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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. ...

Service Trumps Addiction

By John W. Kennedy
June 30, 2013

For the past 31 years, Paul D. Ecker Sr. and his wife, Linda, have helped restore men dragged down by life-controlling issues so they can function in society after obtaining life skills and developing character.

As executive directors of TeenLife Challenge of Dallas, the Eckers help men refocus on God rather than on alcohol, drugs or other stumbling blocks that have resulted in chaotic lives. Many of the men earlier went through secular recovery programs that didn’t help them in the long run.

The Eckers are strong proponents of the intensive 18-month, five-phase plan of Teen Challenge, which involves a highly structured residency program and includes employment. The North Texas unit is one of the nearly 200 U.S. residential centers operated as a Christian faith-based recovery outreach of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

David Wilkerson founded Teen Challenge in 1958, and the ministry is geared to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.

The North Texas center incorporates customary Teen Challenge curriculum, as well as a variety of 12-step addiction recovery resources. Students from nearby Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie visit and speak to residents to help whet their appetite for learning.

In the initial stages of a new resident’s participation, Ecker strives to get the enrollee to understand and value God’s Word as the guiding principle for daily living.

“My goal is to get a local student back functioning in a local church,” Ecker says. “If they don’t give of themselves to help others, they’re not good stewards of their time and energy.”

For decades, Ecker has operated a program similar to another AG U.S. Missions outreach: Mission America Placement Service (MAPS). Ecker gets the students involved in construction projects at AG churches, campgrounds, Southwestern AG University, and Pleasant Hill Children’s Home. At the children’s home in Fairfield, Texas, TeenLife Challenge students have fixed roofs, replaced windows, repaired fences and installed septic tanks.

“We are ministering to individuals with life-controlling problems, and in the process we are utilizing their strengths to return ministry to others,” Ecker says. “The men are not just recipients of the love of Christ; they are investing in others.”

Ecker, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, is a graduate of Central Bible College. He and Linda, who is the treasurer for the center, began leading TeenLife Challenge of Dallas when they had two young children. Ecker has also served for 5 ears as the South Central regional director for Teen Challenge USA.

Currently, the North Texas Teen Challenge center has 64 students enrolled, but that will increase to 110 when a 24,000-square-foot building is renovated. The North Texas center has multiple facilities.

Normally, residents under 21, some as young as 17, live on a ranch in Winnsboro, Texas. Those who haven’t graduated from high school can earn a GED diploma while enrolled there.

The older men often end up mentoring the younger students on worksites.

“We believe if the younger guys walk alongside the older guys in service, they will learn life lessons and skills in a supportive environment,” Ecker says. “So many guys come from homes without both parents — so these guys become like big brothers or even dads.”

By the time they graduate, Ecker hopes students are more focused on godly pursuits than on worldly reputation.

“Too many come here concerned with image instead of character,” he says. “But character is what’s going to help them stay the course.”

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

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