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July 30, 2021

For the Joy of Japan: Remembering the Pals Family, Part 2

Brad Nelson

Pastor for Global Outreach

July 31, 2021 marks the five-year anniversary of the homegoing of the Jamison & Kathryne Pals family. The following is a reflection on Jamison & Kathryne’s heart for the nations by Brad Gordon, a friend of Jamison Pals & his family.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. … I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—John 14:1–3, 6 

Five years ago, a family of five (Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin Pals) was traveling to their final training session in Colorado before embarking on a full-time transition to missions work in Japan. They had been praying and preparing for this opportunity for more than five years, and they were finally ready. Years of thinking, praying, preparing, weeping, struggling, doubting, and rejoicing were coming to this moment—but it wasn’t the transition we all expected. On July 31, 2016, the Pals’ vehicle was rear-ended by a semi, tragically taking the lives of all five members of the family.

This devastating accident sent many of us reeling with doubts about where our hope is rooted and where to find joy. Yet though the Pals family’s plans to reach the people of Japan were tragically cut short, they made it clear why they gave up their earthly ties to serve the people of Japan: a vision of joy that they refused to keep to themselves. This vision is equally relevant for anyone whose joy fluctuates and wanes.

People often asked Jamison & Kathryne, “Why Japan?” They provided many reasons: We are commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19–20); Japan has some of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the world; it is the largest unreached nation; Jesus is Lord of all and worthy of the worship of all; and the Jamison & Kathryne’s gifts and experiences were well-suited for Japan. Most of all, however, they felt a joy for Christ that they knew the people of Japan needed. (Read more at

For Jamison & Kathryne, serving the nations was about more than pursuing humanitarian activities. Humanitarian efforts are not distinctly Christian, but the people of Japan and so many others around the world need hope. With some of the highest depression and suicide rates in the world, Japan needs people to show them a love they have never experienced before. Being the largest unreached nation in the world, they need someone to tell them about the love of Christ.

Jamison & Kathryne pursued to the end what Paul desired in Philippians 1:21–26, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

Based on John 14, Jamison wrote the following in his blog, and he dwelled on it daily. It’s a message for those in need of hope and joy:

Our hearts are not troubled, because our Father has a house with room for us. Jesus Christ is there now, preparing a place. He is coming again. When he does, he will take us with him, to be with him forever. Then we will put our roots down deeply and not take them up again. This is a home we can start sinking our roots into now—we have a home that comes with us wherever we go, and we never have to leave. His name is Jesus Christ.

What distinguishes Christian missions from humanitarian effort? Jesus Christ. What does that mean? We should have an overflowing joy about the story of Christ and what he did on the cross. That joy should find hope in what the Kingdom will look like for eternity, and it should be permeating into our daily lives—overflowing into how we live. Our joy for Christ should become our joy for living, joy for our neighbors, joy for eating good food, joy for conversations with coworkers, joy for serving, joy for everything we do. This was the mindset Jamison & Kathryne had when they talked about the Joy of Japan. They had a vision of their own joy—built from seeing, feeling, and cherishing Christ—overflowing into their relationships with other people they met while in Japan. But they also envisioned people in Japan finding this joy themselves and establishing communities where they could cherish that joy together.

Brad Gordon, a friend of Jamison Pals & his family