Don Wilkerson, who cofounded Teen Challenge with his brother David, has been actively involved with the ministry for almost 65 years. The well-known addiction recovery ministry was founded in 1958 by the two brothers, just after David Wilkerson began his monumental evangelism of gangs in New York City, which ended with a citywide crusade where several of the gang members were converted.
Teen Challenged opened the doors of its first facility in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960. Beginning in 1971, Don Wilkerson served as its executive director for 16 years. Don Wilkerson also served as executive director of Teen Challenge International for 26 years.
Among his other duties, Don was instrumental in developing the residential rehabilitation and discipleship program that has been a success in changing lives for many students of the Teen Challenge program. He helped develop the biblical curriculum that eventually became the standard teaching for the Teen Challenge program. The Brooklyn Teen Challenge Center became the inspiration and model for similar programs to be launched across the United States.
The Teen Challenge ministry rose to prominence with the publication of David Wilkerson’s book, The Cross and the Switchblade, in 1963. The book was released as a movie in 1970, and played in some 5,000 theaters across the United States.
In 1987 David and Don Wilkerson founded Times Square Church in Manhattan, New York City. After meeting in temporary quarters, the church leased the Mark Hellinger Theatre building on West 51st Street in 1989 and purchased that building two years later. In its new location the church has grown to a weekly attendance of 5,000.
In 1995, Don Wilkerson founded Global Teen Challenge and served as its executive director for 13 years (1995-2007). He helped to plant new Teen Challenge centers around the world and helped train leaders and workers. Global Teen Challenge now has 1,100 centers in 114 countries.
In June 2008 Don returned to lead the Brooklyn Teen Challenge Center in New York where Teen Challenge began over 60 years ago. His brother, David Wilkerson, passed away in a car accident in 2011. In 2018 the name for Teen Challenge USA was changed to Adult & Teen Challenge. Don is now retired from Brooklyn Teen Challenge and is president emeritus of Adult & Teen Challenge.
Don Wilkerson has authored and coauthored a number of books, including Bring Your Loved Ones to Christ, Called to the Other Side, A Coffee House Manual, Counseling by the Scriptures, The Cross is Still Mightier Than the Switchblade, Dear Graduate: Letters of Practical Advice from Don Wilkerson, Fast Track to Nowhere, The Gutter and the Ghetto, My Story: Confessions of a Hope Pusher, and Within a Yard of Hell.
Fifty years ago Don Wilkerson shared a testimony of a Teen Challenge resident named Joe who went to a scheduled court hearing and was sentenced to prison because of a previous crime he had committed. Joe had been in the Teen Challenge program in Brooklyn for two months, and it was assumed that the judge would allow him to stay in the program. Once the news reached them, all the staff and the young men in the program began to pray for Joe’s release. The court-assigned lawyer was Jewish, but he knew that Joe had accepted Jesus Christ and that it had made a difference in his life. He did not need to go to prison. The judge was unwilling to change his mind, so the lawyer took the case to a higher court. Everyone at the Teen Challenge Center continued to pray.
Four weeks after his sentencing, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear Joe’s case (and in the meantime he had won four cellmates to Christ). At the hearing, one of the Brooklyn staff members was allowed to approach the bench to explain the Teen Challenge program and what had happened to Joe. The judge listened carefully and decided to overrule the decision of the lower court. Joe was released to go back to Teen Challenge. Joe and everyone at the Teen Challenge Center believed God had answered their prayers.
Read “Miraculous Release” on page 24 of the July 30, 1972, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Supernatural Healing,” by Percy S. Brewster
• “The Faith That Brings Healing,” by Harvey McAlister
• “5 Biblical Methods of Healing,” by C.M. Ward
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Photo: President Gerald Ford (left) greets Don Wilkerson (right).