Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Stephanie Wesco was literally quoting Scriptures about the protection of God at the moment her husband was killed. How does she deal with that?

Stephanie Wesco: It wasn’t the kind of way that I would have chosen for God to set my husband on high, but that’s where I have to trust.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for July 2, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

I think if I were to choose words to describe the story we’ve been listening to this week on Revive Our Hearts, I’d use adjectives like heart-wrenching, sad, painful, even shocking. But I’d also want to make sure I included terms like calm confidence, trust in God, at peace.

Stephanie Wesco is our guest. She and her husband Charles, along with their eight children, had just arrived in Cameroon as new missionaries in October 2018. Their love for the people and their excitement to get settled in were undaunted by the fighting in nearby regions. And really, their main motive was their love for the Lord.

They were looking forward to buckling down and starting to spread the gospel. But as Stephanie shared this week, those plans suddenly and tragically were put on hold on their twelfth day of being in Cameroon. Charles was killed instantly when two shots were fired into their vehicle. Stephanie, their eleven-year-old son, Charles, Jr., and another missionary named Ben St. Clair were with him but unhurt.

If you missed any of the preceding programs, scroll back in you podcast feed or listen at  ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy sat down with Stephanie last summer, a little over half a year after Charles’ death. Here’s Stephanie Wesco continuing in our series, “Gunshots in Cameroon: Trusting God When the Unthinkable Happens.”

Stephanie: So after he was pronounced dead, I remember Ben and Little Charles and I just stood there and hugged. Ben felt so bad, like, “I’m so, so, so sorry.”

And I’m, like, “This is not your fault. This was a God thing.”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You were thinking that as early as this point?

Stephanie: I had no other way to look at it. If I didn’t look at it that way, I was going to get bitter and angry, and I knew all that would do was destroy me and destroy my kids. Looking back, when I think about the story, when I have a flashback about the story, I collapse. It’s like in my heart, I collapse in my memories. But God gave so much strength when I needed it.

They moved us from the room where they told us to a side room. You’re in a third-world country; you’re dealing with people whose English is different from yours. And then the military commander came in that was in charge of that region. He expressed his condolences and began all the questions.

Cameroon is a very different culture from the States, and I think Culture Shock 101 hit the day Charles died because the way things were handled were just so different than you would have pictured things being handled in the States. But God gave so much grace. God led us to the Cameroonians and led Cameroonians to us that were such blessings. We heard so many times, “You’ve only been here twelve days. We are so sorry.”

From the very get-go after the accident happened, I was so concerned that my kids not get a warped view of serving the Lord because of Charles dying. I knew they were going to pick up on my reactions.

Nancy: And your children didn’t know yet.

Stephanie: They didn’t know. I had Little Charles with me, and I remember saying to him that day several times, “Cameroon did not kill Daddy. One person killed Daddy. It was not the country. We are not going to hate. We are going to love.”

I loved missionary biographies growing up. What I fed on growing up was missionary biographies. I loved the stories like: Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Actually, in 2017 I had read a biography of Jim and Elisabeth’s story to my kids.

Nancy: Jim, having been martyred when they were early married.

Stephanie: Yes. It was written from a kid’s perspective. It was the Trail Blazer series. I remember there were facts brought up in that book that I had never heard before. One of them being that after the Aucas killed those men, they saw heavenly beings. They heard singing. God gave them a glimpse of the supernatural of what was going on as they martyred those men.

I remember that day as we sat there after Charles was killed, it was almost like God gave me a glimpse that He was going to do things, there were supernatural things going on that I would never see, but that perhaps the people that were involved with Charles’ death would see, or had seen. God flooded my heart with love for the person who killed Charles.

I don’t ever remember being angry. There was never anger towards that person. It was almost like the Lord flooded me with pity for them because I thought, in some ways, they just gave my husband the greatest gift that he ever could have been given—seeing Jesus face to face. And for that person, whoever it was, if they died, their future was eternity in Hell. That broke my heart because I didn’t wish Hell on them, even if they had just killed my husband. That was just an awful thought to me.

So we got—I don’t want to say interrogated—but we go through all the questions with the military commander, and God started just throwing His gifts on us. It was just, looking back, I just marvel.

This lady walks in. She was with a medical group that works there in Bamenda—and she came and sat beside me. Her name was Esperanza. She was from Spain. Her English was broken, but she spoke English. I understood a little bit of Spanish (I took Spanish in High School). So between both, we could correspond fairly well. She helped me understand some of what the commander was saying because my brain was just reeling. She was helping me with that.

She just had her arm around me and was holding my hand. Come to find out, the group that she worked with had headquarters that were five minutes from the hospital. They had provided the ambulance to bring Charles to this hospital. She just sat there helping me answer questions, helping me explain what was being asked.

