There was an article in Christianity Today on January 21, 1983 entitled “Ralph Winter’s Mission Center Forges Ahead; Money Still Tight,” and the subtitle is “His ‘unreached people’ strategy seems to be taking hold among other missions.” Dr. Winter founded the U.S. Center for World Mission to focus on two primary activities: locating and determining how to reach the world’s hidden [or unreached] peoples and mobilizing Christians through information about them. This article discusses how Dr. Winter’s goal at the U.S. Center for World Mission was not only to raise funds for the purchase of the campus available to him and his staff in Pasadena, but to mobilize believers in churches all over the country to become excited about frontier missions and act to make a difference therein, the options being praying, giving and even going. His awareness raising reached churches and mission agencies alike. One bullet point example says, “Among denominations, the Evangelical Free church recently named a staff person to work full-time promoting frontier missions in its local churches. The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel has set a goal of contacting 100 unreached people groups by 1990.”
The U.S. Center additionally initiated the Frontier Fellowship, a group encouraging mission agencies and denominations to a daily prayer and giving discipline, hoping to involve one million people by the end of 1983. If each person were to give daily loose change to frontier missions, and the author figures this to amount to 28 cents per individual, the plan would produce $100 per year per person, meaning $100 million each year. Donors are requested to designate $15 for the U.S. Center, which would take care of the $10 million owed on the campus at this point. The remainder would be for frontier missions programs of the various agencies. The Frontier Fellowship began publishing a Daily Prayer Guide at this time, which had 20,000 subscribers, and fifteen organizations were part of this fellowship, a few being the Africa Inland Mission, the World Evangelical Fellowship and a United Presbyterian group.
Dr. Winter promoted a lifestyle he called the “wartime lifestyle” that emphasized saving money and living frugally when possible. The U.S. Center relied heavily on volunteer workers, including Dr. Winter’s father Hugo Winter, a retired engineer who volunteered one day per week. The author writes, “Staff receive missionary salaries based on need, so that Winter receives no more than the newest staff member. He’s usually seen wearing the same blue sport coat and driving to work in a 1965 station wagon on its third 100,000-mile cycle.” Winter’s original plan to pay for the campus was to raise the $15 million through one million gifts of $15 each. This would involve a large number of people in frontier missions while not diverting money away from churches and other mission agencies. However, Winter ended up needing to give in to receiving large gifts from individuals and organizations to save the campus from foreclosure. Yet he was committed to reassigning gifts over $15 to other agencies, and sizeable gifts from churches and organizations were to be paid back as soon as enough gifts of $15 a piece came in as a result of the Frontier Fellowship plan.
Dr. Ralph Winter wrote a letter to all of his daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren on November 21, 1994. In one portion of it, he is discussing ways to stay connected as a family across the distances where each family lives. He says he recently prepared a table of all of the birthdays of the family members. He writes, “I did not do this to remind people to send gifts, but to enable people to acknowledge milestones. And, I certainly did not notice until this moment that my own birthday is the next this year. I’ll be 70.” The family had communicated an idea of exchanging video clips with each other, but Dr. Winter laments that this is not working out very well in spite of all of the equipment available then. He wonders if the problem is that a video cassette is usually two hours in length and no one would want a message that lasts that long. Another problem he proposes is that certain occasions for filming video footage are absent in the families’ lives.
Dr. Winter’s idea is for birthdays to be the times that prompt taking video footage of the whole family, of course including the birthday honoree. He mentions that maybe the rest of the families can sit down and send birthday greetings to the person on [cassette] tape, “each member of the family saying something nice about the one having the birthday. That [way] we would gradually [rack] up a fairly consistent logging of the growth of each individual in a family.” Even better, the family with the birthday person should film a video clip including the honoree saying something historic on his or her birthday, and the other families might film a video of each member saying something nice to the one celebrating. As the children grow, Winter believes this kind of birthday greeting will become more meaningful and insightful to them. He states that it does not take much imagination to reflect on how significant a birthday person would find even a 30-second greeting from 21 people who are all related to him or her!
If each family patched together the annual “statements” of the birthday honorees, what an amazing picture that would be according to Winter of how the person has grown, to be seen years later even by the next generation. Since birthdays are unavoidable occasions when families are forced by our culture to do something special, why not have video footage as part of the celebration, Winter wonders. And if every family films a video of each member saying something nice to the birthday person, then that person will feel like the entire family remembered his or her birthday and celebrated even though they are not physically present. Winter doubts that giving gifts would be as valuable as the “gift” of videos or cassette tapes, but he is not forbidding the giving of gifts either. He wraps up the subject by commenting, “I am not in a position to impose this kind of thing. But I can at least ‘pledge’ myself to lobby for this kind of activity in the corridors of power at 533 Hermosa Street [his house]. At least Roberta and I ought to be able to send greetings to the birthday people on this list I enclose.” He promises to see what he can do for each birthday event.
On the last day of 2002, Dr. Ralph Winter wrote an article entitled “A Growing Awareness about Disease.” It reflects the significant shift in his thinking in the last decade of his life in response to the loss of his wife of almost fifty years Roberta to multiple myeloma. He is fascinated by the disconnect between God’s good creation and the fact of life that all in the animal kingdom (including human beings) live fearful of predators be they other humans or animals of all sizes down to the microscopic level. Winter points out that enormous expenditures go into the medical field all the time, but, he says, “I was surprised to discover that this enormous expense is almost entirely focused on healing the sick not seeking the source of the sickness.” After all, lots of money from patients and insurance companies seems to be available to benefit people in pain and sickness. And people are focused on the present conditions, not thinking about the bigger picture of eradicating diseases for all of humanity. Winter believes it to be ironic that the research universities and government entities are doing along the lines of eradication is funded by pharmaceutical companies! He thinks the FDA is in the business of making money, which is why they charge substantial amounts for their process of approval, and only approve drugs that will be expensive on the market.
Winter, in addition, recognizes the theological implications of all of this. He writes that Christian theology since the fourth century has been informed by neoplatonism in ascribing all evil to God, not Satan. In the books of Job and I Chronicles, reference is made to a significant spiritual Adversary to the work of God. The New Testament equally does “remind us that disease and evil in general are the work of an intelligent evil Adversary.” Winter asks if we will be able to seriously fight disease at its origin if we continue to be unclear about where it comes from. Jonathan Edwards tried to fight smallpox with cowpox vaccine and other pastors did not support him because they thought this act interfered with Divine Providence. Edwards killed himself in the midst of testing vaccines. Then it would not be until two hundred years later that a World Health campaign eliminated smallpox and not in the Name of Christ either.
Winter states, “Our inherited theology allows us to fight ‘terrorists’ that can be seen with the naked eye but not to fight tiny terrorists that can only be seen in a microscope.” He then returns to his area of expertise and ties his reflection to evangelism and mission by acknowledging that there are believers who have lost their faith because of the mystery of evil and suffering. The spectrum is wide when it comes to beliefs, from God allowing evil because of unconfessed sins and Him choosing suffering people to display faith even when in pain to God just being mysterious and God hating sickness and healing all those who believe that He wants to and will. Winter concludes by lamenting that evangelical leaders are not constantly promoting Jesus’ call for His followers to partner with Him to destroy the works of Satan, including disease.