Tag Archives: Teen Challenge

William W. Hays: From Addiction and Crime to Assemblies of God Prison Chaplain

Rev  W W  Hays

This Week in AG History — July 22, 1962

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 21 July 2016

William W. Hays (1927-2010) came from a family known for drunkenness and crime, and he lived up to his family’s poor reputation. Addictions and debauchery almost led William to an early grave, but God delivered him and called him into ministry. The ex-convict and former addict became a noted Assemblies of God prison chaplain and evangelist, devoting his life to helping others escape the living hell that he knew well. He shared his story in the July 22, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

William was raised during the Great Depression in an impoverished community along the Arkansas River near Fort Smith, Arkansas. Moonshine, violence, and prostitutes were a way of life in the community. William started drinking moonshine at age 5. He got into daily fistfights with other children and dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He and his brother, Benny, devoted much of their time to helping their father make whiskey.

William’s mother had died, and his father never took his children to church. The boys had few positive influences, and they lived to satisfy their destructive desires. By age 17, William was an alcoholic. “I lied, cheated, and committed crimes,” he recalled, in order “to get the money for another drink of alcohol.”

At age 17, William fell in love with a lovely young girl, Edith Mae, who had been raised in a Christian home. He was attracted to her “clean way of living.” After a whirlwind courtship, they married a few weeks later, on the condition that he would stop drinking. But he could only fight the urge to drink for a few days, and he again succumbed to what he later described as the “demon forces” of alcohol.

William had difficulty holding down a job and could not provide for his growing family. “I would leave my wife and children with nothing to eat,” he wrote, “and would awake from an intoxicated stupor to find myself hundreds of miles from home in some cheap joint or on Skid Row with the lowest characters.”

William’s wife, Edith Mae, spent much of the first 14 years of their marriage in tears and in prayer. She had six children in eight years, and William proved to be unstable. When he returned home from wandering, he would show tenderness to her and their children. But the next moment he might be wild and rash.

His life got even worse. William became addicted to morphine, and, at age 25, his body began to waste away. One more tragedy made life unbearable. His brother, Benny, who had been living in squalor with a prostitute, was murdered with a shotgun at close range. Seething with anger, he tried to find Benny’s killer, but was unsuccessful.

Hays mug shots

William W. Hays, mugshot

By age 31, William’s body was giving out. His nerves were shattered, his body was emaciated and addicted to alcohol and heroin, and his spirit was deadened to the world. He ended up in a state mental institution, where doctors gave him a few days to live.

William’s oldest daughter, Phyllis, called a Pentecostal Holiness Church preacher, Walter Brown, who came to his bedside. William, sensing this was his last chance, responded to Brown’s fervent prayers. “I began to cry to God for salvation,” he recounted. “Soon the tremendous load on my heart was lifted. I knew the power of the omnipotent God was working to set me free.”

Almost immediately, William’s condition began to improve. Brown helped to disciple William, teaching him how to follow Christ and to be a faithful husband and father. Brown warned him that he must take certain definite actions, or he would not experience lasting change. “You must study the Bible consistently and earnestly, and regularly attend a church,” he insisted. As William did this, he was able to overcome the temptations to return to his former addictions and lifestyle.

The new Christian felt compelled to share his testimony. He went to his former buddies on Skid Row, and they initially laughed at him. The road back to health was a struggle, but as William made progress, people took notice. When his former associates saw a lasting change in William’s life, they wanted to know more.

William read the Bible voraciously, hungry to know God. He sensed God’s call into the ministry and, in 1962, was ordained by the Assemblies of God. He pastored several churches, started rescue missions in Fort Smith and Oklahoma City, and then became director of the Teen Challenge center in Fort Worth, Texas. William felt a tug to prison chaplaincy, in part because his brother spent two stints in the Arkansas State Penitentiary, which was known as the “hell hole of the penal system.” He helped to lead a successful prison reform movement, which made prisons safer in Arkansas. He also engaged in chaplaincy work in dangerous prisons in Mexico. In his later years, he served as coordinator of prison and jail ministries for the Oklahoma District Council of the Assemblies of God.

William W. Hays was an unlikely candidate to become a minister, much less a prison chaplain. But when God changed his life, his early years behind bars and on the wrong side of the law became an asset for his new calling.

