God’s Sovereign Grace in the Midst of Tragedy

27 Jun

The last time I posted anything here was Monday, 18 June.

The next morning – Tuesday, 19 June our lives changed forever…

Around 5:30am on Tuesday, 19 June, (New Zealand time) I received an email from someone in the States informing us that one of Mandy’s brothers – Timothy Birtchet (the second youngest in the family – Mandy is the eldest of five) had taken his own life sometime on Sunday (Father’s Day in the States). He was 21 years old.

I had to wake my wife up and tell her this.

At that time to our knowledge no one else in Mandy’s family had been notified as they were unable to locate anyone’s contact information. They found my email address and blog address on a card with our picture in his room.

Within the next couple of hours I spoke to the husband of the family Tim was living with (which we were completely unaware of) along with the coroner and police office in Pennsylvania. We were able to determine that the rest of the family had been notified by then. However, Mandy’s father was in transit to Montreal and we did not have contact information for anyone else.

Later we had a lengthy phone conversation with the family Tim lived with which was very difficult, but also helpful in bring clarity to various questions.

Soon thereafter we also made contact with Mandy’s Father and eldest brother.

After a lot of prayer, talking between ourselves and counsel we decided that Mandy would return for her brother’s services in Pennsylvania.

She left New Zealand Thursday, 21 June and arrived in Philadelphia late Thursday night.

The services were held this past Saturday and Sunday in PA.

With God’s strength and by His grace Mandy was able to sing at Tim’s funeral service. She sang Sovereign One from Sovereign Grace Ministries CD Awesome God.

Words and music by Zach Jones
As recorded on Awesome God


When I’m all alone and afraid
I will trust in You
For You watch over my ways
When things in my life don’t make sense
I will trust in You
For You are good, You are good

Sovereign One
You work all things to Your plan
Sovereign One
You hold all things in Your hands

When I don’t get to have my own way
I will trust in You
For You know what is best
When tears begin to roll down my face
I will trust in You
For You are good, You are good

Perfect in power, You control all things
Perfect in wisdom, You know everything
Perfect in goodness
Jesus, You’re so good to me
So good to me

© 2004 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).

She also read 1 Peter 1:1-7

ESV 1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 3 ¶Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

She returns home tomorrow morning.

The day after Mandy left my Mother arrived here in New Zealand for a visit which had been scheduled for some six months.

In addition, this past Sunday I preached at our home church – church@riverbend on Sunday – Romans 8:12-17.

We do want to thank all those who have prayed and are praying. God has been so good. We have known His Sovereign Grace and the loving care of our Heavenly Father more intimately during this time.

Please continue to pray for Mandy, that she would know the sovereign comfort of her Heavenly Father. Please pray for Mandy’s family (Father and 3 other siblings – their mother passed away 3 1/2 years ago) – that the circumstances of this event would glorify God and if He so wills would be a means of drawing many to Himself.

In the midst of all of this, we have been so blessed and overwhelmed with the love and compassion of Christ which has been shown to us by our church family here at church@riverbend. The visits, cards, tangible efforts at help are all signs of their love for Christ and we are humbled to know they love us.

  • This compassion has been clearly noticed by our children as well – last Wednesday morning as Mandy at one stage was crying again, our eldest daughter – Mekaela – immediately notices and says, “Mommy is crying again, I guess that means more people will be coming over.” – Thank you church@riverbend for being an obvious sign of God’s love for us to our children.

Please to any who may, even right now, be considering suicide – know this – there is HOPE!

Not a “hope so” kind of hope – like, “things can only get better” – no there is real hope to be found only in the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  1. You have sinned against a Holy God. (Romans 3:10-12,23; James 2:10)
  2. Because of your sin you deserve eternity in Hell as God’s judgment. (Romans 2:5-6; John 5:28-29)
  3. Jesus Christ died on the cross. There He took the punishment sinners deserve for their sin. He then rose from the dead, conquering sin and death once and for all. (Isaiah 53:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  4. You must repent and believe. Place your full trust in Christ as your only Saviour from sin and hell and as Lord of your new life in Him. (John 3:36; Acts 3:19; Acts 16:31; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
  5. You will grow more sure of your life in Christ as your keep on repenting and trusting in Christ, and as you act like a true Christian. (Matthew 13:23; 1 John 3:4-6)

Next – find a church – a good, Gospel-focused, Christ-centered church. To help here are a few trustworthy sites which list churches:


Sovereign Grace

The Master’s Seminary

Contact one of the churches you find (or me directly) and tell them you need help to understand what it means to be a Christian and to work through the significant struggles in your life!

Blessings in Christ,

Joe, Mandy, Mekaela, Gavin, Tabitha Fleener

Philippians 4:4-9


3 responses to “God’s Sovereign Grace in the Midst of Tragedy

  1. Rick

    28/06/2007 at 5:48 am

    Thank you for your gospel-centered testimony through such a great trial. We’ll be praying for you guys.Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Ministries just sang a song at the New Attitude conference that speaks really well to your situation. You can here it for free at

  2. joy

    28/06/2007 at 6:50 am

    wow, joe. will be praying for mandy and the rest of your family. i’m glad she was able to sing that song.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: