Dr. Winter’s Graduate School Days

Dr. Ralph Winter typed a letter on a typewriter to his parents and younger brother David in May of 1953, while he was a Doctoral student at Cornell University. He says to start that a few minutes ago, no he guesses about one hour ago, his advisor stopped by with the rest of his thesis. The advisor’s point of view, which Winter believes justified, is that he wants this thesis in good shape and written clearly. Winter does not blame him; the advisor is in no hurry. It is a work in progress which merits carefulness. Winter confesses it is not right for him to be zealous about arriving at home in record time, meaning that he speeds through the job in not quite a polished form. His advisor is more realistic than Winter about proportions of the job of refining the written work. Winter states, “In my experience I have rarely had time to revise things, and such a process is not familiar to me nor something which I naturally do. Most of my writing is like what I am doing now. If something is not plain I clear it up in the next sentence.” The skill of reviewing something with the aim of re-expressing it to a greater advantage is not a skill Winter has fully developed in his experience, to say the least.

His advisor feels as though Winter writes well when he writes carefully. However, the second half of his thesis is not at all polished but rather what Winter sat down to write. It is true that the second half is not the ticklish sort of writing that is found in the first half, but in moving from the first half of the thesis into the second half, the advisor discovers numerous necessary modifications of phrasing throughout. So after spending most of a day reading it and likely feeling pressed for time at the point where he is having to mark points of style more and more, about 20 pages into it he brings it to Winter with a handwritten note on the front asking Winter to go over it with care again. He is to give up on rushing because the advisor will accept and approve nothing less than his best job.

What all this means is that Winter will not have his final oral exam before the next week, when his anthro advisor will be gone, which is all right but he thinks this professor would have been easier on him than one of the other men who may substitute in his final oral. “But the one good thing is that while my Math advisor will be leaving for a week, he is certainly coming back; if he were to leave I am sure I would give up trying to pass an oral with a minor in Math.” Winter laments that under the circumstances, his final oral exam will not be before June 10th and he is very sorry this will cause him to be back home later. His time with his brother David before he leaves will be even shorter, for which he apologizes.

Winter is eager to submit a finished piece of work and hates that he has rushed through the thesis, which conflicts with his tendency to be perfectionistic. Even so, he mentions that it is too bad his advisor desires for his writing style to be just like his. Winter will need to write it and make changes again, then turn it in for a final check before the very last typing. The Winters guess they will extend their $5 typewriter for another week or two. At least it will produce a larger-type, clearer copy for the advisor to read. Winter thinks that “part of the psychology of his revisions is involved in the appearance of the page—if there have been some changes on a page already, he is all the more inclined to treat the page like a non-final copy.” So if all the pages are retyped, more readable and clear, Winter hopes this means they will be less needy of revision.

Cornell Univ.

Dr. Winter’s Top Priority

Dr. Ralph Winter, General Director of the Frontier Mission Fellowship, wrote a short essay on Saturday, the 12th of June in 1999 with the title “The Most Important Thing” and the subtitle “A rationale for daily inspiration.” He begins with the heading “The Battle for the Bible: Advice to Myself.” He says there really is a battle going on, and the Enemy of our souls considers it the greatest battle for our soul regarding the fact that the Bible keeps us from sin and sin keeps us from the Bible. The battle is emotional as well as spiritual. If we lack an appetite for the Word of God, any small excuse can divert us. Winter writes, “If we look forward with anticipation and excitement we are much more likely to seek and to find God’s Word to us.” So it is a choice we have to set our affections on things above rather than on things on the earth. The Bible calls us to choose to delight in God and God’s will. Paul means “Rejoice in the Lord” as a command and goes on to say that things worthy of us thinking on and dwelling upon are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise. These are commands too. Philippians 4 assures us that commands are accompanied by the marvelous promise that to practice them leads to the God of peace being with us.