Read William W. Hays’ testimony, “Delivered from Dope and Death,” on pages 8-9 of the July 22, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “All May Prophesy,” by Donald Gee

• “New Church for Navajos in California,” by L. E. Halvorson

• “No Birth Certificate,” by L. Nelson Bell

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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Review: U.S. Missions 75th Anniversary


U.S. Missions: Celebrating 75 Years of Ministry. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2012.

The Assemblies of God USA has always been dedicated to the mission of God, domestic and abroad, since its founding in 1914. While Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) was created in 1919, it was not until 1937 that Assemblies of God U.S. Missions (AGUSM) was created to bring greater organization to home mission efforts. This full-color, lavishly-illustrated coffee table book celebrates the 75th anniversary of AGUSM. This volume provides an overview of the history of U.S. Missions, as well as its seven departments, and is a wonderful tribute and memoir to Assemblies of God U.S. missionaries and their efforts to reach America with the gospel, that none perish.

Chapter 1, “Highlights of 75 Years of U.S. Missions,” is an adapted and edited from A History of Home Missions of the Assemblies of God (1992) by Ruth Lyon.


In Chapter 2, Kirk Noonan provides an overview of Chaplaincy Ministries, which includes industrial/occupational chaplains, prison chaplains, and military/VA chaplains. The Chaplaincy Ministries Department was started in 1973. Noonan reports, “Chaplains minister to service personnel, prisoners, the sick, dying people in crisis and trauma, athletes, truckers, bikers, cowboys, law enforcement personnel, fire fighters, factory workers, retirees, people involved in human trafficking, politicians, etc. To put it simply, where there is someone in need, there is a chaplain” (p. 21).


Sarah Malcolm traces the history of Chi Alpha in chapter 3. Chi Alpha is the national ministry of the Assemblies of God USA to reach students, including over 700,000 international students, who are attending colleges and universities in the U.S. Founded in 1953, Chi Alpha is currently the fourth largest evangelical campus ministry in the U.S. Malcolm states, “Chi Alpha is not just a program, it is a culture of disciple making. The transformed students and committed missionaries of Chi Alpha are laying the ground work for the next generation of the Assemblies of God and its leaders” (p. 50).


Chapter 4, written by William Molenaar, explores the history of Intercultural Ministries. While intercultural ministries and evangelism have been a part of the Assemblies of God since its founding, the Home Missions Department was tasked with overseeing intercultural ministries in 1937. Later in 1945, the Intercultural Ministries Department was created within AGUSM. America’s multicultural past, present, and future creates both a great evangelistic challenge and a great evangelistic opportunity for the Assemblies of God USA. Molenaar focuses on five of the earliest and historic ministries: Jewish ministries, Native American ministry, ministry to the Blind, ministry to the Deaf, Alaskan ministry, and the various ethnic-language branches, districts and fellowships of the Assemblies of God USA.


Joshua R. Ziefle wrote Chapter 5, which covers the history of Missionary Church Planters and Developers (MCPD). Originally founded in 1947, MCPD is tasked with identifying, supporting and resourcing church planting and development missionaries appointed by U.S. Missions. Ziefle notes, “For almost a century, the Assemblies of God has been a leader in church planting. Early Pentecostals were visionaries and entrepreneurs, buoyed by a vision to save the world and anchored by a deep commitment to Christ and God’s Word” (p. 71).


Chapter 6 features a history of Teen Challenge International, U.S.A., written by David Batty, Ethan Campbell, and Patty Baker. The authors trace the inspiring story of David Wilkerson’s ministry in New York City to the global growth of the Teen Challenge. It is widely held that Teen Challenge is “one of the world’s largest and most successful drug recovery programs” (p. 89). Teen Challenge has been running over 50 years now with more than 1000 centers in 93 countries around the world.


William Molenaar wrote chapter 7 regarding the U.S. Mission America Placement Service (MAPS) Department. U.S. MAPS “is the ministry within Assemblies of God U.S. Missions that assists churches, schools and ministries by coordinating volunteers with construction and evangelism projects” (p. 99). MAPS originated in 1967 as an inter-departmental effort of the Assemblies of God National Office to mobilize laity to participate in the mission of God both home and abroad, and today has a thriving RV volunteer ministry.


Finally, Chapter 8, written by Kevin Dawson, traces the development of the Youth Alive Department. Dawson explains, “Youth Alive is a missionary movement dedicated to equipping and releasing students to reach the middle school and high school campuses of the United States” (p. 118). Youth Alive not only develops campus clubs, but it mobilizes young people to be missionaries to their schools. Today, Youth Alive is in 15 percent of the middle schools and high schools in the U.S.

