In this week’s episode, unthinkable tragedies weren’t the end of the story for our two guests, but the beginning of the hard and beautiful work they would do toward bringing comfort and healing to survivors and those experiencing deep loss. At sixteen, Kechi Okwuchi was one of two survivors of a plane crash that claimed the lives of 59 of her classmates and friends. Her will to survive and her subsequent journey toward becoming a finalist on America’s Got Talent, as well as becoming an advocate for burn survivors and for victims of bullying was driven by the desire to do something meaningful with her life in honor of her friends and the families they left behind. Singer/Songwriter Anne Wilson lost her brother in a devastating car accident, and ever since, she’s crafted her songs to bring healing to others who have also suffered great loss. Both of these women stand in the place of their hurt and heartache to comfort other survivors in finding hope for another day.
Kechi Okwuchi: I believe we are all born with the capability to overcome whatever life throws at us. I want people to remember in those hard moments, the other hard moments they’ve overcome already that seemed like mountains to them at that time. And if you think about that, then you realize at different stages, you had the amount of strength you needed to overcome what it was. And after you did, that strength doesn’t disappear—it stays there.
When the Unthinkable Happens, We Can Turn to God: Kechi Okwuchi and Anne Wilson – Episode #306
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast.
When the unthinkable happens in our lives, a tragedy or a loss so great, we may not know how we could ever move forward. Perhaps we can find comfort in these words from Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”. Though our lives may be changed irrevocably from events so dark we can’t fathom a way out of our pain, when we turn to God, He listens and brings solace in our most desperate hours.
In this week’s episode, unthinkable tragedies weren’t the end of the story for our two guests, but the beginning of the hard and beautiful work they would do toward bringing comfort and healing to survivors and those experiencing deep loss.
At sixteen, Kechi Okwuchi was one of two survivors of a plane crash that claimed the lives of 59 of her classmates and friends. Her will to survive and her subsequent journey toward becoming a finalist on America’s Got Talent, as well as becoming an advocate for burn survivors and for victims of bullying was driven by the desire to do something meaningful with her life in honor of her friends and the families they left behind.
Singer/Songwriter Anne Wilson lost her brother in a devastating car accident, and ever since, she’s crafted her songs to bring healing to others who have also suffered great loss. Both of these women stand in the place of their hurt and heartache to comfort other survivors in finding hope for another day.
Kechi: My name is Kechi Okwuchi. I am thirty-two years old. I am a singer, I am a writer. I am a bullying prevention advocate and a burn survivor advocate, and I am also a speaker.
My early years in Nigeria were a lot of fun—I had a very fun and active childhood. Growing up in Nigeria was challenging at times, but most of the time, I felt very protected and secure by my family. My family took great care of me.
A Deadly Accident
The accident happened on December 10th, 2005. It was a Saturday, and I was 16 years old when it happened. I was in my final year of high school.
That day was very normal, from getting on the school buses on campus to the airport, to boarding the plane–everything was fine. The flight is typically about an hour and a half or so. It’s a routine flight that we students take at the end of every semester. And at the start of another semester, the students who live in the same area would typically board the same plane to get home.
I remember everything was fine until about maybe 15, 20 minutes left in the flight when the pilot announced we would be landing soon and started the descent. That was when the turbulence started, and everything was normal still. I was like, This is turbulence. It happens when you fly. It’s not a big deal. But then it really started to get really, really bad
It wasn’t until a lady kind of screamed from the back of the plane—there was this scream, and that just caused chaos.
Everyone just started screaming.
I remember just sitting there, not screaming, just kind of staring in shock. I remember thinking, This isn’t happening. Is this real?
I remember I held my friend’s hand in the aisle seat next to mine, and her eyes were just wide—I remember they were just glassy—and she was like, “What do we do? What is happening? What do we do?”
And I just remember speaking in this faraway voice that didn’t even sound like me: “I don’t know, maybe we should pray.”
Then just . . . blackness. Just nothing.
