Who’s to Blame For the Tragic Death of IFB Missionary Charles Wesco?

the charles and stephanie wesco family

Two weeks agoCharles and Stephanie Wesco, ages 44 and 33 respectively, along with their eight children, ages 2 to 13, traveled from Indiana to Cameroon to evangelize the lost. Today, Charles is dead, thanks to a bullet wound to the head after being caught in crossfire between government soldiers and armed separatists. (Stephanie and her oldest daughter were in the car with her husband, but luckily escaped injury.) I can only imagine the heartache Stephanie and her family must be experiencing. That said, in the hope of warding off anyone else needlessly dying for Jesus, there are a few things that need to be said. I realize I will be accused of being insensitive, but after numerous stories in recent years of Evangelical missionaries being killed, kidnapped, and arrested, I think it is time for someone to suggest that maybe, just maybe missionaries need to rethink their “calling.”

The Wescos are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionaries. Stephanie is the daughter of Don Williams, pastor of Believers Baptist Church in Warsaw, Indiana. Don Williams is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. He is the son of Ronald Williams, pastor emeritus of Believers Baptist and the founder and director of Hephzibah House — a girls boarding school. Hephzibah House is notorious for its abusive discipline and has been investigated several times by the state of Indiana (see video below). Charles’ brother is Indiana state representative Tim Wesco.

Video Link

2015 Wartburg Watch article on Hephzibah House

As IFB missionaries, the Wescos spent two years traveling from church to church (deputation) begging for support. Once they raised sufficient support, they made their way to Cameroon so they could win souls for Christ and establish IFB churches. You can check out their website here. The Wescos believed that God has called them to go to Cameroon to preach the gospel. I have no doubt they were excited once they raised sufficient money to begin their evangelistic work. I suspect they planned to win countless Cameroonians to Christ and establish numerous Fundamentalist Baptist congregations. Yet, two weeks into their endeavor, Charles is dead, Stephanie has lost her husband, and eight children no longer have a father.

Charles is being called a martyr for Christ, a man of faith who was willing to put his life on the line for the Cameroonian people. Others are praying that their God will use his death to bring many Cameroonians to Christ. And then there are those who are trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to understand WHY God would have the Wesco family go through the rigors of deputation and the pain of leaving their family and church behind, only to have Charles gunned down, Stephanie made a widow, and their children left without a father. I suspect people will be told to not dwell on the WHY, and to, instead, trust in the loving, faithful, enduring providential care of God. Their pastors will remind them that God knows what’s best and all they can do is ask for God’s name to be glorified through Bro. Charles’ death. They mustn’t dwell on WHY because that might call God’s purpose and plan into question; it might cause Christians to wonder if there really is a God in Heaven who loves and cares for them; it might cause them to question God; yea it might even cause them to doubt his very existence. Of course, those of us who are former Evangelicals know firsthand about asking WHY and not finding a satisfactory answer. For many of us, realizing that, at the very least, God was indifferent towards us or unconcerned with our loss and pain was our first step towards unbelief. I have no doubt that there will be Christians who will face real crises of faith over Charles Wesco’s senseless death, and perhaps some of them might even question God’s very existence. To that I say, good. Better to learn that trusting God to care for you and keep you out of harm’s way is delusional than to see anyone else get it in their head that God talks to them and wants them to pack up their family and go to a hostile foreign land to evangelize sinners.

The root blame rests, of course, on the person(s) who murdered Charles Wesco. But, culpability also rests with the IFB church movement and its doctrines, Believers Baptist Church, Pastor Don Williams, Pastor Emeritus Ronald Williams, and the Wescos themselves. It is IFB preachers and churches that tell congregants that the entire world is divided into two classes of people: saved and lost; that God has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; that American Fundamentalists are duty-bound, if led by God, to carry the gospel to foreign lands. Cameroon is 70 percent Christian, yet the Wescos thought there was a “need” to take the gospel to Cameroonians. Why? Well, 40 percent of those Christians are Catholic, and in the IFB world, Catholic is just another word for LOST. Thirty percent of Christians are Protestants, and in the IFB world Protestant is also just another word for LOST. In the minds of the leaders and congregants of Believers Baptist and the Wescos, what Cameroon needed was Jesus-loving, sin-hating, King James-Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

