48 hours in a Teen Challenge center
By Kirk Noonan
Editors note: In June, the Pentecostal Evangel sent News Editor Kirk Noonan to the Minnesota Teen Challenge in Minneapolis. Though staff and residents were aware he was there to do a story, they were asked to treat him like a normal resident.
Inside, I meet Rich Scherber, the director, who quickly ushers me to a small conference room, called the intake room, where a mother and father are enrolling their 14-year-old son in the program.
"This one gives Teen Challenge the right to drug test him at any time," says Hayden Severin, an intern, as he slides a paper across the table toward the parents. "For the first three weeks there is a total blackout. No phone calls. No visitors. No mail. He cant communicate with anyone outside this building."
The parents nod, then sign and date the document.
"We tried almost everything, and thats what brought us here," says the mother who is on the verge of tears. "After trying all that weve known we are thinking maybe something spiritual will help."
"Seventy-five percent of adult residents here are considered chronic addicts," says Scherber. "Were dealing with a hard-core community."
Some of the residents are former gang members and drug dealers; others are business professionals including a doctor and a minister.
In a small office near the lobby I meet up with Hayden Severin, the intern from the intake room. He tells me he came to MTC after his addiction to alcohol left his medical practice and family in shambles. But since he came here in February 1999, his life has changed.
"I rededicated my life to Christ on the sixth of February. I remember the day so well because of the things that started to happen," he says. "I called out to God and asked Him to forgive, restore and redeem me, and He began to work miracles in my life."
MTC is offering hope for a better life. Severin is the first of many Ill meet this weekend whose lives have been transformed.
"Here you work for God," says Dan Pederson, a resident who has been in and out of 19 drug- and alcohol-treatment centers. "You either come here and get busy or you leave if you arent serious this place will drive you crazy."
"God is doing a wonderful thing in my life," he says. "He restored my family back to me, and He has helped me with my reading and writing. Before I came here, my life was basically gang banging, drinking and selling drugs."
Dean says he plans to do an internship here, then go to school and learn a trade. The pride and hope he feels about his new life exude from his brown eyes as he talks about his future. When our conversation ends, he grabs a mop and disappears behind the elevators sliding doors.
On his tiny desk there are several books, a Bible and a cup full of pencils. The room has a huge plate glass window, a small closet, two dressers, a wash basin, chair and two beds built of two-by-fours.
As Pridgeon irons his shirts, he tells me about his family, his past and that this is his second time in MTC. The first time he was kicked out.
"I dont know what happened [the first time]," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "Im here now and hopefully Ill be able to get it right this time."
Pridgeon leads me down the hall to a room where three men are working on their contracts. A contract is an individually designed curriculum that addresses the issues that led each resident to an addictive lifestyle.
"Thats the difference between Teen Challenge and other drug treatment programs," says one resident. "Here they deal with what caused the addiction, not just the addiction itself."
The other woman tells me she comes here every weekend to visit with her son. Today they will go to the mall and have lunch.
"He is going to be graduating in September," she says proudly. "I think he has made really good progress being in this atmosphere. It gives me hope."
In the 14 months he has been here, Larson says, he has made a commitment to Christ, been delivered from his addictions and has nearly completed the requirements for his general equivalency diploma.
One month before coming here Larson was almost killed when he and his cousin were attacked while partying. Larson escaped with a deep stab wound to his abdomen. His cousin died after being stabbed 20 times. Today, Larson is hopeful for his future, but with graduation only a few weeks away he is apprehensive about leaving.
"I told my counselor Im probably not ready to leave, but at the same time I am confident in Him," he says, pointing skyward. "When I look back at my life before I came here I see hopelessness but not anymore."
"Let us be an encouragement to one another," prays a muscular black man. "Help us build strong and healthy temples for Your glory."
Segregation between the races does not exist at MTC. Blacks and whites room, eat, study, worship and exercise together. Part of this is by design, says James Dent, a former resident now staff member, but the driving force behind it is God.
"There are a lot of stereotypes about each race, but through God we are all the same," he says. "Our cultures have nothing to do with who we are in Christ we are all children of God."
After dinner Don Davis, 19, tells me he used to deal and use drugs. Wanting to get his life straightened out he came here, but some members of his family think he is involved in a cult. In a few weeks, he says, hell go home for a short vacation and let his family see how his relationship with Christ has transformed him.
"God pulled me up for a reason," he says. "I think Im going to go into the ministry. I believe God has big plans for me."
"I learned it wasnt me, but it was Christ in me that was going to make the difference in my life," he says. "Now Im just hoping God will use me to make a difference in these guys lives."
"Remember, gentlemen," a staff member tells us, "we are in this world, but not of this world."
At the park some find a tree to sit under; others go to the basketball court to play ball. A few of us spend the next hour soaking up the fresh air and beautiful scenery. There is no way the staff can monitor everyone they dont want to. This excursion is as much about building trust as it is about getting outdoors.
"Staying in the Word will keep you grounded," a staff member tells us. "Having a daily devotion is critical to your success both in here and after you graduate."
"Rise and shine, gentlemen," says a staff member.
Just as I open my eyes, the staff member disappears into the hall, probably to the next room. I look out the window into the darkness of dawn.
"I thought you guys got up at 6," I say to Pridgeon.
"Not today," he says as he reaches for his Bible and opens it to the Book of Proverbs. "I read a chapter of Proverbs every day. By the end of the month Ive read through the entire book."
In several other rooms residents remain in bed or sit at their desks with their Bibles spread open before them.
After cold cereal and juice for breakfast we return to our rooms. Some of the residents iron their black slacks and white shirts standard attire for the choir. Pridgeon demonstrates to two other residents how to tie a tie. The halls are quiet until we gather in the second-floor lobby where final instructions for the day are given. Then residents load into a bus destined for this weeks service at Salem Covenant Church outside the city.
"The choirs chief purpose is to share the ministry of Teen Challenge and gain support for the program," Scherber says. "When we go out and sing, people see good fruit and they want to invest in this ministry. Nearly 85 percent of our budget is raised by the choir."
"We go to 70 to 80 churches a year. From tiny churches with 15 in the congregation to churches with 3,000," says Chris Mclarnon, who runs the soundboard. "I used to get real nervous about giving my testimony, but now I just let God control what I say."
Twenty minutes after the service begins, the choir takes its place and begins singing. The collection of their voices fills the sanctuary moving some to tears. The choirs singing is a testament of Gods unfailing power and mercy to both choir and congregation.
As I leave the church and those I have come to know this weekend, the words from an earlier conversation with one of the residents come to mind: "As they say here, Hope is being restored. "
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