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.