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A few weeks back I received the latest copy of Missions Frontiers, a magazine that ships to my apartment every other month.  The first thing I would read, like probably all of its subscribers, was Ralph Winter’s editorial.  In this past issue, for the first time in the 30 years of the publication, Winter did not write the editorial.  It was noted by the new editor, Rick Wood, that Winter was dealing with lymphoma and was no longer feeling up to the task.  I knew he was sick, so it didn’t necessarily surprise me.  Still, it took me off guard last week to find out that Ralph Winter had died, on May 20, 2009.

To all of us in fields related to missions, Ralph Winter was a giant.  We speak of missions and evangelism in terms of “people groups” rather than countries.  It seems so obvious to us now: within the geo-political boundaries of a country (say, India) there are any number of people groups that may or may not actually have much connection to each other, despite living under the same flag.  They may have different languages, customs, religions, etc.

So, while the gospel may have reached the Tamil Hindu population, that doesn’t mean India has been reached.  What about the Muslims in Assam?  They’re an entirely different people from the Tamils.  They present a whole different set of challenges to missionaries that must be reckoned with.  The fact that the gospel had penetrated the boundaries of India does not mean that all the peoples of India had been reached.

This is taken for granted by most of us, especially the under-40 crowd.  But before Ralph Winter, it wasn’t so widespread.  I’m not saying he invented the concept of people groups or was even the first to trumpet this understanding, but I think it’s safe to say he was the most influential.

I’ll share one more personal tidbit about Ralph Winter.  Winter was writing something about parachurch missions organizations.  Now, we local church types tend to be critical of parachurch organizations.  Winter noted, however, that churches often failed to live and preach the gospel to all peoples as we see commanded and exemplified in the New Testament. So, he reasoned, he could just as easily refer to churches as paramission organizations.  That has stuck with me ever since.  I don’t ever want my church to be an organization that operates outside the mission of God.  Much of Winter’s life was dedicated to keep that from happening.

I encourage you to poke around the website for the U. S. Center for World Mission, an organization Winter founded.  If you’d like to look into subscribing to Missions Frontiers (donations requested) you can go here.  And if you’d like to pray for unreached people groups, I highly recommend you surf around Joshua Project for a while.

Ralph Winter had a dream of seeing the gospel preached to all nations (people groups) before his death.  I’m sad to say this did not happen.  But his dream was based on the Great Commission, and that has not changed, not matter how many of its faithful spokesmen pass away.

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