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Widow of slain Ill. pastor points to ‘celebration day’

MARYVILLE, Ill. (BP)–Cindy Winters, widow of slain Illinois pastor Fred Winters, told 1,900 people who attended his funeral that Sunday, March 8, was “celebration day” for her husband and that she refuses to harbor hatred.

“Fred and I talked so many times about how God is at work here in this church doing incredible things,” she said during Winters’ March 13 funeral at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill. “Nothing has changed. Our vision and purpose still remains the same.”

Winters was fatally shot while preaching at the 1,500-member Southern Baptist church east of St. Louis.

Speaking for 20 minutes during a two-hour funeral service, Cindy Winters said, “I refuse to let Satan win. … He’s not going to steal my joy. He’s not going to steal my passion. He’s not going to steal my desire to spread God’s Word. I’m not going to hate.

“And I will work to carry out the mission of this church and I know all of you will too,” she said. “And I’m not going to survive this thing; I’m going to be a better person because of this thing.”

She quoted one of her two daughters, ages 13 and 11 years, as saying, “I want to be just like my daddy. I hope the man who did this learns to love Jesus.”

Winters refuted a note the man accused of the shooting left on his calendar labeling March 8 as “death day.” She said, “Sunday was not death day, but celebration day — the best day of Fred’s life. On Sunday, my husband did not die, but got a promotion,” as she pointed upward to heaven. Then, the words of the theme song from the television show “The Jeffersons” — referring to “movin’ on up” — played throughout the church building as the congregation stood and applauded.

She told those in attendance in the 900-seat sanctuary and another 1,000 overflowing into the gymnasium as well as those viewing the service on the Internet a number of humorous stories about Winters that illustrated his reputation for being thrifty, athletic, intelligent and passionate about his ministry.

“Fred loved being a pastor. He had a pastor’s heart. When you hurt, he hurt, and when you were happy he was happy. He never got tired of being your pastor,” she told the First Baptist members attending the funeral.

Winters brother and father-in-law also spoke during the service, while three former staff members brought messages.

Bob Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, Ill., who met Winters in seminary, held his Bible aloft and said, “If Fred were here, he would speak from the Word of God, so that’s what I will do.” Dickerson read from Genesis 50:20 quoting Joseph speaking to his brothers, “What you intended for harm, God intended for good to accomplish the saving of many lives.”

“Fred was intense about sharing Christ. He wanted everybody to know Jesus, and good will come if 100 people, or 1,000 people or 10,000 people, will help others find God” because of what has happened, Dickerson said.

“Evil did not take Fred Winters life because he gave it to Christ many years ago. Evil did not stop the message that Jesus saves,” Dickerson said.

Adam Cruse, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Zion, Ill., another former staff member at First Baptist Maryville, said Winters “was always there for us. He was a rock for us. He cared for us. I know you are hurting and sad, but this is not a time of defeat or surrender because the mission that we shared with him is still our mission.”

The service ended with a video Winters had made several months before his death answering the question, “Why do you exist?” as a way to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the videotape, which had been on the church’s website during the week, Winters gave the “A-B-Cs of salvation” and ended with an invitation to pray to accept Christ.

Following another presentation of the Gospel by First Baptist’s minister of worship, Mark Jones, the service ended on what Jones called “a note of praise” as they sang “My Savior Lives.”
Martin King is editor of the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

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