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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    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. ...

Teen Challenge: Rural Communities Confront Drug Addiction Needs

By John W. Kennedy
July 01, 2012

Between pulpit assignments at the turn of the millennium, Pastor Jim Forakis decided to help on the staff of the fledgling rural Teen Challenge nonresidential service based in Savannah, Tenn. On an interim basis, Forakis led Tennessee Valley Teen Challenge, which had formed under the umbrella of Memphis Teen Challenge.

Twelve years later, his job as executive director looks fairly permanent.

“My heart started to be drawn more to Teen Challenge when I saw souls getting saved,” says Forakis, who also served as pastor of a small church during the first five years he was based in Savannah. “The Lord whispered in my heart, This is what you’re supposed to be doing: winning the lost and discipling them.”

The ministry became self-sustaining after Forakis took a step of faith and resigned as pastor of the church in order to devote himself full time to Teen Challenge.

In fact, the nonresidential program has spread to five surrounding counties. In addition, the Savannah center has become a traditional residential facility.

The six-month Lifeline program took shape after much trial and error early on, Forakis says.

It started from scratch, opening for night meetings to people with life-controlling problems such as drug and alcohol dependence.

“Local folks — men, women, youth, fathers and sons, husbands and wives — can come to these meetings,” Forakis says. “They can get help but still keep a job.”

The program offers a Christ-centered 12-step recovery plan that deals with topics such as anger management, money troubles and anxiety.

“It’s all about getting saved and into a local church,” says Forakis, 47.

Participants are tested for drugs, which has helped endear Tennessee Valley Teen Challenge to various judges around the region. Lifeline gatherings now take place weekly or twice a week in Lexington, Waynesboro, Parsons and Selmer, Tenn., as well as Corinth, Miss. In all, nearly 200 people are active in the meetings.

Forakis encountered a great deal of skepticism in launching the center, even from experienced metropolitan Teen Challenge directors. Few thought that a town of only 7,000 in a county with just 25,000 residents could support the budget needed to make a go of it.

“The drug problem is not just an urban problem,” Forakis says. “Rural communities all over the nation are crying for help.”

Forakis says businesses and churches have been supportive, and the center is creative in fundraising projects, ranging from lawn care to car detailing. He notes there are advantages to ministering in areas with a limited population.

Unlike cities, which tend to have a plethora of both Christian and secular recovery groups, Teen Challenge is the only such faith-based program in several counties throughout the sparsely populated Tennessee River Valley.

“The courts love us; the pastors love us,” Forakis says. “We’re providing help that isn’t available elsewhere.”

Amy Forakis, Jim’s wife of 21 years and the mother of the couple’s three sons, is office manager at Tennessee Valley Teen Challenge.

The nonresidential program is dependent on lay volunteers from local churches.

“We have over 25 volunteer facilitators, and they are the heartbeat of what we do,” Forakis says.

Since 2007, the Savannah site has been home to a 21-bed residential facility, built by Mission America Placement Service (MAPS) teams. The men’s facility is a one-year residential program.

The drug problem today goes beyond the methamphetamine scourge that has plagued rural areas since the late 20th century. The most recent epidemic involves abusing prescription drugs.

“It’s not the typical drug addicts of yesteryear,” Forakis says. “People go from doctor to doctor, and there are a lot of unconventional ways to get drugs. Some low-income people sell medicines to make ends meet.”

The Teen Challenge facility takes a drug prevention program called Stay Sharp — which features cutting-edge video clips mingled with live testimonies from local Teen Challenge students and graduates — into public junior and senior high schools. The center also sponsors ministry outreaches in three county jails and a federal prison.

A second phase of construction that will provide a library and additional classrooms is on the drawing board in Savannah. The two-story structure will include a work area for car detailing and a place to store equipment.

An additional four beds will open up at the existing structure when some classrooms shift to the new facility. Forakis says construction, as with the first round of building, will happen debt free. The second phase has about one-third of the necessary funds raised so far.

Meanwhile, several graduates have found jobs in the area and have relocated with their families. Other graduates are off to college, while some are being trained for the ministry.

“We’re seeing a lot of young men’s lives change,” Forakis says. “That’s very rewarding.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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