Then this doctor comes in, the Christian doctor that had been with us this whole journey from the first clinic to now. He came over, and Charles (my son) was sitting beside me. He came and put his hand on Charles’ shoulder and said something about Charles having a dad who was an incredible man of God.

He said, “I know that God has something very, very special for your life.” I don’t know what led him to say that to Charles, but I think that’s something Charles will never forget, to have a Cameroonian say that to him right after his dad had been killed.

Then he came over to me, and he said, “Thank you so much that you and your husband were willing to come to our country. And thank you that your husband was willing to shed his blood for my people.” Those words will always just be a treasure to me.

Then he proceeded to tell me that he pastored a church there somewhere in the city and that he and his church had been praying for revival to come to Cameroon. And he said, “I really believe that God is going to use your husband’s death to be the spark that lights the revival that God wants to do in Cameroon.”

That was very ironic to me because in the month before we left for Cameroon, God had brought Charles to convincement that He was going to bring revival to the United States and Cameroon. I don’t know what had brought him to that point, but he had an excitement that God was going to do something big and bring revival to the States and to Cameroon. And I was, like, “What? How?” He was, like, “I don’t know.” He was just on fire about it.

So when that man said that to me, it was almost like God was saying, “His death is not in vain, Stephanie. God is going to use it.”

Those were just precious gifts in just those few minutes after finding out he was dead.

After we went through as much paperwork as we could go through there at that point Esperanza, offered to take us, Charles and I, back to their apartment because, of course, I was still a mess. And Ben said, “I can take care of everything here.”

Nancy: So it wasn’t until the next day that you were able to get back to your children.

Stephanie: Yes.

Nancy: And they still didn’t know.

Stephanie: Yes. They still didn’t know. I was thinking at this point still that we would go back that day. That was still my thought process, We’ll get through this paperwork. Then we’ll get back to the kids.

We knew that there had been a battle that had broken out after Charles was shot. The commander had told us that there in the hospital. I didn’t comprehend that the roads were blocked and that travel had been completely shut down after Charles was shot. I found out within a couple of hours there was no chance we were going to get back that day, and at that point it was maybe not even the next day.

So Esperanza took us back. And God just began opening doors to minister to other people in the midst of it.

There was a man there that was also with this medical team that was such a blessing to us. His name was Raymond. He was from Austria. You don’t expect to meet people from Greece, Austria, Korea—all of these places that we interacted with in that twenty-four hours—because of Charles’ death. But he was just there. He was such an incredible support.

As Charles and I sat there after we’d gotten taken back to this really sweet little apartment, we were just sitting there in shock. We just started praying again. I remember praying, as I’d been praying, but praying specifically for the man that had shot Daddy and asking God to give us a heart of forgiveness for him and asking God to save him.

When we got done praying, Raymond looked at me—and I’ll never forget the look on his face. He said, “Can I ask you a question?”

I said, “Sure.”

He said, “You have me really confused.”

I said, “Why?”

And he said, “I’m a psychologist. You should be angry right now. I’ve never seen anyone respond like this. I’ve seen a lot of people that have gone through trauma, and I have never in my life seen someone . . . You should be angry. You should be full of hate. And you’re praying for the person that just killed your husband. How in the world can you do that?”

You don’t really envision getting to share Jesus with someone within a few hours of your husband’s death, and someone from Austria no less. But that was God’s plan. That was the first door God opened. I like to say that’s when our ministry started again after Charles died because it was like, “Okay, God, he’s with you. This is what You have for me to do.”

Nancy: Tell us, once you finally did make it home to your children, and you wanted to be the one to be with them when they heard this news, what was that experience like?

Stephanie: We got home late Wednesday afternoon, between 3 and 4. And by that point, we knew we had to evacuate—that had become very clear.

Nancy: So your whole family was going to have to leave. You had just unloaded and settled in there for twelve days.

Stephanie: Yes, and the others, the St. Clairs.

Nancy: The other missionaries.

Stephanie: The Lord had made it very clear we all had to leave very quickly.

So we pulled in, parked by the house, and the kids . . . The immediate thing they said was, “Where’s Daddy?”

I remember my one son saying, “What happened? Did Daddy get arrested?”

And I remember thinking, Oh, if only he had been arrested.

So we went inside. Ben and I had talked on the way home. He said, “Do you want me to tell them?”

And I said, “Could you? I’m not sure I can do this.”

It’s very interesting, because just a few nights ago—a few Sundays ago—at our church my six-year-old raised his hand and gave the perspective from his mind. Out of the blue Sunday night during testimonies, he said, “Mommy and Charles and Uncle Ben came home. I saw Daddy wasn’t with them, and they brought us in the living room. Uncle Ben had devotions with us.” And I thought that was so sweet that from his perspective, we sat down to have devotions.

