Tag Archives: Drug Addicts

Teen Challenge: Transforming the Lives of Drug and Alcohol Addicts Since 1958

Teen Challenge

Howard Foltz (left) and Dieter Bahr (right) standing in front of a Teen Challenge center in Europe

This Week in AG History — August 27, 1967

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 31 August 2017

Teen Challenge, among the world’s largest and most successful substance abuse recovery programs, grew out of an Assemblies of God minister’s burning desire to share Christ with troubled youth. The program’s origin with David Wilkerson in 1958 and its subsequent expansion around the world is a remarkable testimony to God’s life-changing power.

After reading a news article in the Feb. 24, 1958, issue of Life magazine which talked about a high-profile murder trial for members of a teen gang in New York, David Wilkerson, a young pastor in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, prayed about this situation. He felt a compelling burden to go to New York City and help those boys.

With the prayers of church members, and accompanied by his youth pastor, Wilkerson headed to New York City. He attempted to speak with the judge during the trial, but was thrown out of the courtroom. An embarrassing photo of him holding up a Bible was featured in the New York Daily News. Although his efforts seemed unfruitful, he learned that a number of gang members had been in the courtroom that day. The gang members figured if the cops didn’t like him, and the cops didn’t like them, they all were in the same boat.

The gang members began watching what Wilkerson did. He took advantage of this newfound popularity to preach the gospel both in street meetings and in crowded gang hideouts and heroin “shooting galleries.” Eventually he enlisted the aid of 65 Assemblies of God churches from New York and held a citywide rally for gang members and teens caught up in the gang culture. On the last night of the rally, members of the Mau Maus, Bishops, and several other gangs were in attendance. At the conclusion of the service, dozens of gang members came forward to accept Christ as Savior, including Nicky Cruz, a teen gang leader from Brooklyn.

From this small beginning, additional street rallies were held in New York City, and shelter was offered to young people in need. Evangelism, street meetings, and outreach to teens remained essential, but this new ministry also encompassed recovery from addiction, counseling, and training in practical life skills. This ministry, which is now known as Teen Challenge, focused not only on Christian conversion, but also on Christian discipleship.

In the early 1960s, Dave Wilkerson teamed up with John and Elizabeth Sherrill of Guideposts magazine to write the story behind Teen Challenge. The Cross and the Switchblade, published in 1963, gave the compelling story of David Wilkerson’s ministry to the gangs of New York City and the start of Teen Challenge. A popular movie of the same name was produced in 1970, which starred Pat Boone and Erik Estrada.

Teen Challenge centers sprang up in Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. Many of these new Teen Challenge ministries were pioneered by people who had read The Cross and the Switchblade or had visited another Teen Challenge ministry.

Teen Challenge, which is now a part of AG U.S. Missions, has garnered the attention of national leaders such as President Ronald Reagan, President Gerald Ford, and President George W. Bush.  President Reagan said, “Not only does Teen Challenge help our young people deal with their substance abuse, but it also gives our kids something to live for — a relationship with God, a healthy self-esteem, and a direction in their lives.”

Fifty years ago, in the Aug. 27, 1967, issue, the Pentecostal Evangel highlighted the ongoing growth of the Teen Challenge ministry in an article titled, “Teen Challenge on the Move.” This article featured two new Teen Challenge centers located in Denver and Bayamon, Puerto Rico, as well as centers in Detroit, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. A dozen Teen Challenge centers had been established worldwide by 1967.

What began as an outreach by David Wilkerson to the gangs of New York City in 1958 has developed into one of the largest and most successful Christian treatment programs for individuals caught up in drugs, alcohol, and other life-controlling problems. In addition to 30 administrative offices and 227 Teen Challenge centers in the United States, Global Teen Challenge has been set up to assist with the development of new centers outside the U.S. In 2017, Global Teen Challenge is in 122 countries, representing 1,200 programs.

The specific challenges and methods have changed over the years, but Teen Challenge’s focus remains the same. Teen Challenge leaders recognize that preventing addiction and other life-controlling problems is a process, and Christ alone holds the key to prevention and cure.

Read “Teen Challenge on the Move,” on pages 16 and 17 of the Aug. 27, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Joy in Jerusalem”

• “The Lord’s Prayer” by G. Raymond Carlson

• “Good News Crusades in Nigeria”

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Dr. Howard Thomas: The Remarkable Deliverance of a Physician from Drug Addiction


Dr. Howard Thomas, preaching to an Assemblies of God congregation, circa 1970

This Week in AG History — May 3, 1970

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 4 May 2017

Dr. Howard Thomas (1927-2016) had a promising career as a physician, but a drug addiction almost destroyed his marriage and professional life in the early 1960s. After hitting rock bottom and ending up in a private sanatorium for treatment, he turned to Christ and experienced a radical transformation. Against all odds, Thomas was allowed to keep his medical license. He became a dedicated member of the Assemblies of God and frequently shared his testimony of his deliverance from addiction to drugs. The May 3, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published his remarkable story.

Thomas was raised in a rural Tennessee community where alcohol was a way of life and where religious influences were minimal. Recreational activities always seemed to include liquor bottles. Thomas partied hard, but he also worked hard. He married, attended college, studied diligently, and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in 1954.

Thomas and another doctor purchased a clinic in Henderson, Tennessee. Thomas and his wife, Ann, seemed to be living the American dream. They were respected members of their community, and their future was bright.


Howard and Ann Thomas, circa 1970

However, the Thomases’ lifestyle of partying led them into trouble. They began attending private parties hosted by local professionals. Drug use and sexual sin were commonplace.

Dr. Thomas recounted: “Practically all the people at these parties were church people. The parties got worse and worse. I would have to describe them as vile and vulgar. Yet on Sunday morning you could see these same people in the pews and teaching Sunday school classes and serving the churches.”

