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Clarence Presley is the first to admit that his early life wasn’t always pretty. Against the odds he survived poverty, abuse, and neglect in his childhood and teen years. But through it all, he nurtured a hope for college and a shot at a better life.

Then a car accident led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and the resulting depression destroyed Presley’s hopes and turned his life inside out. When he moved into gang activity and drug dealing, Presley knew his lifestyle would very likely land him in jail—or worse. Then his daughter was born.

“The thought of losing my daughter, or of not being there for her, turned me around,” says Presley. “I literally heard a voice that said, ‘Choose life or choose death, but I will that you choose life.’ I chose Jesus Christ.”

These days Presley is ministering to people with very similar backgrounds to his own. Word of Truth International Ministries, which Presley started with the help of Christian Reformed Home Missions, is based in Tukwila, Wash., a struggling city just south of Seattle.

Committed to reaching people where they live, Word of Truth is becoming a multifaceted community development ministry.

Out of that vision, Presley has established The Truth Center, an outreach program for youths that started simply by asking unchurched teens, “What do you need?” The answers were sobering but hope-inspiring: a safe place to go, people who listen and tell the truth, and jobs.

“It was sad because their needs were so fundamental,” Presley says. “But they also filled us with hope because we knew we could do something for them.”

In partnership with Seattle First Christian Reformed Church, Word of Truth recently launched The Session, a place for kids to dance, play games, hear live music, share food, and talk.

Realizing that any real and lasting inroads among the youths required addressing the needs of the whole family, Presley started a program of classes in nutrition, parenting, financial management, relationship-building, and other family- and community-strengthening efforts.

“We’re also challenging the generational poverty in this community,” he says. “We start by injecting some hope back into their lives. Then we work on how to set goals and objectives, develop leadership skills, find mentors and other support networks, and get to college. We currently have about 30 kids in the program.”

More recently, Presley started “Soundboard,” a full-fledged music production program designed to give kids a venue for telling their stories. The message is that the love of Christ is steadfast and that walking with him is walking in freedom.

“Our vision for Word of Truth is to become a dynamic and creative discipleship center,” says Presley. “We want to become a hub for recruiting, inspiring, nurturing, training, and supporting urban missionaries—first in our city, then wherever we’re led.”

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