Ben read Psalm 23, and then between the two of us, we got out the fact that Daddy had been killed. There’s nothing worse than watching your children in pain. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. All I remember doing at that point was quoting verses from Psalm 18 that just came to mind about all God is to us, being our high tower, our deliverer, our fortress, our shield, our buckler.

We just sat. We prayed. And then the hardest thing was having to say, “Okay, kids, you have to stop crying because now we have to pack up, and we have to leave.” And they’re looking at you . . . I remember Stephanie saying, “But, Mommy, we just got here! This is our home!”

And I said, “I know. But we have to leave.”

Nancy: You had just a matter of hours to do that. Right?

Stephanie: We had less than hours. We had one hour to pack and be out.

Nancy: So whatever you were going to take.

Stephanie: Yes. And praise the Lord for Liberty that was there with us, helping us. And then one of the missionary daughters, they had packed some suitcases. The Lord so directed them. They had grabbed clothes for the funeral. They had grabbed all the important paperwork that they knew of. The Lord had really guided them and given them clarity. I had time to pack two footlockers. That’s about all I had time to grab.

I could not brag enough on my two oldest. Charles, obviously, he had known. I had told him on the trip home, “Buddy, you have had time to process this a little bit. None of your siblings are going to have time to process this. We literally have to go home, grab stuff and leave. I know you’re hurting, but you and I have got to focus, and we’ve got to grab important stuff.”

Little Charles is my techno boy, so I said, “You know better than even Mommy does. You grab cords. You grab hard drives. You grab computers, all of that stuff. You just start grabbing that stuff for Mommy.”

I am so thankful. And Daniel, my oldest, he kicked into gear. Between the two of them, they got every hard drive, every computer. Every piece of electronic that needed to come back, they grabbed.

I needed some clothes, so I’m grabbing clothes and looking, trying to grab wedding pictures and anything like that that can’t be replaced. There was one Cameroonian brother who became family that day. He stuck right there beside me. I was loading stuff in his arms, and he was packing it in the suitcase. He was such a sweetheart. He kept saying, “Sister, we’ve got to go. Sister, we’ve got to go.”

And I’m like, “I know. I know.”

If you’ve ever envisioned what it will look like when the Rapture occurs, that’s what our house looked like. I mean, there was food sitting out. It was just literally, like, we left it in a very . . . I’m, like, “I can’t believe I’m leaving my house like this!” But at that point, it didn’t matter.

Well, with all of us, there was ten, and there were six of the St. Clairs. So there was sixteen of us piled in this tiny little bus, maybe a mini-van and a half was the size of this bus. There were sixteen of us plus all of our luggage, and we evacuated that way.

There’s one road in and one road out of that village. It was the same road that Charles had been shot on.

Nancy: So you had to go past that place.

Stephanie: Yes. We had to go through that exact same place. Obviously, there was a lot of tension in the air. I will never forget Valerie, who was driving us. He just started singing, and we sang, “He Leadeth Me,” as we went over that spot.

And though it doesn’t make sense humanly, we do know God was leading us. He protected us in so many supernatural ways in that evacuation. His hand later we saw was so clearly protecting us.

Nancy: Stephanie, I want to go back to that. A couple days ago you talked about Psalm 91 that you were reciting just before those fatal shots were fired. There are so many promises. This is a psalm that’s precious to a lot of people, to anyone who’s familiar with it.

But it says, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Verse 14: Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name . . . I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

The psalm is just full of those kinds of promises. They were obviously on your heart in those moments. Now you’re many months removed from all that, how do you reconcile in your heart those kinds of promises with the experience that day where, from a human vantage point, it looks like God didn’t protect your husband when he was in trouble?

Stephanie: Yes. Well, I struggled with that. There was a few months where I really struggled in reading Psalm 91.

Nancy: I can see why.

Stephanie: I very much felt like, “Lord, why did You lead me to this passage?” And it’s not that I was angry with the Lord. It was just a question of, “I can’t reconcile this. I don’t understand. This doesn’t add up to me.”

But the one thing that did add up was the fact that, in the process of the police investigating, and Ben looked at the car after the accident . . . Because of the kind of shot it was, there were multiple bullet holes in that car and in all of our seats there were multiple bullet holes, and yet none of us were hit except Charles. And where Little Charles was sitting, it looked like somebody had sprayed it with a machine gun.

The police kept saying to Ben, “How in the world did only one person die in this car?” They were totally baffled as to how the rest of us walked away with not even a scratch when our seats where we were sitting were pelted.

And in that sense, God did keep His promises to us. He did protect us. There was no human explanation for why the other three of us didn’t, at the very least, be seriously wounded. And so, God did keep His promises.

