Kelsey Korvela is shown with her family, including her husband Tracy and children, left to right, Radley, Belle, and E.J. (Photo taken by Katherine Grace Photography)
By Steve Bertel
Jeremiah 29:11 reads: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
For Kelsey Korvela, that Bible verse epitomizes her life, in that not only did the Lord rescue her from her deep, dark pit of despair – twice – He also gave her a future far brighter than she ever imagined.
“I was definitely not raised a Christian,” she says. “My parents were not believers, and there was a lot of neglect in my family.” Growing up, she remembers ordering Bibles from various television commercials she saw. “I always had a hunger for ‘something else.’ But no one ever told me about Jesus Christ; no one ever had that conversation with me. I don’t know why. Maybe I wasn’t approachable. I felt I knew God. I remember praying to Him, but I never had that complete understanding of His saving grace.”
At age 15, she began drinking and using drugs – marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, even meth. Anything she could buy from her friends and connections; anything that everyone else was using at the rave parties where she hung out. “All my friends were doing drugs, so it just became a part of my life,” she remembers. And she immediately became addicted. “I thought, Wow. This is it! This is what I’ve been missing! Right away, I felt joy from it. At that time, I hated who I was. I was ashamed of who I was. I never felt good enough. And there was a hole in my heart, a hole where God and Jesus should have been. For me, drugs helped me fill that void. There’s a lot of addiction in my family, so I was probably predisposed to become an addict as well. The minute I started using drugs, I knew I pretty much had given my life away.”
For years, her life continued in a downward spiral. While attending college, she was caught shoplifting school supplies. Normally, stealing highlighters and notebooks and such would be a minor misdemeanor, but Kelsey was charged with a felony burglary. “It was considered a felony because I didn’t have any money on my person at the time. So, according to the law, I had intent; I had gone into the store with the thought of stealing,” she explains.
After serving two years total in both the Ada County Jail and the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center, Kelsey continued to struggle. She wanted to break her addictions – to stop drinking, stop using drugs. “But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how,” she admits. To the point where, after several probation violations and consistently ending up back behind bars, “I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.”
However, little did she realize at the time that her crimes, her addictions, her struggles would end up saving her life. And bringing her to the Lord.
One Sunday, while still on probation, she “wandered” – as she put it – into a church in downtown Boise. It was a fairly large congregation. And even though she felt she “knew God,” she felt somewhat out of place in the church. Unworthy. And uncomfortable among all the congregants.
So she found her way up to the secluded top balcony area, sat, and began listening to the sermon. “As the pastor was giving his message, he suddenly stopped and said, ‘I don’t know who you are or where you’re at inside this building, but I feel I can’t continue with my message until you come down here and get saved – and accept Jesus Christ into your heart.’ Of course, I knew he was talking to me. Then he said, ‘I’m not going to continue, so I think you need to come down.’ Ten or fifteen minutes passed but, to me, it felt like an eternity. All the while, he just sat there, silently praying. Then finally, I stood, came down from my seat up in the balcony, walked down to the front of the church, and gave my heart to the Lord. I remember it seemed like everybody in the congregation was laying hands on me. Right then, I felt captivated by the Holy Spirit. I had no idea what I was accepting or what God was calling me to, but I knew it was real. That was my first true encounter with Jesus Christ.”
Along the way, she had heard about City Light*, the Boise Rescue Mission’s Women’s and Children’s Shelter offering a safe haven and emergency services for homeless women and children. Kelsey wasn’t married. She didn’t have children at the time. But she was homeless. And knew she needed help. So she filled out an application.
“I had no self-worth,” she admits. But, despite being accepted into the New Life Program, getting guidance, and making new friends, she still could not shake the feeling that she was “unlovable,” perhaps from being neglected as a child for so many years. “I remember sitting on the back steps of City Light. I was in my early twenties by then. Here I was, living at a homeless shelter. I had no idea how to stay sober. I had made nothing of my life. And what’s more, I felt I was not worthy of anyone’s love,” she says. Then, one of the Center’s female intake coordinators happened by and sat down beside her. “I was weeping … so she put her arms around me. And cried with me. And we sat there, weeping together. As we did, I felt, This place is different. They love me, even though I feel unlovable. And at that moment, God gave me a vision of being ground into the dirt; so broken, that I was just being turned to dust. I had to let myself be broken, I had to thoroughly submit to the program – and to God.” As a result, “They gave me a whole new life! They stepped into my life at a time when I wanted to follow His Word, but I didn’t know how.”
