Stuart's Blog

The city that never sleeps

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“These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
Right to the very heart of it…”

From New York New York, by Fred Ebb / John Kander
David Wilkerson had made the eight-hour drive from his quiet mountain village to downtown Manhattan for a simple reason: to speak to the seven accused gang members about their salvation. In a grave attempt to share the love of God, Wilkerson had rushed to the front of the courtroom at the close of trial proceedings and pleaded publicly with the judge for permission to meet the teenage defendants.

News media were everywhere, and Wilkerson unwittingly made himself the source of headline news throughout New York City. The judge had been receiving death threats during the trial, and Wilkerson was almost arrested as a presumed assailant. The judge later refused Wilkerson’s request to see the boys and ordered him never to return to his courtroom.

Today the one-time rural preacher is known as the founder of an international drug rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge that has one of the highest success rates anywhere in the world. Since it’s first centre opened in New York in 1960, Teen Challenge has grown to nearly 250 centres in 48 states and over 1,000 centres in 95 countries. In Puerto Rico, the organization is building an AIDS hospital, the first of its kind. Wilkerson also founded a global evangelistic ministry, World Challenge. The Pentecostal preacher remained what he was for over 40 years–a man dedicated to preaching the gospel in the heart of New York City. He pastored Times Square Church in Manhattan, which he founded in 1987, until his death in April of 2011. Wilkerson made more than the news back in 1958–five months after his discouraging day in court, his compassion for teenage gangs and drug addicts made history.

A year later he established the first Teen Challenge centre in one of the roughest areas of Brooklyn. Addicts and other troubled youths poured into the centre and were delivered by God’s power. One sceptical psychiatrist observing the program remarked, “It seems to me you’re just using Jesus as a crutch.” “Then give me two of them,” a resident of the centre responded. “What is the program?” the psychiatrist asked. “God in the morning, Jesus in the afternoon and the Holy Ghost at night,” the resident replied. The good news spread quickly, and Wilkerson was deluged with pleas for help with drug problems from all over the country. “I raised funds for the first 10-12 centres that started,” he said. Answering appeals got so demanding that he allowed the ministry to come under the Home Missions department of the Assemblies of God. His brother Don then took over as director of the centre. Based on strong Christian principles, the intensive program runs from 6 to 14 months. Residents come from the streets, detoxification facilities, hospitals or jails. Some are referred by pastors and counsellors or court-ordered into treatment by judges. HIV-positive students are normally accepted. Teen Challenge teaches that the key to abstinence from substance abuse is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

(Courtesy of Adult & Teen Challenge, Pacific North West).

3rd December 2018 I was awake at 3.30 am. My good friend, Mark Lowey, was due to arrive at 4am for a taxi to Glasgow Airport. Both of us, family men, church leaders, and community workers, were off on a ‘lads’ trip’ to the city that never sleeps.

It got off to a great start with a traffic incident in the Clyde Tunnel meaning Mark was already behind schedule. A few manoeuvres later we are in a taxi to the airport, and then, we are back at my house, as Mark left his phone in his car.

After a relatively easy check in at Glasgow, we were now ready to board with me taking up my obligatory seat staring out the window. A short hop in the opposite direction from New York to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport before heading out across the UK, Ireland, the Atlantic, Canada, and the northeastern states then landing in JFK New York.

As Mark and I awaited our ‘chauffeur’ Jason to come to collect us we had a coffee. It was 2pm in the afternoon, (despite my watch and my mind demanding it was 7pm). After two sips of black coffee, Jason messaged to say he was at the pickup point.

Off we went to a destination I was very much aware of and felt like a home away from and yet, had never visited.

Travelling down through Brooklyn, the sights and sounds were like all those New York-based sitcoms and cop shows rolled into one. Jason was a great driver, very friendly and made us feel so welcome.

The car journey complete, we rolled into the car park behind 416 Clinton Avenue as some of the guys were playing basketball (how very American). Jason led us inside and we met the Centre Director, Paul Burke. A very gentle and humble man of God that had extended the invitation to us. 

Paul called Francesco up to the office, told us whatever we needed Francesco would get, and off we went to our apartment in 436 Clinton Avenue. A very spacious bedsit in a Brooklyn townhouse. The building used to be the Women’s Centre.

As Mark and I settled in we realised, wow we are at the birthplace of Teen Challenge.

The first evening we wanted to go out and explore New York. Off we went into the Brooklyn evening, being guided by Google, and found our way to the nearest MTA station, 1 week unlimited ticket for bus and metro later ($33) and off we went – into the evening.

I will share more of the journey to NYC in the coming weeks.

This POST is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.

If you or someone you love, needs help with the Christian response to addiction, or if you would just like to know more or need hope, please click on one of the following:

The Haven
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Street Connect
Bethany Christian Trust
Jumping Jacks Outreach
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church
Stuart Patterson

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