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Confessions of faith: Steve Yetter

Grief is a painful reminder that we live in a fallen world, but it also was the Lord’s tool to lead a man deeper into Christ’s love for him.

Spring is the season of the year when new life is blossoming. The cold of winter fades away, spring rains water the earth, and flowers burst forth. It’s also when Easter celebrations fill our churches and hearts, as we remember that our Redeemer lives. New life in Christ is ours through the power of the Spirit who works through the means of grace. The gospel creates and sustains us with the abundant life that only Christ can give.

For Steve Yetter, however, April showers also came with a stream of grief that has again and again battered his life. The Lord used those painful experiences to remind him of his need for his Savior and to bring him to the doors of Mount Calvary, Redding, Calif.

Grief follows him home

Steve was raised in an average American Christian home in Schenectady, N.Y. Baptized in a Dutch Reformed church, he remembers worshiping with his parents and brothers when he was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. He and his brothers went to Sunday school and heard a lot about “being good, or else!” After high school, Steve enlisted in the US Navy, scoring well enough on tests to serve his country as an electronics technician. He decided to sign up to go to Vietnam.

Officially, Steve was assigned as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Navy, helping them use and repair the electronic equipment and radios provided by the United States. In practice he became part of the “brown water navy,” patrolling the internal waterways of war-torn South Vietnam. “I didn’t see God in Vietnam—all I saw was a lot of dying for no good reason,” says Steve. His Christian faith had all but evaporated.

When Steve’s years of service were up, he got off the boat in San Francisco and stayed on the West Coast. He bought a motorcycle, decided to be a musician, and traveled extensively while working odd jobs and playing clubs, bars, and wherever a guitar player was needed. Despite his outward freedom, Steve was trapped. Every spring the grief and turmoil of war stirred in his mind. Spring was the time when the North Vietnamese Army launched what became known as the “Easter Offensive,” and Steve still lives with that trauma of war.

After a few years, he settled down in Santa Cruz, Calif., and met a woman named Roberta. She had three kids, and before Steve knew it, they were married, and he was papa to two boys and a spunky 13-year-old daughter. Soon God blessed their marriage with another son. Steve worked hard to provide for his new family, sometimes working two jobs and playing guitar on the weekends.

But the grief clung to him and appeared in powerful ways every spring. Steve later learned it was post-traumatic stress disorder, but at the time no one talked about it in that way. “I was having an existential crisis, and substance abuse wasn’t doing me any good,” he says. Finally, it got so bad that Steve knew he had to do something. He called a buddy who had been in Vietnam with him, a friend who just so happened to be a Christian. He started reading the Bible and met together with a small group of Christians. God used the grief and trauma of war to wake Steve up from a dead-end life without Christ, and the gospel miracle of faith blossomed.

For the next 40 years, Steve floated in and out of various churches—Pentecostal, nondenominational, Church of Christ. He played in worship bands, preached in jail ministry, took his family to church, and even attended Bible college for a time.

But then, in the spring, the Lord again used grief to lead Steve to see God’s love in deeper ways.

Confessions of Faith family photo, motorcycle photo
(Left to right) 1) Steve (center) and Roberta (bottom right) Yetter and their family in the early 2000s. Bradley (back row, left) passed away in 2008 from cancer. 2) Steve Yetter and his nephew in 1975 after Steve returned home from serving in Vietnam. 3) Steve and Roberta Yetter. Roberta passed away in 2011.

Grief strips away the scales

In April 2008, Steve’s son Bradley passed away after a 22-month battle with cancer. It was difficult for the whole family, but especially hard for Steve, who was so convinced that he had this “Christian faith thing” right. “At the start of his illness, I was praying to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ but what I really expected was for Bradley to get healthy,” he says. “By the end, I really was praying for God’s will to be done, and I just wanted Bradley’s suffering to be over.”

When his son died of cancer, part of Steve died too. It was the “health and wealth” mindset of so many churches, as if “God the magic genie” makes sure everything is easy and prosperous for Christians. “The scales fell from my eyes,” Steve says. “Bradley died, and I was adrift. Then I started to realize how within myself I was. I realized that God hadn’t broken any promises to me.”

