This is a story of faith, courage in a crisis, and the power of forgiveness. The Bible teaches Christians to be kind to others, tender-hearted, “forgiving each other just as God in Christ has also forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).”
God had been giving me perspective checks recently; but this one was different.
It was a beautiful day in northeast Wisconsin last Sunday. Lots of people were out walking, bike riding, and enjoying life when evil suddenly struck a quiet community. Many of us were reminded that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.
An angry young man who recently broke up with his fiance decided to grab two handguns and go to the Trestle Trail bridge in Menasha. Passing by dozens of people Sunday evening, the man first shot Adam Bentdahl twice. Adam died at the scene. He then saw a beautiful young family and started shooting them. He shot Jon Stoffel, husband and father, seven times and Jon’s daughter Olivia. Both died from the shooting, and Jon’s wife, Erin was shot three times.
With gunshot wounds in her hand, abdomen, and thigh, Erin Stoffel courageously urged her two other children, Ezra and Selah, to run and get help, and somehow got herself off the bridge and cried for help. In the hospital ICU, Erin progressed from critical to serious condition, and later that week, her condition was upgraded to good.
She was brought to the memorial services for her husband and oldest daughter in a wheelchair.
The gunman shot himself, and tragically he may be separated from God and condemned for eternity; only the Lord knows our hearts.
We will spend eternity on one side or the other, and without Jesus we are lost. But God always causes us to triumph in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57), and He received Adam (31), Jon (33) and daughter Olivia (11) into Heaven. They took their last breath here and their next breath there.
Victory. For Christians who trust in the finished work of Jesus and the fact of His resurrection, death has lost its sting. But for now, pray for the families all around us whose lives have been shattered and especially for those who don’t know the Lord.
Take nothing for granted.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15
We all need reminders and God’s ways are high above our ways. Was this a “random” case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – or – does it somehow fall under His orchestrated plan to bring good out of chaos and evil?
Astonishingly, the last words Erin Stoffel heard Jon say were, “God forgive you” to the shooter. These powerful, convicting words are now part of Jon’s legacy. Those words have challenged my own faith.
None of us deserve it, but Jesus Christ died for us and forgave our sins. We need only to believe.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10
We must also have God’s Word in our hearts because what we meditate on and invest our time in matters. Is what we are living for worth Christ dying for?
It is clear what was in Jon’s heart. Jesus once said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).”
Jon raised the bar for all of us in this life and demonstrated God’s love by following Christ’s example.
A watching world wonders how on earth a person can forgive those who do us harm. That’s the point exactly; it is not from earth, but from Heaven! It is not natural, it’s supernatural! It is what Jon chose to do. It is what Jesus wants us to do – love, forgive, press on.
Hug your family and friends; tell them you love them, and make sure they hear the gospel because our time is short.
“So teach us to number our days that we might present to You a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
No one knows how they will react in a crisis, but Jon Stoffel was prepared to meet his Maker. Are you and I? If we stood before God today, would we hear Him say, “Well done”?
Once again, we are given a wake-up call; challenged to live up to God’s high standard in Christ to be His messengers of reconciliation so that others might be saved. In this world, only what we do for Christ will last, and God knows how many tomorrows we will see.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
UPDATE from Erin on 5-3-2016:
My most memorable cherished thought of this day a year ago…
while sitting in church while we were worshiping, Jon was on my right and Olivia on my left. I looked up at Jon and just thanked and praised God for him. Then I look at my sweet daughter, so tender hearted she was, and thanked God for her. These moments were a gift. Today, my heart is utterly broken but I thank God and am honored that I got to be Jons wife and Olivias mom. ♡♡♡