By Cynthia A. Lovely
One person surrendered to God’s purpose + the divine guidance of the Lord Jesus = far-reaching powerful miracles and thousands of changed lives. Priceless.
This is the story of David Wilkerson, a simple country preacher from Pennsylvania in the late 1950’s. It all started when Wilkerson was drawn in from an article in a national magazine about several young gang members on trial for murder in New York City. He could have ignored the nudge of that still small voice. There was no logical reason for him to become involved. Yet God had placed a burden and a call on his life. Wilkerson could not get the images of the young faces out of his mind and heart. This was a time of heavy gang violence, drug addictions and murders. It was not the quiet rural life he was used to. Yet he left the comfort of his daily routine and traveled to New York City, hoping to be able to speak with those on trial.
Though it didn’t work out exactly as planned, he became involved and the more he learned, the more he saw the great need for someone to bring hope and the power of God’s love to these gang members. He was zealous, passionate and innocent of the ways of the city and the sin that ran rampant. This was a huge change for this rural preacher-man. Through much sacrifice, commitment, mistakes, life threatening situations and hard times, he hung in there and…lives began to change. Deliverance. Miracles. Recovery. Hope. We can never underestimate the power of one solitary person obedient to the call of God. The full story is in Wilkerson’s classic book, The Cross and the Switchblade.
Teen Challenge was birthed out of this call on Wilkerson’s life so many years ago, creating a faith based organization which today numbers over 1,051 Christian Recovery Centers. The organization continues to develop, offering hope to thousands in residential programs.
Since the early years of 1958, they have reported a 75% success cure rate. Much of their success is attributed to helping their students establish a strong foundation of Christian values along with a long recovery period. This method gives the students time to grow stable in their relationship with God and also helps avoid any chance of relapse.
Albany Teen Challenge was established in 2006 in the capital of New York State. The full service men’s program opened when Teen Challenge received a generous donation of a church, parsonage and youth center from the Alcove Assembly of God. The parsonage was renovated for use as the men’s home. In 2011, they purchased a 16 acre property on Route 9W in Ravena which included a large colonial home. Victory House, a 28-bed men’s facility opened on the new property. The vision continued to come to pass when Hannah House Women’s Home opened in Alcove in 2014 (at the previous men’s home.) Albany Teen Challenge has been led by program director, Pastor Victor Harris, since 2011.
Harris originally came to the Albany area from Long Island Teen Challenge and continues to be under the mentorship of Pastor Jimmy Jack and Pastor Willie Ramos from that facility. “I was serving at Long Island Teen Challenge as the program supervisor when I was asked to come and assist in this Albany ministry. It was supposed to be for a short time, but that was seven years ago!” said Harris. He is concerned about the current opioid crisis. “This is something I have never seen before. It is different from the crack epidemic in that not only families are being torn apart but people are dying from overdoses at an alarming rate. We know we can help by applying God’s Word and sharing God’s love with a combination of spiritual discipline, academics, and work to accomplish true and lasting change.”
The 9-12 month residential program is offered to young men, women and married couples, 17 years and older. It includes four phases: Crisis Intervention, Induction Restoration, Training Development and Re-Entry Development. The first phase is introducing the students to God’s love within a safe home-based environment. The second phase is gaining “power tools” for change with personal and group mentoring. Phase three takes them through character studies and social life skills with practical vocational training. Opportunities include carpentry, landscaping, office procedures, marketing, food management, and basic home management skills. In the fourth phase the graduates continue to learn about leadership through different internships offered through the program. The end goal is to break the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and help residents become, “mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.”
Why is Teen Challenge different from other recovery programs? They call it the “Jesus Factor.” It is the power of the Holy Ghost and the teachings of Christ. The curriculum and community is centered on the Bible. Classes, individual study, mentoring, training in work ethics and involvement in Christian community all play a part in the process. The foundation is to foster a desire for a restored relationship with God to transform lives and gain true freedom from drug and alcohol addictions.
There is also an outreach program on Friday nights at 6:30 pm at City Harvest Family Church, 585 Central Avenue in Albany along with two meetings a week at Freedom Outreach in Alcove. The meetings are open to those who need out-student care and are in the format of a support group. Another outreach program is called “Rock the Block.” The goal of this effort is to get the message out about Teen Challenge and what it has to offer through the creative use of music, dance and drama. This program is available to schools, community organizations, and churches.
Albany Teen Challenge is a non-profit organization and they hold their own fundraising campaigns to help support students who desire to enroll in their program but don’t have the necessary finances. The Center receives funds and donations from individuals, churches, businesses and community organizations. It is possible to sponsor a student through monthly donations by calling 518-694-0455. They also accept donations to help run their program such as vehicles, food or supplies. There is yet another way to be involved with Teen Challenge that will appeal to the thrifty shopper: Blessingdales Thrift Store located on 9W in Ravena, New York. The store is run by Teen Challenge staff and students as a vocational training center. The store offers clearance, thrift and household items at low cost to help raise funds for the Center.
Harris is following in the footsteps of the founder, David Wilkerson, and he remains committed and passionate about this ministry. He has a positive outlook for the future of Albany Teen Challenge. “We are at full capacity and believe God is going to expand our footprint in the Capital District. We are exploring the possibility of more property so we can provide more beds and opportunities for recovery in the days ahead. God has and will continue to do amazing things through Teen Challenge ministries.”
Another quote by their co-founder, Rev. Don Wilkerson, also describes the vision of Teen Challenge, “Hope lives here, freedom is found here, and changed lives leave here.”
Further information is available at www.albanytc.org or by calling 518-694-0455.