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Keet Winters

Retired Missionary to Bolivia
"It Was a Good Life"
By Erin Curtis, Intern, adapted by Kateland Vernon, Staff Writer, January 2020

When God sets a plan in motion for our lives, He’ll see it through, even when we get in the way! Before Charles Winters’ birth, God placed a calling on his life when he impressed upon his parents’ hearts the promise that they would have a son who would become a missionary.

Charles was born in Ohio in 1939 to Christian parents, and, throughout his youth, attended an independent holiness church. However, even with his upbringing, Charles resisted God in his youth and went his own way. After high school, he joined the Navy. God drew Charles’ heart during this time.

“Here it was God dealt mightily with me; I yielded, and He saved me,” Charles wrote in his missionary testimony for World Gospel Mission. Later he sensed God’s calling to foreign missions and attended Kentucky Mountain Bible College after being discharged from the service. He finished his education at Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan University). He went to Bolivia with WGM Summer Career Corps (now WGM's mid-term program) and felt that through the trip, God “clenched my call.” He knew he must return to Bolivia.

Edna Keet Rutledge was born in 1936 and grew up on a farm in Mississippi. Her parents were Christians and often hosted missionaries in their home, which formed within Keet a natural bent toward missions. At age 23, Keet felt certain God wanted her on the mission field, and she also attended Kentucky Mountain Bible College. In 1962, she went to Marion College to obtain a BA in elementary education. She met Charles after he returned from his summer trip to Bolivia. They were married in 1964.

Charles and Keet spent a year in Costa Rica for language training before they began missions work in Bolivia. “Language was hard for me. Charles learned it very well,” Keet recalled.

In 1967, the Winterses began their ministry at Berea High School, a Christian boarding school for junior and senior high students. Keet taught English classes, ministered to the local women, and raised their three children: Rachel, Ila, and Eric. Being adept in the language, Charles traveled often to teach in the surrounding mountain communities and hold services. He also did maintenance work for Berea, helped build church facilities and train leaders, and was pastoring three churches by 1979.

The enormous church growth that occurred out of the Winterses’ ministry wasn’t without an equal amount of hardship. It required the couple to walk through many hurdles. The geography limited available comforts, being a remote colony area in the mountains. Transportation proved challenging for Charles, and he rode a bike through the mountains during the dry season or on horseback during the wet season to preach. Keet faced having to make her home without modern conveniences. Kerosene lamps served as the family’s lighting, and they had to draw their water from a well daily. Keet described her experience as “rough living.” She added, “When you decided to just go out and live and do, it’s a big job, but there a lot of blessing in it.”

Sending their children away to school proved to be one of the hardest aspects of the Winterses’ time in Bolivia. However, it also created a huge opportunity for the blessing of personal growth in the family. Keet remembers telling her daughter Rachel to bring a coat to church because it was cold. Rachel didn’t want to, because many of her Bolivian friends had no coats. “She didn’t want to be comfortable when Bolivians weren’t,” said Keet.

The Winterses spent 35 years in Bolivia, retiring in 2001. Their ministry did not end then, however. They made a few trips to Bolivia for three months at a time and had opportunities to teach at their home church in the United States. They cherished the time they had to talk with family.

Keet enjoys spending time in the Word as a part of retirement. She includes Isaiah 26:3 and Psalm 25:1–5 as some of her favorite verses.

Charles looked back on the process of planting, nurturing, and building churches as the most rewarding experiences of his work in Bolivia. “We worked with what we had,” he said. “The Lord helped and provided.”

One piece of advice Charles had for missionaries is, “Strive to have the language. It’s so valuable if you can teach and preach without an interpreter. Even if it’s broken and has flaws, people will still appreciate it.”

Though it was not always easy, Charles and Keet found that God’s plan for their lives ultimately held blessings that diminished the hardships. “It was a good life. I would not trade it,” said Keet.

Charles went to be with the Lord on January 28, 2020. He will be dearly missed but is surely experiencing the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

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