And, as you were saying, “How did God take Charles when He promises?” I struggled with that. God’s patient. He’s long-suffering. He doesn’t always answer our questions, but He gives us grace and peace and understanding along the way. I remember one day when I was thinking about Charles’ death, I was thinking about verse 16 where it says, “I will satisfy him with long life and show him my salvation.” I thought of the beauty that Charles has been satisfied with eternal life, and he is seeing God’s salvation in a way I can’t even see it yet. He’s experiencing the ultimate long life with Jesus.

It wasn’t the deliverance I would have chosen for him. It wasn’t the kind of way that I would have chosen for God to set my husband on high, but that’s where I have to trust. I can’t reconcile. I don’t have all the answers to all of the questions. I can’t reconcile them all.

But God helped with this passage as I dealt with health issues this spring. I asked God for verses to cling to. He took me back to Psalm 91, to the end, to 14 through 16. I struggled. I was, like, “Lord, of all passages. You have Your whole Word You could give me promises from. You could give me some promise to claim.” It was like God trying to give me back Psalm 91 as a gift. It is a precious passage. Now I’m back to the place where I use it again when I pray with my kids at night.

Nancy: It’s interesting. I noticed this just recently. I hadn’t really thought about it before. But in the beginning of verse 14, “Because he holds fast to me in love,” God makes these promises to “those who love Him who are called according to His purposes,” (that’s the New Testament way of saying that).

But God’s call to you all through your life, leading up to marriage, those early marriage years, having children, miscarriages, loss, you mentioned the physical challenges you’ve had since Charles’ death, and that was a scary thing to those of us who were following your story, but through this, you were realizing that God is trustworthy.

Stephanie: Yes.

Nancy: There was faith and love—holding fast to God. It’s not because He does things the way you would want them done, not because He’s writing the story the way it would have made sense to you or to anybody else . . . but in love. There’s that relationship with the Lord there, that sweetness of drawing near to Him and saying, “Lord, I don’t understand, but I do trust You. I know You love me, and I love You, and nothing is going to change that.”

Stephanie: Yes. That’s the point. It’s a surrender. God is teaching me so much the whole concept that we so often—I so often . . . I shouldn’t say anybody else—fall back on my feelings or on my emotions. Like, “I feel close to God today,” or “I feel like I’m really having good communion right now.” Not that feelings aren’t very important, but the Lord’s teaching me so much every day.

I don’t feel like I’ll feel ever again. There’s a lot of things I don’t feel like doing anymore. It’s like every morning the Lord brings me to that place of, “Okay, God, You’re my strength today. I’m going to choose to trust You. I’m going to choose to take the strength that You promised to give me and the grace You promised to give me, and that’s what’s going to get me through today.”

I love the verse that talks about His mercies being new every morning. That has become so precious because He doesn’t give us mercies for the next week. He gives us mercies every morning for that day. That’s become something precious that I have to hold to. (see Lam. 3:22–23) His faithfulness is great. Even when the path is so dark, I just have to hold His hand, almost like you’re blindfolded, and just say, “Okay, Lord, You’re going to lead me.”

It’s like a choice. Faith is a choice. It’s not a feeling. And the Lord has had to teach me that in a lot of ways I wouldn’t have chosen to learn, but I wouldn’t trade learning them.

Dannah: Oh, for that kind of sweet surrender, even in the face of what the poet William Cowper called, “God’s frowning providence.”

We’ve been listening to Stephanie Wesco in conversation with the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

I want you to hear something Stephanie wrote during that time in just a moment, but first, let me tell you about a resource that will help you learn to trust God more even when you can’t fully understand the purposes behind the events He’s allowed in your life.

The resource is the book by Nancy and her husband Robert called, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story. They wrote it in 2019, but it is so relevant to all our lives this year. With the coronavirus and with protests that sometimes turn violent, these are days when we all need to have the kind of faith in God Stephanie was just describing.

We’ll send you a copy of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story as a thank you for your donation and support of the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. In addition to the book, you’ll also be the first to download a brand new discussion guide. This guide is ideal for use in a small group or book-reading club. It goes along with Nancy and Robert’s book.

To donate any amount, simply visit ReviveOurHearts.com and click where it says, “Donate,” or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

How do you grieve this kind of tragic death? Tomorrow, Stephanie will be back to tell us what it looked like in her life. But let’s close our program today by listening to something she posted in those difficult days.

Stephanie: “A week has passed since we had to leave the land we loved. My heart is still there, and I miss Cameroon so much. Not a day has gone by that a huge part of me hasn’t desired to return there. So much learning once again in this new chapter of life to be content in the place where the Lord has chosen to put the children and me.”

Dannah: Calling you to greater freedom, fullness fruitfulness and faith in Christ, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.