Of memory and mission: The life and legacy of Marci Wintz
EDMOND—As Billy and Cynthia Wintz made their way around the Memorial Park Cemetery near Edmond, they were having difficulty choosing the place for the grave of their daughter. No place seemed appropriate until they saw a Bible erected in one section of cemetery. It seemed fitting that her body should rest near that place because anyone who knew Marci Wintz knew that she was serious about the Bible. She read it, wrote about it, and, in the words of her parents, “lived it.” Ten years ago this week, a funeral procession made its way to that spot chosen near the Bible where Marci’s epitaph reads, “She doesn’t have to imagine anymore.” Now, her parents say, she experiences the fullness of Jesus Christ with her own eyes.
Marci Wintz departed this life giving hers away on mission for her God. Raised in a Christian home and nurtured by a church that made evangelism a priority, she learned to love the mission trips that are a part of the culture of Edmond, Henderson Hills (HHBC).
While passing through San Antonio, Texas on her way to Mexico on March 12, 2000, the van carrying Marci and other students from HHBC suddenly veered out of control, flipping over several times prior a final crash. As the debris settled, the others discovered that Marci had been killed by the impact.
News travelled quickly back to Oklahoma. Frightened parents began to phone one another and children began call home. Dennis Newkirk, the church’s senior pastor, immediately travelled to the scene of the accident, and, in a news conference later in the week, announced that the congregation would continue to deploy its members as missionaries both at home and on foreign shores.
A memorial wall about Marci’s life and ministry stands in a corridor near the church’s entrance. The final picture of Marci as she sat in the van with her friends is placed in the center of one of the display cases.
“This is the last picture we have of her alive,” her mother says. Marci’s writing fills the wall. In one journal entry, she tells how she came to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how the words of the Bible shaped her and caused her to want to give her life in service to Jesus Christ. She possessed a love for Jesus Christ and believed she was obligated to share “the good news about Jesus.” She wrote that “everything happens when it does for a reason.”
A decade later, the words still bring memories to her mother and father. In the days leading up to the accident, both of them vividly remember the day she was packing to leave for the trip.
“As she cleaned out her small medicine cabinet, she stepped back and looked at it,” Billy said. “She told us that it looks like I’m not coming back.”
Neither of them knew how telling those words would ring in their memory following her death.
Almost immediately after the wreck, one of Marci’s friends shared with them a school assignment a teacher had required. The students were to write how they envisioned their funeral—sharing any requests and specific thoughts in the paper.
“We were stunned when we found out about it,” Cynthia said. And in honor of Marci’s wishes expressed in that paper, her funeral resembled more of a celebration of her life and entrance into Heaven, rather than a time of mourning and grief.
In the years following Marci’s death, hands-on mission outreach by church members has remained a priority for the congregation. Henderson Hills resides in one of the wealthiest regions of the Oklahoma City metro area. Its physical plant has won architectural awards for design. The building is filled with activity almost every day of the week. On this day, however, the entire facility has been altered to resemble a hospital. For on this day, a mobile medical clinic has been created in the church’s gym and commons area.
Flanked by an initial intake area, an ordered path greets those in need of treatment. Whether it is dental care, an eye exam or even severe pain in the ear, doctors stand ready and work as they would in their own offices. Reading glasses are provided to improve the eyesight of many, and patients (predominantly Hispanic) needing follow-up care will be seen in offices of the many of the doctors the following week free of charge. An all-volunteer brigade of more than 400 doctors, nurses, dentists and clerical personnel (most of whom were HHBC members) will see almost 500 people over the course of the afternoon.
The atmosphere in the place is upbeat, energetic—even happy. Children who cannot speak English play with the children of Henderson Hills members in the sanctuary as the movie “The End of the Spear” (the 2006 docudrama depicting the murder of missionaries, most notably Jim Elliot, as they worked to evangelize the Waodani tribe in Ecuador) plays in the background. Food is available for all, and the church has worked to make sure every person who needs medical help receives it.
Mark Wood, an Elder at the church and an otolaryngologist at the Otologic Medical Clinic in Oklahoma City, will treat more than 30 patients during the afternoon clinic.
“We will deal with many issues—some large and some small today,” he says. “One person we saw will need an MRI next week; one person had a growth in his ear that will require surgery; and some simply need some medication.”
Wood has participated as a leader in the congregation and believes that “this ministry is a way we can minister to people physically and spiritually.”
This medical outreach is part of an overall missions strategy first launched 12 years ago by Newkirk and other leaders of the congregation.
“The idea for this ministry came to me after reading Luke 4, where Jesus announced that he had come to preach the Gospel to the poor and to heal and to give sight to the blind,” Newkirk said. “God has made us both spiritual and physical beings with a wonderful awareness of felt needs which, at least initially, show us just how needy we are.”
Newkirk led the church to establish “The Ministries of Jesus,” which continues to provide medical treatment, professional counseling and support groups for those involved in all types of recovery from addiction throughout the year. Annually, more than $1.5 million of medical care is provided to people with little or no money and no medical insurance. While the church sends medical teams overseas to provide care for people in impoverished areas of the world where the church has strategic partnerships, this is the first time the congregation has attempted to serve a large number of people in one centralized place at one time in Edmond.
“Ultimately all suffering in the world is the byproduct of sin,” Newkirk explains. “Our greatest need is for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we work to share the truth of Christ with all those who come to us with medical needs.”
His comprehensive overview of the Bible’s emphasis on ministries of mercy and evangelism come together visibly in this clinic, where Bibles are distributed and the provision of salvation of God through Jesus Christ is clearly explained to all who will listen.
He wonders aloud just how large the crowd might be if there was a concerted effort to announce the clinic across the city.
“The thing that I remember the most about the medical clinic outreach were smiles,” said Mike Wall, missions pastor at the church, as he reflected on the clinic’s inaugural work. “I was reminded once again how serving God and serving others not only brings joy, but also brings contentment. It is true the more we give, the more we receive.”
Billy and Cynthia Wintz marvel at the event the church formally dedicated earlier that morning in memory of their daughter.
“This is exactly what she would have wanted,” Cynthia said. “She loved to share Jesus with people, and this is a way her life continues to touch others in the name of Christ.”
From every indication of this day, Marci Wintz’s life, though brief, reaches beyond her years and into the lives of those she will only meet at a time when time is no more.