History of Teen Challenge
The First Teen Challenge Ministry
Teen Challenge was started in Brooklyn, New York, in 1958 by Rev. David Wilkerson. Wilkerson was a young country preacher pastoring a church in eastern Pennsylvania. One February afternoon, Wilkerson read an article in LIFE magazine about seven teenagers on trial for murder. During a gang fight in Manhattan, these teens beat a young man to death. Troubled by what he read in the article and sensing God wanted him to do something for the teens, Wilkerson made a trip from his hometown — away from the negative impact of friends and familiar places — to Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, to the urban area of New York City.
Sometime after this, Rev. Wilkerson resigned from his church in Pennsylvania and moved to the New York City area to work full-time with teenage gang members. This new work was eventually called “Teen Challenge.” Soon, Teen Challenge also offered help to those addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Since that day, the Teen Challenge ministry has spread across the United States and multiple countries worldwide. Then, as now, the ministry of Teen Challenge reaches out to troubled individuals and their families. Centers have been established for men, women, boys, and girls.
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, 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 early history of Teen Challenge.
Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch
In the 1970s, John and Nelda Nevels started taking troubled and hurting boys into their homes in Morrow, Arkansas. This Christ-centered outreach was known as the King’s Ranch. In 1973, this ministry became affiliated with Teen Challenge International, USA, and became the first residential Teen Challenge addiction treatment for teens program exclusively for boys. The King’s Ranch grew and eventually moved to its current location in 1980. Because of the kindness and generosity of the people of Morrow, Arkansas, the ministry was allowed to move to 5 acres of land and buildings previously used by the Morrow Community School district. Later, an additional 30 acres were purchased for expansion. In 1993, the ministry changed its name to Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch of Northwest Arkansas.
What started in a home on a hill in the Ozark Mountains has now grown into a powerful, life-changing ministry that assists troubled boys and their families across the United States.