At Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch, we watch as the stories unfold. And often, it’s in the small moments – the seemingly insignificant moments, that we see the greatest change.
TCAR students earn “bonus points” throughout their day for better-than-expected behavior or for doing extra. Their bonus points accumulate and can be spent as money. For example, 100 bonus points are worth $10.
I remember taking some students to Waffle House to spend their bonus points back in 2015, and one tall, blond, quiet kid from Wichita asked me if he could give all his bonus points to our waitress. He said God was telling him to.
I let him go pay for his meal on his own so he could tip her his balance of $14 and have whatever God-moment he was appointed to have with the unsuspecting woman. By the time we left, the waitress was in tears, believing for the first time in a long time that God is real and that he cares about her.
In these small ways, we live out a vision for our ministry to reach every community.
Meet Luke, A Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch Graduate
Luke Pyle was only 15 when he came to TCAR in the Fall of 2014. He had been dealt a hard hand in life, but he was quick to trust and grow. When I asked Luke what was the most important thing he learned at TCAR, he said, “Trusting God. He orders my steps.”
I’m proud of Luke for his willingness to trust despite feelings of betrayal early in life at the deepest levels. Luke’s biological dad didn’t stick around, but mom decided to try to get stable to raise her son. Luke was 5 when his mom brought a stepdad into Luke’s life. Luke came to trust this man as a father-figure. Later, at age 14, his parents’ divorce brought another loss. I’m proud of Luke now for being able to open his heart and trust God – another father figure, and ultimately the only infallible one.
Drug Addiction, Truancy and Dysfunction at 15
Luke had already been dabbling in drugs at a young age, but after the divorce, Luke used drugs regularly. He smoked pot with friends and by himself. He smoked at school. He wanted to be high all the time. He avoided being at home. Luke’s mom was trying hard to provide and work on a career in nursing, but that left Luke alone a lot.
Luke says the lack of supervision gave him total freedom at a young age which led to Luke skipping school. He says since the school was so large, no one noticed or cared that he was wasn’t there. His teachers never involved police or parents when Luke missed class or came to school intoxicated. He says, a couple teachers tried to talk to him about the drugs, but that didn’t help.
Eventually Luke moved in with some family friends who functioned as grandparents for Luke. This was a more stable environment, but by this time Luke was established in a dysfunctional lifestyle.
Luke continued to smoke and drink. As Luke’s pot use accelerated it became less exciting, and this led to Luke trying new drugs. One day, while hanging out at a smoking buddy’s house, his buddy’s older brother introduced Luke to crystal meth. Luke says no one had told him that meth was bad for him, but he had heard a lot of people talk about how good it was.
As soon as he smoked it, Luke became a meth addict. Luke says he never put it down after that and 8 months later when his life was falling apart, his family called an intervention. Luke had gone to a 30-day rehab but couldn’t even stay sober in the rehab program. He would get high in rehab huffing from aerosol shaving cream cans. Eventually, Luke tried to commit suicide.
The Breaking Point–and an Introduction to Teen Challenge
Underneath all of the destructive behavior, Luke wanted to get sober. At church one night Luke made a commitment to follow God and be done with drugs, but Luke didn’t know what that should look like.
His stepdad’s parents had friends who sent their son to a Teen Challenge and they had a good experience, so his grandparents financed Luke’s treatment at TCAR where Luke learned what a truly Christian life can look like.
“At TCAR I found out what it meant to follow Christ and how Christianity is supposed to look and how to completely surrender. A lot took place, but something in my mind changed. The way I thought, what I was interested in, and my appetites changed. God renewed my mind in chapel one day when I felt led to fully surrender. I said, ‘Here’s my life, take it and do what you will with it.’” Luke says that happened in the first two weeks of the program and he’s never been the same since that moment.
Luke’s Experience at Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch
“TC is a firehose of learning and developing character and spirituality. The staff there have such a commitment to help people. They aren’t competing with each other; they just care like I never had been cared for anywhere else. They convinced me that I was worth something. I would read in the Bible concepts about God and his people, and then I’d see it in ya’ll …You made us feel so at home, like we belonged, and we can totally make it. If we choose to be different, we totally can be.”
