“Jim” James Merrill Gayle, my father

This morning I told my wife what I still hear of a certain voice. Some of it is dying out, but much is very much alive.

His very last words were “Thank you for coming.” Those are the words he spoke to two widows, his Vietnamese language teacher and her sister, who had come to visit him and his wife in their home. The two were there with him and his wife in their bedroom, standing next to his hospital bed. They stood together, his best friend and these other two good friends, the three of them soon to share a bond of grief. I was there too, standing, listening. The next day, more of his family called on the phone and even more came to be there to stand by him. And that day he passed on from this life.

The day he passed on was exactly half a century to the day when he stood by her hospital bed, when she gave birth to me. I first heard his voice fifty years ago, on that day when my mother brought me into the world. He spoke some of the first words I ever heard. And I heard him speak his last words; these are the words I remember best. “Thank you for coming.” His name is Jim Gayle, and he’s my father.

If you’ve visited this blog before, then you may recall that my father’s words inspired it. “Mind your language,” he told me. And so I tried. Now I want to remember some of the things he said, while his weak voice is still so strong in my ears. His voice grew weak as he battled cancer for 20 months. He called his battle his “climb” up the mountain. The irony of his voice, and his body, growing weak is that his spirit grew so very strong.

Many days recently, he recounted to many who listened, how God would wake him in the night to get him thinking about his relationships. He had been a missionary much of his life, but as he faced disease and death, his mission was to focus on loving people in a different way. He had been the “head” of his household, the “head” of his wife his “helpmeet.” But after getting sick, he started treating her as his best friend, and he called her his “soul mate,” and he taught her to take the lead in driving their car, in controlling their finances, in doing the yard work, and in so many different ways that he had before taken charge with. He treated her as an equal, but he told everyone who would listen that she was “God’s greatest gift.” He told her, often, openly, how much he loved her. He made her laugh with gentle humor. He touched her. He worked to stay alive, up through their 54th anniversary, and ten days beyond it. And he reconciled with his children, telling them he’d failed, that he had loved unevenly, selectively, and he made this right. He told us how much he loved us, what he saw as our strengths, encouraging us by saying with detailed specificity how proud we made him. He always asked about every family member when one of us called him, and we called every day we weren’t there with him. He recalled how he’d had resentments and had had unsolicited advice for those less fortunate, but how he had more recently heard God saying how much He cared for these, and my father then started caring for these same ones, with a profound compassion. He developed an intense and authentic curiosity about and interest in others like I’ve never seen in anybody else in my fifty some years.

This post is not a shrine to my father, however appropriate such a thing might be for some in the cultures I grew up in.

this post is not a shrine or altar

Rather, I’m wanting to remember how my father sounded. It’s harder for me, and perhaps that’s okay, to hear his harsh tones. Many days, fear, shame, and guilt were my response to his strong voice. I hear, and want to hear more often what I recall of, his weak raspy voice that was so strong with his interest in others, so accepting, but so valuing and validating. So, let me leave this post to my father’s voice. First, you can look at some of my favorite pictures of him. Then, you’ll be able to see the beautiful service my mother planned to remember him with so many others (I think around 700 to 800 came). Finally, you’ll hear his actual voice, both spoken and in writing (in an interview and then in his Caringbridge blog).

Here's Jim Gayle with cancer but undiagnosed, visiting a new friend in Viet Nam who is diagnosed with AIDS.

Here is Jim Gayle and his wife with a group of friends in Viet Nam. He gave this family a new motorcycle, some 39 years ago. The man sent a letter read at Jim's memorial service just days ago, publicly thanking Jim and his wife for a private gift of money with which he had purchased a brand new motorcycle.

Jim Gayle's grandson, my son, drew this picture of him at the top of the summit. On the left side are Jim's last words spoken: "Thank you for coming."

Jim Gayle's daughter-in-law, my wife, wrote the obituary on the left side of this memorial service program. Jim's sweetheart, my mother, planned the service and invited those noted on the right hand side to participate in his memorial.


