Transformation Stories–King County Youth Chaplaincy

Editor’s note: Here are two stories recently shared by the King County Youth Chaplaincy folks, who have their annual benefit on Sept 29. Both are really powerful, but I wanted to call your attention to the second: From Gang Member to Peacemaker, because we’ve been sharing prayer requests for Victor in the ENews, and I thought it would be fun for us to have a fuller picture of the young man we’re praying for. May these stories encourage and challenge you today. –Nan

From the Streets to the Path of Righteousness

DeSean was known as “Hot Boy” because of his quick temper and his notorious street activity. When I met him in the detention center a few years ago when he was a 15-year-old boy, he wore an angry look on his face. His reputation and behavior from the block followed him into juvie as he got into fights and other trouble, letting his inner rage get the best of him.

DeSean shared much of his upbringing with me: his move from Chicago to Seattle, his unstable home life, and his undertakings as a gang member. He often expressed thanks to still have breath as he recalled times when death got very close. I remember asking him, “Why do you think God still wants you alive?”

“Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.” Even at 15, DeSean was a deep thinker.

In subsequent conversations, he expressed a desire to change. “I don’t want to be ‘Hot Boy’ no more,” DeSean stated. He then began to transform. Just before he was sent to a long-term prison, he achieved honor level, the highest tier in juvie that allows for privileges, such as extra snacks and going to bed later.

I eventually lost touch with DeSean, but never forgot about him. I put a daily reminder in my phone to help me remember to pray for him.

A few months ago, I reconnected with DeSean at a group home while I was visiting another young man. I didn’t know if it was DeSean at first–it had been over two years since I last saw him. But we soon recognized each other and got to catch up.

As I visited him over the following months, I saw no signs of “Hot Boy”. Conversely, I saw and still see one of the kindest and most generous people I know. One afternoon, when he brought some pizza back to the group home, he made sure all the other youth got a slice, even though it meant fewer slices for himself.

A few weeks ago, DeSean saw a distraught youth with a broken CD player. DeSean approached him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said with genuine compassion, “Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a new one.”

When I asked DeSean if he would want to perform a rap at our fundraiser, without hesitation, he replied, “Yeah.” Because he had to work that night, we shot a video of him and played it at our event.

It feels good knowing God loves all
cuz all the stuff I done I shouldn’t have love at all.
Thank God that I found you . . .
my life ain’t perfect,
but one thing I know for certain,
is that I’m worth it.
Don’t be a follower,
be a leader . . .
guide yourself into the path of righteousness.

As I watched the video, I was reminded of God’s power to transform. I praise God for transforming DeSean from “Hot Boy” into the man he is destined to be.


From Gang Member to Peacemaker

As chaplains, we get to witness God do some significant, transformative work in our youth. One such youth is Victor, an intelligent, friendly, and very humorous 17-year-old. Though he has been incarcerated for over ten months now, he generally maintains a positive disposition. Victor is a completely different person now than the one who was wreaking havoc as a gang member.

In his words: “I used to think I was God. I thought I had it all. I thought I was invincible.”

“But when I came into juvie, I lost it all, I was broken. I had to put my pride aside and ask for help. I turned to God. I read the Bible, specifically the story of Job, and it moved me. I really appreciate talking with the chaplains and really like the church services; I look forward to it every week.”

“Now I have faith and hope. Me and God, we’re rockin’.”

Additionally, Victor now sees himself as a peacemaker and has taken to heart Matthew 5:9, where Jesus states:

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

He often stands up for youth who get picked on and also prevents guys from getting in trouble by helping them keep their cool. Victor recently recounted how after talking another youth out of fighting, the other youth said, “Because of you, I won’t fight that dude.” Victor recalled, “I was so happy and proud when he said that.”

God has transformed Victor. “I wasn’t even thinking about Jesus before this. Now, I know he is here for me, and I’m putting all my faith in him.annualbenefitdinner

Back to School, Back to Whole

I recently posted an entry to my Facebook page: “Back to school task 1,573,826…hair braided…” Getting your kids, and let’s be honest ourselves, prepared to return to school after summer can be a monumental task. I am a mom of many, and several of my own cherubs have special needs. Already, in the month of August, I have been in perpetual meetings and conversations with talented school professionals, mental health professionals, and support teams. As a result, I have become all the more grateful for the ministry I get to be a part of at Eastside Academy.

