The cheerful Instagram pictures and heartfelt sermons Andrew Stoecklein delivered disguised the difficulties he had been going through. The pastor tragically took his own life on August 25, 2018 – and that inspired his widow to send a message to the world.
Andrew’s life had always been in the church. His mother, Carol, and father, Dave, had founded Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, in 1991, and Dave led the congregation as pastor until 2015. After Dave lost his battle with cancer that year, son Andrew then took over his father’s role.
But “pastor” wasn’t the only title 30-year-old Andrew held. He was also husband to Kayla, 29, and father to their three young sons: Smith, Jet and Brave. In time away from his duties, Andrew was also a mountain biker, a golfer and a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers.
And from the outside, every aspect of Andrew’s life seemed to be going well. Apart from his beautiful family, his church was seeing record-breaking attendance numbers. On top of that, the organization was thriving financially, too.
Internally, though, Andrew faced an enormous struggle. After losing his father and becoming pastor, he had been threatened by stalkers. And while Andrew and his family ultimately moved house, the church leader’s troubles continued, as doctors discovered and eventually removed a large growth from his chest.
With everything going on, Andrew found himself dealing with an intense bout of anxiety and depression. One panic attack left him feeling, in his own words, as if he was “going to die.” In a sermon delivered on August 12, 2018, the pastor added of the incident, “I was pacing back and forth… Kayla was begging me to go to the hospital. I was refusing.”
Andrew eventually agreed to seek treatment, and this meant that senior members of the Inland Hills Church had a decision to make for the mental health and safety of their pastor. The church members therefore placed Andrew on a four-month involuntary sabbatical, through which he could work to relieve the strain he was feeling.
Then, when Andrew returned to the church on that August day, he came with an important message. The pastor delivered a sermon reminding his parishioners to care for their mental health – after all, the Bible instructed them to do it too.
Andrew told the congregation, “[Mental illness] is something we don’t like to talk about much, do we? Especially not in the church. And what’s odd to me about that is from cover to cover in scripture, it’s filled with men and women who’ve struggled with their emotions and feelings and have been honest.”
Perhaps Andrew’s openness and honesty about his struggle was part of what made the end of his story so sad. On August 24, 2018, while at Inland Hills Church, he attempted to take his own life. Emergency dispatchers fielded a call at 11:08 a.m. from the person who had found him.
At that point, Andrew clung to life. He survived through to the next day, at which point his wife, Kayla, begged for support on Instagram. “Please pray for complete healing for this man. He is in the hospital on life support… We need a miracle,” she wrote.
However, Andrew sadly passed away on August 25, 2018. And through her undoubted shock and grief, Kayla penned a touching, heartbreaking message for the world to read about her late husband; she shared the note the day after his passing.
“Last night, the love of my life, the father of my children and the pastor of our incredible church took his last breath and went to be with Jesus. It wasn’t the miracle I was hoping for, but he is now in heaven with his dad, free of pain, free of depression and anxiety,” Kayla wrote.
Kayla then reflected on the life they had shared together – first as husband and wife, then as parents. She went on, “[Andrew] was an amazing husband. He truly made me better, made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, and he loved me so deeply. We fit so well together, we were one.”
Kayla continued, “[Andrew] was an amazing daddy [and] his three boys are going to miss him so much. He had such a unique and special relationship with each of them.” But her husband hadn’t just been a family man – he was a well-known pastor, too.
As such, Kayla knew the community had also lost someone special. “[Andrew] was an incredibly gifted teacher, communicator and pastor. He was special, one of a kind and will be missed by thousands of people all around the world,” she wrote.
The mother of three then tried to put her own grief into words. “Please pray for me and the boys,” Kayla implored. “I don’t know how I am going to face this, I am completely heartbroken, lost and empty. Never in a million years would I have imagined this would be the end of [Andrew’s] story.”
And in spite of Kayla’s own anguish, she ended her post with a call to action for anyone coping with anxiety or depression. “If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions, please tell someone,” she wrote.
Finally, Kayla gave readers something to remember even in their darkest moments. She concluded, “Please make sure you’re never alone, and please call a friend or family member before you make that irreversible decision. You are loved and valued more than you know!”
Since Andrew’s passing, Kayla’s message has received nearly 24,000 likes on Instagram – notes of appreciation that could signify that her words have helped. And after her initial post, she has continued to write about loss and grief on her website, Godsgotthis.org.