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Family of 5 on way to missionary training killed in crash

Jamison Pals had been driven for a decade to do overseas mission work.

His college sweetheart, Kathryne Engel, always dreamed of being a mom.

Pals put his mission goals aside to marry Engel and start a family, but in the past few years the pair concluded they both could live their dreams in Japan.

They were on their way to Colorado on Sunday for a final, monthlong missionary training session when their dreams were cut short. They and their three children died on Interstate 80 in Nebraska when a semitrailer truck rear-ended their car in a construction zone, pushing it into three other passenger vehicles.

Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, died along with children, 3-year-old Ezra; Violet, who was almost 2; and 2-month-old Calvin.

The couple had been living with Kathryne's parents, Gordy and Nancy Engel in Wayzata, as they prepared to depart for Japan this fall. Before that they lived in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis and, before that, in South St. Paul. Jamison was raised in Lino Lakes.

Kathryne was working as a preschool teacher early in their marriage, but Jamison had decided in his late teens that he wanted to do missionary work in Japan. As Jamison explained in his blog, Japan is "most unreached" by the Christian message of all the countries in the world.

His parents, Rick and Kathrynn Pals of Hugo, saw the young couple last weekend as they prepared to depart to Colorado.

"They were ecstatic," Rick Pals said. "Faith is what motivated them to become missionaries in Japan."

Jamison Pals most recently worked as a grant writer at Eagan-based Feed My Starving Children, a relief organization, for just over three years.

He left the nonprofit in April to prepare for the birth of Calvin and their upcoming missionary work in Asia through the organization WorldVenture. The family had been on the way to Littleton, Colo., when they were struck by the semitrailer just before 11:30 a.m. about four miles west of Brule, Neb.

The driver of the semitrailer, Tony A. Weekly, 53, of Baker, Fla., was arrested on suspicion of motor vehicle homicide following the collision, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Dennis Vogan, spokesman for WorldVenture, said the family was on their way to Colorado for their final training in advance of leaving for the Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan.

"They were going to be there three to four years," Vogan said. "They had done short-term work in college. They also did work with their church locally (in Minneapolis)."

Vogan called the crash "devastating ... we talked to both of their families and they are just crushed."

Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis issued a statement saying the family would be sorely missed.

"Some look at death and see a tragedy -- the tragic end of all their hopes and dreams," the statement said. "As Christians, we look death in the face and see ultimate victory."

Jamison and Kathryne Pals felt a need to minister to non-Christians in Japan and Jamison had been preparing Feed My Starving Children for his departure for about two years, said Andy Carr, a spokesman for the organization.

"Selfless is an understatement in the way they lived their lives," Carr said. "This missionary work was something that (Jamison) and Kathryne took very seriously. ... They felt very compelled and called to go and share who Christ is to the Japanese people."

Carr said he asked Jamison Pals to speak to the marketing and development team before he left Feed My Starving Children. Pals told them to have a sense of urgency about their relationship with Jesus.

"It's for a time such as this," Carr said.

Feed My Starving Children issued the following statement on Monday: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of the Pals family. We are in shock but comforted to know this amazing family is now with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whom our hope is found. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those whose lives were touched by Jamison, Kathryne and their sweet children."

The Pals chronicled their preparations for Japan and Calvin’s birth and first few weeks on their blog, “For the Joy of Japan,” at joyofjapan.org.

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