Through my own parenting journey, I have recognized that accessing services for a child with special needs can be overwhelming and time consuming. For the courageous and beautiful families we serve at Eastside Academy, we have tried to eliminate some of that struggle. As a wholistic school, our goal is to address as many needs as possible in one place.  While we are a high school, we have recognized that challenges outside of the classroom can frequently interrupt progress IN the classroom. Thus, our students are provided with mental health care, recovery services, and a mentor, all in one location. In addition, we have eliminated what is notably one of the most frustrating tasks for parents/caregivers/guardians everywhere…school supply shopping. (I feel like there should be looming music playing every time those words are uttered. Ugh.) Every one of our students are provided with the school supplies needed to enter their classes; if a child needs one, we also supply backpacks. While this may seem insignificant, as a mom I can tell you, if I could eliminate this task in my own family, I would be singing the hallelujah chorus!

And honestly, that is how we try to approach everything at Eastside Academy: How would we want our own children to be treated? What support would I want or need walking through the situations our students and families face? While we are not perfect, this is definitely the heart to our approach.

I have shared with our team before that no one walks through the doors of Eastside Academy for the first time without having experienced some type of hurt or loss. Students and families come here because something didn’t work out the way they had hoped and dreamed. Our goal is to remind them, or sometimes tell them for the first time, they do not have to carry this heavy burden alone. We have a God who sees every need and has equipped His people to respond. By wrapping our arms around the educational, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical needs of our students, we desire to model the love we have each been shown through our Savior. A love that knows no boundaries. A love that makes sacrifices while speaking truth. A love that pursues, forgives, and seeks redemption and reconciliation for all.

I am amazed that even after 10 years of working here, that there are still so many times this ministry just takes my breath away. We are so grateful for the support and investment that this community puts into our students, families, and the work that God is accomplishing at Eastside Academy. Could we ask you to join us in prayer for the precious lives that will walk through our doors this year? Additionally, Eastside Academy’s Dinner and Live Auction is being held on October 22, at the Meydenbauer Center. We invite you to join us as we work to provide everything from backpacks to counseling to housing for our amazing students.

If you would like more information about enrolling a child, getting involved with this work, or attending our auction, please contact us at 425-452-9920 or visit our website at


Freedom Schools: Reaching Kids Through Love and Education

As you probably know, the summer months are when many children, especially children in low-income communities, experience a significant loss in what they have learned throughout the school year due to inactivity.

However, beyond even the academic challenges, children in the community often lack the social, emotional and spiritual support that they need to deal with various challenges in their lives.

Here is a story that one of our interns shared with me recently about one of his Urban Impact Freedom School scholars:

One day I was told that one of my scholar’s mom had cancer and that it was getting progressively worse. The following day I expected him to stay at home and spend the day supporting his mother. But when I walked into the Harambee room where we all meet every morning, there he was. Although he showed up, his arms were crossed, his hood covered his face, and he would not say a word.

As we started the day, we were high-fiving, making jokes in the group, cheering and chanting, inspiring, and sharing love all around. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him murmuring and clapping his hands lightly to the Harambee rhythms. As the day passed, those murmurs turned to words and his clapping hands were now willingly receiving high-fives from his peers. The more love we showed him as a Freedom School community, the more he started to open up and share with the group.

The supportive community of Freedom School helped him to cope and process some of the hardship that he and his family were facing. By the end of the day, he had turned in the best work he had ever done in my class. His peers continued to be inviting, understanding, and supportive for anything he may have needed. I was inspired not only by the quality of his work, but by his perseverance and the way the Freedom School community supported him in his time of family hardship.
-Khyree Smith, Urban Impact Freedom School Servant Leader Intern 2015

Students shared some of the things they endure and encounter on a regular basis. What we found to be true is their desire to be in school had little to nothing to do with school itself, but everything to do with what was happening in their homes, their neighborhoods, their thoughts, and emotions.”