“I just remember speaking in this faraway voice that didn’t even sound like me: ‘I don’t know, maybe we should pray.’” – Kechi Okwuchi, speaking to her friend during a plane crash
Five weeks passed. I opened my eyes, and I was in the hospital, waking up from a coma. That was basically how my life as a burn survivor began.
I was in a hospital in South Africa, and I was told after I woke up that I had been flown to South Africa as soon as possible to start my treatment because, in Nigeria, we didn’t have the capability to take care of the level of burns I sustained. I sustained third-degree burns on over 65 percent of my body, and I was one of two survivors.
I lost so many friends at the same time. I thought of the families who lost their loved ones, and how horrible that must have felt and tried to understand what kind of grief they may be going through compared to mine. What I was going through was nothing compared to how it felt as a mother losing her child. There was a woman who lost all three of her kids under five because all three of her kids went to the same school as me. The gravity of understanding all those different things took a toll, for sure.
A Long Recovery and Discovering a Life of Meaning
Those early days of recovery were definitely the most difficult time of my life. It was a hell physically, trying to recover from burn injuries.
But I remember the things that went through my mind, just pushing me. In the beginning, it was really just my mom, but I got to a point where something had to come from inside me to survive this thing—it no longer became enough to just live for my mom. I had to, at some point, find some kind of inner will. Something had to come from within me to decide to survive this thing. It became a matter of . . . I don’t want to say pride, but just a matter of tenacity. The more I was alive, the more I wanted to prove that I could stay alive, that I could do this. I could overcome this.
I got to another point where the drive converted to—and this was after I realized that everyone else was gone—when I realized that I was one of two survivors. The parents of those kids, my friends, and my classmates were praying for me. They saw my life as the one good thing that came out of this. They saw hope in my life. I wanted to show them that I wasn’t going to take this life for granted because it’s a life that was stolen from them. I wanted to prove to their parents and their loved ones that I was going to live this life well and make it mean something.
“The parents of those kids, my friends and my classmates, they were praying for me. They saw my life as the one good thing that came out of [the accident].” – Kechi Okwuchi
How did I become a participant on America’s Got Talent? Well, first of all, I did not sign up for the show myself. One of my best friends signed me up without saying anything to me. So that’s how I ended up on the show.
She has always pushed me to join one of these talent shows, but I just was never going to do it. Because even though music was something that I loved so much and I loved singing, my voice kind of went through a transformation after the accident that no one can really explain scientifically or medically. It’s just something that happened. Something changed for sure. That gave me more confidence.
But then my friend was so dogged in the way that she just kept pestering me about these shows and saying, “You never know what can happen.” So she filled out the online application and sent it to me and told me, “Look, I’ve already done all the work, so just let’s just submit this and just see what happens.” She even put her own email to make sure that if I got rejected, it wouldn’t even come to me. She thought of everything.
So we did it. And then three months later, I got the call from AGT saying that they saw my application. It was honestly so random, because at this time I had started my MBA, and so I was on this whole different path. Never did I think music would ever be a part of my life professionally, certainly not a music show. But then they reached out and they were interested in having me, and that just really changed everything about the path that I was on.
So to me, it was like, God, look, I don’t know what You’re trying to do. Thank You so much for this experience. You know, I don’t know what this is going to amount to, but thank You. And then I moved on to the next stage and the next and the next. And it was just like, I’m still here. This is crazy. Lord, what are You planning? What is going on?
Finishing as a finalist, at that point, I really didn’t care about winning—I never did throughout the show. It was just a matter of gratitude that I even made it this far. And I ended up with a more substantial gift than just being on the show. I think that was the main thing I got from the show was now I had this platform where I could use my story and my voice to inspire people, and the world seemed like they were interested in hearing that kind of message from me.
“I really didn’t care about winning—I never did throughout the show. It was just a matter of gratitude that I even made it this far, and I ended up with a more, I think, substantial gift than just being on [America’s Got Talent].” – Kechi Okwuchi
Advocating for Victims of Bullying
Being a bullying prevention advocate is something that has always been important to me, even before AGT, way before. In fact, the reason for that is very simple.