The Thomases joined in the hypocrisy. They maintained a veneer of respectability, even while they adopted destructive lifestyles. Their hearts were far from God. Dr. Thomas later said, “Our morals got lower and lower.”

Family and work pressures took their toll, and Thomas began taking pills to help him stay awake. He learned to depend on stimulants and began injecting amphetamine. He soon moved on to harder drugs, including Demerol and morphine. When Ann was feeling ill, he gave her a shot of Demerol. Soon, she was also addicted.

Life was spinning out of control. They tried to escape their problems by leaving Henderson and moving to Arizona, where he accepted a position as a company doctor. Their drug habit, however, was not solved by distance. Dr. Thomas, increasingly, was unable to focus sufficiently to perform surgeries, and Ann became mentally disturbed and could not be home alone.

Ann’s condition deteriorated, and her parents came from Tennessee to help with the children. The family decided to move back to Tennessee, where Thomas opened up another practice. He thought he could “snap out of it” and that everything would be all right.

However, Thomas could not kick his drug habit and things got worse. He developed festering abscesses on his hips and shoulders, and he had difficulty hiding his addictions. Ultimately, his parents had him committed at a neuropsychiatric hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He escaped from the hospital. He went on to hold a series of failed short-term positions as a doctor, until he deteriorated to the point of being unable to function. He slept in his car in the woods or in a gravel pit, and patients never knew where to find him.

Dr. Thomas was recommitted at the Murfreesboro hospital, this time behind locked steel doors. He was devastated. He was confined for seven weeks, where he went through withdrawal. However, he still had cravings for drugs. He knew that he would return to his former lifestyle once he was free. In the meantime, Ann had filed for divorce.

Thomas was released from the hospital and he found another job. One day, in July 1965, a truck driver asked Thomas to attend a men’s religious retreat. Thomas tried to say “no,” but the truck driver was persistent. Thomas went, and the services were unlike anything he had ever seen.

The men were not trying to impress anyone. They were not playing church. They testified how God delivered them from lives of sin, they prayed, and they called on God in prayer. Thomas came to realize that these men had something that he desperately needed – he needed God’s power in his life.

A Spirit-filled Methodist electrician and plumber led Thomas to the Lord at the meeting. Thomas later recalled, “I felt clean. I felt the same way as the other men. I was full of praise. I wanted to testify. My first thought was to go to Ann and tell her about Jesus. I knew she was lost.”

Thomas returned from the retreat and told Ann that he accepted Jesus and was a new man. She was skeptical. Her mother warned her to not go back to him. He had promised for years that he would kick his addictions, but never did.

Thomas began attending a local Methodist church, where the pastor invited him to share his testimony. Word spread throughout the region of Dr. Thomas’ remarkable deliverance from drugs, and he began to receive invitations to speak at schools and churches. He also reconciled with his wife, Ann.

After accepting Christ, Thomas began reading the Bible. He became convinced from the Bible that Christ provided an experience subsequent to salvation – baptism in the Holy Spirit – that provided empowerment for daily living. He had heard some of the men at the retreat talking about the experience. He knew that he needed God’s power in his life.

The Thomases met Ralph Duncan, an Assemblies of God pastor in Rutherford, Tennessee, and invited him to hold special services in Saltillo, the small town where they were living. Ann received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in those meetings, and she became a different person. She said, “Honey, it’s real. It’s real!” Dr. Thomas was likewise baptized in the Holy Spirit a short time later.

Meanwhile, the Board of Medical Examiners had started the process of revoking Thomas’ license to practice medicine. Dr. Thomas made a full written confession of his addictions and misdeeds, and the board had no intention of giving him a second chance, based on his dismal record.

At Dr. Thomas’ hearing, the board grilled the Thomases and their parents for two hours. The board asked Ann, “How can you be so sure that he won’t go back on drugs?” She replied, “You don’t know the power of God.”

Stating it was against its better judgement, the board decided to permit Thomas to continue to practice medicine, on the condition that Ann write the board a letter every month assuring the board that everything is fine.

HowardThomas1Dr. Howard Thomas went to on to be a successful physician and a longtime Assemblies of God member. He frequently shared his testimony, including on television and radio. A widely-distributed booklet, Drugs, Despair, Deliverance: The Story of Dr. Howard Thomas (1971), was written by C. M. Ward, the host of the Assemblies of God’s Revivaltime radio broadcast. In 1975, David Mainse interviewed Thomas for the Assemblies of God’s Turning Point television program. Thomas had so many ministry opportunities that he became credentialed as an Assemblies of God minister from 1975 to 1981.

When Thomas went to be with the Lord in 2016, he and Ann had been married almost 70 years. While the first 20 years of their marriage was marked by addictions and destructive patterns, they spent their last 50 years as devoted Christians active in Assemblies of God churches.

Thomas’ testimony provides insight into the problem of drug addiction. From personal experience, Thomas understood that institutional care is not the answer to the drug problem. He wrote, “A man can be taken off drugs, but as soon as he is returned to society, and the same pressures set in, that man will return to drugs.”

Thomas also understood that psychiatry is limited in its ability to treat addiction. Psychiatrists recognized and analyzed Thomas’ addiction, but they could not cure the addiction. A cure required a change of heart. Addiction, Thomas came to realize, was a spiritual problem. He spent years attempting to treat his own addiction. However, Thomas found deliverance only after he placed his faith in Christ and allowed his heart and desires to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Read “I Was Hooked on Drugs,” by Howard W. Thomas, on pages 2-3 and 13 of the May 3, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Marriages Can Be Mended,” by C. M. Ward

• “From Black Magic to Christ,” by Armand Helou

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org


Filed under Biography