SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)--Many of us have been grieving over the tragic death of our friend and brother Fred Winters. As the dear church family knows at First Baptist in Maryville, Ill., Fred was a gifted, dynamic pastor and a wonderful husband and father. And as so many Illinois Baptists know, he was a visionary leader, a tireless minister and an encouraging, sacrificial mentor.
When I received news of the shooting, I left the church where I was speaking and headed for the hospital. Before getting very far, however, I learned Fred had passed away. What began then was a barrage of phone calls, text messages and e-mails among the many who knew Fred, sharing the devastating news and requesting prayer for the family and the church. It's been evident that those prayers began immediately by thousands and that they continue.
It didn't surprise us that requests began flooding in from the major broadcast networks as well as multiple newspaper, radio and television news agencies. What did surprise us was that we began receiving calls from national media looking for details, motives, insider commentary -- things that could help make their report of the tragedy unique.
Once the reporters learned I did not witness the event or have unreported details to offer, they moved on in pursuit of other sources. They were looking for answers to the questions, "How did he die?" and "Why did he die?" On both of those subjects I too had more questions than answers.
A second surprise, however, came the day after Fred's death. A small group from the Illinois Baptist State Association were traveling to Peoria to meet with associational leaders there. As we drove I received a phone call that a Peoria television station would like to interview someone who knew Fred personally, and they had heard I would be there that day.
When I returned the call, I clarified that I was not an eyewitness and did not have new information about the event. The editor, who I later learned is a believer, explained she did not want me to comment on Fred's death, but on his life and on what our churches are doing to help in the aftermath.
In the closing scene of the movie "The Last Samurai," the young emperor of Japan is mourning the death of his mentor, the samurai warrior Katsumoto. With tears in his eyes, he interviews Capt. Nathan Algren (played by Tom Cruise), who was with Katsumoto when he died in battle. "Tell me how he died," the emperor pleads. And with tears in his own eyes but a slight smile on his lips, Algren replies, "I will tell you how he lived."
I gratefully accepted the opportunity, and gladly remembered my friend Fred to them and told their audience "how he lived."
I told them how Fred loved the Lord, his family and his church. I told them how mightily God used him, especially over the past 22 years, to shepherd a church of 30 people into to a church of 1,500. I told them of his passion to make Jesus known and to welcome people into the Kingdom of heaven. I told them of Fred's zeal for truth and sound doctrine. I told them how Fred led the church to aggressively witness, baptize, disciple and give, all for God's glory. I told them Fred was my friend and my brother and that I would miss him dearly.
There are many people whose job it has been these past days to ask the questions of how and why Fred died. I was grateful for at least one reporter who asked, "How did Fred live?" I was able to answer that question the same way Captain Algren did in the movie -- with a tear in my eye but a faint smile on my lips.
These days I am learning to bear witness to Fred's life and not just his death. In fact I'm confident that many of us who were touched by Fred's life are doing the same. Leave it to Fred to teach us something, even as he departed for heaven, about how to bear witness to the Lord Jesus as well.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. The funeral for Fred Winters will be held 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 13, at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill. The family will hold a private burial service. Gifts may be made to the Winters Family Memorial Fund by calling 618-345-1000 or sending checks to Winters Family Memorial Fund, Scott Credit Union, 1100 Beltline Road, Collinsville, IL 62234. Memorial gifts also may be made to the First Baptist Church Maryville Building Fund by calling 618-667-8221.