PUBLISHED SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18, 1997
Copyright 1997 The Pensacola News Journal. All
Teen Challenge is
Hill's longtime favorite
By John W.
Teen Challenge depends on alumni
like evangelist Steve Hill to raise money for
more buildings, materials and staff.
The Christian nonprofit rehabilitation
program, which has 130 centers in the United
States and 155 centers in about 50 other
countries, has helped people like Hill graduate
since being founded in 1958.
Few graduates have Hill's power to spread the
He has used his platform at Pensacola's
Brownsville Revival to promote the program. He
assures revival audiences that a portion of their
contributions every Friday night will go to build
more Teen Challenge centers worldwide.
Hill's ministry, Together in the Harvest
Ministries, gave $93,202 to Teen Challenge
between August 1996 and August 1997, according to
a financial statement provided through Hill's
attorney, Walter Chandler. Those donations
included $5,000 to the new Pensacola Teen
Challenge Center, $3,260 to Teen Challenge
Florida and $10,000 to West Florida Teen
His ministry's IRS return specifies none of
Brownsville Assembly of God also is giving
money to Teen Challenge, according to the
church's financial statement for 1996. It lists
$3,100 to Teen Challenge and $11,059 to Teen
Don Wilkerson, executive director of Teen
Challenge International, headquartered in Locust
Grove, Va., said he prefers to downplay Hill's
generosity to the organization because if people
think Hill is giving, they might think Teen
Challenge doesn't need any more contributions.
Hill did not attend the Teen Challenge
fund-raiser banquet Oct. 17 at New World Landing.
For the fund-raising dinner, Pensacola Teen
Challenge director Greg Priest asked churches,
civic clubs and businesses to sponsor tables at
$130 per table of eight people. The event had 24
tables sponsored, for a total of $3,120.
Eleven area churches acted as sponsors,
including six Assemblies of God churches. Neither
Brownsville Assembly of God nor Hill's ministry
sponsored a table.
The only apparent Brownsville connection came
through Robert Lowell, who moved to Pensacola
after he and his wife attended the revival.
Lowell's business Florida Credit and Collections
Bureau Inc. sponsored one table.
"Because of the high visibility of
Brownsville, it's better they're not
visible," said Wilkerson, who started Teen
Challenge with his brother, David, in 1958 in
Back in Pensacola
The new center off Nine Mile Road represents
Teen Challenge's second try in Pensacola.
In 1977, Pastor Bennie Stokes left
Philadelphia to become executive director of a
Pensacola Teen Challenge center that served young
men at a home at the corner of Cervantes and
Spring streets and young women in a home on
Cervantes, a block from Brownsville Assembly of
The two centers moved in 1982 to Walnut Hill,
in northern Escambia County.
Wilkerson said the program died out in
Pensacola in the 1970s because people back then
did not did comprehend its value.
"The drug problem is much more pervasive
these days," he said. "Back then,
people may not have been as supportive. The
problem may not have been as bad."
Today, however, Teen Challenge is more
important than ever, he said.
It helps people in such countries as Belarus
part of the former Soviet Republic where both
Christianity and drug rehabilitation have been in
The Teen Challenge program lasts one year and
has four phases: crisis intervention, induction,
training and re-entry.
Those who enter follow a rigorous schedule
that begins with four months of preparation and
ends with the six-month re-entry phase. In
between, students are expected to study the Bible
and memorize Scripture.
There is a $500 fee to enter the program, but
"if they don't have the money, we don't turn
them away," Priest said.
Florida now has eight Teen Challenge centers,
with a ninth being built in Tarpon Springs.
'Not a cult'
At the October banquet, three people gave
testimony on how Teen Challenge changed their
Kim Gilbreath, a member of Pine Forest
Assembly of God, said she was an alcoholic who
sometimes "attended church drunk."
Keith Tobias, who completed his re-entry phase
in Pensacola, said he was an ex-convict and a
drug addict before he sought shelter in the
"You get a covering," Tobias said,
"where the world can't come at you in a red
dress or as a beer or drugs."
Not everyone supports Teen Challenge's message
of salvation from addiction through Jesus Christ,
"We are not a cult," he told the
banquet crowd of about 220 people. "We are
not trying to get young people hooked on Teen
The program, despite its name, is not
exclusively for teens. It accepts men and women
17 to over 40. The median age is 22, Wilkerson
Teen Challenge is not like Alcoholics
Anonymous, which encourages people to discover a
higher power but allows each individual to define
that higher power, Wilkerson said.
"We define who that higher power
is," he said. "Jesus Christ wants you
to be clean in an unclean world."
Most substance abuse treatment programs have a
spiritual aspect, said George Crisco, director of
the Lakeview Center's Drug and Alcohol Adolescent
Residential Treatment program.
But most take a holistic approach to treating
addiction, instead of focusing on one thing such
as God as the sole solution, Crisco said.
Teen Challenge officials say their program has
an 86 percent "cured rate" among
graduates, which means most graduates are free of
alcohol and drugs seven years after they leave.
Crisco said his program stays away from the
term "cured." Lakeview's program in
Pensacola instead says it has a 79 percent
"You don't cure addiction," Crisco
said. "Basically what you're saying is that
10 years from now a person is not going to have a
problem with addiction, and I don't know that
that's the case.
"Unless these people follow these clients
until death, I don't know that they can boast
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