 As a BelPres mission partner, Urban Impact is doing incredible work for the kingdom of God in the Rainier Valley. Please pray for this year’s Freedom School, for their staff and for all the youth that are attending. If you are interested in learning more about the Freedom School and how you can help out, please visit

Do the Work: Perseverance in Haiti

It is a glamour job when you see if from afar at the conferences…doing incredible things for impossibly poor people in places that could be Biblical times if people weren’t dressed in thrift shop clothes. Today we are doing to get dirty, on top of already sweaty and smelly. Not something usually mentioned at missionary conferences, the sweaty and smelly. We put the culvert under the road for this irrigation canal a couple of years ago knowing full well we didn’t have the money to connect the canal with it and bring the water through. Now we have a little bit more money do some of the canal–not enough to get water flowing, but closer. We have learned to do what we can knowing or hoping that another year we can finish this canal and make a much more effective irrigation canal system for hundreds of people.

It took a long time for us to figure it out. Or for God to open our eyes,  whatever happened. There are a lot of things that could be done to grow a lot of food here in one of the poorest driest parts of a place that wears out a lot of adjectives. A LOT of food. It is the ‘could be done’ part that is the fine print. Things have to be done. People can’t eat potential, which means someone has to plan and work with people and communities, and have the equipment and the technicians and the expertise. All of it as far out as you can get in a country that is already challenged for infrastructure. And then, get something done.

By American standards it isn’t that much money or big a project. And from here, you might miss the urgency. After all, while food from Miami is expensive, it isn’t prohibitively so, and it’s currently plentiful. But that won’t last, and famine conditions are clearly on the horizon. So we have to dig down next to the culvert which is buried under runoff from the hill and find the elevation for the bottom of the culvert. From there we can do the grade for the rest of the canal upstream and downstream. We brought the backhoe to hopefully save a couple of days of digging by hand. We keep digging deeper and deeper.

Finally, we are down in the hole with one of the men, digging the last little bit with a machete, the all-purpose tool of choice in most of the developing world. The hole is nine feet deep and sliding down in it’s clear that the soil is good all the way down. All it needs is water. Runoff is not an issue because the same rich soil is 100’ deep.

We find the bottom and mark a spot on the top of the culvert to use for a bench mark for surveying. It looks hopeless. There is nothing here but scrub mesquite and the canal is going to have to be deep, expensive and hard to build and we aren’t even going to see the water flow in this iteration. This project is a building block to get closer to one day having a canal: a canal that will be a game changer for hundreds of families. We have to keep that goal in front of us, or we might lose hope.

The irrigation canal project before last looked more hopeless than this one. For months we were dreaming about putting in an irrigation pump on the big river 12 miles away. There are 23 big pumping stations on that river. Nearly all of them don’t work now if they ever did. I had it all thought out in my head how we could try something different. Not complicated, just different.

Then on the day we were going to go over there and start working, reality hit. The brush had grown up and we couldn’t even walk to the site without hacking through the impenetrable brush. All of the sudden it didn’t look very possible or very promising. Self-doubt showed up then, saying: What kind of crazy harebrained idea is this anyhow? Who are you to think that you can do an irrigation canal over here when no one else has succeeded? And by the way that is solid rock you are talking about cutting a slot in to bring the water in to the pump. But God is faithful. That project works, and this next one will too. It’s time to practice perseverance.

There is no book. There are no plans. There is no one to go to and see if this is a good idea at this stage. It is you, God, and a crew that is has taught you the meaning of the word ‘loyal.’ You do the next thing next because this is what you said you were going to be doing at this stage months ago when it looked so much more possible from far away. Feel that gentle urging of God to just do a little bit more and keep going. Keep telling yourself that the other one worked so this one should too. You just have to do the next thing next. If God is in it, it has to work even if you aren’t so sure.

Two of the men from the community are present and helping enthusiastically. As they work, they point out that it hasn’t rained in months, the drought is two going on three years old and there has not regularly been any water in the river that feeds this canal for months.

You have to remind them (and yourself) that there are off years here which is why cactus grow so well. But there are years when there is plenty of water. In the plenty years you can’t be building canals because there is too much mud. So if you are going to work, you have to work now when there is dust in your teeth from the wind and dirt in your shoes from sliding down into the hole.

