Bill Allen didn't start going to church until he was in fifth grade, but from that point on the house of God was a place he wanted to be.
He got involved with the ministry, helping to lead the singing and giving short talks about spiritual things while he was a teenager.
"I knew from the time I was a junior in high school I wanted to be a minister at a local congregation," he said.
For the past 30-plus years, Allen has been fulfilling that dream, serving as a minister at Church of Christ churches in Texas and North Carolina as well as president of a Christian education center.
Allen, 58, is the preaching minister at West Erwin Church of Christ in Tyler, a position he assumed in July.
Allen said he and his wife, Joyce, always planned to come back to Texas, the place they consider home. It was just a matter of when.
Allen said he felt his gifts and the ministry philosophy of this church were a good fit so he and his wife decided to make the move now.
Raised in San Antonio, Allen became very active in the church once he and his family started going.
Although his mother had Church of Christ roots in her family, his father, who was a career Air Force man, never went to church, at least early in their marriage.
Allen, however, started to ask questions about religious things, so his mother decided to take him to church.
He had read the book "The Cross and the Switchblade," which was popular at the time and told the true story of a pastor's ministry to inner city youth in New York City.
When Allen and his family started attending services at the protestant chapel at Lackland Air Force Base, something about the environment stuck. They eventually attended Lackland Terrace Church of Christ.
While Allen became more involved in the youth group and connected well with the church leaders, his life also got more complicated.
His father was an alcoholic and his parents divorced. The fall of his senior year in high school, his mother, who he lived with, died of a massive heart attack. She was 49. Allen was 17 at the time and had been celebrating his friend's birthday when he learned of her death.
"For me, I was a 17-year-old boy, so I didn't get a lot of it," he said.
He knew he wasn't going to live with his father, because he lived in an apartment and still didn't have his own life together. So, Allen had to figure out where he was going to stay.
He could move out of the city to where his siblings lived, but he wanted to finish school in San Antonio. So, he stayed. First with the preacher's family, then his best friend's family and finally with a 30-year-old bachelor. Though it was a challenge, he made it.
"I felt like there were some questions I had that I would never really know the answer to," he said. "Scripture says you live by faith and I think that's when faith is really faith, when you don't understand what's going on."
Hard times can affect people one of two ways, he said. They can drive them away from God or closer to Him.
In Allen's case, it did the latter. On top of that, he said, it helped him in his ministry.
He knows what it is to experience loss because he had. And he knows that just because a person follows Jesus doesn't mean their life is going to be easy. The Bible doesn't promise a perfect life.
"What it does promise is that the presence of Christ will be with you through all of those things," he said.
And that is who he said God has been to him through his life presence.
Sometimes God has been a guiding presence telling him how to live and what to value. Other times, He has been a comforting presence, offering encouragement and forgiveness.
And as God has been present with Allen in his own life, he has had an opportunity to share that presence with others.
Allen said his greatest joys in the ministry are teaching and preaching along with building relationships with people.
West Erwin Church of Christ has a rich 130-year history, he said, and is in a good place as a church.
Attendance exceeds about 400 each Sunday and the church has ministers to lead several different facets of church life including family life, children and benevolence.
"We want to be God's presence in this neighborhood and in the world," he said.
BILL ALLEN BIO
Family: wife, Joyce, two daughters and four grandchildren
Education: Bachelor's degree in Bible from Oklahoma Christian College, master's degree in Bible and a Doctor of Ministry from Abilene Christian University
Career: Youth minister, then preacher at Lackland Terrace Church of Christ, San Antonio (1978-1985); preacher at Woodland West Church of Christ, Arlington (1985-2002); president of the Center for Christian Education, Irving (2002-2005); preaching minister at South Fork Church of Christ, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (2005-2015).
Hobbies: Running, including eight marathons.