Saturday, August 6, 2016

Remembering the Pals

Over three years ago, we sensed that God was inviting our family to move halfway around the world from the USA to Thailand for the big picture vision of sharing the hope we have in Christ with Thai people and for the more particular vision of working with a nonprofit that restores women coming out of prostitution. In our social network in Southern California, we didn't know any young families doing anything like this.

Enter: the Pals

Last summer, our family attended a two-week training in Colorado with our missions organization, WorldVenture. I remember we were running late on the first day of the training, so we slipped into the back of the room and sat down at the first table we saw next to another couple that looked about our age. We introduced ourselves, found out that they were Jamison and Kathryne Pals, they were indeed our age, they had two kids our kids' age, and they were headed to Japan.

We were thrilled to meet another young family who shared our passion. (Though, after getting to know Jamison, I must say, his passion far exceeded ours!) We instantly clicked. We sat with the Pals through all the training sessions, hearing each other's vision for moving to Japan and Thailand, swapping parenting stories and advice, and praying for each other.

By the end of the two weeks, the quality of their character, the gentleness and patience of their parenting, and the passion they had for Japanese people to find joy in Jesus deeply impressed us. We felt close to them and hoped to keep up with them over the years. I remember feeling giddy when we found out that they felt similarly about us. We said goodbye and went back to our homes in Minnesota and California.

Over the past year, Kathryne and I have kept up a sweet friendship thanks to a few Skype/phone calls and numerous emails. I remember when we moved to Thailand last February, I had very little margin and my kids were struggling quite a bit with the adjustment. Kathryne would always remind me to rely on God for strength hour by hour. I remember one time a couple of months ago when things were particularly hard, rather than reminding me to rely on God every hour, she told me to rely on him for strength each minute! I believe this was the key to her gentle, patient parenting -- she constantly relied on God for strength.

Last fall, Kathryne found out that she had a large cyst growing in her lower abdomen. At the same appointment, she also found out that she was pregnant. As I prayed for God to protect Kathryne and her baby, I marveled at how a tumor and a baby could grow right next to each other, vying for the same space. For me, it became a parable of life: evil and death so often share the same space with joy and life. The suffering and brokenness of this world so often intertwine and overlap with the great joys of life.

The surgeons successfully removed the tumor and six months later, baby Calvin was born. The parable continued: Yes, one day all evil and death in the world will be removed and Life will be fully born.

On Monday evening here in Bangkok, Michael and I saw Jamison's mom's Facebook post: "Dear friends, our hearts break as we let you know that our son, Jamison, his wife Kathryne, Ezra age 3, Violet almost 2, and baby Calvin, just 2 months old were all killed in a car crash yesterday (July 31). They were travelling to their final month of training before going to Japan as missionaries. They were stopped at a construction site when a semi rear ended, rode over them, and consumed their van in fire. They are now in the presence of our Lord. Job 1:21"

In my life, I have never been slammed with so much shock and grief at once. The evil, death, suffering, and brokenness of this world was at hand; it had taken five people that we loved; and the pain cut so deep. And I constantly remember that the loss we've experienced this week is just a fraction of the loss that their parents, siblings, grandparents, and closest friends are feeling.

And yet, even now, next to this malignant tumor of grief and death I see joy and life starting to form.

Numerous news stations and newspapers have sent the story of their love for Christ and their hearts for Japan far and wide. Some people have expressed the desire to go to Japan in their place. Jamison and Kathryne's parents are saying "no" to bitterness and are extending forgiveness to the truck driver. Jamison's wise, eloquent words on his blog, Joy of Japan, are being read by thousands upon thousands of people.
** 8/7 update - Their story has easily stretched to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions. People.comJohn Piper's funeral prayer **

The sorrow of losing this precious family is still so fresh. We were looking forward to years of friendship and co-laboring in Asia. Yet there are inklings of the joy and life that is to come. I am reminded once again that, just as the doctors extracted that deadly tumor allowing Calvin to grow and be born, one day, God will remove all brokenness, suffering, evil, and death in this world and a joyful, life-filled new heaven and new earth will be born. And this time, nothing will ever take it away.

Someday, we will all be reunited, and we will share and hear stories of how God worked this tragedy out for unimaginable good. I cry and grieve because the death of loved ones hurts, and yet I cling to these promises with great hope and expectation -- someday death will be swallowed up in victory!

Jamison's blog:
My favorite post on his blog was when Kathryne wrote: click here.

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