Reaching the Addicted

Less than a year ago, Crystal was an angry young woman who didn’t really care what happened to her. She didn’t know if God cared either, but in her pain, she cried out to Him that she just couldn’t take it anymore.

Growing up, Crystal was abandoned by her parents and moved from foster home to foster home. At 17, she got pregnant. Although the situation was far from ideal, at last she felt as though she had someone in her life to love. But at only 7 months old, her baby boy died. That sent Crystal headfirst into a life of addiction. She gave birth to another child, a daughter, but lost her parental rights because of incarceration for drug offenses.

The number of addicts like Crystal has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. In 1958, rural Pennsylvania pastor David Wilkerson felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to intervene in a murder trial of young gang members in New York City. That event, immortalized in the book and movie The Cross and the Switchblade, grew into Teen Challenge. Centers sprang up in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and other major cities, bringing hope in Christ and freedom from addiction. The early centers focused on reaching gang members and other vulnerable youth, usually from poor urban neighborhoods, through evangelism and discipleship.

Nearly 60 years later, one can find serious substance abuse in urban areas, suburbs, and small towns. Making and dealing drugs has become a problem even in some of the most remote communities and the most affluent suburbs. Business owners, corporate executives, homemakers, and student or professional athletes find themselves addicted to painkillers following surgery or an injury. And as Crystal’s story shows, teens remain vulnerable, especially those seeking to escape broken families.  Even churchgoing youth aren’t immune to the social pressures of alcohol and drugs.

Teen Challenge has expanded its ministry and methods to face the growing, changing need. As part of U.S. Missions, Adult & Teen Challenge USA now offers residential centers for adults as well as youth. A detox center recently opened. Prevention programs target local schools. Discipleship curriculum helps recovered addicts transition to successful Christian living.

What continues to make Teen Challenge a good choice for those needing help, either for themselves or for a loved one? Adult & Teen Challenge USA President and CEO Joe Batluck, Sr. offers some conversation starters for National Teen Challenge Day on Sept. 24 that may be beneficial in reaching out to a struggling friend or family member. Teen Challenge:

  • Is one of a kind, a faith-based, holistic approach to long-term recovery with nearly 60 years of successful ministry.
  • Provides a full range of services, from outreach and prevention to recovery, restoration, and integration.
  • Is adaptable to a variety of settings such as community-based support groups, institutional (jail or prison), or traditional residential programs.
  • Is multigenerational, ministering to sons and daughters, moms and dads, and grandparents, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Has retained its original DNA of evangelism and discipleship. It continues to be built on 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
  • Reacts to a specific problem — addiction — but is proactive in equipping people for a new life of service in Christ.

Crystal is one who has been set free from the pain of her addiction and her troubled past. Facing major prison time when she cried out to God, she was astounded to hear the judge say, “You’re going to Teen Challenge.” She has been in the program since February.

“I have experienced true compassion, encouragement, and love,” Crystal says. I see now that I was never alone. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead, because now I know God is with me.”



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