Baptist & Reflector
FRANKLIN — Shannon and Jean-Ann Washam have walked with people facing crises many, many times throughout their lives while serving in compassion ministries.
Shannon is director of Western Heights Baptist Center in Knoxville while Jean-Ann is director of Appalachian Outreach in Jefferson City. They shared their story on video during the Virtual Summit on Nov. 10. See this video and others at TBCSummit.org.
But nothing could have prepared them for their own personal tragedy. In July of 2019, their son, Seth Washam, who would have been a freshman that fall at Carson-Newman University and his sister, Emma, then a rising junior at Carson-Newman, were in a tragic accident while on a mission trip in Guatemala.
The two had been there all summer, serving and ministering and had not encountered any problems, Shannon recalled. He even went down there to spend time with them during the week of his birthday. They enjoyed swimming, walking around and just enjoying each other’s company, he recalled.
On the Friday morning of that week, Shannon said he was talking with a young man, trying to share his faith when the hotel lost power.
As he reentered the hotel, he was told to go immediately to the pool area.
“I could tell something had happened. When I got there I found Emma and Seth had both been electrocuted in the pool and Seth was unconscious.”
Shannon recalled that he prayed “harder than he had ever prayed” before. “I really thought that we can pray and that he will come back. But he didn’t come back. We just sat there, me and him, and I just held him.”
Meanwhile, Emma, who was injured called her Mom with the news “She was just screaming,” Jean-Ann recalled. She learned later that Emma had tried to help him and that was how she was injured. “To see your brother die, I can’t imagine that. I’ve never experienced that.”
She shared that Emma initially refused medical care because she “wanted them to focus on Seth, but at that point, he was already dead.”
Jean-Ann noted that Seth and Emma were less than a year apart in age and had always had a close relationship.
“The Guatemala trip solidified who they were, not just as brother and sister, but as very good friends,” she said.
After the tragedy, Shannon shared that he never felt bitter toward God, but he did keep asking, “Why?”
“It was more important to me to have a relationship with God than it was to keep asking a question that I was never going to get an answer for this side of heaven,” she reflected.
She recalled that one of the first things she said when she learned of Seth’s death , “God don’t let me ask why. I don’t need to ask why. I just need to lean on you.”
And, she still has not asked why and “God has provided an enormous amount of comfort. That has come through Scripture, people, cards, a quilt, a casserole and just so many different ways,” she affirmed.
“I have said over and over again that I feel more loved by God today than I did the day before Seth died. And that doesn’t mean that He changed. It means that I changed. Utter dependence on your Father will do that.”
Shannon said the couple believes strongly that Seth’s death will not be in vain. Jean-Ann agreed, noting that they draw comfort from Romans 8:28.
“That verse to me is a personal promise from God that He’s going to use it all. He’s going to use the tears and He’s going to use the laughter and He will use Seth’s death,” she said.
Shannon added they have had opportunities to share their experience with others who have lost children in accidents. Last December he was able to minister to a father whose son was run over on Christmas Eve.
“The Lord is using it,” he affirmed. “We’re getting to minister to people who are suffering and hurting and they say, ‘Wow, you really understand our pain.’ ”
Jean-Ann agreed. “I know he (Seth) has made a difference already, even though he won’t be with us on this side of heaven.” B&R — Lonnie Wilkey