A Wartime Lifestyle
To hear him tell it, he's an ordinary person with an ordinary family. And they do things in an ordinary way.
But few would agree with Dr. Ralph D. Winter's self-assessment. Dr. Winter is founder and general director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, a Pasadena based organization which focuses on bringing the gospel to the 'Hidden Peoples' of the earth those populations which are being bypassed by other Christian outreach. His wife. Roberta H. Winter, is assistant for special projects. Their four daughters Beth. 28: Becky, 27: Linda. 25: and Patricia, 22 along with the husbands of the three oldest, have all spent time or are currently on staff at the Center. (Beth. Becky and their families are now serving as missionaries to a Middle Eastern country.)
At 57 and 52 respectively, Ralph and Roberta continue to work together as they have from the beginning. When they met, both were planning to go into Christian work, but Ralph was still in school and she was finishing nurse's training. When they were first married, instead of working in her field, Roberta began studying with her husband. "I knew if I were a nurse and he went to class, it would take a lot longer for us to be able to think together and both of us really valued being able to work together as a team."
Their work together across the years has brought them so close, says Ralph, that, excluding his engineering training and her medical background. "most of the areas of my knowledge overlap with hers and vice versa. Though this isn't the only way for a marriage to go, we think it's the ideal for us, at least, because we know the stresses and strains on each other all the time.'
Roberta started helping her husband with his studies as a young mother partly because 'I got very, very bored. It wasn't that there wasn't enough work to do, but I'm not the kind of person who really enjoys doing housework. So it was a relief to do research for him.'
As missionaries in Guatemala for several years, the Winters continued to work as a team, thanks to the fact that they were able to hire a maid to help with housework. "The mission board got the benefit of a lot more work out of one couple than 111 hadn't had a maid,' said Roberta. Having help at home allowed her to work on an adult education program, write textbooks in Spanish, and teach classes in nursing at the seminary.
Yet Roberta managed to be home when the girls returned from school. In fact, she says, "I was rarely away from the home, but I was able to work in the home on an intellectual level because I had help. It's ideal for a person who's intellectually inclined,'
In the case of the Winters, not only have they worked together as a team, but the rest of the family has been involved too, When Ralph made the decision to leave a tenured full professorship at Fuller Theological Seminary to found the U.S. Center for World Mission, the children were supportive, especially Linda. "Daddy, lets do it even If we have to eat cardboard," she said.
And there have been times when it seems that the Winters' situation was almost to that point. The U.S. Center for World Mission is trying to keep up with payments on the former college campus in Pasadena. California, it is purchasing without employing traditional fundraising efforts or competing with appeals from existing missions groups. That experience has been a tremendous exercise in faith for the Winters.
"We have been carried as if there were great arms underneath us into much deeper faith since working here." Ralph observes. "These crises have driven us into the Bible like nothing else. Even if the whole thing collapsed tomorrow, my personal empire wouldn't be scratched because it consists of a spiritual experience."
And on one level, in light of the fact that in September a $6 million payment is due and the Center is doing no fundraising to speak of at all, its future does took uncertain. But are the Winters worried?
"How could we possibly worry?" asks Ralph incredulously. "We wouldn't survive if we worried. We've been hanging by a thread ever since we started. What you can't do anything about you don't need to worry about. We work our heads off around here, but we don't fret.
"I've never had an overwhelming conviction that this would succeed. What I have had is the overwhelming conviction that it was worth trying. A crucial decision for me before I came was whether I was willing to fail. Was the project valuable enough in the Lord's economy that I was willing to fail? If the whole thing collapses, we hope it will make a real big splash."
Though she says she is often "left a bit breathless" with the implications of Ralph's many involvements and projects over the years, Roberta heartily agrees that there is nothing she'd rather be working with than the U.S. Center for World Mission. "We've had a lot of hard challenges. but I think nothing would be worse than a dull life. Our life has certainly not been that, It's invigorating. It's a bit too exciting at times. But we never feel deprived. Sometimes I wish we could have a vacation to go write together in peace for awhile, but in the meantime. I don't feel we can drop everything. You can't walk away from a baby that's crying, just because you need a rest."Many people have difficulty understanding why the Winters' four daughters would want to work with their parents, and Ralph thinks the explanation for that view lies in "a defective concept of the family." In other cultures, he points out, when a child marries, he or she joins one or the other of the two families. However, in America, the young couple forms a third family, "and that third family is a very unstable unit. No wonder we have so many divorces."
Working together is a good thing in Roberta's eyes as well. "i think this sense of doing something that's hard together is a very unifying thing within a family. I think that's one reason our family is strong."
Another unifying theme adopted by the Winters has been that of a "wartime" life style, not to be confused with a "simple" life style. "A wartime life style may be more expensive or less expensive than simple," Ralph explains. "If a man is out In a trench and he's eating K rations, he's not using up much money, but a guy who's flying a fighter plane may be using up $40,000 a month of technology. In other words, during wartime one doesn't judge according to the same model of life style. What's important is getting the job done."To "get the job done: in his work Ralph will spend $20000 a year on travel, use computer services when necessary, depend on Federal Express whatever it takes.
