Ralph Winter’s Mission Center Forges Ahead; Money Still Tight
His 'unreached people' strategy seems to be taking hold among other missions.
The U.S. Center for World Mission faced imminent foreclosure last year (cr, Sept. 18, 1981, P. 46). Indeed, founder Ralph Winter's missions push toward the frontiers seemed destined to die at the loan desk.
But last minute funds rolled in, much as they had in several previous crises, and past due payments on the center's campus were made. The Pasadena, California, missions complex remains very much alive, and its priority on frontier missions is increasingly being embraced in evangelical circles:
The Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) made "Penetrating Frontiers" the theme of its annual meeting in September. In a declaration there, the IFMA's 85 member agencies confessed to "staying too long in established ministries" and made evangelization of the world's unreached peoples its "chief and irreplaceable duty."
Among denominations, the Evangelical Free church recently named a staff person to work full¬time promoting frontier missions in its local churches. The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel has set a goal of contacting 100 unreached people groups by 1990.
- Missions agency officials report an increasing number of young people who make as a criteria for their candidacy whether the mission is involved in the frontiers.
- Influential spokesmen such as author Don Richardson (Peace Child) and missiologist Donald McGavran are sounding the call. Wrote McGavran (U.S. Center board chairman) recently: "So long as the contemporary delusion persists that the best missionary work today is helping the young denominations, so long will these unreached peoples of earth remain unevangelized."
Of course, talk won't pay the U.S. Center's next financial obstacle: a $6 million balloon payment due in September 1983. But Winter, 57, believes that if enough evangelicals catch his vision for frontier missions, the money will come in.Specifically, he and others are counting on the success of the Frontier Fellowship. This U.S. Center related group is promoting to mission agencies and denominations a daily prayer and giving discipline, which seeks to involve one million people by December 1983.
With each person giving his daily loose change to frontier missions (about 28), the plan would generate $100 per year per person, or roughly $100 million each year. Donors are asked to designate the first $15 for the U.S. Center, thereby eliminating the remaining $10 million or so owed on the campus. All the rest would go solely to frontier missions programs of the various agencies.
It sounds a bit complicated, but Winter simplifies it this way: "Our [the U.S. Center's] problem is not fund raising. Our problem is in getting a number of organizations to join in a nationwide prayer campaign for the frontiers.
"If that campaign succeeds, our financial problems will go away. If it doesn't, our financial problems might as well not be solved. In other words, the prayer campaign is a much more important goal than the center itself."
The idea for the Frontier Fellowship came from Burmese pastor Kawl Vuta, who told Winter how families in his Presbyterian denomination support missions by setting aside a handful of rice at every meal.
This reminds them to pray for their missionaries, and the pooled handfuls of rice are sold for missions. Vuta said Burmese Presbyterians raised more than $5,600 by this method last year.
When Winter heard Vuta's story, "the thing that just hit me right between the eyes was, 'You cannot do less this is the way for the frontier vision to be kept alive.'"
A staff member quipped, "Well, what are we going to do? Ask people to save french fries?" Someone else suggested saving loose change, and the idea stuck. Later, Winter and others decided a devotional booklet was needed to give the biblical and historical basis for frontier missions.
So far, the campaign has attracted 20,000 subscribers to the Frontier Fellowship's Daily Prayer Guide. Fifteen organizations are members of the fellowship including the Africa Inland Mission, the World Evangelical Fellowship, and a United Presbyterian group.
Winter's focus on frontier missions dates back to 1974, when he and wife Roberta prepared a plenary paper for the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. They were astonished to find that roughly 2.4 billion people, or 84 percent of the world's non Christians, were beyond the reach of existing missions and national churches.
Despite that, less than 10 percent of the world's missionary force was working to evangelize these unreached people.
With charts, graphs, and statistics, the Winters described this imbalance. However, they left feeling "we probably hadn't clearly convinced anybody; it was so technical," Winter said.
But he had convinced himselfenough so that in 1976 he left the faculty of the Fuller School of World Mission and established the U.S. Center. Its two major activities continue to be locating and determining how to reach the world's hidden peoples, and mobilizing the Christian community through information about them.
(The terms, hidden, unreached, and frontier have synonomously come to mean those 16,750 people groups in the world that still do not have a strong indigenous evangelical church.)
The U.S. Center is a cooperative missions base, where 42 agencies are involved. Among the staff are 67 missionaries, representing experience in 64 agencies and 40 different countries. While the center itself is a mission agency, its role is as a catalyst and in assisting other agencies toward work in frontier missions.
One can't chalk up the center's late bill payments on extravagance. It relies heavily on volunteer workers (even Ralph Winter's father, a retired engineer, volunteers his Thursdays). Staff receive missionary salaries based on need, so that Winter receives no more than the newest staff member. He's usually seen wearing the same blue sport coat and driving to work in a 1965 station wagon on its third 100,000 mile cycle.
Should Winter have the opportunity again, he would probably still buy the 35 acre, 100¬building Pasadena campus of a former Nazarene college on which his center is located. Property and buildings cost roughly $15 million, but the property now is worth about $20 million, he says.
Once the center is paid off, it will be self sustaining, largely because most of the personnel are on loan from various mission agencies.
His original plan was paying the $15 million through one million, one time, gifts of $15. This way, no money would be diverted away from churches or missions agencies, and a large number of people would be involved in frontier missions.
That vision remains, but Winter admitted that if it had not been for large money gifts from individuals and organizations, the center would have folded. Still, Winter said, the center intends to reassign to other agencies any individual gift over $15. Gifts from churches and organizations are considered as loans, and will be paid back as soon as enough $15 gifts come in through the Frontier Fellowship plan.
Would the center accept if someone, say a Bunker Hunt, offered to cover remaining payments with one check?
"In our weaker moments, we'd thought of the possibility that someone would walk into the office and offer $11 million," Winter said. "We decided we would accept it, but with the same plan of returning all but the first $15 once enough other small gifts came in."
Former missionary to Japan, Phil Foxwell, told Winter the center's financial status had sounded "insane." But he was sold enough on the center's work that he came out of retirement to work there, and he said, "It's amazing how God has provided funds to meet the payments."Staff member and former school teacher Vernon Dueck said he, too, had been skeptical about the U.S. Center. But after talking with Winter, he found that "Dr. Winter's been saying [about missions] what I'd been thinking all these years." Dueck's task was convincing his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, to join the Frontier Fellowship campaign.
Unfortunately, some observers feel, the center's funding troubles may have obscured the center's vital purpose and present services.
But there's a method behind Winter's seeming madness in having to pay off the debt in a crisis atmosphere.
Many Christians will become concerned about saving a $20 million piece of property, but not about the hidden peoples, who "are not dramatic enough, not on our consciences enough," he said.
"We run into a lot of people who don't have the time to listen to us, except that they know that if sufficient funds don't come in, the center will go down .... So that I believe that God is using our plight to dramatize the urgency of the hidden peoples."