Tragedy is all around us.
What do we say and do to help people struck down through unimaginable disaster like the Las Vegas shootings or the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico? As Christians we respond with compassion and prayer, but inside we ask ‘what would we do in that kind of situation?’
Gordy and Nancy’s daughter Kathryne and son-in-law Jamison Pals had a heart for lost people, and sold everything they had to put the world decisively behind them, to go to a difficult mission field in Japan where less than 3% of the population know Christ. On the eve of their departure for Japan, on July 31, 2016, Jamison, Kathryne and their three children were tragically killed in a vehicle accident.
How to Weather Tragedy
Gordy and Nancy Engel shared with us their encounter with this unimaginable tragedy. It is impossible in a blog post to do justice to everything that Gordy and Nancy shared. Each person deals with tragedy and grief differently. Here are some key points on how they weathered the storm:
- Keep your mind on God’s truth, not what you see around you. This means knowing God’s truth as revealed in the Bible, and believing it. To trust God is to believe His Word. Faith and trust are closely related. To trust God is to have faith in Him, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). God has given His people the gift of faith which can help His people endure tragedy. God quickly revealed to Nancy and Gordy that this is not about tragedy — rather it was about victory in Christ.
- Make the right choices. We have a choice. Focus on God’s truth. Discipline yourself to be continually in God’s Word. Choose to set your mind on things above (Col. 3:2). Stay grounded in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).
- Focus on Jesus. Take note of what you are thinking about. Christ lives in us (Jn 14:20), so live in His presence, knowing that greater is He in us than the world (1 Jn 4:4). Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Focus on the redemptive nature of God’s truth. Words are powerful – are they positive or negative? Keep them positive and constructive.
- Know that what Satan means for evil, God uses for good. The enemy tried to stop the good work on which this family was about to embark, but, as we see below, they are now having a worldwide impact!
- Understand the resurrection through Christ which means we can envision loved ones worshiping and dancing in heaven. The best day of anyone’s life is the day they depart for heaven. We have the assurance that at that time, they are more alive than ever before!
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Where is God in Tragedy?
God was right there with them. This is how Gordy and Nancy experienced God:
- God comforts His people through His Word. Upon hearing of this tragic death, John 11:25-26 immediately came to Nancy’s mind: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” We have hope as we grieve. God gives peace to His people.
- God brings comfort through His people. The body of Christ overwhelmed the Engels with love and support.
- God comforts by equipping and enabling for mission. The Engels resolved to be used in this situation for God’s glory. God equipped them for the task. The indwelling Holy Spirit enabled them to speak and testify to God’s goodness.
- God comforts by enabling the comforting of others. Gordy’s life verse is 2 Cor 1:3-5. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
God’s Glory in the Face of Tragedy
Through it all, God shone His spotlight on what happened, in Gordy’s words, turning the incomprehensible into the unbelievable. Nancy and Gordy saw that this was not about tragedy, rather it was about victory in Christ. Just consider, for example, how God magnified the missionary impact of this family:
- 1500 people attended the funeral — which became a glorious celebration of the family, and testimony to God’s goodness. The funeral was live-streamed to 1600 more people.
- The Engels were interviewed by the media – Gordy and Nancy gave their testimony and spoke openly about their faith over the air waves.
- Katheryne and Jamison had written about their mission on their blog. Media exposure multiplied the impact of their writing, giving it a much wider impact.
- Gordy and Nancy had an opportunity to give their testimony at faith night after a TWINs game, and at the annual National Day of Prayer in Medina.
- They have shared at churches, men’s groups and and on the Village Schools of the Bible blog.
- The family’s story was told in ‘The Unexpected Journey’ on Facebook.
- The family’s story was translated into Japanese, which enabled sharing the message of the gospel to Japanese people on JoyofJapan.org.
- The Jamison and Katheryne Pals Family Foundation has been set up to support missionaries going to Japan.
Through the above efforts, hundreds and possibly thousands now hear the gospel around the world. The seeds born in their death are producing a great harvest! Jamison and Kathryne and family show us how we can all live lives that can have far-reaching impact for God’s glory long after we are gone.
Aren’t You Mad at God?
