MIDLAND Teen Challenge of the Permian Basin is well-named because, while most of its students are not teenagers, they’re strenuously challenged to shun drugs, alcohol and other features of their previous lifestyles and commit to the disciplines of Christianity.
Executive Director David Day says the year-long program, part of a national organization that also has centers at Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso, “is comparable to a boot camp except that it is a spiritual boot camp.
“We’re not looking for a mind change, we’re looking for a heart change,” said Day, 71, who retired as West Texas regional manager of Exxon-Mobil before coming to the program 10 years ago. “I’m not going to cuss them and treat them like dogs, I’m going to love them.
“They’re 18 and above, and we have had 60-year-old men and women. It’s a deep pit they have drilled themselves into, and only Jesus Christ can take them out of the miry clay and put their feet on solid rock.”
Not all the 38 men in the 70-acre Teen Challenge complex at 6901 S. County Road 1200 and 16 women at the nearby Women’s Center, who live and are taught separately, have drug or alcohol problems; some struggle with depression, anger, addiction to Internet pornography and other issues, and some are sent here by judges as a condition of probation.
They arise at 5:30 a.m. to do chores, pray, study the Bible, attend chapel services and classes and make crosses to be sold online and to churches; then they go out to clean churches, help people move, mow lawns and do other contracted work for which they earn $12 an hour to help finance the center. After nine months, they go into the societal re-entry phase, living at a house in Midland and holding jobs from which they save money, and after a year they graduate in 7 p.m. chapel ceremonies on the first Fridays of most months.
The students or their families are asked for $2,500 when they enroll in the completely faith-based program, but fewer than a third pay the full amount. They’re admitted anyway and get free food and lodging in comfortable dormitories divided according to what phase they are in, “lower,” “middle” or “upper.”
Teen Challenge has a $1.5-million budget that Day said is largely financed by donors. “People come in hopeless, and they have an opportunity for something better in Christ Jesus,” he said.
“We enroll about 100 students per year and graduate 35-40. Secular 30-day programs have a success rate of one to two percent. Society likes a microwave situation, ‘pop’ and it’s done, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a gradual change. Our success rate is 65-70 percent for the ones who complete the program.
“They can leave if they want, but I call the parents and ask them to tell the student he or she is not welcome at home.”
Day said he and the 19 staff members and visiting ministers “first present salvation, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and if you confess him with your mouth and believe in Christ, you can be saved.
“Then we present discipleship, how to walk in Christ, have faith and believe in him,” he said. “When you believe, you can ask and he will hear you. You also have to learn how to abstain from evil and seek the integrity that will bring you in line with the word of God.”
Day said in late February that the students were raising four head of cattle and five hogs to be slaughtered for food. “We are a debt-free operation,” he said, adding that the program was started in 1971 by Ed Gimmell, Jerry Jones, the Rev. Dick Spencer, Fred Gist, the Rev. Jimmy Dennis, Joe Gilmer and J.D. and Dorothy Crawford.
Most of the staffers, including Day’s chief assistant and grant-writer Rick Hart, are graduates.
Hart said Teen Challenge saved his life. “I was a bartender in Lubbock and was on the verge of being homeless when I came here in January 2013,” he said.
“I was drinking myself to death.”
Hart said students may be expelled if they have temper fits or fight or if they try to have relationships with students of the opposite sex. Of course, the use of drugs or alcohol is prohibited, as is any type of smoking.
“It’s a hard program to be here and put your all into it for a solid year,” he said. “The healing power of Jesus can cure it all, but it takes a lot of seeking the Lord and submitting yourself to Him to know you are fixed. We have converted atheists.”
Seth Hamilton of Clovis, N.M., had recently arrived. “The thing I’m most enjoying is Jesus Christ and all the staff and people who are supporting me,” said Hamilton, 39.
“Pain medicine and methamphetamines had taken over my life, but on Valentine’s morning I felt the Holy Spirit come and take all that addiction away from me. I thank the Lord that he directed me to Teen Challenge.”
Earl Walton, a 58-year-old Odessan who graduated in June 2016, was visiting because he “got close to these guys” during his time here, he said.
A life-long oilfield worker, Walton had become addicted to crack cocaine. “I went to a party where people my age had it,” he said.
“My first hit sucked me in, and I couldn’t get away from it. This is a life-saving ministry. I care a lot more about people now and minister to the people I work with.”
Twenty-year-old Tennessean Kile Grady had developed a severe drug problem when his mother, who had graduated here as a teenager, helped him enroll. “I’ve been here for eight months and am in the upper dorm,” Grady said.
“Everything was crumbling around me, but now I have a restored life and new hope in Christ. I have all the tools I need to go out there in the world and succeed.”