By all accounts, Justin and Stephanie Shults were very happy in Brussels. They were living their dream of living abroad, seeing Europe, and doing adventuresome activities. They had a life that many would envy. They had contracted to work for their employers for a specified period of time in Europe and were planning on returning to the United States next year.
Justin was a native of Tennessee while Stephanie was from Lexington, KY. The couple met while working to receive their master's degrees in accounting from Vanderbilt University. They were 30 and 29 years old respectively, and were accountants living in the Belgian capital since 2014.
Stephanie’s mother Carolyn was in line to check in for her flight back to Kentucky after visiting her in Brussels for about six days. She could see Stephanie and Justin seated several feet away across the terminal, making sure she got checked in properly.
Suddenly there was an explosion, and Carolyn was knocked down but remained conscious.
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On Tuesday, March 22nd, at around 8am, there were two explosions in the departure hall at Brussels Airport. The blast killed at least 10 people. About an hour later an explosion at the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, killed about 20 people.
Eight hours after the explosions, a news agency affiliated with the Islamic State issued a bulletin claiming responsibility, calling Belgium “a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State.”
The next day the death toll was increased to 34. More than 230 others were wounded. Four Americans were killed – including Justin and Stephanie Shults.
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John Hampton is the Lead Pastor at Journey Christian Church in Apopka. Before coming to Journey in 2010, he was a pastor at Northern Heights Christian Church in Lexington, KY from September 1988 to August 1997. It was there he got to know Stephanie and her family.
“My connection to the family is as much personal as pastoral,” said Hampton. “My oldest daughter Anna and Stephanie met in Kindergarten and became close friends throughout their elementary school years. Geary (Stephanie’s father) and Carolyn, and their oldest daughter Holly, along with Stephanie eventually started attending Northern Heights. They also lived nearby, so Stephanie and Anna saw each other frequently.”
Hampton has been asked by the family to be a part of the funeral service. Despite the shock and tragic nature of the event, he is in the process of constructing his message to the grieving family and friends of Justin and Stephanie Shults.
“I’m still working on the message and have not finalized it. It usually takes some time to process the thoughts and initial impressions I have for such a tragic funeral. I have learned over the years that ministry means never knowing what the next phone call will bring. In some ways, you learn to expect the unexpected.
But learning that Stephanie Moore Shults and her husband were killed in a terrorist bombing is still hard to take in. I have never known anyone personally killed in a terrorist attack until now. I hope to finish the first draft of the message today. A basic thought I’ve had on this from the beginning is that love is always stronger than hate and the resurrected King will have the last word.”
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