Therefore, Dr. Winter states that even before we get out of bed each day, we should:

  • Deliberately focus our groggy minds on the Bible
  • Try to remember what we learned from the Bible the previous day
  • Reflect on what new insights may be acquired today
  • Hang on for dear life!
  • Do the minimum amount of dressing and stirring around before opening our Bibles

Of course we must brush our teeth, maybe check the newspaper headlines. But paying attention to a news broadcast is less of a priority to Winter than walking into the day with God and the things of Him uppermost in our minds. What if we go to bed late one night? Follow Plan B since we take time away from the morning if it is used up the night before. Maybe it is carelessness or even a demonic diversion, Winter mentions, so we should repent of it and get on with the day. We can focus our hearts on God even without brand new input from the Bible. We are to be sure to recall the high point of the day before and ask for God’s forgiveness. Winter encourages, “Hang on to Him and to the God-conscious life He has asked you to live.”

The next heading is “The Battle for the Bible: Advice to Others.” HOW do we read the Bible? Only reading may not suffice. Chewing and inwardly digesting is important. Most important is for God to deposit some new, fresh thought into our minds and hearts. After all, the Bible assures that His mercies are new every morning. So Winter asks that we not let thoughts God gives to us escape but to jot them down and journal with determination. Studying the Bible may not be good enough either. Study accompanied by spiritual reflection is preferable. The Bible is not a book that is magical and pops truth into our minds without us seriously studying it. Winter supports the Inductive Bible Study approach and calls it valuable. He also differentiates a time for study and a time for spiritual refreshment and says some of both each day is good. A plan is good, moreover, unless it becomes our master. Jesus said the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath. “Satan would love to tie us up in knots by giving us arbitrary ‘goals’ of athletic-like Bible-reading achievement. Something we can boast about.”

Winter suggests we not go at it alone because everyone benefits from encouragement and accountability. It can be so helpful if we share our aspirations with another person who is willing to check on us. If we eagerly hear from God, we will eagerly share what we hear. All that God speaks to us, whether by way of admonition, solace, or inspiration, is worth sharing with others. Winter cautions, however, about the snare of the teacher or preacher. Some may go to the Bible simply because they are desperate for something to share to impress others. Winter identifies this as a snare and continues, “In that case we are not seeking God in that quiet desperation but seeking to save ourselves embarrassment or failure.” He concludes by reminding us that walking with God is a high aspiration that is rewarding and strengthening. Over time we learn more how to approach it exactly. Practicing God’s presence takes practice but it is worthwhile. In the course of our lives, it indeed may be “the most important thing.”

Word of God

The Winters’ Interesting Friend

On June 3, 1986, Ralph and Roberta Winter received a letter from a performer friend of theirs in New York City. He begins the letter by writing that he wishes the Winters had been with him the other night as they would have been blessed materially if they had been. He proceeds to tell a story about walking from Grand Central Station, where he gets his mail. He has just concluded a month of traveling, speaking at conferences, acting the part of the Apostle Paul and the like in cities all over the United States, specifically Seattle, Norfolk, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. A man walks by as this writer comes out of the Post Office with his mail. The man tears up a dollar bill and throws it on the side walk right in front of him. He stops as the man goes on by and picks up the pieces in order to scotch tape them back together. He thinks to himself, “I need $150 for a blood pressure reader so our AFI Institute students can do medical missions with Bibles and tracts among the Arabs in Brooklyn and here [is] someone throwing money away!” He repeats that the Winters should have been with him because next he finds another dollar lying in a subway vent (so one could be for him and one for them). In all seriousness he believes God has already blessed materially all who are with him in spirit, such as Ralph and Roberta.

He portrays the Apostle Paul once a week and has to be primed to cry over the lost Jewish souls before a large audience. The other night, he without trouble found the tears following a conversation with his enfeebled Dad, who lives with his brother. Dad liquidated his car and everything when he had to move away from Los Angeles, realizing all he would own thereafter are the clothes on his back. This actor says to his father that he has been living on airplanes and in hotels for almost ten years with just the clothes on his back and his Bible. He is glad when Dad responds, “Well, that [is] all you need!”