And time is considered a valuable commodity. The Winters would never go to the extremes some people do in following a simple life style. 'like eating out of garbage cans and things like that, because the time you spend doing that is worth too much." Ralph notes. The wartime life style, he says is "efficient and effective rather than simple for simple's sake. There's no use wasting valuable time."
But while money is spent for effective ministry, personal expenses are kept down. For example, both Ralph and Roberta drive 1965 Dodges. Just like the others on the central staff at the U.S. Center, they raise their own support, and their support level is the same as that of the others.
"There's nothing novel about this." says Ralph. "We don't want to pretend any special virtue. This is sim. ply the way a normal mission agency operates."
He doesn't deny that some Christian organizations pay their presidents more than their mall clerks, but neither does he feel that he, as director, deserves more status than other staff members. Having lived as a missionary so long, he likes the "parity" system by which the support levels of staff members are "an a par" with each other. In his view missionaries do not need to be rewarded financially. Roberta agrees: "If you're a doctor, a teacher, a minister you all get paid the same. It doesn't really matter because you're all missionaries."
The Winters have not only adopted a wartime life style for themselves, they have also brought up their family to follow the same pattern. They started early. When the children were little and asked for something. their parents would counter to you realize that costs as much as 700 ice cream cones?" or whatever the amount was. In this way they pictured the cost in terms the children could understand.
Explaining and maintaining their life style proved a challenge when they left Guatemala to return to the States As missionaries in Guatemala working with an Indian tribe, the Winters "were the wealthiest peepie around," Roberta recalls, "We had a car. We had a house different from anybody else's. Our girls could have books."
However, when the family returned to the States, the situation was reversed. "Everybody else had this and had that, and our kids didn't." The girls adjusted, but not without some difficulty.
One day when their father went to pick up the girls at school, Beth said, "Daddy, everybody calls me 'Weirdo.'" The reason was threefold: She carried her books in a bag (due to a bro. ken arm), she wore solders Instead of fishnet stockings, and she drank milk instead of fruit punch. Beth's solution, says her mother, was neither to let it bother her nor to conform. Instead she "just decided not to care " Roberta sees this independence of thought as a positive trait: One of the things we've been blessed with is not having to fit in with the crowd," Ralph approves too, citing Romans 12:2: 'Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold" (Phillips).
One way in which the Winters chose to be different was the way in which they handled allowances for the children. Rather than dole out cash each month, they thought it would be easier to add the girls' names to their checking account and let them write checks for the amount up to their allowance. "The lady in the bank was mildly horrified," says Ralph. "You're gonna be sorry." she said: Her anxiety was understandable. The girls, ages 7.9, 11 and 12, could write a check for any amount if they chose to. However, the Winters never had any trouble with this system.
"The value of it," notes Roberta, "was that it freed me from a lot of, 'Mommy. I want this. I want that.' All I had to say was, can you afford it?"
Roberta believes that being able to write checks prevented the girls from feeling poor, as some missionary kids do. "When they would tell the other kids, the other kids would just be wide-eyed and say, 'I wish I had that.'" Ralph adds that though letting the girls use a checking account wasn't "simple" it was "efficient," and therefore, the method fits into a wartime lifestyle.
The Winters still use a family accounting system which they developed in response to a need on the mission field. The system includes using a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet showing net worth. 'We think a family should not just keep track of income and expenses but also assets and liabilities," says Ralph. "Otherwise they really do not know what's happening. Though the average person may think, 'This is all very impossible for "us missionaries are different."
Ralph disagrees. He advocates that everyone operate like missionaries on a certain level of expense, "so that no matter what their income is, they agree to live on a certain fixed level." This, he believes, automatically keeps expenses down, "Parkinson's law that expenses rise to meet income can be reversed," he Insists. By keeping their expenses down, the average family would have money left over to give rather than to spend on themselves.
The Winters idea of frugality seems to run counter to some current ideas about material wealth among evangelical Christians. l think some people today are living as though they're in the millennium," Ralph counters. "They don't understand that whatever God has put in their hands is supposed to be passed on. It's like the money is in the middle of a table and the rest of the people in the world are on the other side of the table. We reach out and pull in our direction instead of pushing in their direction. We've got to justify that in terms of God's love for all people. To say. 'Well, obviously God meant it for us' is a rather shortsighted arid unbiblical point of view."
Whether it has meant coming up with a new way of handling children's allowances, figuring out a way to work together as a couple, or living below their income. Ralph and Roberta Winter, with their four daughters following in their footsteps, have lived their lives looking for alternatives and standing up against the crowd when those alternatives met with disapproval.
An ordinary family? Certainly not, But a strong family, unified in its commitment to share the gospel with the Hidden Peoples of the earth.