Teen Challenge is the oldest, largest and most successful program of its kind in the world, and was founded over 50 years ago by Reverend David Wilkerson. It was Feb. 28, 1958 when the 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher from rural Pennsylvania disrupted a highly publicized murder trial in New York City. Wilkerson had made the eight-hour drive from his quiet mountain town to downtown Manhattan for a simple reason; to speak to the seven accused gang members about their salvation. In a grave attempt to share the love of God, Wilkerson rushed to the front of the courtroom at the close of trial proceedings and pleaded publicly with the judge for permission to meet the teenage defendants. News media were everywhere, and Wilkerson unwittingly made himself the source of headline news throughout New York City.
The judge had been receiving death threats during the trial, and Wilkerson was almost arrested as a presumed assailant. The judge later refused Wilkerson’s request to see the boys and ordered him never to return to his courtroom. Wilkerson made more than the news back in 1958; five months after his discouraging day in court, his compassion for teen-age gangs and drug addicts began to make history. Since Wilkerson opened the first center in New York in 1960, Teen Challenge has grown to over 195 centers across the nation and over 550 centers worldwide. In 1971, Wilkerson founded a global evangelistic ministry, World Challenge. David Wilkerson died in 2011 at the age of 79. Teen Challenge, a ministry that he founded, continues to touch hurting people worldwide, bringing recovery to those trapped in addiction. The Teen Challenge residential program continues to be one of the largest and most effective substance abuse recovery and prevention programs of its kind.