The History of Adult and Teen Challenge

The Beginning

“This whole, strange adventure got its start late one night when I was sitting in my study reading a Life Magazine and I turned a page. …It carried a pen drawing of a trial taking place in New York City, 350 miles away. The Holy Spirit said to me, ‘Go help them boys.’” - David Wilkerson

“The Cross and the Switchblade” is David Wilkerson’s best-selling book that contains the true story of Teen Challenge’s miraculous beginning. Late one night, God challenged David to sell his TV and devote the time to prayer instead. Wilkerson asked himself, “What would happen if I spent two hours every night in prayer.” It was an exhilarating idea; substitute prayer for television and see what could happen. Only God could have known the amazing results of this act of obedience. It was the beginning of something that would save untold numbers of lives.

From New York City to the World

This first adventure to New York City was God’s way of birthing an international ministry that we now know as Adult & Teen Challenge. Wilkerson was a “skinny preacher from Pennsylvania” who God called to leave home and intercede for gang members on trial for the senseless murder of Michael Farmer, a victim of polio who happened to be strolling through the park.

On Feb 28, 1958, Rev. Wilkerson was escorted out of the courtroom after asking the judge if he could speak to the gang members on trial. He never did make contact with them, but he achieved something far greater. In a dramatic chain of events, he was thrust into the alleys and tenements where teens were ravaged by drugs, gangs, and poverty. After months of outreach and Gospel rallies with teams of volunteers who felt led to follow Wilkerson’s calling, the first converts gave their lives to God on July 12, 1958. Nicky Cruz and Israel Narvaez were among the first who needed to find a safe place to begin walking out their newfound faith. Rev. Wilkerson moved his family to New York City and founded the very first Teen Challenge Center. He envisioned a safe place to disciple these lost and lonely street teens, a place where they would be changed with the message of God’s love. Wilkerson knew and believed that God could deliver and set free anyone lost in addiction.

“Certainly we cannot claim a magical cure for drug addiction. The devil which hides in that needle is so deadly strong that such claims would be folly. All we can say is we have found a power which captures a man more strongly than narcotics. That power is the Holy Spirit Himself, which unlike narcotics, does a peculiar thing for our men. He captures to liberate!” - David Wilkerson

Since 1958

As word of the success of Teen Challenge spread, others wanted to use the Teen Challenge model in their cities. In time, Teen Challenge became a global organization recognized as the world leader in recovery success. With over 200 centers in the United States and 1,400 around the world, the staff and volunteers of Adult and Teen Challenge Centers are helping adolescent boys and girls, women with young children, married couples, and adult men and women find freedom from life controlling issues.

In a day when drug abuse has crossed every geographic, economic, and cultural barrier, Adult and Teen Challenge is a beacon of hope where freedom can be found. Every day, around the world, God’s love and forgiveness is transforming lives from the inside out!

Tribute to our Founder

“Some Christians are content to merely exist until they die. They don’t want to risk anything, to believe God, to grow or mature. They refuse to believe His Word, and have become hardened in their unbelief. Now, they’re living just to die.” -David Wilkerson

“How quickly we forget God’s great deliverances in our lives. How easily we take for granted the miracles he performed in our past.” -David Wilkerson