On March 9, 2009 a gunman walked down the aisle of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill, spoke briefly to the pastor, Fred Winters then shot him three times. Those who were closest to the front of the church that day said that the first shot sounded like a firecracker. It hit Pastor Winter’s bible sending parts of it into the air like confetti. They thought it might have been a sermon illustration. But the horrible reality soon became clear. Pastor Winters was pronounced dead at Anderson Hospital.
Left behind, a grieving congregation.
Left behind a stunned community.
Left behind…at the very heart of this tragedy, Cindy Winters and her two daughters.
In an interview with CBS’s The Early Show just a few days after the shooting, Cindy made a statement that was hard for many to wrap their hearts around, she said that she forgave the gunman and was praying for his family.
Today, more than a year later I am flying to Maryville, Ill to sit down with Cindy, her family, friends and congregation to listen as they unpack a little of what this journey has been like for them. Cindy and the girls have walked through the first Christmas without Fred and the anniversary of that unimaginable day.
We are filming this for a television special on a woman who has trusted God in the worst circumstances of life. Honestly, although my background is in television I have always struggled with television as a medium to communicate spiritual truth. Life is not neat and tidy and does not easily accommodate itself to twenty-two minutes and commercial breaks.
So my prayer today as I head out to the airport is simply that this time would honor who Fred was and give Cindy another place to see the mysterious way that God redeems what seems unredeemable.
If you asked me today what forgiveness is I would say that forgiveness invites us to take the weight of the things that have crushed us to a Savior who has been crushed and find our hope and healing there.
I will write part two after my days in Maryville. I expect to be changed.