When we first moved to America, my little sister experienced incredible amounts of bullying, whether it was in school or with people who pretended to be friends, but really were not. She was six, so she was very young and impressionable and the bullying was just really bad.
At that time, I was still extremely weak, still going through different kinds of surgeries, and I wasn’t aware of the things that were happening until it already happened. By the time I was strong enough to be there for her, defend her, and be a big sister to her, the damage seemed to already have been done. But my mom, my dad and myself, we did everything we could to make sure that those experiences did not define her.
So that was something that my mom and I, my family, had a very personal experience with through what happened with my sister. Thank God, she’s perfectly fine now. We prayed—and we moved, even—we just did things that basically made her feel safe and secure. We made her try to understand that it was okay to be herself, no matter what it was. So she blossomed beautifully around middle school. She’s fine. She’s perfectly fine now, and I thank God for that.
So I decided that with my platform if I was ever given a platform, that was a thing I was definitely going to do. I didn’t know in what capacity before AGT how I would be able to do that, but definitely being on the show helped me kind of put that message out there in a much bigger way.
I feel like we all have it within us to access the strength needed to overcome obstacles that are before us. I feel like when things are going well, we are very quick as human beings to forget how difficult things looked to us in the past and how big problems looked in the past. But then we overcome them, and then we just keep going in life because that’s how human beings are.
“We all have it within us to access the strength needed to overcome obstacles that are before us.” – Kechi Okwuchi
You have a different level of strength that would serve to prepare you for whatever may be coming again in the future. And it’s kind of like this cycle where you overcome something, you tap into the strength you need to overcome that thing, and then now you’re in this place where you’re stronger and can now overcome even harder stuff.
Every scar isn’t as obvious as mine. People have invisible scars. In fact, I think those are the more common scars. And even though you can’t physically see them, they’re just as valid, just as real. And oftentimes that’s the harder kind of scar to deal with because it has more lasting effects on people, I think.
You’re not facing those problems alone.
God is with you here. He’s never left your side. He’s always with you.
This bad thing happening to you does not mean that God is no longer with you.
I’ve found He’s always there to hold me and comfort me. And whenever I encounter another problem again, He’s going to be there to hold my hand.
Narrator: You can find Kechi Okwuchi’s book More Than My Scars everywhere books are sold.
Stay tuned to Anne Wilson’s story after a brief message.
Jesus Listens: Because He’s Always Ready to Hear Your Prayers
Life can be overwhelming at times, but God is always there, ready to hear your prayers. That’s why Sarah Young wrote the new book, Jesus Listens.
Jesus Listens is a 365-day prayer devotional with short, heartfelt prayers based on scripture, written to deepen your relationship with God and change your heart. Click here to learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample!
Narrator: Our next guest is Christian singer/songwriter Anne Wilson, who found recent success with a #1 song on Billboard’s 2021 Hot Christian Songs chart called “My Jesus.” Anne came from a tight-knit family that was strong in their faith, but that faith got shaken when an unexpected accident claimed the life of Anne’s brother. Anne always loved music but didn’t think it would be what she did for a living. It wasn’t until she sang in public for the first time—at the funeral of her 23-year-old brother Jacob—that Anne saw the power of music to bring healing to herself and others.
Anne: Hey, everybody. My name is Anne Wilson, and I am a Christian artist from Lexington, Kentucky. I have loved the Lord from a young age. I always had music around me and was surrounded by my family, but I never really knew music to be anything that I wanted to pursue until my brother passed away in 2017.
He’s kind of been the marker of my story for the past four years now.
Anne Remembers Her Brother
I have an incredible family—my parents are amazing, my sister and my brother. My childhood was really special and sweet. There was one thing we always knew as kids, and that was that we were loved by Jesus. My parents always instilled that in us from a very young age.
My brother was amazing. He was my best friend. He was full of life and joy, and one thing about Jacob is that he would never say a bad word about anyone. And I actually mean that. There would be times I’d be frustrated and would be trying to just talk to him about something or vent to him, and he would always stop me and say, “Anne, we don’t know what that person is going through.”
