This is an article from the May-August 2009 issue: Ralph D. Winter 1924-2009

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship

After founding the Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies in 1973, Dr. Winter saw the need for another organization that could be more focused on mobilizing members of the United Presbyterian Church, USA for frontier mission.

In 1975 he started the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF). In the beginning it was more informal, but by 1981 he and John had developed enough structure to win the General Assembly’s approval of PFF as an officially recognized organization. In the early days the focus was on developing groups in local churches who took their loose change offerings and gathered regularly for prayer for the unreached.

Then in 1983, Dr. Winter approached former Ethiopian missionary Harold Kurtz, a close friend and early Fuller SWM student, to direct PFF. As Harold loves to describe it, “Ralph pinned me to the wall at my kitchen table!” (an event captured in the photo, top right). Dr. Winter gave Harold five reasons why he should take the job. Two of them especially show his own self-awareness and quirky character: “The job needs to get out of my hands because I have rubbed too many New York people the wrong way over the years” (at the time the denominational offices were in New York City); and “The organization needs to get out of California because too many ‘kooky’ things go on in California and the organization will be looked on with suspicion if it is headquartered there!” Dr. Winter also challenged Harold to consider whether he was using his gifts and experience well as “just” a pastor, when he was needed for a bigger vision. Harold took the job, leading PFF until 2000.

Dr. Winter continued to chair PFF’s board until responsibilities caring for his first wife, Roberta, required him to resign in 1999. During those days he continued to influence its work. I began meeting with the board in 1998 and saw his typical way of challenging people to get outside their boxes of thinking. For example, at one meeting he said, “You don’t have to be a Christian to go to heaven—you can be a Muslim or a Hindu!” Of course he was referring to the growing movement of followers of Jesus who remained in their Hindu or Muslim culture rather than being extracted. Today PFF is related to those believers in several places!

Today PFF has 14 staff around the country. Presbyterians give several million dollars annually for frontier mission. Frontier mission is an integral part of the mission work of the Presbyterian Church, USA mission work. The legacy of Dr. Winter lives on!


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