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3 min read

Following His Lead: Kristen

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” I John 4:4b

As assistant manager at the downtown UGM Thrift Store, Kristen Nitschke works in a position of authority. She knows God has called her to leadership, and the above Scripture, her life verse, reminds her daily of why she can succeed: “He leads, I don't lead.”You see, being a leader is relatively new for Kristen.  

She grew up feeling powerless. Touring on the road with parents and their rock band and later being a chronic runaway in and out of juvenile hall, she had no concept of stability or belonging. She sought to escape from this feeling by using marijuana, alcohol and other drugs, and the state’s answer was to put her into treatment programs. By the time she was 25 she had “successfully” completed 10 of them. But, clearly, something wasn’t working.

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“By then I could have run a drug and alcohol center,” she says. “I knew the tools, but I would never use them.”

Drug use cost her custody of two children from different husbands. In 2009, the cycles of addiction and relapse led to standing on a street corner, pregnant, with a sign asking for money for rent – “It was really for drugs” – and being picked up by a pervert offering money for a sexual favor. Something awoke in her at that moment, and she knew she didn’t want to live that way any longer. In desperation, she made contact with UGM Women’s Recovery at Anna Ogden Hall.

At Anna Ogden Hall, Kristen felt the true, unconditional love of Jesus Christ for the first time. “The more I told them about me I figured they would kick me out – ‘the more they know about me they're going to hate me’  the more they loved on me. I was like, ‘This is what Jesus feels like.’”

Technical issues with Child Protective Services blocked her from completing the program at UGM, but a volunteer who taught classes there connected Kristen to Shepherd’s Door, a similar program through the Portland Rescue Mission. There, she gave birth to MercyGrace, who is now 6 and whose name serves as a reminder of the difference between God-dependent recovery and those 10 other treatment programs she completed.

Since coming back to work at UGM, first as an intern at Anna Ogden Hall and then at the Crisis Shelter for Women and Children and now the Thrift Store, Kristen has never looked back. She’s been learning about every aspect of the ministry and cherishes a “big, huge dream” that there could be a place like UGM in Ferry or Stevens County, where she grew up. Along the way, she met her husband, Nickolas. Their son, Exavier, is 3, and her oldest daughter, Dylynn, 17, recently returned to live with them.

Kristen admits the paycheck at the Thrift Store isn’t quite what a for-profit retail store might offer, but the other benefits are more important to her: an uplifting environment with worship music playing, plus the shared purpose of the stores financing UGM ministries through supporters’ donated goods. She appreciates that she can encourage and pray for her co-workers – even customers – throughout the day.

“That’s my favorite part of working here,” she says. “Telling them, ‘God really cares about you, he loves you.’ To be able to do that, there's just no price on that.”  

Kristen’s history has also become a strength managing others who have a similar background or are in recovery. She works with teens from juvenile hall who come to the store to complete their mandated community service hours, and she remembers how she felt during that part of her life.

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“I always thought I was being judged. If somebody was in an assistant manager position, they had this title of some sort, it meant they were goody two-shoes and they didn't have a background. … I would tend to be really closed off.”

So she’s very open about her past and relishes the opportunity to treat people with love and respect – people who may not be used to kind, considerate treatment.

And Kristen’s life verse reminds her that God’s strength in her enables her to be the leader He’s called her to be.

“I've always felt really weak, powerless. And I've learned to turn that into something else. … I'm intimidated by the world, and every day I have to spend time with the Lord and remember His words and promises, and He covers me.”

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