Although Dr. Ralph D. Winter was named by Time magazine as one of America’s Top 25 Most Influential Evangelicals, few in our generation have heard about him.
Sure, most of us would know Billy Graham, Rick Warren, TD Jakes, and Joyce Meyers and recognize them instantly.
But Dr. Winter is the true missionary of the bunch; well known by heaven and hell, but not very “shiny” in this world.
I want to take a moment to introduce him to some and re introduce him to others.
Dr. Ralph Winter is the founder of the Frontier Mission Fellowship and the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA. He started the center in ’76 (the year I was born) with only about $100 in his pocket. After decades of raising funds, the 16 million dollar campus and nearby housing (now worth more than $40 million) was paid in full.
A whole generation from the likes of John Piper and Rick Warren and beyond had their hearts set ablaze for cross cultural missions and unreached peoples who have never heard the Gospel. They, like many others, began to mobilize their spheres of influence and get very personally involved in the Great Commission.
It was the fund raising itself that opened the missions world to the reality of the unreached peoples of the world and mobilized a generation of new missionaries to the last frontiers. Winter always believed that the point was not simply to buy the campus but to awaken one million evangelicals to missions. He did that and more.
The result of his efforts was the formation of many new missions organizations focused solely on the frontiers of mission and scores of new missionaries willing to take the Gospel to these places rather than where the church had already been established and growing overseas.
Before Ralph Winter stood to give an address to a group of missions leaders in Lausanne Switzerland in 74, people thought they were fulfilling the Great Commission because they had missionaries in a certain country. Winter pointed out that each country could have many different people groups within the national boundary that were totally separated from one another.
Those people, ones he called the “hidden peoples”, could not and would not hear the Gospel in any form or fashion unless someone specifically left their own people and went to live among that people to bring them the message of Jesus.
He pointed out that Jesus said (Matthew 24:14) that the Gospel was to go “panta ta ethne,” which means “to all peoples,” not simply to modern day nation states. At that time, many were calling on a moratorium on missions, claiming that the missionary task had been completed. Winter showed them how very wrong they were. He became a part of the forerunners of many of the movements we see today among the frontiers.
Dr. Winter was an ex-Navy man like myself. He was an engineer by trade and had other advanced degrees in anthropology and theology. He was a missionary for many years in Guatemala pioneering a training for pastors called TEE or Theological Education by Extension. He later taught workers at Fuller Seminary, one of the most famous for training missionaries.
But he realized after awhile that even if he trained for another one hundred years he would never find a missionary coming back from a place where the Gospel had never been. People were going to places where missions work had already been established. His heart was to push the frontiers and advocate for people who still had little to no access to the Gospel message and its benefits.
Being an engineer by trade, he was always looking for better ways to do things. Always working to discover problems and look for new solutions, he was a problem solver who sought to fill in the gaps of cross cultural mission work.
His work has impacted me personally and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for his influence. I wrote about Ralph Winter’s influence on my life in this article way back in 2009. Check it out and you will see God’s hand in the story I will be telling in the next few posts.
Watch this to learn more about unreached peoples from the man himself.