What if several members of your family were killed by the negligence of another driver? Would your faith in God allow you to forgive the driver and even ask the judge to consider the utmost leniency?
Let's be honest. It might take a bit of soul-searching for many of us to turn the other cheek as Jesus instructed all Christians to do. But that's exactly what two families did last week in a Minnesota courtroom after praying about it.
Moved by their faith and forgiveness, the judge granted the families' request.
"Everybody makes mistakes, and he didn't start out that day planning on killing our children," Rick Pals told KARE-TV.
Pals son's entire family were killed in a crash on Interstate 80 near Brule on July 31, 2016. His son Jamison, 29, was driving with his wife, Kathryne, 29, and children Ezra, 3; Violet, 23 months; and Calvin, 2 months. The family was on their way from Minnesota to Colorado to train for a missionary trip to Japan. Jamison slowed down for a construction zone on the highway and a truck driven by 55-year-old Tony Weekly slammed into them, starting a fire.
Also killed in the crash was Terry Sullivan, 56, of Denver, who was in another vehicle.
During the sentencing hearing, Pals read from an impact statement saying, "I struggle to find the words to describe the grief that gripped me."
He told the court he didn't struggle with anger, or what to say to Weekly during his sentencing.
"I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?" Pals read from his statement, according to The Star Tribune. "I am not in the position of authority to extend you mercy, Tony, however, I can request mercy for you."
Pals wasn't the only family member to ask the judge for leniency.
"We ask the court to give the maximum allowable grace," said Gordy Engel, Kathryne Pals' father, reading a statement written by him and his wife Nancy.
"We've had people say, 'Well you have to be super Christians.' No, we're just plain people, but we have a super God that just lifted us up," Gordy said.
"That is how we can walk this path," Nancy said. "It's because we have hope."
The judge listened to the families. Despite the prosecutor's strong recommendation that Weeks spend the next five to nine years behind bars of a state prison for his carelessness that cost six lives, the judge handed down an unusually short sentence for Weekly – 180 days in jail followed by two years of probation.
After the sentencing, the Pals both hugged Weekly and his wife. The couple says he has expressed remorse for the crime and he told them he prays every day for the families he has affected.
"I was kind of worried," Kathy Pals told the television station. "I thought, maybe when I see him I won't be so forgiving, but it was just the opposite. It instilled in me more of a desire to be at peace with him."
"I'll leave you with those three words: Forgiveness, Mercy, Hope," Rick said.
Pals also told the president of WorldVenture, the ministry that Jamison and Kathryne were working with, "Though we are devastated, we are praying that God would bring many to Christ through their testimonies and this tragedy."
In a Facebook post on Sunday, evangelist Franklin Graham wrote about the amazing power of forgiveness and included a photo of Jamison and Kathryne Pals and their children.
"Forgiveness is a powerful thing. It's life-changing," Graham wrote. "Can you imagine forgiving the driver who was convicted of taking the lives of your 29-year-old son, his wife, and their three small children, plus another person, in a terrible car crash? Well, that's what these parents did. Jamison and Kathryne Pals' parents shared some powerful words at the recent sentencing hearing for the truck driver who was responsible for the six tragic deaths. Jamison's father said, 'I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?' Kathryne's father said, 'We ask the court to give the maximum allowable grace.' "
"I'm sure this had an enormous impact on the truck driver's life. These parents demonstrated the love of God when they gave the gift of forgiveness. God offers everyone the eternal gift of His forgiveness—no matter what we have done—if we confess our sins and put our faith and trust in His Son Jesus Christ," he continued.
"The Bible instructs us to 'Forgive as the Lord forgave you' (Colossians 3:13). Is there someone you need to forgive today?" the evangelist added.
The Pals have set up a foundation to honor Jamison and Kathryne Pals and to continue their mission work in Japan. The website has a photo of the couple and their children with the words "Give for joy."
World Venture has also set up a memorial fund in honor of the couple. Donations will be used to help WorldVenture missionaries depart sooner to their respective assignments.