“Having chapel every night of the week and some on weekends made a huge impact. In chapels anything can happen. TC chapels were a free space to chase God in communion with other people. People would get up and confess their sins and no one asked them to. People grew together. I learned to lean on the Lord and not on myself. One night Drew Morrison [a former student that was a staff at that time] was talking and being honest about struggles he and his wife had in their marriage, and now looking back at that, it ministers to me in my marriage. There were lots of things I learned in chapels that guide me now.”
Luke even praised the scorecard system – a sort of report card that a student carries around with him to get graded on his behavior and effort in every period of the day. Luke says, “although they are annoying, they teach you fundamental disciplines and make you look on the inside and ask, ‘What do I need to change?’”
Creating Meaningful Change that Lasts
When Luke came to TCAR he was far behind in school and would have been well beyond 18 if he tried to finish his high school in the traditional route. Luke said, “I was not interested in getting my GED, but because we had wise teachers at TCAR, they walked me through the benefits of getting my GED and moving on with my life after the program, and they helped my parents buy in. Getting a GED offered me the ability to not have to go home [to the old environment] after TCAR. Without my GED I would have had to go back home for two more years of high school and my life wouldn’t be as good as it is now.”
After the program, Luke decided to do a discipleship program at the YWAM in Kansas City. He was still only 16 when he applied and had just finished his GED at TCAR. YWAM was gracious enough to accept him at such a young age and Luke didn’t let them down.
He was on staff with YWAM for 4 years. He grew in character, deepened in faith, and God continued to heal his heart and transform his identity. Luke says, “I took what I learned at TC and applied it more at YWAM. In TC you’re going to learn whether you want to or not. In YWAM you need to ask for it. During my 4 years at YWAM I grew up, learned how to function as an adult, I processed insecurities, the Lord fathered me, I learned social skills – it was a boot camp. Mission trips opened my perspectives and built my character.”
It was in the kitchen at YWAM that Luke fell in love with cooking. During that time, he worked in their kitchen and did a phenomenal job! He became a superb chef and has worked in many nice kitchens.
A Life Transformed by Christ
Luke says leaving YWAM was like going into war. “In TC and YWAM I had a safety net, but when the time came, I was ready. This is not stuff that 28-day rehabs fix. You guys valued us as kids and represented the fruit of the Spirit. And kids like me who didn’t have a dad to teach us how to do things, learn how to live and what a good man is. Seeing you [Steve] cry and still be a man taught me it’s ok to really feel and show my emotions in healthy ways.”
When asked why he thinks he never relapsed, Luke said, “It goes back to that moment in chapel when I fully surrendered to God. The Lord just met me in that moment and made it apparent that I had to surrender, and my appetites changed in that moment. Really there’s nothing else that is going to change kids but God.”
Today Luke is 24. He resides in Portland, Oregan with his wife Hyejeong. Hyejeong is from South Korea and seems very sweet. They were introduced by a common friend from their church back in Kansas City and they worked at the same restaurant.
They dated 6 months, talked to some mentors and prayed about a proposal. Luke says that when Hyejeong gave her car to a friend in need he was so impressed with her generosity and concern for others that he knew this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He Proposed in July of 2020 and they married the next February.
Now, in Portland, Hyejeong is an accountant and Luke, of course, is a chef at a nice restaurant. They are living in their first house which they bought this year. Luke says even though they work a lot, he and Hyejeong are intentional about spending time together. They like to spend time outdoors in the beautiful Oregon mountains. “TC did that to me,” Luke says about his love of the outdoors, “otherwise I wouldn’t be a very ‘get out of the house’ kind of person.” Luke even took me on some camp trips which he organized after TCAR. Luke also plays music – he can make music with anything: guitar, piano, jembe, and pretty much anything else that can be played. At YWAM Luke played on worship teams and led worship.
Discipleship In the Kitchen – Luke’s Impact
“The kitchen is my mission right now. Eventually I’d love to have a TC sort of ministry where people can come and learn life disciplines and learn a discipline that makes them financially responsible. But for now, I really try to invest in my [kitchen] staff. Christians in Portland are like lepers, but we can have conversations about values, and taking care of yourself and work long hours and I get to share my story with certain people. A lot of kids on drugs work in restaurants. I get to show people they are valuable and have potential like you guys did for me.”
Luke’s advice for current TCAR students was this: “Pray a lot. Ask God. Get over insecurities and pray. God answers prayer. [Crap] is going to happen, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has [crappy] circumstances and you need God. Stay connected to the Lord so you can respond well in those circumstances.”