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A Ray of Hope founder dies days after shelter opens

July 28, 2018 GMT

Peggy Christensen, who spent most of her life helping the homeless and those in need, died Thursday at a Missoula hospital, less than a week after the grand opening of the Kalispell women and children’s shelter that was her swan song. She was 72.

Peggy’s House opened July 21, offering a 4,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom shelter on the corner of Fifth Avenue and First Street West. The shelter is the most recent project of A Ray of Hope, a nonprofit Christian ministry founded and nurtured by Christensen for nearly two decades. Peggy’s House was on its way to completion when Christensen was diagnosed with multiple cancers about a year and a half ago.

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She had been residing at another A Ray of Hope facility in Helmville while she dealt with cancer treatment. In May 2017, volunteers vowed to help make her dream of a women and children’s shelter come true. Supporters stepped up to reach the finish line for Peggy’s House, working in overdrive to complete the facility.

“She was a wonderful woman who touched the lives of so many,” said Wayne Appl, fundraising and outreach coordinator for A Ray of Hope. “When I got here because of a bad car wreck, Peggy and I just clicked. I promised her I’d help her get the shelter built. And it turned out spectacular.

“It was her greatest aspiration to get the shelter done,” Appl said.

Christensen started A Ray of Hope 19 years ago on little more than a wing and a prayer - lots of prayers. She has shepherded the faith-based ministry for the homeless and downtrodden from the get-go. Prior to establishing A Ray of Hope, Christensen and her husband Bob spent more than 30 years working with the homeless and took in dozens of foster children along the way, with the belief that “God doesn’t believe anyone is a throw-away.”

Her message was consistent: “We try to give people a hand up, not a handout.

“You can give someone a bag of clothes or a box of food, but if you don’t care about a heart change for them or where they will spend eternity, what have you really given them?” she said in a 2001 interview with the Daily Inter Lake.

Christensen always gave people the benefit of the doubt.

She built the ministry on the premise that those who were able to help out in some way should do so - pay it forward, so to speak.

“We want people to see they can get help, and they can repay it by helping with some part of the ministry,” she told the Inter Lake in 2001. “We want to be good stewards with what God gives us. This won’t work without God. We’re just his love touch. This is the body of Christ working to touch lives.”

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There have been the occasional con artists who get assistance and then vanish, she admitted, but Christensen always took it in stride.

“I don’t expect anything from anybody,” she said in 2001. “We operate totally on faith.”

Christensen spoke with the Inter Lake just two weeks ago, pointing out that around 200 businesses and individuals contributed their time, money and resources to make the shelter a reality.

“It’s like a miracle for me to watch it be built,” she said earlier this month. “And it’s debt-free, so I know it’s going to take care of a lot of people for a lot of years to come.”

Through the years Christensen joked that “God is my personal secretary sometimes because of the prayers that have been answered.”

Appl said Christensen’s legacy “will be remembered for generations.”

A memorial service for Christensen is being planned, but details have not yet been finalized.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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