Today just worry about measuring to build this little section of canal as far as the money flows. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

As for the worries the team discussed? A week after we did the digging to check for the elevation there was a surprise rainstorm that didn’t show up on the weather forecast. It rained all night. At our house we got an inch of gentle rain. At the canal site and in some areas that feed the river that feeds the irrigation canal they got five inches of rain overnight- more rain than had been received in the last year. So we work, So we trust in God. Not so glamorous, but good work all the same.


A Christian Response to the Stranger: Faith and Courage–Never Fear

It’s a little early to be thinking about St. Patrick’s Day.  After all, March 17 is nearly three months away.  But St. Patrick’s life and witness couldn’t be timelier to think about than right now.

Patrick was 16 years old when a band of Celtic pirates from Ireland invaded his homeland in Northeast England, captured Patrick, brought him back with them to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  During his 6 years as a slave, Patrick committed his life to Jesus, developed a deep love for his captors and grew to understand their culture and way of life.  Patrick then escaped from Ireland and returned to England where he eventually became a Parish priest.  One night Patrick had a dream. In that dream an angel came to him and delivered several letters from his former captors, pleading with him to return and help them.  The dream was not like anything Patrick had been thinking about.  Reflecting on its meaning, Patrick realized God was calling him to live among and share Jesus with the Celts.

Patrick returned to Ireland and started a movement, which resulted in tens of thousands surrendering their lives to Jesus and being baptized.  Roughly 25% of Ireland’s formerly unreached tribes became devoted Christians. All forms of violence significantly decreased and the Irish slave trade came to a halt.

So just what does any of this have to do with what is going on today?

We are living in a time when fear and anger, particularly directed at Islamic extremists like the group calling itself Islamic State (ISIS, ISUL) and the international community is increasingly calling Daesh, are fueling concerns that the U.S. is not a safe place to live.

Fear drives a sort of exclusionism which wants to build a wall, either real or figurative, which would prevent foreigners–Muslims and anyone else we label as bad–from entering our country.  But history reminds us that walls built to keep us safe, like Japanese internment camps, actually hurt us instead.  Those WWII camps made us victims of our own fear and violated the freedom principles on which our great country was founded.

The conversation for us as Christians, however, must start with Scripture.  We submit to the authority of Scripture to guide us rather than the sentiments and forces of the culture around us.

The Bible shows us God is on a rescue mission to restore and redeem our world.  First He called a man, Abram; then a nation, Israel; then a Savior, Jesus; and now the Church is called to partner with Him in redeeming every people and every nation.

We are in a spiritual battle where Satan is wreaking havoc, literally bringing hell on earth.  Jesus death and resurrection mean that the final victory is God’s and one day it will be ours too.  Until then, we are to welcome the stranger and the foreigner, (Deut 10:19); Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who despise us (Mt 5:44); make disciples of all nations, (Mt 28:19); seek and save the lost, (Luke 19:19).

No one ever won a war by retreating and hiding.  No one ever found victory by building a wall.  And that is why Patrick is so important for us now.  Patrick didn’t stay in England filled with fear and anger over his Celtic Oppressors.  Patrick returned to Ireland.  Lived among the Celts.  Loved them and served them.  Showed them and told them about Jesus.  That is how the movement that brought Christianity to the West got started.  That is what changed the world back then.  That is the only thing that will change our world now.

Faith and Courage required.

Bridge Disabilities: A Short Story

This sweet, true story brought to you by our friends at the Meyer Mobility Center:

A group of young men came into Bridge Disabilities’ Meyer Mobility Center a week ago. Forced to flee their home country, one of the men had been severely injured, and was in need of a hospital bed and a wheelchair. As they were new to the US, the men were limited in their knowledge of English. Through gestures, expressions, lots of looking back and forth between the friends, we were all able to figure out exactly what they needed.

The young, injured man needed an improved hospital bed and a power wheel chair to make life easier. He knew it; his eyes said so. Our cost to refurbish the equipment far exceeded the amount of money they had (mostly from one of their church sponsors). There was much back and forth discussion and gesturing between the friends as they tried to problem solve and find a solution.