Even though she had read those “TV commercial” Bibles growing up, studying the Word – really studying it – and following the requirements of the New Life Program at first seemed foreign to her. And were certainly challenging. “It took my case manager coming alongside me, praying with me, guiding me, that helped me to not only better understand the Bible, but helped me through the program … both of which eventually gave me clarity of mind,” she recalls.
Going through the program also gave her a better understanding of the services the Boise Rescue Mission provides and how it helps those in despair. Like others in the program, not only did she eventually develop a closer and a much more personal relationship with God, she also helped mop floors, serve meals, work the front desk, and even helped outside with grounds work and landscaping. “Serving people, serving the Mission, really changed my heart and touched my life,” she says.
Soon after, God touched her life in an even more significant way. “My whole bloodline ended up being saved! My father, my mother, my sister … all my family came to accept God into their hearts at pretty much the same time. That’s what He does through the Rescue Mission: He wants to restore faith, hope, and family. And He did! They all have been sober for some 20 years now. It has really been a miracle!” she exclaims.
Kelsey went back to college, earned her degree, got married, and had a son.
But then, in 2013, darkness crept into her life yet again.
“My husband at the time became extremely physically, emotionally, and mentally abusive,” she recalls. In fact, her domestic situation became so dismal, Kelsey attempted to take her own life. “I ended up in the hospital after trying to hang myself. I had struggled a lot over the years with suicidal thoughts; there was always that feeling I was unlovable, that there was something wrong with me. And I just wanted to end it.” So, after her hospital stay, she took her son, who was four years old at the time, left her home, and returned to City Light. “They didn’t know the extent of how far the abuse had gone and what I was going through at the time,” she says. “But I knew I needed more recovery. City Light was the only home I had truly known … and I knew I needed to come home.”
So the folks at City Light graciously welcomed her back; this time, with her son in tow, and helped her complete a program tailored to domestic violence recovery. As a result, for Kelsey, and for countless others it has helped over the years, “The Rescue Mission really became my spiritual family, my rescue family. They’re always with you, always alongside you, helping you through whatever you’re dealing with. They never give up on you. It’s always your home.” Being familiar with the Rescue Mission’s daily operations, and always having a deep desire in her heart to help others, Kelsey soon joined the staff as an employee. Over time, she worked in various capacities: in the emergency shelter, in events coordination, and in the teen ministry – where she continues to share her life story with young people going through the same struggles, the same temptations she experienced early in her life. “For example, I impart on them how dangerous drugs are. I tell them: even if your parents are addicted, you don’t have to make that same choice. You can learn from other’s mistakes.”
Today, as the New Life Program’s intake coordinator, she screens applications from women who have hit rock bottom and are looking to change their lives. “I find out where they’re at, what they’re looking for,” she explains. “I look to see if they’re willing to lay everything down, to be completely broken, and to be ready for change. If they are, I interview them and explain to them that, to go through the program, they must put all romantic relationships on hold for a minimum of one year, they need to be willing to listen to Christian music – no secular music, watch only G- or PG-rated movies or shows, and essentially be willing to commit to a Bible-based program.”
And for those with low self-worth or in tumultuous relationships such as what Kelsey experienced, “We show them how to put boundaries on their lives, how to be a good parent, how to handle a household budget, we help them earn their GED if they don’t have one, we teach them computer skills, we teach them what sex and marriage look like in God’s eyes, how to treat your body as a temple … essentially, how to be a follower of God, not just a fan.”
What’s more, she says, “I get to be the person who loves people where they’re at; I get to reach out to them and tell them there is hope through our Heavenly Father. I get to pray with them, and help them get into our program. I get to write pen-pal letters and send Bibles to women in jail or prison. So I get to be the hands and feet of both our generous donors and of the Rescue Mission itself. It’s awesome! And we continue to partner with them – for instance, to find jobs or housing – even after they’ve graduated and finished the program.”
Also today, Kelsey has what she describes as “a beautiful family and a beautiful life.” She’s remarried – “to a fantastic husband” – and they have two children together, ages one and three. Plus her son from her previous marriage, who is now fifteen. And, just recently, her criminal record was officially expunged by the State of Idaho. “So now, I’m no longer considered a felon. All my crimes have been completely washed away!”
But more importantly, she says, “Every day, I get to help people who need help. My life is living proof Jesus is real. I show them what Jesus can do in their lives … because of what He has done in mine.”
*City Light may be reached at (208) 368-9901.
Steve Bertel is a multi-award-winning professional radio, television, print media, and social media journalist, who retired after a 30-year broadcasting career. Now a busy freelance writer, he recently released his debut suspense novel “Dolphins of an Unjust Sea”, available on both Amazon and Kindle. Steve and his wife of 40 years live in Meridian, Idaho. He can be reached at [email protected].