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

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