By Kurt J. Kolka

  GAYLORD — Nick Kreitner was born in Gaylord, but spent his early years growing up in Houston, Texas. To many onlookers, his situation must have seemed hopeless back then. His parents and other close relatives had all spent time in either jail or prison. Nick’s own experiences were not very hopeful either.

  “My first memories are in Houston. Growing up we didn’t live in the worst areas, but we did not live in a good area. We were constantly being evicted from apartments. We didn’t have much food to eat.”

  Nick remembers being physically abused, sexually abused [by other family members and a babysitter], verbally abused from the time he was four until his early teens. His mom would disappear for days at a time. His father didn’t know where she was because he was into drugs. Although, Nick notes, they are now different people, having cleaned up their act. Still, that foundation was laid.

  The one thing his dad taught him back then was to fight. That is how his dad learned to handle difficult situations. His dad had never learned to communicate well. His answer was to fight. His father had been the same way to him as he was to Nick.

  “I remember breaking into my first house when I was six years old. I hung around with these three friends. Two of them were older, maybe ten. I remember one night, the two of them grabbed the other kid and grabbed a metal bar. They told me to hit him and if I didn’t they were going to beat me up. I swung that bar, cracked that kid as hard as I could and took off running. Whatever became of that, I don’t know.”

The family moved back to Gaylord that same year. 

  “A lot of the physical abuse and sexual abuse. A lot of people think it’s just women, but sexual abuse happens to boys and girls. Even young adult men. If you were sexually abused as a child, it eschews your perception of any kind of sexual relationship, whether its consensual or not. You tend to be taken advantage of.”

  About the age of nine, while his family was living in Arbutus Beach, a new family moved into the neighborhood, Bill and Jennifer  VanRyckeghem. They took an interest in Nick

 Bill taught Nick about carpentry, a work ethic and how to do homework.

  “I didn’t get it at first. They actually seemed to care about me. And I didn’t get that. They invited me over for dinner. Bill taught me how to play basketball. After a while they began talking to me about God.”

  Despite his crazy upbringing, Nick feels he always knew there was a God. So, Bill and Jennifer’s belief sparked an interest in him. Their lifestyle also was different; they lived out what they believed. Nick had not seen this behavior in anyone before.

  Nick says he gave his life to Jesus Christ at nine, because of the VanRyckeghems. Yet, he lived a dual life. He seemed like a good kid on the outside to many, but he continued living his life on the wrong side of the tracks. He still stole from others and became involved with drugs.

  “I remember, I started popping pills when I was 12. Mrs. Broyles, a teacher that I had, came up to me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I lied. I had some M&Ms in my pocket. I told her I was eating M&Ms. But actually God used her in my life a lot when I was in high school. She witnessed to me.”

    As he went on with his teenage life, Nick had a few wake-up calls where he injured himself. Still it was not enough to make him change his secret lifestyle. 

  Then at 16, he began dating his pastor’s daughter. She became pregnant. It was during this time, the weight of his lifestyle began to affect Nick.   “I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea what it meant to be a man. Or even start to grow up really. When I knew she was pregnant, it really started to hit me. That was the first day of my senior year in high school. I was actually going to drop out

  However, because of this new situation, Nick made a choice to stay in school. He had to face reality. Bill gave him a talking-to. Nick apologized to the girl’s mother. Then he had to face his pastor, the girl’s father. That ended up being what he had not expected.

  “He said to me, ‘You know, Nick, I really don’t care what you did up to this point. It is what you do from this point forward. Are you going to serve God? Or are you going to keep going down the wrong path?’ That really hit me. And it wasn’t until later I really started to change, but it started that hunger. I didn’t just want to know God is real. I wanted to know God.”

  Meanwhile, his girlfriend, who was four years older, didn’t want anything to do with parenting at that point. She was just graduating college. The responsibility for raising the forthcoming child would fall on Nick’s shoulders.

  The pastor’s wife then asked Nick, “Don’t you think it is weird you don’t have your license yet? Or your friends or parents don’t have their licenses?”

  At that point, he began to see with a clearer vision the life he had been living. Generations of his family doing drugs, going to jail, losing their kids. That is what he had always saw as normal. But he no longer wanted that. 

  “That was the point where I said, ‘Okay, God, take my life.’ And it was a process from that point to where I am now. I was 17 at the time. Now, I’m 25. 

  “God really revealed a lot to me as I was reading the life of Joseph in Genesis.” It answered his questions about why things had happened in his life.

  “I just want to take everything that happened to me and flip it on its head. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than that. People say, ‘What about the abuse?’ But you know what, I am thankful I went through a lot of that stuff, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to reach the people God wanted me to reach. God wants to use it. But we have to give it to Him. Because otherwise, there is no purpose. It’s just painful.”

  “God broke the cycle [in my family through me]. Now, my kids don’t have to deal with any of that. If they choose to go down that road, that’s their choice. But they weren’t born into that. Like I said earlier, that was a part of my nature but God came in and changed my nature. I am no longer the person I used to be. I don’t want to fight. I like to share my life and I like to tell people about what God has done for me.”

  Nick is now married to his wife Anna. They have five children all together. He achieved his high school diploma and is now a production Worker at Mayville Engineering Company.

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Kurt J. Kolka grew up in the small community of Grayling, Mich., near the forested AuSable River. After majoring in English at college, he began a career in writing and newspapers spanning more than two decades. In his spare time he creates a Christian comic strip, The Cardinal, which has a 28-year history of publication. He has also authored a book, “Bullying is No Laughing Matter” (Front Edge Publications, Ann Arbor, Mich., 2014) and is working on his first novel. Kurt and his wife Diane have been married for more than 25 years and have one daughter, Rebekah, and an overprotective dog, Alli. Of life, Kurt says, “Life is never dull with God at the steering wheel, but, man, does He have a lead foot!” More about Kurt and his musings may be found at www.betweenthepines.org.

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