July 29, 2021
For the Joy of Japan: Remembering the Pals Family, Part 1
July 31, 2021, marks the five-year anniversary of the homegoing of the Jamison & Kathryne Pals family. As we approach this date, the following is a story of joy, grief, forgiveness, and the sovereignty of God, as seen by Cedrick Pals, father of Jamison Pals …
Jamison & Kathryne Pals were appointed as global partners with Bethlehem Baptist Church and commissioned by WorldVenture. They planned to join Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan. Their theme verse was Psalm 67:4, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy ...” The name of their blog, joyofjapan.org, is derived from that verse. In the words of Jamison, “I will be happy when a multitude of Japanese people gladly put their faith in Christ. We desire to go to Japan with a message of indestructible joy.”
They had prepared well. They had raised all of their support. They had one final month of training before leaving for Japan in October 2016. They embarked on their final training trip in July 2016.
Perhaps we received a word of prophecy from Jamison: “I do not know how things will turn out for us. As a husband, I feel obligated to lead our family toward obedience, whatever the end may be—whether it is life or death or discomfort or disappointment. It is clear that the Lord Jesus calls us not to an easy life, however he calls us. He bids us to take up our cross—just as he did—to suffer and die. Perhaps we will toil for years to raise support and never make it overseas. Perhaps we will go and utterly ‘fail’ as missionaries from all worldly perspectives. Perhaps we will labor for decades without any visible fruit. Or perhaps through willing obedience, many will pass from death to eternal life.”
Jamison & Kathryne Pals, and their three children, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin, never made it to Japan. On Thursday, July 28, 2016, I texted Jamison, “What time do you leave (for training) tomorrow? Will be praying for safe travels.” Jamison texted back. “Planning on leaving mid-morning. Thanks Dad! Love you.” On the morning of Friday, July 29, the family loaded into the van in Wayzata, Minnesota, and drove to Orange City, Iowa. There they stayed on the farm of Jamison’s cousin. On the morning of Saturday, July 30, the family once again loaded into the van and left for Nebraska. In Eastern Nebraska, they stayed in a hotel and enjoyed some family time at a waterpark. On the morning of Sunday, July 31, 2016 the family loaded into the van to drive the last stretch to Colorado where they would complete their training. Years of preparation were finally coming to fruition. At about 11:30am, the minivan came to a complete stop in a construction zone near Bruhl, Nebraska. At that time, a semi-trailer rammed into the back of the minivan at 65 mph.
Jamison Brownlee Pals (29), Kathryne Lucille Pals (29), Ezra Adoniram Pals (4), Violet Joy Pals (2), Calvin Boaz Pals (10 weeks) all died at the scene and entered eternity together.
That evening I received a call from my daughter Malia:
“What Malia, what’s wrong, what happened?”
“Jamison has been in an accident.” There was a short pause. “There were no survivors.”
“No, Malia, that can’t be right. There must be some mistake.”
“No, Dad. They are all gone.”
Each family member has their own story of how they heard the news. It is impossible to overstate the grief that both families (Engel and Pals families) suffered. There was an overwhelming sense of loss. Even now, as I write these words, I weep. I feel like David when he wrote “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of my grief” (Psalm 6:6).
Naomi, in the book of Ruth, declared “‘the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.’ … ‘the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.’” (Ruth 1:13, 21). Her husband and two sons had been taken in death. I knew just how she felt.
Almost two years later to the day, Tony (the driver of the truck) was being sentenced for six counts of vehicular homicide in Ogallala, Nebraska. My wife Kathy and I attended. I took the opportunity to extend forgiveness to Tony on behalf of both families. The Apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you, Tony? The next day I received an email from one of the reporters in the courtroom:
... I also wanted to let you know that as I watched your testimony, I noticed many of the inmates at court for unrelated hearings nodding, wiping tears, and bowing their heads. I know you also reached both myself and the TV reporter that day, and I would imagine that your amazing message of faith, forgiveness, and mercy reached others who needed it the most.
This, of course, was all God’s doing.
The Sovereignty of God
But that is not the end of the story. God has been orchestrating events beyond our vision, just as he did for Naomi and Ruth. “So Boaz took Ruth .… and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. … They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13, 17).
God has also used the story of the Pals family. He used it to immediately call two families to be “goers.” One family is in Japan and the other is in Ireland. We have received hundreds of letters from around the world describing how the Pals family’s story made an impact on them personally, and that much fruit has been produced. Gordie & Nancy Engel (Kathryne’s parents) have had many opportunities to share the story publicly, including at a Faith & Family Night at Target Field and at a National Day of Prayer event.
A foundation was established in their honor (The Jamison & Kathryne Pals Family Foundation). The foundation currently supports 11 missionary families, six of whom are in Japan. Christ Bible Institute started the Joy of Japan Center for Church Planting and Discipleship in Nagoya, Japan. The name was chosen based upon the name of Jamison & Kathryne’s blog.
Ruth never knew that her lineage would produce the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Even in the worst circumstances, God never stops working. Even if you do not see it, he is working. What is he doing in your life? Your story matters.
Thank you Father, thank you Lord Jesus, thank you Holy Spirit for calling Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin to be used in this way to spread the glorious gospel.
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
—Cedrick Pals, Father of Jamison Pals