by | Oct 1, 2010 | Community, Features

Story by Tonda Bradley

Teen Challenge is a national program whose mission statement is to provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society. By applying Biblical principles, Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally- sound, emotionally-balanced, socially- adjusted, physically-well, and spiritually- alive. Nearly two hundred residential Teen Challenge centers operate across the USA, with one thousand world-wide.
Teen Challenge was started in Brooklyn, NY, in 1958 by Rev. David Wilkerson. He was a young country preacher who heard of seven teenagers on trial for murder in New York City. He sensed that God wanted him to do something for these teens, made a trip to New York, and eventually moved there. He began a ministry called “Teen Challenge” which worked with teenage gang members.

Teen Challenge soon began to offer help to those addicted to alcohol and drugs. A home was purchased and a year-long residential discipleship program began in this facility. Due to its success, residential Teen Challenge centers began in cities all across America. Rev. Wilkerson’s story is told in the best-selling book, “The Cross and the Switchblade”.

Most centers today offer a 12-18 month residential program for men, women, boys or girls. These centers are designed to help individuals learn how to live drug-free lives. The programs are discipline-oriented and offer a balance of Bible classes, work assignments, and recreation. Teen Challenge has grown into one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in the world. A study completed by NIDA in 1974 claimed an 86% success rate seven years after graduation. Other studies since that time confirmed those findings.
A local residential center for women opened two and a half years ago. Pastor Jarrod and Kim Flanagan serve as President and Executive Director, and Pastor Rex and Tawnee Turner serve as Vice President and Director of Human Relations. Their current location has 50 beds available. The program is not funded by any government agency and relies on donations for operating. None of the women, who are in the 13-week program on a volunteer basis, pay anything for participating in the program. The pastors and their wives are all graduates of the Teen Challenge program.

According to Pastor Flanagan, “Our goal is to train leaders, and to train our students to live by Biblical principles. That is what we focus on.”

Qualified staff members give Biblical training through devotions, chapels and classes. Topics covered include anger, guilt, self-image, blame, godly relationships and many others. Pastor Flanagan says he believes that the source of most problems is sin. He believes that many of these women turn to abusive behaviors because they are trying to fill a “God hole” that is in each of us, with alternative “solutions”. These simply do not work, he feels.
The staff believes that most people come to the program with nothing, and what they find is the Holy Spirit’s power to transform their lives. It is often stated that people come to Teen Challenge in a last ditch effort to save their lives and while there, they discover the very meaning of life.
There is a high level of accountability for assigned tasks, personal growth, personal organization and cleanliness, group participation and Godly behavior. The students learn to serve others, and learn a work ethic in off-site assignments. Main Street Grill, a restaurant, was recently opened, and the students work there on a rotating basis.
“The students learn valuable skills in this controlled work environment,” states Pastor Flanagan. “This environment builds self-esteem and confidence, and teaches time and money management.”
The students also have a work shop where they make wooden crosses and plaques which are sold by the students. Proceeds go toward the funding of the program for the students.

The students participate in weekly outreach services at churches and/or youth groups. There are many ministry opportunities available in music, drama and team worship.
“The students are usually in three different churches on Sunday mornings,” states Mrs. Flanagan, “and they often participate in choir services. They sing and minister to local congregations. They also attend services on Sunday nights.”
It is not unusual to see God-given gifts come alive when the ladies truly pursue their walk with Jesus Christ, she adds.
Each month, a newsletter is printed and mailed. The cover story features a local student. This month’s newsletter features Erica. Here is her story:
“Hi, my name is Erica and I am 23 years old. I was always a great athlete and had good grades, but after high school my life changed. I was in a bad relationship and to cope with my problems I turned to alcohol and drugs. Before I knew it, I had become a full blown alcoholic. I cut myself off from everyone and I would drink from the moment I woke up until the time I went to bed. I did this every single day…
Erica was forced to drop out of college because, she “just couldn’t do it anymore.”

A bad car wreck, in which she was seriously injured, did not stop her from drinking.
“God was trying to open my eyes, but I wouldn’t listen to Him. I felt like I was a failure. I was tired of living this life and I cried out to God for help.”
Within a week Erica was in Teen Challenge believing that God had opened the doors to her so that she could get her life back.
“Since I have been in the program, I have rededicated my life to the Lord and completely surrendered to Him. I now have a relationship with Him and I see myself in a whole new way. I know that God has a plan and a purpose for me. Today I can live the life that God wanted for me.”
A typical day in the life of the students starts with waking at 5:30 a.m. They have five minutes to make their beds, then they have prayer time and breakfast. Clean-up follows, along with showers and getting dressed for the day.
They read a chapter of Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month. (If it is the 5th day of the month, they read Proverbs, Chapter 5.) Group sessions follow with discussions of the scripture. A time of praise and worship with singing follows and a 15-20 minute devotional is given by a staff member.
“Sometimes local pastors’ wives will attend and give our daily devotion”, says Mrs. Flanagan. “The students always enjoy this.”

The students divide into groups; some go into the classroom, some work in the shop and still others work in the restaurant. Assignments are rotated weekly.
Lunch is next, and after clean-up the students are back working in their assigned groups until late afternoon. Study hall follows with some students attending G.E.D. classes.
The students have “fun” times in the evenings with trips to Hog Wild Fun Center, the movies, swimming, or a “spa night”. Fridays and Saturdays are spent in fund-raising activities. Each student attends church services on Sundays.

According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use, an estimated 7.7 million individuals age 12 or older were in need of care for an illicit drug problem. A total of 18.6 million persons age 12 or older were in need of assistance for an alcohol problem.
Arkansas Teen Challenge Women’s Ministries has responded with action. By providing residential care for women seeking freedom from life-controlling problems, Jesus has become their answer.
To assist Teen Challenge in their mission or for more information, contact the organization at 2192 S. Elmira Ave, Russellville, AR 72802 or call (479) 967-1355.

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