Jim Gayle is interviewed in the following video. Here are two links where you can find the interview and hear one of his friends talking about what she learned from him:



Here are some handwritten notes from my dad, likely, written before I was born in a book I found in his study not many days ago (“Who am I? People or position, power, etc.”) :


In his last 20 months, my father (with my mother) kept an online journal as he “climbed the mountain,” battling cancer. These are the last words he wrote. You can find the journal here:



6 responses to ““Jim” James Merrill Gayle, my father

  1. A lovely tribute. You surprised me with your own age!

  2. Thank you for writing.

  3. What a beautiful tribute and deeply touching story, of redemption, hope, reconciliation. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and also linking to your mom’s and dad’s caringbridge blog. It was like walking on holy ground, reading their story. I especially appreciated the part where he said something about it not being that he didn’t believe in the delights of things “eye has not seen”, but rather that this world was so familiar and he was with the people he loved. We watched Les Miserables last night, at a local high school, and the final song, where Valjean is singing to his daughter, as he dies, stirred me more than anything else. Your dad’s blog and your reflections on him here stir some of those same deep feelings.

  4. Bastanta Sembiring

    thanks before for Pst.Jim and his wife…
    “it’s about 30 years ago, my age is maybe 5th or 6th. but i still remember when Pst Jim and His wife serve in Baptist church at Simpang namo tating and tanah merah-northsumatera-indonesia about 1993-1998 that my father was baptized by him. After that my father bring us to be christian religion. before my father and families receive all religion ( moslem,traditional belief,etc).

    last night, after i tought “singging/vocal technic” for youth in Baptist church “Tanah Merah”.
    i was picked up by my oldest Brother( now he serve that church as one of financial team). in the car, i ask him : “do you still remember pendeta=pst Jim Gayle, i Hear from the mother that he had come to simpang namotating about last year. Do you know his FB or email?”

    My brother answered : Yes, he had came here about 2 year ago in 2010, but didn’t you know that he was pass away about a years ago.

    i just say : ohhh….ohhh

    today, i am in my office medan i try to find jim gayle stuff
    thanks…finally i found it

    , i just want to “say thank u for Pst.Jim and Mrs.gayle”

    “thank u for coming ” to serve baptist church in namotating and tanah merah

    “thank u for coming ” to serve my father ,baptist him and bring him new life, bring him love truth and holy bible.that so beautiful when i see him allways devotion …;)i and my father ever stay in the durian field, and every morning he make devotion there. that is example for me…until now i allways read and learn bible.

    “thank u for ever coming” to our home, eat durian fruit fla with rice. and there with your family.pst.Jim take our Photo, my mother is still save the photo. because about 5 month ago i see it the drawer.

    “thank u for coming” to indonesia, so..so thank u because many families was transformed by your ministry in binjai city-tanah merah -simpang namotating-namu sira-sira around.

    ” oh..yeah thank u for coming ” and ever make “sekolah injil liburan” like bible school for children in vocation time, Pst,jim …i am realy enjoy that moment u and team teach us about Jesus and we play game and some creativities.
    oh yeah specially for mrs.gayle thank for cakes and beverage, it was delicious ha,,,ha,,ha,, that was about 1985,the cake was dificult to find in the village in that age.

    and thank u for u sister…make this blog, although it was late to thank u for pst.Jim…but i am really want to say thank u for your families.

    Thank u for coming to bring Jesus for People

    warm Regard,God Bless All Pst.Jim Gayle Families

    Bastanta Sembiring

  5. Bastanta Sembiring

    sorry i mean pst .jim serve tanah merah and namotating in 1983-1988…yeah Pst .Jim as founder the baptist church tanah merah , start as home church in nomo tembis and become real church in 1889.

    sorry …

  6. Thank you for sharing your heart and your family with us. We have been greatly blessed! Loibeth King

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