Readers will enjoy reading the substantive histories of U.S. Missions, as well as browsing the historical photographs throughout the book. Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center staff provided images and significant editorial assistance in the production of the book: William Molenaar authored two chapters, Glenn Gohr checked facts and citations, and Gohr and Darrin Rodgers provided extensive editorial work. Few books are both attractive and add to the body of scholarly literature. This book achieves both. U.S. Missions: Celebrating 75 Years of Ministry will be warmly received by both scholars and those who lived the history.  This commemorative volume should be added to your personal library and is also ideal for your coffee table, waiting room, or as a gift.

Hardcover, 128 pages. $25.00 retail. Order from: Gospel Publishing House.

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The Legacy of David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

Reverend David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, as well as the founder of Teen Challenge, World Challenge Ministries and Times Square Church, was killed on Wednesday, April 27th in a head-on collision at Tyler, Texas. He died at the scene, while his wife was rushed to hospital where she remains under observation. He was 79.

A private funeral service held on May 2nd at Rose Heights Church of God, in Tyler, was attended by members of Wilkerson’s family and close friends, including evangelist Nicky Cruz. His body was laid to rest in Lindale, Texas. During the funeral service, a tribute video was shown to those who attended. To view this video, please click on: A Tribute to David Wilkerson.

Members of the church and the public will have the chance to pay their respects at a memorial service to be held at Times Square Church in Manhattan, New York City at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, May 14, 2011. There will be overflow locations once full capacity has been reached inside the church. The service will be streamed live beginning at 2:00 p.m. on the Times Square Church website. A simultaneous translation of the service will be available in 10 different languages via conference call lines, details of which will also be posted on the church’s live stream page.

Wilkerson left a lasting legacy through his evangelistic ministry which spanned four decades and included preaching, teaching and writing. He has authored over 30 books, but was well known for having written “The Cross and the Switchblade,” also made into a movie, which gave an account of his ministry among New York gang members and drug users. Over 50 million copies of the book have been sold and it has been translated into 30 languages. This led to the establishment of Teen Challenge which has continued to minister to those caught in addictions. Today, there are 233 Teen Challenge Centers in the United States and 1,187 total worldwide.

In 1987, David Wilkerson returned to “the crossroads of the world” to establish Times Square Church. Since then, he faithfully led this congregation, delivering powerful biblical messages that encourage righteous living and complete reliance on God.

With a strong burden to encourage and strengthen pastors throughout the world, Wilkerson has been traveling around the globe since 1999, holding conferences for Christian ministers. His last blog, posted on April 27th, ended with these words: “Stand fast in [God’s] Word. There is no other hope in this world.” See: “When All Means Fail.” David Wilkerson was living in Texas with his wife, and together they have four children and 11 grandchildren.

The Pentecostal Evangel is also working on an issue in tribute to David Wilkerson.

For an overview of David Wilkerson’s life and ministry, see: http://www.worldchallenge.org/about_david_wilkerson

Some additional posts regarding David Wilkerson can be found below:

David Wilkerson Today

Rev. David Wilkerson Killed in TX Car Crash (CBN News)

Times Square Church Founder David Wilkerson Dies in Accident (Christian Post)

David Wilkerson Killed in Car Crash (Charisma magazine)

Sudden passing of David Wilkerson (AG-NEWS)

Memorial service for David Wilkerson finalized (AG-NEWS)

“Call to Anguish” (David Wilkerson’s soul-stirring sermon on the necessity of anguish – to bear God’s heart, passion, and burden within our lives) posted on YouTube.

“Call to Anguish” (David Wilkerson’s soul-stirring sermon on the necessity of anguish – to bear God’s heart, passion, and burden within our lives) posted on YouTube.

“The Dangers of the Gospel of Accommodation” (A sermon given by David Wilkerson at an Assemblies of God Headquarters chapel service on March 10, 1998, now posted on AGTV).

A transcript of Wilkerson’s message on the Dangers of Accommodation in Enrichment Journal, Winter 1999.

“Teen challenge: 50 years of miracles” in Assemblies of God Heritage, 2008, p. 14.

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Review: Teen Challenge history

Teen Challenge: 50 Years of Miracles, by David Batty and Ethan Campbell. Springfield, MO: Teen Challenge USA, 2008.

