A special statement from WELS President Mark Schroeder

WELS Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Yesterday, we received the news of a terrible tragedy. Six members of an extended family lost their lives in a house fire at a vacation rental near Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Those now in heaven are:

Pastor Steve Witte, missionary in Thailand

Lydia Witte, daughter of Steve and Mary Witte

Charis Kuehl, wife of Pastor Steve Kuehl, also the daughter of Steve and Mary Witte

Stella Kuehl, daughter of Pastor Steve Kuehl and Charis

Lena Henselin, Karl and Hannah’s daughter (Hannah is the daughter of Pastor Witte)

Merci Henselin, Karl and Hannah’s youngest daughter

By God’s grace, a number of other family members survived. As of now, there are many unanswered questions; authorities continue to investigate.

The pain of losing six members of one family cannot be described with words. The only thing that can begin to bring comfort in such a time of grievous loss are the words that God himself speaks to us. Those words remind us that these members of our extended WELS family are now resting in perfect joy and peace at the side of their Savior. Because he lives, they also live. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11: 25-26).  “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

God graciously reminds us what he has done for these faithful servants. His words and promises bring sure hope when hope seems absent. They bring confidence when confidence has been shaken. They bring assurance and comfort when nothing else can do that.

We mourn with these families. We grieve at their terrible loss. But we also know that God will bring healing. As he promised, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). “I will be with you always!” (Matthew 28:20).

On behalf of our entire synod, I want to assure these families that they are in our prayers. We pray that God will remind them of his grace and promises and bring healing to them. We pray that he will continue to help them to hold on to his assurance that he will never leave them or forsake them.

In Christ,

WELS President Mark Schroeder


WELS Christian Aid and Relief, in partnership with Christian Family Solutions, will provide counseling to any family member, church coworker, or any members from impacted congregations where the family worshiped or served. If you, or someone you know, would like to speak with a counselor, you are invited to complete the online request form: https://mapintake.christianfamilysolutions.org.

Rev. Glenn Obenberger, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, offered word of condolences to the Witte, Kuehl, and Henselin families, as well as all WELS members who knew the families:

My heart truly aches for you and all our WELS brothers and sisters in Christ who are so grieved by the tragedy that befell the Witte, Kuehl, and Henselin families. May God grant you the grace of knowing that nothing is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Be assured as your brothers and sisters in the ELS learn of this painful news, we are all offering up prayers on your behalf and will for a long time to follow.

The words of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn come to mind at a time like this:

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son For my own
To my faith hath given?

God oft gives me days of gladness;
Shall I grieve If He give
Seasons, too, of sadness?
God is good and tempers ever
All my ill, And He will
Wholly leave me never.
ELH #377, vv. 1 & 3

May our God and Father comfort and console you with His Word of Resurrection and Life and grant you His merciful help to have courage to face the days ahead trusting in His never-ending love for you all in Christ, our Savior.

In Jesus’ name,
Glenn R. Obenberger



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