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    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Decisions Point to Recovery

Former President George W. Bush featured guest for Teen Challenge

By Scott Harrup
March 13, 2011

The innovative Teen Challenge of Wisconsin picked an opportune time to have a heavyweight keynote speaker at its annual fundraising banquet: the nation’s 43rd president.

As he crisscrossed the nation last fall promoting his just-released memoirs, Decision Points, former President George W. Bush dedicated the first evening of his tour to promoting Teen Challenge, the faith-based addiction recovery program of the Assemblies of God. Bush spoke to a capacity crowd of 2,600 at Milwaukee’s Frontier Airlines Center. The book sold 1.1 million copies in the first two weeks of release in November and stayed atop the best-seller lists into 2011.

“‘Can you remember the last day you didn’t have a drink?’ Laura asked in her calm, soothing voice,” Bush read from the opening page of Decision Points as he began speaking to the crowd. “She wasn’t threatening or nagging. She did expect an answer.”

Bush went on to describe how he overcame his drinking habit in 1986 and has not had a drop of alcohol since. He congratulated the Teen Challenge students completing the Wisconsin program.

“You can have the fanciest title in the world — president of the United States — and still face the same struggles,” Bush said.

The event marked a decade since the former president first learned of Teen Challenge’s ministry.

“I got to know Teen Challenge when I campaigned in 2000; it’s results-oriented,” Bush said. “It recognizes a Power much bigger than ourselves.”

Craig Harper, executive director of Teen Challenge of Wisconsin, says the ministry had 190 table sponsors, including 62 churches and more than 70 businesses, foundations and banks. In all, the center raised $245,000 toward its annual budget.

Funds came from $100-per-plate tickets to the event, as well as an array of donated items for a silent auction preceding the banquet. Celebrities as diverse as Willie Nelson and John Travolta contributed autographed memorabilia. Golfer Greg Norman pulled out his driver, signed it, and sent it when contacted, Harper says.

Harper has led Teen Challenge of Wisconsin for 19 years, but his connection with the national ministry began during his years in college. His twin brother was addicted to cocaine when both were students at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Harper read The Cross and the Switchblade, Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson’s 1963 book about the ministry’s beginning, and thought maybe the organization could help his brother. Jerry Harper, now a schoolteacher, attended the banquet in November.

Since its establishment in 1983 in Milwaukee by a group of business leaders and ministers, Teen Challenge of Wisconsin has grown to include separate residential centers for men and women, a thrift store and a vehicle donation center. About 1,000 cars are donated to the ministry each year, refurbished and sold at auction. The thrift store sells shoes, clothing, books and other donated items.

Besides providing funds for the ministry, the nonprofit businesses are a valuable part of Teen Challenge students’ rehabilitation.

“I was stealing from my job,” says Josh Scutter, 21, from behind the thrift store counter where he is now trusted with a cash register. “They fired me, and I ended up committing burglaries trying to pay my rent and get some money. I was looking at 15 felonies.

“But my brother went through Teen Challenge in Minnesota, and Teen Challenge comes to our church every year, so my parents knew about it. I was sitting in jail waiting to get sentenced. They postponed sentencing so I could come to Teen Challenge.”

Scutter graduated from the program at the banquet.

“I started traveling on weekends as a musician in a setting with a lot of adults when I was 13,” says Rolando Reyes, 29, another new graduate. “I followed in their footsteps of drinking and cocaine. By the time I was in high school I was doing cocaine in the bathroom. At 18, I was introduced to heroin. That took over my life for the next 10 years. It was definitely ordained by God that I was here.”

Leaders at Teen Challenge in Milwaukee can relate personally to their students’ experiences.

Mark Rainey, 48, serves as dean of men. Until age 41, he was addicted to crack.

“I thank God today for His grace and mercy, because without that I would probably be dead,” Rainey says. “Every time I smoked crack I would have seizures. I haven’t had a seizure in seven years. I’m not on any medication. The only medication I take daily is my Bible — Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. I thank God for the opportunity, and I’m going to serve Him for the rest of my days.”

Associate Director Judy Dooley has assisted Harper in Milwaukee since 2001. Dooley entered a Teen Challenge center in California in 1973. She was referred to Teen Challenge by the shelter she was staying at with her son while fleeing an abusive relationship in which she and her son were beaten. Although she had been physically hurt before, the harm toward her son caused her to leave for good.

Judy married Finn Dooley, a lawyer, in 1977. She and her husband have raised their family in a godly home. Their children’s lives followed paths of blessing rather than destruction. One daughter entered the United States Air Force Academy, another earned a master’s in business administration at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and their son founded a business after graduating from Marquette and Harvard.

After seeing how she changed as a result of going through the Teen Challenge program, all six of Dooley’s sisters accepted Jesus as their Savior.

The November banquet garnered much-needed funds for Teen Challenge’s operating expenses in 2011, Harper says, and much of that success is due to the students’ commitment to support the event, including distributing fliers to 250,000 homes.

In a surprise windfall, a business owner donated a garden center in response to a banquet flyer. Teen Challenge plans to use the shop as another source of funds and student rehabilitation.

Bush spoke for more than 30 minutes at the banquet and covered an array of topics. When the president spoke of his deep love for his father, the nation’s 41st president, his remarks resonated with the personal testimonies of Teen Challenge students that evening.

“You can run for president, and if you lose, people will say what a sorry candidate you were,” Bush said. “If you win, they can say what a sorry president you were. But it doesn’t matter if you have a father’s unconditional love.”

Teen Challenge has been sharing the Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for more than 50 years with people around the world struggling with life-controlling addictions. Harper and his team are working hard to expand that mission in Milwaukee this year.

“We want to continue to be something positive in this community,” Harper says, “and in that context to be faithful to the message of the Cross.”

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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