In the end, it didn’t matter to Gerry, our center’s supervisor. He knew what he had to do, trusting that God would find a way to allow Bridge to help this young man. Happy and grateful that we were able to outfit the young man with equipment that would help him immensely, our good Meyer Mobility Center folks went about serving the woman next in line. The woman had patiently and graciously waited her turn, and had seen and heard the exchanges of the group of men. What happened next completely blew us away! She blessed us with a generous donation to Bridge, completely covering the cost of the equipment for the injured young man!

Angels are among us. Truly there are, and we’ve seen so, so many.

Eastside Academy Seniors: Isaac

Over the last few weeks, BelPres Missions has been sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this month. Isaac’s story concludes our series.

Eastside Academy Senior: Isaac

Before Eastside Academy, I didn’t have much purpose.  I was a drug addict who didn’t think he could get his diploma.  I went through gangs, drugs, and thugs.  I did a lot of damage and was dealt a lot of damage.  Since coming to Eastside Academy, I have a purpose.  I love people.  I have family and friends.  I love myself.  I am happy and strong without hate in my heart.  Soon, I’ll finally have that diploma!  I’ve achieved what once seemed impossible to me.

After graduation, I plan to move back to Melbourne, Australia.  I’m going to serve the world of recovery there and help my friends and strangers get clean and achieve happiness.  My goals are to get married, have a family, share recovery, and start a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to help people get clean.


Eastside Academy Seniors: Abby’s Story

Over the next few weeks, BelPres Missions will be sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this June. Here is Abby’s story.

My struggles began after my parents got divorced.  I became really sad and depressed.  My support system had always been my Dad, so when he left, I found myself struggling.

My freshman year of high school, my grades began to slip. I didn’t understand anything I was learning in a big classroom. I was very shy, and was afraid to speak up. I felt dumb. It was horrible, and I just didn’t know how to do well. I didn’t see myself able to graduate from high school, so I just stopped going to school all together.

I heard about Eastside Academy from a friend. I wasn’t sure about it at first, because I needed help academically, and not as much personally. It was hard at first and when I started counseling a lot of my past came out. I thought I was at Eastside Academy for academic help, but when I started to talk to counselors, I realized it was much more than that. I witnessed past abuse, and it helped me to see that a lot of things I went through were bottled up inside.

Last year, I wanted to do Running Start at Bellevue College.  Instead I actually chose to put off Running Start so I could continue with my Recovery Class at EA.  I knew that if I didn’t come to this class, I would stop reaching out to get help.

I plan to start at a community college in Seattle. I will first get my academic requirements completed, and then transfer to a four year university. I’m going to explore my options, but I know I want to do something that uses my art skills.

Tell Them We Are Not Terrorists

By Rev Rich Leatherberry 

“Tell them we are not terrorists”, she says in response to our question; “What would you say to our congregations?” She is 17, a Christian, in her senior year of high school and hoping to attend college next year. She is bright, well spoken and looks like any other 17 year old here in Bellevue with one big exception. She is Palestinian and lives with an international stereotype which, like the 26 foot wall that separates her from the rest of the world, prevents us from ever knowing who she really is. All her dreams, hopes and aspirations will remain hidden behind the wall and obscured by the stereotype assigned to her for the rest of her life. Because of the economic insecurity created by life behind the wall, she will graduate from college but will live most of her adult life unemployed and poor. Unless something changes.

“Hope” is a 4-week class I am teaching in May. The class will provide an overview of what is going on in Israel/Palestine; examine the varying perspectives and biases which influence the way we interpret current events there; look at the Bible and what it has to say about what God might want for Israel/Palestine; and how we can bring change.

Personally, my experience with Israel/Palestine has caused me to examine my own faith walk with Jesus. It has questioned how I view the world as a follower of Jesus and what I allow to influence my worldview. It has questioned my own sense of calling and how God might want to use me each day. It has questioned the way I interpret the Bible and how I allow it to speak into my life today. The truth is that Israel/Palestine is making me a different follower of Jesus.

