Family and fiancée mourn youth pastor

Samuel Stephens was fulfilled by his work as a youth pastor and musician, but he picked up two side jobs because he wanted to provide his bride-to-be with the very best.

A believer in abstinence before marriage, the 24-year-old continued living with his parents in Graham while slowly furnishing an apartment he would share with Emily Nolte after they wed.

He was exhausted and overworked, but Stephens was excited about his future. His fiancée’s pure white gown hung in his guest bedroom. Their wedding day was less than two weeks away.

On Tuesday, a day after a suspected drunken driver hit Stephens’ car in Pacific, his family and friends were struggling to accept his death.

“I woke up this morning at 2 a.m. and thought, ‘I miss his laugh, his fun-loving spirit,’ ” said his dad, Mike Stephens. “Sam loved people, loved life.”

The younger Stephens always had a strong faith in God and a natural ease with instruments. It was no surprise when he became a youth and worship pastor who offered praise by playing the tuba, guitar, drums and bass. The Rev. James Ludlow spotted him four years ago at a youth event and persuaded Stephens to work at EastPointe Church in Bonney Lake.

“I fell in love with the guy and invited him to come join us,” Ludlow said. “He’s the kind of guy who lights up a room.”

Stephens was known as a prankster, dumping cold water over shower curtains and pointing friends’ windshield wipers straight up. He once built a potato gun that shot 400 feet. That “healthy dose of kid,” as his mother refers to it, started to diminish after he met Nolte and fell in love.

“After he got engaged, he switched over to manhood,” said Mike Stephens. “He went from a kid to a hardworking guy.”

In addition to his work at EastPointe Church, Stephens began working for AT&T and the U.S. Postal Service to save money. He was putting in so many hours that Ludlow, after learning of the crash, initially wondered whether Stephens had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

It was 2 a.m. when Stephens’ car was struck on Stewart Road Southwest, but he was wide awake. He had volunteered to pick up his sister and brother-in-law from the airport so the rest of his family didn’t have to be out that late. He had just dropped them off at home when he was hit.

“We know where he’s at, but that doesn’t take away the pain of missing him,” Ludlow said. “He’s a hard person to replace.”

The congregation, which held a vigil Monday night for Stephens, is working toward forgiving the other driver. His loved ones simply can’t fathom a life without Stephens.

“He was just an amazing person,” Nolte told KOMOTV. “I’m sad I’m not going to get to build that future with him. I’m really disappointed. It’s just heartbreaking.”