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1970s


Touching lives through Teen Challenge

America’s counterculture of the 1960s introduced many young people to illegal drugs. The 1970s saw the growth of ministries to the addicted, with the book and film The Cross and the Switchblade directing national attention to the Assemblies of God outreach Teen Challenge. Although Teen Challenge is best known for its ministry to those struggling with life-controlling issues, it has also maintained a vision for community evangelism. The Evangel captured that theme in these selections from an article that appeared in the December 24, 1972, issue. Today Teen Challenge centers continue rescuing people of all walks of life who are desperately searching for help.

1910s: The early role of the Pentecostal Evangel

1920s: Revival Reports

1930s: A World of news

1940s: World War II: Last-minute deliverance from execution

1950s: Revivaltime premiers on ABC

1960s: Missionary Tucker martyred in the Congo

1970s: Touching lives through Teen Challenge

1980s: Straight Talk

1990s: The Columbine High School shootings

2000s: 9/11

A few years ago North Camden, N.J., was a picturesque place, a thriving town outside of bustling Philadelphia. Today broken-down, boarded-up storefronts on Broadway Street stand as grim reminders of the August 1971 riots when for five days burnings, shootings and lootings took place throughout the city.

Many of these major business establishments have abandoned the city’s shopping district, and a number of affluent citizens have moved out of the town’s residential areas.

Although the riots took their toll among Camden’s businesses, liquor stores, spiritualist shops, and tattoo parlors still line the streets seeking attention and patronage.

“Jesus, He’s the Waymaker; one day He made a way for me” blared through the microphones as the girls’ trio sang to a crowd of inattentive, laughing young people in one of North Camden’s city parks.

The girls finished their song. As the young preacher stepped forward to begin his short evangelistic message, each prayed that the crowd would quiet down and listen.

For a minute it seemed as if their prayer was answered. Noise and laughter began to quell. Then suddenly a bottle jetted through the air and broke on the building behind the trio and the young preacher. Another bottle was thrown, and some bricks. Then total confusion set in.

But the incident didn’t dampen the young Christians’ spirits. They threw their equipment into the back of a van, drove off, and within a few minutes had started a street corner meeting only a few blocks away.

This time their audience was receptive to the gospel, and several persons accepted Christ as Savior.

For the past three years Camden Teen Challenge (Norman Cole, director), a branch of the Philadelphia center, has presented Christ to Camden’s residents in every nook and cranny of the city. Witnessing and literature distribution campaigns have reached drug addicts, prostitutes, gang members and the “little people.” Workers hold Sunday school, street meetings and story hours at points throughout Camden.

We have found that Christ sometimes uses strange ways to draw people to himself. Once He used a set of bongo drums.

One night during a song service at one of our Good News Clubs, a ministry aimed at reaching the youth gangs in Camden, some of the members of a gang were singing heartily and playing the bongos, tambourines, maracas and coffee-can drums belonging to us. The president and several members of a rival gang were passing by and heard the commotion.

They liked the music and wanted to visit the club. We couldn’t let them in, however, since two opposing gangs simply do not mix in the same room!

One of our workers recognized the group’s interest in the club as an opportunity to witness to them. The gang members told him they wanted to start a Good News Club of their own. This in itself was a miracle because these young men had previously hated anything and anybody connected with religion or Teen Challenge.

But a bigger miracle happened at the gang’s second club meeting when six members fell on their knees and asked Christ into their hearts.

Life for many Camden residents seems to have become a paradox in the last few years. Many are proud, but desperate. They are “brothers,” yet their hearts are filled with hate and bitterness. Being “cool” is only a guise for unhappiness.

Some boast of their freedom, but are bound by their lusts. Life to them is confusion and despair, yet they dare not trust even God to help them.

On the Camden City Hall is the inscription “Without a vision the people perish.” We at Teen Challenge are trying to create a vision in Camden, a vision that has Christ in every heart and each person loving his neighbors. There is a long way to go to realize such a vision. But the start has been made.

— Brenda Mates

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