I realize that my words may come off as those of a heartless atheist, but I hope that my speaking the truth will cause others who are interested in evangelizing the lost in foreign countries to reconsider their ambitions. Granted, my words are no match for God’s, but surely there’s room for reason in the discussion. Surely, there’s a place for common sense. If Charles Wesco wanted to go to Cameroon and put his life on the line so he could expand his cult’s reach, well that’s on him. But, he, as the head of his home, took his wife and eight young children into harm’s way. It could just as easily have been his wife or one or more of his children killed in the crossfire. It is fair for thoughtful people to question whether taking children into the midst of a brewing civil war is reasonable. I know I would never put my wife, children, or grandchildren at risk of being hurt or killed. As a husband, parent, and grandparent, I have a duty to love, care, and protect those I love. My booking a family vacation in Cameroon would be considered by most people to be dangerous, careless, and irresponsible. But for people who are immersed in the teachings of the IFB church movement, if God is leading the way, no risk or danger is too great. And when things take a tragic turn, as in the case of Charles Wesco? Few will question God, Believers Baptist and its pastors, or the parents of the Wescos as to their culpability in Charles’ death. Cameroonian soldiers and insurgents will be blamed, end of story.

Here’s what I know for sure. Remove IFB beliefs from the equation and it is likely that Charles Wesco would be sitting at home tonight with his wife and children. It is IFB beliefs that put Charles in the line of fire, regardless of his sincere intentions. Had it not been for his cult’s beliefs about divine calling, missions, and evangelization, Charles never would have packed up his wife and children and traveled more than 6,000 miles to a country torn by political strife and violence.

I lament the fact that Stephanie Wesco has lost her husband and her children have lost their father. No one should have to go through the pain they are going through. But, perhaps this tragic story will cause other IFB missionaries-in-training or on deputation to ponder whether they are really ready to sacrifice their lives or the lives of their families for Jesus. At the very least, I hope this story will end the practice of sending families to the mission field; that missionary work will be restricted to single men, much as the Mormons do or the Apostle Paul did 2,000 years ago.

I know my words will be misunderstood and I will be pilloried in IFB circles, but I felt it my duty to say what other want to say but won’t.

You can read Charles Wesco’s obituary here.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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13 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    This is an incredibly sad situation., and I agree with you that it was unnecessary for an entire family to be in a dangerous country.

    Years ago, one of our clients had a former missionary working for them. He and his wife took their 2 small children to Africa. Both children died due to insufficient medical care. The adults left the ministry, went into the business world, and had 2 more children. I always thought what a waste it was for 2 children to die because their parents took them away from safety. Is Jesus that worth the lives of your children?

    Reply
  2. Brian

    It is kind of you to be concerned for religious zealots who wish to take their product to foreign lands and profit there. Many of them do it to serve the master punisher, our dear Lord who knows best, and when people meet the assault of real life in these places and are brutalized and murdered, it is God’s plan. Christianity is designed to undermine human freedom and respect, respect for self and others. It takes functional hatred and preaches it as Love. Both parents in this family have faced a whole life of delusionary behaviour around them and then started their own IFB franchise family. All of it worked out tragically as it was planned, praise God. I feel very sad for all these children and the poor woman facing a future as sole parent but I think reasoning with a delusionary process such as this is fruitless. Imagine what might happen if they settled somewhere and started a church! The virus spreads and they spread it joyfully: You are a fallen, hateful, worthless thing. You know this in your heart. Don’t you wonder why things go so awry in your life, why you feel guilty and suffer? I have the answer: It’s free! Do you want it? Do you want it?

    Reply
  3. Dave O

    So very sad … 🙁

    Reply
  4. Randy

    I wonder how many people prayed to God for protection of this family? How many prayers did the family say itself? If God is an omnibenevolent God then there is no way he would let this happen. It does not matter how you do the math, no good can come out of this tragedy. As Bruce, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but maybe this will be something that is a life changing experience for his children and they do not blindly follow in their father’s footsteps.
    If God cannot at least protect those who sacrifice so much to serve him it means one of two things: he is an apathetic god or he is a nonexistent god.