Steve and Roberta started to adjust to a new normal after the death of their son. That’s when grief hit the family again. Six months after Bradley’s death, Roberta was diagnosed with cancer as well. Steve quit his job, became a full-time caretaker for his bride, and grew in his faith. He was learning what it meant to “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). He wrestled with the Lord in prayer. “How could this happen? How could this be? My faith was not sufficient. It was only the faith that was given me, by Christ, that survived,” he says. After a three-year battle with cancer, the Lord took Roberta out of this world too.

In a few short years the Lord had tested Steve severely. Just like Job, Steve learned to lean on the Lord’s wisdom in giving and taking (Job 1:21). Just like Paul, Steve learned that God’s grace was sufficient for him in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It took a while for the fog of grief to lift even a little bit. He continued playing guitar for worship, helping out with jail minis-tries, and mentoring recovering alcoholics. He gave himself to the service of others, but he was starting to run empty.

That’s when a different kind of grief struck, again in spring.

Grief brings him to Mount Calvary

The state of California was one of the first to go into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. It was an uncertain time as businesses, schools, and churches sought to slow the spread of an unknown virus. Steve was stuck alone in a three-bedroom house, separated from his children by hundreds of miles and worshiping online with his local church. It was a difficult and depressing time. That’s when, at the invitation of his daughter, he decided to move to Redding. She had space for him, and he was ready for a change. By the fall, Steve was settling into new surroundings.

That’s when he got a mailer sent to “new movers” in Mount Calvary’s neighborhood. “I got this mailer from an evangelical Lutheran church and thought, This I gotta see!” he says. He drove by the church on a Saturday afternoon, and retired Pastor Joel Prange was out tending the church’s front yard. Steve stopped and before he knew it, Pastor Prange was giving him a tour and inviting him to worship the next day. Steve came, not sure what to expect. “But I needed something,” he says. “I was burned out by Pentecostal churches with a little bit of Scripture and a whole lot of superstition.”

At Mount Calvary he found something different. “I was instantly impressed by the love. The family love is here, the fountain that every church wants to be but isn’t. I’ve been part of many churches whose main mission was drug treatment or food pantries, but I was blown away by what I found here,” he says.

He started meeting weekly with Mount Calvary’s pastor, Ben Schaefer, to study the teachings of Scripture. “Many churches don’t talk much about theology, and if they do, it’s just to point out why someone is wrong,” he says. “But here it’s about Christ, and it’s deep. I always thought that I took theology more seriously than the churches I was attending—until I came to Mount Calvary. Here we’re serious about the Word, and it put things into place that I had believed but didn’t really know why.”

Confessions of Faith pastor and man
Pastor Benjamin Schaefer and Steve Yetter

On Jan. 17, 2021, Steve was publicly welcomed into membership. He was happy to join the family of believers. “I want to be connected and sharing and supporting that which I believe,” he says. He joined his voice with the choir and after a while got involved with the music at church, but he took his time. “I was spent; exhausted with the ‘Christianity-Lite’ of contemporary music, ready to be fed,” he says. Now Steve is part of the outreach team and joined the core group of Mount Calvary members who have partnered to reach out in Anderson, Calif. The congregation has recently decided to unite with Faith, Anderson, as one congregation with two locations, to bring the gospel to more souls in northern California.

Steve says, “I sometimes struggle, especially in the spring, with panic attacks and spiritual wrestling. Often, they are intellectually frustrating, yet underneath it all, I know better than to trust my old Adam. That’s why I come to church. I view church like a picture. Jesus is at the center and I’m just part of the picture frame. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and here I’m really seeing that.”

Spring is a time of new life and new beginnings. For Steve Yetter, it’s also been a time when the Lord has allowed grief and trials to enter his life. But even then, our good and gracious God has been at work to draw Steve deeper into the Word and the Savior’s love for him. War, death, and pandemic can also come with good grief.

Featured image at top of article: (Left to right) Pastor Benjamin Schaefer, Julius Harris, and Steve Yetter on Julius and Steve’s confirmation day, Jan. 17, 2021, at Mount Calvary, Redding, Calif.

Author: Benjamin Schaefer
Volume 110, Number 10
Issue: October 2023

 

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