The writer of this letter continues by stating that the Bible says that sorrow is better than laughter and the hearts of those who are wise are in the house of mourning. When he remembers the letters he receives from loved ones and friends, and how each one may be the last communication he receives from so and so, when he thinks of the few times he sees folks, and some he never sees, then he understands just how precious people are and how brief life can be. In his play, on Paul’s last day of his life in his cell, he looks for Titus, Timothy, Silas, Carpus, and Demas and is shocked to see everyone gone. “Then the unspeakable sadness comes over him that the Jewish people of his day are largely lost forever, and his time is gone to plead with them to be saved.” The Winter’s friend lives with this sadness daily now that he senses his own days being numbered. So before he signs his name, he asks Ralph and Roberta to stay in touch with him.

Apostle Paul

From Urbana To Perspectives

In remembrance of what would have been Roberta Winter’s 86th birthday today, and in the aftermath of the Urbana mission conference last week which is what prompted Dr. Ralph Winter to start one of his initiatives, that is the Urbana of 1973, Roberta Winter wrote an article entitled “The Origin of the Perspectives Study Program.” Intervarsity’s Urbana conference has had increasing attendance over the years, but in 1970 only 8% of the attendees signed cards committing themselves to mission service should God call them. In 1973, that number was up to 28%, which really excited Ralph Winter. When he found out that Intervarsity did not have a follow-up plan for these students, despite his already full schedule, he asked Intervarsity for permission to contact the card-signing students in an attempt to interest them in a summer mission course that he would create in just six months! Intervarsity had never given out such contact information of conference attendees before.

The leader of this Urbana asked Winter who would teach, what they would teach, where the classes would be, who would sponsor the program and who would cover it financially. Winter responded with the five answers two weeks later after making 200 phone calls, much to this leader’s surprise. Intervarsity reluctantly mentioned the opportunity to the card-signing students but not to their staff. Winter’s next action was to convene a meeting of fifteen mission executives in Wheaton, who were willing to constitute the sponsoring body. Most of the professors Winter asked to lecture already had their summer plans made and could only offer one week to this new program. “But that was enough—in fact, it turned out to be much better than having just one or two professors for the whole time.”

Well-known missionaries or mission professors like Elisabeth Elliott and Herbert Kane participated in the program this first summer. Each told his or her life story on the first evening, which later could not be done with a different professor teaching each lesson, one lesson per week. With the sponsors secured, Winter urged his two oldest daughters both in college then and candidates for being student participants to call students on the phone all over the nation who had in any way shown interest to tell them about the summer program being planned. They were to do this at the midnight rates, which required the phone calls to be made before 8:00 AM! Billy Graham complied with Winter’s request that he announce it on his Hour of Decision radio broadcast despite his board members’ opposition to his backing publicly any other organization. An old professor friend allowed Winter to write a full-page article announcing the course in Christianity Today with a title akin to “Is a New Student Mission Movement Aborning?”

Because of the short notice, it was a miracle that 29 students enrolled during the first period, and in the middle of this period Winter recommended the stopping of the program for one day so that the 29 very pleased students could write to and phone their friends to persuade them to come to the second period. More showed up, a dedicated group, and just enough for the program to make ends meet financially. Winter after a few weeks lined up somebody to direct the program and create a legal governing board. The second summer the former president of Mission Aviation Fellowship and one other leader were in charge. “Because of his own experience with founding new, unusual organizations, Winter was very cautious to keep a close watch on the accounts no matter who was in charge of the program so that it wouldn’t go under financially.” This evolved into the Perspectives Study Program, which has successfully provided many with a mission education.

Back at Fuller Seminary, the professors were expressing concern about all of the time Winter was taking to lay the foundation for this program. He explained that his day job was still teaching and writing and that the work on this course occurred on evenings and weekends. As a father of four daughters, he did not attend football games as many of his colleagues did and his social activities were far fewer. The fact of the matter was that it was in Winter’s heart and blood to begin new initiatives that were significant. In this first session in the summer of 1974, each professor used to teaching for a whole semester required a term paper for just their week of teaching, so the students were drowning in homework. Even though someone else was the administrator of the course, Winter still had sufficient influence to ensure the requirements asked of the students were within reason so as to save the entire program.

Wheaton College