that would be beneficial in their bi-vocational roles.
After returning to Pasadena, California to teach at the School of World Mission of Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Winter founded a publishing company he called William Carey Library (WCL), which still operates today, 46 years after its founding in 1969. See http://www.missionbooks.org. Its beginning purpose was to publish the theses and dissertations being written by graduates of the School of World Mission. He states regarding starting WCL, “it was a feasible undertaking for a person with an engineering degree, experience in small business development in Guatemala, plus teaching accounting both in Spanish and English.”
Dr. Winter indeed wore many hats throughout his life’s work as did his first wife Roberta. The picture below is of the region of Quetzaltenango, where the Winters lived and served as missionaries in Guatemala.
The Ralph D. Winter Research Center was established in 2012 on the campus of William Carey International University in Pasadena, California. It has two main purposes. One is to offer historical resources to researchers for their studies and fields of interest. The other is to promote forward looking thought and strategy among those seeking to learn from the past in order to make informed decisions in present and future missiological practice.
The Ralph D. Winter Research Center contains:
1. Ralph Winter’s personal and professional archives collections and the archives of the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) and William Carey International University (WCIU)
2. Ralph Winter’s collection of books that influenced his thinking and writing
3. A portion of Donald McGavran’s missiological archives collection
4. Donald McGavran’s library
5. A collection of books about South Asian Christianity and missions
The team of the Ralph D. Winter Research Center are the director, the lead cataloguing librarian, the two assistant cataloguers, the archivist and the media specialist. The archivist is sorting and organizing the Winter archives collection and will regularly share highlights from her documents in this blog. Thank you for reading and enjoy these forthcoming glimpses of the past! God bless you.