Seeing God in Trials, Triumphs
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In Tooele, a name derived from the Ute Indian word for “tumbleweed,” two ordained Assemblies of God pastors are seeing the Lord’s hand in miracles large and small.
Greg and Kelly Preston, graduates of Central Bible College who met while students at the school in Springfield, Missouri, have demanding professional roles. Formerly Assemblies of God missionaries in the Arab world, he’s the director for 180 Ministries for Girls residential Teen Challenge of the Rocky Mountains center in Tooele. Program co-director Kelly is a mother of three and associate pastor at Capital Church in Salt Lake City. There, Kelly directs women’s ministries and care ministries.
The Prestons have been in Utah for four years. During that time, their oldest son, Richard, who is on the autism spectrum, briefly served in the U.S. Navy, but is now living on his own. The couple have a 10-year-old daughter, Claire.
Then there’s Jackson, their 8-year-old son. Last August, doctors told the Prestons that the lad had an inoperable cancerous brain tumor. The initial prognosis looked bleak.
The family then learned about a new, experimental drug that’s being used on Jackson by his physicians at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, one of the top facilities in the West. The medicine has the potential to reduce the tumor, and that’s a cause for optimism.
“He is in treatment for this cancer right now,” Kelly says. “We're still raw, but he's been quite a trooper through all of this, and we've had a lot of great support around us, too.”
Along with promising medical treatment, the Prestons were pleasantly surprised to hear Jackson say he wanted to be baptized.
“I don't know how he processes all of that, but on his own he came to us and said ‘It's time for me to get baptized,’” Kelly says. “It's incredible to see his faith and watch how he's leaning into God, even with this diagnosis and the obstacles that he's had and the changes that have happened in his life.”
Greg Preston said he’s seen God’s hand in all this as well.
“In the midst of our pain, we see God present,” Greg says. “Knowing that God never intended that we should experience this type of pain brings comfort. God is going to make good things come out of this regardless of how it ends up.”
Finding positive results after difficult situations is a specialty of the 180 Girls ministry, the “180” symbolizing the 180-degree about-face sought for each client. Most of the girls who arrive have substance abuse issues, and a fair share also have been trafficked, adding to the burdens they bear.
Unlike many other Teen Challenge outposts, this one runs a 15-month program for adolescent girls, generally sent there by parents or guardians. Utah law allows the center to operate as a residential recovery center, instead of as a medical treatment facility. Because families send the girls there, it takes a bit more time for the teens to acclimate themselves and accept the need for help, hence a program that’s 90 days longer than most Teen Challenge programs. Teen Challenge is a department of U.S. Missions.
Since the Prestons arrived, the facility has had a 75 percent graduation rate (31 out of 41 students). For those who leave and relapse, the program offers continued counseling, which Greg says is more often what’s needed for the final, complete 180-degree turnaround.