Teen Challenge was started in Brooklyn, New York in 1958 by Rev. David Wilkerson, a young pastor from eastern Pennsylvania. Wilkerson read an article in LIFE magazine about seven teenagers who were on trial for murder, accused of beating a young man to death. Troubled by the article and sensing that God wanted him to do something for the teens, Wilkerson traveled to the urban area of New York City to minister to the teenagers.
Rev. Wilkerson later resigned from his church and moved to New York to work full-time with teenage gang members. This new work was eventually called “Teen Challenge.” Soon, Teen Challenge began to also offer help to those addicted to drugs and alcohol. During these early years, a large home was obtained in Brooklyn where a year-long residential discipleship program was started.
This Teen Challenge program is still helping people today! Due to its success, residential Teen Challenge centers began cropping up in cities all across America, like our center for boys in Newport News, Virginia.
Most centers offer 12-18 month residential programs for men, women, boys, or girls. These centers are designed to help individuals learn how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and live drug-free lives. The programs offer a balance of Bible classes, educational programs, work assignments, and recreation.
The rest of the story of Teen Challenge is told in the best-selling book, The Cross and the Switchblade. This book has sold tens of millions of copies and has been translated into 35 different languages. Another exciting book, Run Baby Run, tells of notorious gang member Nicky Cruz who was one of David Wilkerson’s early converts in New York City. Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade and The Cross is Still Mightier than the Switchblade also detail the important early history of Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge has grown into one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in the world.