An American Christian missionary has been shot dead in front of his wife and kids in a volatile region of Cameroon. Charles Wesco, 44, was killed when a volley of gunfire struck his car windshield as he traveled to a local store with his wife, Stephanie, one of his children and a fellow missionary. The ministry worker was rushed to a hospital in the city of Bamenda where he was pronounced dead.
Wesco and his family had been sent out to the African country on mission by Believers Baptist Church in Warsaw, Indiana, just a couple of weeks ago and were living in a suburb of Bamenda, which has become a hotbed for violent armed clashes between the Anglophone community and the central government. Though the country is bilingual, segments of the English-speaking population insist that they are being discriminated against, particularly when it comes to representation in government. While security forces were able to suppress protests that erupted in 2016, an armed separatist group has since emerged. Around 400 civilians have been killed since the conflict began.
The church’s assistant pastor, Dave Halyaman, told The Washington Post that his church was “grieving greatly the murder of Charles Wesco,” but that they were also “trusting God that he has a purpose in all of this.”
Incidentally, Wesco’s brother, Tim, is a House Representative in the state of Indiana. The state’s governor, Eric Holcomb, issued a statement on the incident, offering his “prayers and condolences” to the family at this difficult time.
“Janet and I are thinking of Rep. Tim Wesco and his family as they grieve the death of his brother Charles,” he wrote. “We ask that all Hoosiers join us in offering prayers and condolences to the Wesco family.”
“Their objective was to share the love of Christ with people in a very poor and strife-ridden country,” Rep. Wesco told ABC News. “That was their passion, and that was their life — to share Jesus Christ.”
At this time, it is unclear who was responsible for the gunfire that fatally struck Wesco as he traveled in his car. Some have apportioned blame to government troops, while others have pointed to armed separatists.
Cameroonian Defense Minister Joseph Beti Assomo released a statement asserting that “a group of terrorists” had shot at Wesco’s car nine miles from Bamenda, wounding him in the temple. He said that security forces then tracked the group and engaged in a firefight with them, killing four militants.
However, according to the BBC, the separatist group, which is seeking to form a breakaway state called “Ambazonia,” said government soldiers ruthlessly executed Wesco.
The U.S State Department has confirmed that an American citizen was killed in Bamenda on Tuesday but has yet to offer any further details. Tim Wesco, however, suggested that his brother could have been executed by militants because of his nationality.
“It appears that he was targeted,” he said, adding that it was “quite probable he was targeted because he was a white, English-speaking American.”
Prior to becoming a missionary, Wesco was a piano tuner, according to his sister-in-law, Joy Williams. She also noted to Reuters that Charles is survived by eight children.
Williams also explained how the family had delayed their departure to Cameroon due to the unrest.
“They were aware of the danger,” she said.
With his wife and eight children still residing in the treacherous region, Tim Wesco hopes to help get his brother’s loved ones back to the U.S. as soon as possible.
“We’re very concerned about the safety of the family,” he said.
Pastor Halyaman noted that the U.S. State Department was assisting to get the rest of the family home to America “hopefully in a week or less,” according to the BBC.
It has been reported that the family knew of the risks they were taking by traveling to such a volatile region. In fact, contained within the family’s monthly newsletter update for September – October were some ominous words about the imminent threats they faced having just arrived in the tense North West region, including the imposition of a strict 6 p.m. curfew on those living in the English-speaking areas.
“Monday, was a strictly observed weekly “Ghost Town” day, when English section civilians are not allowed to safely leave their homes or operate their businesses without risking loss or death,” the family noted in its newsletter. It is a limiting situation in spreading the gospel to have this 6PM daily curfew in our section of Cameroon (this is roughly the time of year-round dusk in Cameroon). Keep praying earnestly for a return of peace to the English and French sections of Cameroon!”
Prior to their departure, the family asked for prayer as they were forced to reschedule their leaving date due to Stephanie’s health and the continued political unrest. “Things are NOT being resolved in the conflict between English and French in Cameroon,” Charles wrote.
In the final prayer points before Charles’ death, he wrote that “20 or more separatist soldiers” had been “killed in our area over the weekend,” and asked that the family’s supporters pray the family “don’t end up eventually being forced into French areas.”
Please remember the Wesco family in your prayers at this difficult time, and ask God for their safe return to the United States.