In an act of Christian mercy and grace, a Minnesota family and congregation extended forgiveness to the drunk driver who killed 69-year-old Pastor Verlyn Strenge last year.
“We forgive you,” Jayme Nelson, Strenge’s daughter, told David Nelson during a Nov. 14 hearing. “As hard as it was at first, we want you to know that we have been praying for you for the past year because we know your life has been impacted by the biggest mistake of your life.”
Nelson, 58, was driving his pickup truck at nearly 70 mph in a 30 mph zone on Highway 92 when he rear-ended Strenge’s Jeep on Nov. 10, 2020. Nelson’s blood alcohol level was 0.267—more than three times the legal limit.
“In the final moments, before he struck the vehicle, his foot was jammed onto the accelerator,” Clearwater County Prosecutor Katy Lorsbach said. “The black box in the vehicle showed from the time he entered the intersection to the time his truck was disabled, he did not take his foot off the gas.”
Strenge’s wife, Merry, was left in critical condition. Strenge eventually passed away from his injuries on Dec. 6. 2020, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota.
Nelson has been sentenced to three years in state prison for vehicular homicide.
According to his obituary, Strenge was devoted to God’s Word, reading through the Bible “at least six times a year” and committing many verses to memory.
“His life goal was to share the love of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone,” his family wrote.
Rick Moore, a member of First Baptist Church in Clearbrook, where Strenge pastored for nearly 25 years, also offered forgiveness on behalf of the church congregation.
“We have been forgiven so much,” he said to Nelson. “How could we not forgive you?”
Later, Strenge’s family embraced Nelson, urging him to forgive himself and letting him know that they will continue to pray for him and his family.
Judge Eric Schieferdecker said the act of forgiveness was something he had never seen before, and Lorsbach was said she was moved to tears.
The day of the crash was the two-year anniversary of the death of Nelson’s wife, but Nelson’s attorney expressed that his client didn’t use that as an excuse.
“I very much appreciate the forgiveness aspect of what they brought up,” Nelson told the court. “I decided today I was not going to ask for it.”
Lakeland PBS called the courtroom events a “true continuance of Pastor Verlyn’s last sermon—which was about forgiveness.”
Above: The widow of Pastor Verlyn Strenge hugs David Nelson, telling him she forgives him and will pray for him and his family.
Photo: Matt Henson/WDAY-TV