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Christenson builds on strong faith

MOLINE -- Ken Christenson of Moline not only has strong religious beliefs. He lives them day in and day out.

It seems appropriate that Jesus was a carpenter by trade, for Mr. Christenson, a soft-spoken 57-year-old homebuilder, aspires to Christ's example.

``You can't go to church on Sunday and hear you should treat people the way you want to be treated, and once you're away, make as much money and it doesn't matter how I make it,'' he said recently at his secluded, spacious home in the Old Oakwood area.

Mr. Christenson, who runs Christenson Homes, has donated his time for years to build homes for Habitat for Humanity, repair homes for Hearts and Hammers, build an addition on Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church and renovate an old convenience store in Moline into the new Christian Friendliness Youth Center.

``Ken is very motivated by his faith. What I see in Ken, he tries every day to carry his Christian faith into the community,'' said the Rev. Gay Crede of Bethel Wesley, Mr. Christenson's church.

``He has an incredible amount of energy. I know it's given by God, but I don't know how he pours it out,'' she said. The church's 8,000-square-foot activity center was completed in 1995, with Mr. Christenson as general contractor.

``Because of his talents and his willingness to share that so generously, he really saw what it could do for the community,'' Rev. Crede said.

``The things he is talented in, he fully makes those available to everybody in any form. That is rather unusual,'' she said. ``For Ken, it's, `Of course.' He's not looking for glory, for recognition.''

``He doesn't talk about it. He just does it,'' Moline property manager Bob Groene said. ``I can't praise him enough. He sets such a good example. He's in a zone with God. I'm serious. He will stand and profess to you his belief in God. There aren't many like him.''

``He says, `If something's worthwhile, I'm going to give my time to it,'|'' Christian Friendliness executive director Mark Drake said. Mr. Christenson, who was asked a few years ago to join the CF board, oversaw work on the youth center, which opened last summer.

``He's been a real blessing to Christian Friendliness. He's an unsung hero,'' Mr. Drake said. ``A lot of people say they're Christians, they love God. But he puts it into action. He's real humble.

``He's so casual about himself, you don't realize how bright he is, how intelligent he is,'' he added.

Mr. Christenson's grandfather founded the construction company in 1939, and Ken started working for it when he was 12. He took over the business in 1974, and with his five-member crew, he designs and builds a half-dozen homes a year.

He said he got his strong religious beliefs from his mother.

``She wanted us to treat other people the way you would like to be treated, just like Jesus said,'' Mr. Christenson said. In high school, he said he considered becoming a minister.

``But I'm not real academic when it comes to books, and I never really felt the call to be a preacher, a leader of a congregation,'' he said.

``I have always felt that God has a special place in my life. I don't think I have the gift of sensitivity of other people, an appreciation of where people are and what I might say to them. I'm much better with a hammer than I am with words.''

``People see you don't have to be a theologian to be living your faith in ways that really impact people's lives,'' Rev. Crede said. ``He is doing his theology every time he puts two boards together.''

Mr. Christenson -- who is married and has four children and six grandchildren -- is very active in his church, teaching Sunday school, leading youth work trips and serving as chairman of the church board.

``He's definitely a role model for them,'' Rev. Crede said of the church's young people. ``We need more people who see this as a way of life.''

Mr. Christenson has chaired Habitat's building committee since the group's inception in 1993. He was a ``blitz boss'' for Habitat's one-week build of a home on 4th Avenue in Moline -- a project done primarily by women volunteers.

At the home's dedication last August, Mr. Christenson said, ``This is in grateful response for the gifts God has given me.''

He has worked on seven of Habitat's 10 Quad-Cities projects. In 1993, Mr. Christenson joined the Habitat chapter to rebuild homes in Florida that were ravaged by Hurricane Andrew. He returned on his own the following year.

``You have to get an appreciation for the power of nature and God,'' he said. ``You could not have believed what wind could do -- concrete and steel buildings twisted and broken, block after block of homes with roofs gone, walls gone. You can't imagine the devastation.''

While Hearts and Hammers is a secular organization, many Christians are involved with it, Mr. Christenson said. The group does volunteer repair work for people who cannot do it themselves.

``Most Christians do service projects without realizing that Christ asked you to be his servant,'' Mr. Christenson said. He said he did the church addition ``because that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that for your church.''

Mr. Christenson also is involved with the Promise Keepers, the nationwide Christian men's movement, which provides similar motivation as his weekly ``Walk to Emmaus'' group in the Quad-Cities.

The ``Emmaus'' group, named for a town near Jerusalem, ``helps open men's eyes to who Christ is and what he asks of you,'' he said. The men, who meet Tuesdays at 6:15 a.m., pray for each other and tell what service each has done in the past week for Christ.

The group holds spiritual retreats at Camp Abe Lincoln in Buffalo, Iowa, Mr. Christenson said.

The developer of Deer View, Twin Oaks, Old Oakwood and Walton Hills in Moline, Mr. Christenson also seeks to make his customers happy. He usually custom-designs most of his homes.

``Customer satisfaction is the best part of it,'' he said.

-- By Jonathan Turner (February 2, 1998)

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