March 8, 2009. It’s hard to believe four years have passed. I was on my way to church when I got the message that a pastor in Illinois had been shot. The next caller informed me that he was dead. But the third caller told me his name: Fred Winters.
Fred was my friend and former student. I had just been with him at a conference in Naples, Florida. Surreal. It all seemed surreal.
But imagine how his wife felt when she found out that her young husband had been shot and killed in the first worship service that morning. No, instead of imagining, hear Cindy Winters’ words directly from her new book, Reflections from the Pit.
March 8th started off like a regular Sunday morning for us. It was time change Sunday, so when the alarm clock went off, I felt a little more exhausted than usual, but other than that the events in our home were going along like normal. Fred got up to put the finishing touches on his sermon and I attempted to go back to sleep. For some reason I couldn’t, so I decided that morning that I would exercise before getting ready for church. As I went downstairs, I heard a noise coming out of our daughter Alysia’s room. I opened the door to find her awake, dressed, and perky. She told me she wanted to go with her dad to the early service and help out in the childcare. Her perkiness caught me off guard and sending her back to bed seemed a waste, so I said, “Yes.” I went downstairs to exercise and a short time later I heard them say they were leaving. I had no idea that would be the last time I would hear Fred’s voice, his footsteps…he closed the door for the last time and left.
My younger daughter Cassidy and I headed off to church and as we descended over the hill on the main road in front of the church we saw fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances everywhere. I couldn’t believe the amount of emergency response vehicles. In my amazement I told Cassidy that there must have been a car accident at the main entrance of the church. I was just getting ready to tell her that we should pray, when an ambulance went flying by us. When it did, I noticed that cars were lined up on the shoulder of the road and in these cars were people I recognized from church. I was confused as to why these cars weren’t being diverted to the side entrances and gotten off the street. I was in a line of traffic and as each car inched along, a fire fighter was addressing the cars and telling them what to do. I was approached by the fire fighter and told that there had been an incident at the church and I needed to pull over; he pointed to a street that ran on the side of the church. I explained to him that my husband was the pastor and asked if everything was ok, “Ma’am, you need to pull over” was his response.
As I turned on the side street, my cell phone rang. Calling me was a friend who lived in a completely different part of the state. She immediately said, “Cindy, Cindy, everything is going to be okay.” I asked her what she was talking about and after a pause she began praying for me. As she was praying for me another call came in. A friend from church and co-worker was calling me, asking if I knew what was going on. I said that I didn’t, hung up, parked the car and got out.
A car was pulling up behind me and as the lady in the car got out, I asked her if she knew what was going on. She didn’t answer and started walking towards me. I looked to the front of the car and two men were walking coming in my direction. The woman said to the men, “She doesn’t know.” As the three of them surrounded me, their backs were to the church and I got my first good look at the entrance to the church building. I could tell by the amount of emergency response vehicles pressed up close to the door of the church, that a car accident had not taken place, but something much more serious.
I asked what had happened and they were silent. I asked again, no response. I could feel panic and urgency begin to well up within my stomach. I looked in the face of one of the men standing there. He was a good friend of ours, someone that Fred and I trusted and respected as a man of integrity. I directly said to him, “You have to tell me what has happened.” I will never forget the deep sigh he took and the expression that came over his face before he uttered the words, “Fred’s been shot.”
I was escorted to the hospital down the street. As soon as I arrived, a helicopter took off and my fear was that Fred had been injured so badly that he had to be airlifted to St. Louis. We were told that he was still there and I think I took my first breath of relief.
I met with a charge nurse and was told that Fred’s injuries were serious. Even during this conversation, I never once thought that Fred wasn’t going to be okay, actually the opposite was true; I had confidence that everything was going to be fine. The nurse asked me if I would like to see Fred and of course I said, “Yes” and took that as a good sign. In just a few minutes I was escorted to his room.
When I entered, I first saw Fred’s feet and thought how strange it was that they were yellow. The backs of the emergency room staff were facing me and as I saw them I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for all that they were doing to help Fred, so I verbalized that, and as soon as I did, one of the nurses turned around. She had tears rolling down her cheeks and she said, “I am so sorry for your loss.” I felt my heart quicken in pace as I asked, “Sorry?” “Yes” she said, “I am so sorry.” I choked out the words, “You mean he’s dead?” “Yes, we just called it.”
A Remarkable Story from a Remarkable Lady
Cindy has been a widow for four years now. She has raised her two girls on her own. And though the struggles are ever present, she has the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for Fred and for herself. She will see him again.
It is a remarkable book, a remarkable story, and a remarkable author. I hope you get the book and read it. You will be inspired and reminded of the hope of the resurrection for your own life.