    Reply
  5. mary g

    you are totally correct, bruce. this is so sad, but he put himself and his family in extreme danger because of his theology. his foolishness will affect his kids and even future grandkids will deal with the emotional fallout of this needless death. all because of some foolish beliefs. sadly, he will not be the last.

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  6. Dave

    I couldn’t agree more. I had a friend who spent years in a foreign mission field with her children uprooted from their country and placed in boarding schools. Their only time back in the US was marked by constant begging for money to return to their mission. My friend had chronic health problems which ultimately led to her death at a relatively young age. If she had cared for her health more rather than preaching to people in a foreign land she might still be alive. Her children are motherless and her husband is widowed. While Christians rejoice at her life I look at all of this and say ”what a waste.”

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  7. Geoff

    Is this not what they want though? I feel to many of them that this is a badge of honor. The bible tells them that they will be hated , persecuted and killed for their beliefs.

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  8. mary

    I wish that you would remove this page. Stephanie and family do not need this type of criticism. They need loving arms supporting them and guiding them to a better future. I am sure that they have enough questions of their own. Now is not the time for criticism.
    I am not involved with the family, nor the church with which they are affiliated. However, I am filled with love, empathy and compassion for those who are morning. That is what the need at this time.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      My post adds pertinent facts and analysis that news agencies are not reporting. No one is asking, why the Wescoe’s were in Cameroon to start with. No one is looking into the cult they were a part of. This is religion-driven tragedy that could have been avoided.

      This was not an easy post for me to write, but I thought it important to do so. I view this as I do discussions surrounding mass murders. You would say, now is not the time to talk about guns, gun control. Just support the grieving families. Talk about guns, gun control later. I am of the opinion that important discussions must be had while the public is focused on the mass murder (or killing of an IFB missionary).

      Reply
  9. Julia

    Mr. Wescoe won my Ass-Hole of the Decade Award. Really, how stupid can a person possibly be, including his wife (the kids don’t count at present). He should have had a million-dollar dollar, double indemnity policy written for himself for the period of time he was going “evangelizing” in a country that definitely did not need him. He must have known about the incipient civil war. I agree with the other commentators. The values of these people are all screwed up. Of course, the Essenic community had infiltrated the new cult (end of world bs etc.). Any Thinking person would have thrown that stuff out because it was so outre. SIGH…..

    Reply
  10. Troy

    Well stated, Bruce. I’m sure there have been many an IFB preacher that used an anecdote to condemn sinful and rebellious behavior leading to ruin. Here we have a simple case of cause and effect. The church cred seems to be more profound when the mission is somewhere exotic, and it doesn’t get more exotic than equatorial Africa.

    A point not made in your blog post needs to be made. When these missions are successful, they often have dire consequences for gay and other minorities that are traditionally oppressed by the church. This is the case in Uganda where draconian laws are actively enforced are somewhat related to the influx of right wing missionaries.

    Reply
  11. Paul

    Another factor in this tragedy is American exceptionalism – the belief that the American way of life and constitutional/political system is, thanks to god beneficently smiling on the US of A, the best there is (or ever has been) and that everyone will be better of if it is adopted throughout the world. British missionaries had the same belief about the life in England when the British Empire was at its height – they truly believed they were bringing civilization to the heathens and pagans. These modern American missionaries don’t just want promulgate a diffused belief in Christian peace and love to Africa and Asia, they seek to disseminate American Protestant fundamentalist politico-religious beliefs. In doing so they intrude additional chaos into already fraught domestic tribal conflicts. And when their arrogance and ignorance results in push-back from locals who feel challenged by their intrusions into situations where they have no business, they call on the government back home to bend over backwards to rescue them in the name of defending “religious freedom”.

    Let’s face it: America never was that great, except in its own propaganda.

    Not that the rest of the world is better. There is racism, poverty, corruption, oppression everywhere – except Canada, of course.

    Reply
  12. Paul

    PS The comment about Canada is a joke.

    Reply

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