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A DAY IN THE LIFE — Ministry intern

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Melissa Christiansen, right, began her two-year-long ministry internship at the Marshalltown Salvation Army in September 2018. She job shadows Capt. Pam Kasten, left, who has headed the Salvation Army since June 2018.

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting various professionals in our community, highlighting the impact of their work. Have an idea for the series? Email sjordan@timesrepublican.com.

Each day Melissa Christiansen comes to work, she’s met with the opportunity to offer spiritual and material supports to the folks who walk through the doors of the Salvation Army, 107 W. State St.

Christiansen began her two-year-long ministry internship in Marshalltown in September 2018. She job shadows Capt. Pam Kasten, who has headed the Salvation Army since June 2018.

“It’s a joy to have Melissa on the team. She jumped right in,” Kasten said.

A native of Stanton, Neb., Christiansen wrestled with the decision of whether or not to answer the call to ministry.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ A native of Stanton, Neb., Christiansen had originally planned to become a teacher but decided to answer the call to ministry in the Salvation Army.

“Originally I was going to be a teacher since the time I was in fourth grade,” she said. “When I was in college, I went to a career fair, and there was a booth for Gene Eppley Camp, which is the Salvation Army camp for our area. I started working there and got connected. Full-time ministry was something I had always kind of felt called to and had ignored it, but after working at camp, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”

She spent several summers working as a camp counselor, overseeing children in grades 1-12. In the summer of 2017, she spent six weeks on a mission trip to the Eastern European country of Moldova through the Salvation Army. She participated in youth ministry and Vacation Bible School, finding the work the church does in this region of the world fascinating.

She holds a degree in elementary education with an early childhood endorsement from Wayne State College. Working in Marshalltown is her first internship experience.

“I will stay here for two years, then in August 2020 go to Chicago to seminary school for two years,” she said.

Christiansen said her time in Marshalltown has offered her some unique learning opportunities. The local Salvation Army headquarters sustained tornado damage and is still wrapping up repair work.

“Here, I really get to dive into the administrative side and the business side, and see all the aspects working together since I didn’t grow up in the Salvation Army,” she said. “I grew up Methodist, but our founder, William Booth, was a Methodist minster.”

When Kasten is away, Christiansen is put in charge. She and Kasten take turns leading Sunday worship service at 11 a.m.

“Right now, I’m really working on not so much writing a sermon and making it perfect, but getting comfortable at the pulpit. I’m an introvert. I can see I’m much more comfortable now with public speaking than when I came,” Christiansen said.

People who use the Salvation Army as a resource are undergoing a variety of life setbacks, including needing help with emergency lodging, making rent or utility payments, food and discounted home goods (found at the Thrift Store, 232 N. 13th St.). Activities for youth and adults offer a time for fellowship.

While Christiansen doesn’t operate Sal’s Cupboard, the organization’s food pantry, she does help out in it. Witnessing people struggle is one of the challenges of being in ministry.

“Seeing people and wanting so badly to help them in a specific way, but not being able to, is hard,” she said.

Christiansen enjoys planning and operating Kids Club, offered free to youngsters after school.

“It’s my favorite thing. It’s like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We work on getting badges, character building and offer a meal and play time,” she said.

Christiansen is part of the efforts in the Salvation Army starting a licensed childcare facility.

“We’ve been talking to DHS and CAPS and there is definitely a child care shortage here, so we really just want to fill that gap,” she said. “We had wanted to start this in the summer, but it has been pushed back to the fall as an after-school program.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching game shows and following the Kansas City Royals.

She said taking time out for herself helps her not get burned out by the demands of the job.

“For me, finding time to myself can be hard — and wanting to help everybody — but you can’t because we do have a budget and have to work within some constraints,” she said. “It’s really nice to see the clients that need food and are so grateful to get some. It makes you think this is why you do this job. We just want to give them dignity. We just want to be Jesus to these people who might not get that opportunity to encounter him elsewhere.”

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or

sjordan@timesrepublican.com