My hope for you who take this class is that Israel/Palestine will be an outward journey of discovery, discussion and decision around what is happening and the people who live there. I also hope this class will launch you on an inward journey to examine your own faith and help you become a different follower of Jesus.

Janvier: “Impossible is Nothing”

A Story of Renewal after the Rwandan Genocide
The 1994 Genocide in Rwanda left many women & children injured, traumatized, and without family. Orphaned during the genocide, Janvier was left to fend for himself as a child. He acquired HIV/AIDS when sexually assaulted by adults. He had lost family, faith and his health and livelihood.

In July of 2013, we had the opportunity to meet Janvier. On our visit to his ministry, we were struck by how he didn’t stop smiling, preaching, and insisting on his thankfulness to God. Due to his participation in a women’s co-op (yes a male member of the co-op!) he has a future and a hope. He repairs sewing machines for a women’s sewing co-op. He also operates a farm of beans and tomatoes along with his family. The land is situated on a steep, rocky slope, where he waters the acre of plants by hand, carrying jugs from a swampy area up a long, rocky path. He rides his bicycle many miles back and forth from the co-op to the farm over rutted, bumpy, dusty roads. Yet, Janvier was nothing but thankful.


Thank you Janvier for modeling thankfulness in all circumstances and for reminding us in the Hope we have in Jesus power to transform lives. “Impossible is Nothing…”

To hear more stories like this one and to learn about some of the ministries that BelPres is connected to in Rwanda please join us this Tuesday evening at Bellevue Presbyterian Church.

Rwanda Prayer & Interest Group
March 31, 2015, 7PM
Welcome Room @ BelPres

More Than Sad

by Rich Leatherberry, Mission Pastor

Yesterday, I was at a funeral to support a friend of mine. He called me last week with the horrible news that his nephew had been killed in a drive-by shooting. The young man was walking on a sidewalk in Dallas when suddenly someone pulled up alongside him, pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He was 26 years young. The father of two and no one can figure out why this happened or who would do this to him. His family and friends here in Seattle are shocked, heartsick and grieving that yet another senseless killing has stolen one more human life. He had a name and a history. He was:

a friend
a nephew
a brother
a father
a son.

And now he is gone. The funeral concluded with everyone passing by his open casket to say goodbye. Then his sobbing father, who is younger than me, slowly lowered the varnished wooden lid down over his son and they carried him away.

In my Presbyterian tradition we call a service like this “A Celebration of Life and the Hope of the Resurrection.” But in my friend’s Christian tradition; they grieve. They cry and they wail and they let it all out. I grieved too. I grieved for a young man I didn’t know and for his kids who will grow up without him. I grieved for my friend and his family and I grieved because they were grieving. I grieved because stuff like this goes on and on and on and I’m tired of it. I grieved because we live in a fallen, broken, messed up world where people can steal lives and apparently get away with it. The murderer has still not been found out. And in the midst of all the crying and sobbing, I suddenly realize I’m more than sad. I’m mad.

I’m mad because life can be so unfair, fragile and unjust. I’m mad because there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from things like tragedy and death. I’m mad because life has become so cheap. That which God made in His own image became so cut-rate and despicable that it could be ended without a second thought.

So someone pulled the trigger… Which is a thought that, as it so forcefully races across the surface of my brain, causes me to realize what I’m really mad about: I am mad about sin and darkness and depravity and everything else that distorts the value of human beings and treats them like the dirt we sweep up off the floor. But I am not helpless. Because Jesus didn’t just come to die on a cross so we could all leap into heaven some day and be finally rid of this awful mess. Jesus came to rescue everyone, everywhere… on earth. And then, just before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus said; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Mtt 28:19-20.

Jesus and His way are the only hope for this crazy, sin-sick world. As followers of Jesus, going and teaching and baptizing are our job. The rescue of this world depends on our obedience. As much as we might wish otherwise, God could do it all by Himself but He chooses to do it with us. And if we disobey, God will wait for another faithful generation to step forward. I hate the sin that steals life and makes me so mad. But the solution to it all has been placed in our hands and in our hearts.

What makes you sad and mad about the world? What is God asking from you?