Jacob was always the life of a party. He treated everyone like they were his best friend, and he would go out of his way to include someone being left out of school or whatever the situation was.
My brother, Jacob, passed away in a car accident in 2017. He was driving through an intersection, and someone came and hit him. He died on impact.
It was so traumatic. The police came and woke us up at 3:30 in the morning, and they just said, “Your son has passed away in a car accident.” And it was the most shocking thing that had ever happened to our family.
I think back on it, it’s almost like this numb feeling comes back to me. It was so painful, and our bodies wouldn’t even let us process really what had happened because of the pain that was within us. It was truly such a horrible experience.
I remember my mom asking me to sing at the funeral for my brother, and I knew that I had to. I knew that God was calling me to. It was such a powerful moment. I just remember feeling the Lord’s presence and then getting through that whole song without crying or being nervous or anything.
To be able to know and have the truth that Jacob is with Jesus, that’s what got us through. And that’s what is our anchor, especially now knowing that God is using his story for good. It’s been such a blessing to our lives.
“To be able to know and have the truth that Jacob is with Jesus, that’s what got us through. And that’s what is our anchor, especially now knowing that God is using his story for good. It’s been such a blessing to our lives.” – Anne Wilson
So that’s one thing now, since he has passed away, that I take with me—the joy that he had within his life and the passion he had and the love he had for other people. That’s something I really strive to be like every day.
The Jesus Calling devotionals were an anchor for me through a lot of hardships. I started reading one right after my brother passed away, and I was just gifted one a few weeks ago. It’s been a part of my growing relationship with the Lord and creating that deep foundation within me.
Music That Reaches People in the Depths of Their Pain
I’ve made so many incredible friendships, so many incredible memories. And I think one of the most beautiful parts is being able to know in your heart that you’re being used by God—we are all used by God. All of God’s children are used by Him in different ways. And so to know, Wow, this is my calling and this is what I was created for, that’s really special for me.
I wanted to write songs that specifically spoke to people walking through deep pain and loss. That’s a part of my heart, and I feel called to minister to people in that area. And then I also wanted to write songs that were more for people walking through different seasons of life. Maybe they’re walking through depression or anxiety, or something tragic. I wanted to create a record full of songs that spoke to every single person in every different walk of life.
“I wanted to write songs that specifically spoke to people walking through deep pain and loss.” – Anne Wison
This past year, I got to play the Grand Ole Opry, and that was such an amazing experience. To be able to share Jesus and His love with people was such an honor.
There was a guy who came up to me and said that his son died 30 years ago. He’s never been able to let go of his anger toward God. He’s never been able to even process this loss. And he heard my song “No Place Like Home” and came up to me and said that that song just led him back to God. And he dedicated his life to Jesus, he let go of his anger and he finally was starting to heal from losing his son. And those are moments that I’m like, Oh my goodness, it is so amazing to see what God can do with us as His children, how He uses us to speak life into other people, and it’s just an honor to be His vessel.
Something I always hold within my heart is knowing that God is with me, and God has brought me to this place, and He’s led me here, and He’s not going to leave me here.
There’s going to be a day where we all get to be reunited again in heaven and we all get to spend eternity with each other.
If you’d like to hear more stories about God’s care for us when we experience tragedy in our lives, there’s a special episode of the Jesus Calling Podcast called Coping with Grief featuring Rosie Rivera, Kay Warren, Jonathan Pitts, and others who talk about how they leaned on God during times of loss in their lives.
Next Week: Actor Kristoffer Polaha
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from actor Kristoffer Polaha, who stars in recent movies: Jurassic World: Dominion and Where Hope Grows, from PureFlix. Kristoffer shares how he’s gone from peaks to valleys in his acting career and how he’s found meaning in his work that goes beyond being at the top of the acting world.
Kristoffer Polaha: Just being a successful actor isn’t quite enough. If you’re lucky, you can do this thing and it’ll come, it’ll go. The other thing, though, is contributing. I like that old saying “A verse to the bigger poem of life.” How do you have a career that speaks to life? How do you have a career that’s a little more interesting than just about you?