Periodically, Gordy and Nancy are asked how they are doing. Sometimes the question is “Aren’t you mad at God?” Their response is as follows:
- They are now closer to God than ever before. The Engels are closer to God through the strength He has given them to bear this tremendous loss and heartache. Jesus is the center of hope. They experience Him being there right beside them, and so they turn to Him. They know God is not done forming them yet. But they know that struggles strengthen them; and in them God reveals Himself so much that, as Nancy puts it, “I have joy!”
- The Engels are now closer to their children – they have learned from their children. God has blessed them because they have come to know their daughter better. They learned from their daughter’s journal and notes how she and her husband had impacted others for Christ, and they learned about their daughter’s meeting God, and her deepening identity as a child of the King.
- The Engels see what God is doing through this experience: spreading the Good News. And to them, that’s all that matters! Almost daily, they meet people and share victory in Christ instead of tragedy in loss. Because of Katheryne’s and Jamison’s passion for the lost, they are inspired to inspire others!
“Give thanks in all circumstances”, they advise, “by God’s strength. Always bring it back to Jesus and the hope that is available through Him.”
What happened to the driver who caused the accident?
He has been forgiven.
He watched a livestream of the funeral, but he is not a believer yet. Gordy and Nancy have spoken with the driver’s parents. The driver and his parents deserve our prayers.
The Need for Vigilance
The Engels caution that the devil is always trying to thwart Christ’s victory. “Resist the devil, and he will flee,” they advise, quoting James 4:7. “Say it out loud. Be on your guard. You need others to come around you. Bear one another’s burdens. Have your best friend to pray for you. And know that in tragedy, God stands right beside you.”
God is Always Present, and Always at Work
God is always with His people, enabling them, and working out His purposes in all circumstances.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:26-30).
Inspired to Inspire
This incident has brought Gordy and Nancy to a place where they are, as Gordy describes it, “Inspired to Inspire.” They have been changed forever by their passion for the lost, and so their prayer is that we who hear this story will be inspired as well. The following quote from Bill Hybels in “Becoming a Contagious Christian” describes Kathryne and Jamison:
Those who choose to follow Christ will eventually come to the conclusion that there’s nothing more important than reaching people. And when they do, their values will change forever. They’ll be seized by the realization that every other earthly activity pales in comparison with helping an individual man, woman, boy or girl, come into the saving, liberating, life-changing relationship with the God of the universe…They’ll become consumed with how they can become more effective fishers of men.
Says Gordy: God amazingly calls us into His salvation process.
- Prayer is our connector
- Love is the common denominator
- Passion is the igniter
- The Holy Spirit is the converter
Jamison and Kathryne knew what they were getting into. The Cross was before them. There was no turning back. In his last sermon, Jamison preached from Romans:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom.10:9-10; 13-15).
Jamison and Kathryne longed to make God’s name famous. God is honoring that longing today as thousands hear their story in America, Japan and around the world; and as hundreds of missionaries are inspired to pursue the mission field in Japan and beyond.
Jamison and Kathryne have the blessing that we should all long for: to live a life in such a way that it has an impact for God’s glory long after we are gone. Their legacy is their intentional, dedicated passion for the lost.
This movement of God is only just beginning…
The gospel changes everything! See Gordy and Nancy’s video testimony here.
(Those interested may wish to contribute to the Jamison and Katheryne Pals Family Foundation to support missionaries going to Japan.)
Dear Jesus, we are so deeply saddened by intrusive evil and the harsh brokenness of our world. But in the day of devastation, we choose to remember You, Jesus. Otherwise we would be twisted by rage, or succumb to despair. We delight in you, for you make all things new, and one day there will be no more death or tears, brokenness or heartache; and no more evil. Thank you for inviting us to join you in your redemptive mission for the world, sowing the gospel, anticipating the harvest, and delighting in the celebration to follow! Come Lord Jesus. We eagerly await your return. Until that day, grant us the grace and peace and strength we need for your mission this day. We pray these things in your name, with great joy and certain hope! Amen.
(This article was written by Warwick Alcock, Director of Strategic Operations at Village Schools, with grateful appreciation for Gordy and Nancy Engel’s input and help.)