Teen Challenge New Jersey | History and Mission
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History and Mission





David Wilkerson, a young pastor from Pennsylvania heard God say, “Go to New York City and help those boys.” He started the ministry of Teen Challenge in 1958 after the dramatic conversion and transformation of a notorious Brooklyn gang leader, Nicky Cruz.

Rev. Wilkerson describes in his 1963 book The Cross and the Switchblade the attempts made to speak with seven teenaged gang members including Nicky that were on trial for murdering a handicapped boy named Michael Farmer. Wilkerson was continually thwarted in his multiple efforts to see those young teenagers, and eventually gained infamy when he was thrown from the trial’s courtroom. His newfound notoriety gained this preacher credibility and an audience with the other gang members and drug addicts that he encountered on the streets of New York City.

David Wilkerson soon moved to New York to work full time among gang members sharing a message of God’s love for them. Over the next few years, the growing epidemic of drug addiction began to decimate the gangs in New York, forcing addicts into solitary existence where they struggled to satisfy the demand for drugs their minds and bodies craved. The fledgling Teen Challenge organization and Wilkerson adapted to this new reality seeking to make their efforts effective for those bound by addiction.

First, a former mansion was purchased in Brooklyn, which became a refuge for addicts seeking to change their lives followed by a working farm in Pennsylvania. A more structured program was developed and coordinated by the two locations to help these new Christians in a real world. As the program took further shape, it became a one-year residential recovery effort.

The popularity of The Cross and the Switchblade (which sold 11 million copies in the first 10 years and in 1972 went to the big screen) was a phenomenon fueled to a great extent by word of mouth. The story of what God was doing through Teen Challenge ministry in New York captured hearts and excited a passion to see the same ministry established in other locations. Thousands of people from around the nation, and eventually around the world flocked to Brooklyn to see for themselves what was happening. From those small beginnings God powerfully increased Teen Challenge into a worldwide ministry that has grown exponentially with more than 200 centers in the United States and over 1,000 in 104 countries around the world!



In 2014, 88 acres with 22 buildings was gifted to Teen Challenge New Jersey allowing them to move from Newark to Lebanon and increase to 90 beds. Three other properties were also donated in Nashua, New Hampshire, Middletown, Connecticut, and Pilesgrove, New Jersey.

The third book of graduates’ success stories in a series entitled, Changed Lives – Ten True Stories: From addiction to Freedom, was just published. In January 2017, a short-term program Bloom – a Place For Girls opens for adolescent girls aged 12-17 struggling with addiction, rebellion, or former sex trafficking. More than 400 adult men, women and teens can now be cared for on the Teen Challenge campuses throughout New England and New Jersey.

Teen Challenge New Jersey leaders and staff continue to keep “students first”, depend on God, work hard and always believe for more changed lives.



  • Passionate
  • Productive
  • Positive
  • Professional
  • Persistent



Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey exists to bring life changing hope to addicts and their families.



Confronted by Hope – Walking in Freedom – Living with Purpose