Since it first appeared forty-five years ago, The Cross and the Switchblade widely circulated as a book, movie, and comic in Pentecostal and evangelical circles and helped to spur the charismatic movement in mainline Protestant and Catholic churches. At a time when Americans were more concerned than ever about the rise of juvenile delinquency and crime, its author, David Wilkerson, testified to the power of the Christ over addiction, crime, and gang violence.

A handsome coffee table book, Teen Challenge: 50 Years of Miracles provides the rest of the story. David Batty and Ethan Campbell recount how Wilkerson, who had been praying for God’s direction, found himself drawn to the harrowing tale of the brutal murder of Michael Farmer, a handicapped teenager, by several members of the Egyptian Dragons. When it appeared in 1957, the news story shocked the nation and generated tremendous press coverage. To the searching Wilkerson, the plight of gang members appeared a call to action. He moved to New York, where he successfully developed connections with gang members. Batty and Campbell trace how Teen Challenge, the organization he founded, grew to an international organization of over 1000 Christian drug and alcohol treatment centers.

There are a few things the book does not do. It does not place Teen Challenge in the context of the history of the Assemblies of God, youth ministry, or the American conversation on juvenile delinquency. In content and tone, it is a celebration and not an analysis. This is not primarily a scholarly book.

However, what it does do, it does well. It is divided equally into three parts. The first chapter traces the growth of Teen Challenge as a local ministry to youth in Brooklyn during the 1960s. The chapter is broken into easily-read sections profiling important events and Teen Challenge participants. A rich collection of photographs and reproductions of documents tell the story even more powerfully than the text. Those interested in the religious literature of this decade will appreciate the many photographs of books and Teen Challenge promotional materials. The next two chapters trace the growth of Teen Challenge across the United States and globe. These sections follow the same format and focus almost entirely on contemporary personal testimony. Overall, this volume presents a well-organized visual feast and a spiritual chronicle that anyone concerned about the victims of addiction will appreciate.

Reviewed by Danielle DuBois Gottwig, Ph.D. candidate, University of Notre Dame

Hardcover, 199 pages, illustrated. $25.00 plus shipping. Order from Teen Challenge USA by phone (417-862-6969 ext. 212) or online (www.TeenChallengeUSA.com).

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2008 Heritage hot off the press

Heritage 2008

The 2008 annual edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine is hot off the press and will shortly be mailed to all credentialed Assemblies of God ministers. Additional copies may be ordered online or by phone: 877.840.5200 (toll free).

Download selected free articles from the 2008 edition from the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center website. If you like what you read, consider ordering the entire 2008 edition of Heritage for yourself, or as a gift for your friends or relatives. We think you will agree that Heritage magazine is a keepsake!

The 2008 edition features the following articles:

Dr. Charles S. Price: His Life, Ministry and Influence
This Oxford-educated pastor became one of the most noteworthy Pentecostal evangelists of the twentieth century.

Teen Challenge: 50 Years of Miracles
What began as an outreach by David Wilkerson to the gangs of New York City has developed into one of the largest and most successful Christian drug-treatment programs.

Conflicted by the Spirit: The Religious Life of Elvis Presley
The “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” the most famous Assemblies of God Sunday school prospect from the 1950s, experienced an all-too public struggle between his religious upbringing and the temptations of the world.

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Review: Is There a God?

Is There a God

Is There a God?: The Life and Times of Frank Reynolds, by Frank Reynolds with Joan Kruger. Lenexa, KS: 3Cross Publishing, 2006.

Filled with anger after his father deserted his family in the midst of the 1930s Depression in rural New York, Frank Reynolds was determined to graduate from high school and go to college. He became an atheist early in life, was convinced success was in wealth and education, and graduated from Cornell University. However, after an extended period of research and reflection, he came to believe in God and accepted Christ. He immediately felt a call to the ministry, was ordained by the Assemblies of God, and became one of the early leaders in Teen Challenge, a Christian drug and alcohol treatment program. He ultimately served as the first National Representative for Teen Challenge. In Is There a God?, Reynolds shares his own faith-building story, which provides an insider’s perspective concerning the early years of Teen Challenge.

Paperback, 139 pages, illustrated. $12, plus $1.60 shipping. Order from: Frank Reynolds, 4626 S. Crescent Ave., Springfield, MO 65804.

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