TF Highlight

Name: Tyler Graeff

Age: 28 years old

Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Teen Challenge Center: Orlando, January 2017

Brief Testimony: I entered the doors of teen challenge lost, broken and hopeless, living a life of addiction and depression. After trying multiple rehabs, medications, counselors, arrests, and different recovery programs, I had exhausted all my options in the world. I cried out to Jesus and asked him into my heart the second week of my program. At that moment my life shifted, from darkness to light. I encountered Jesus and everything in my life changed. He set me free from addiction, depression, diagnosed PTSD and has called me to preach the gospel and stand in the gap for the lost.

What do you enjoy most about your role? I enjoy watching the Lord develop leaders around me. Seeing our guys grow in their leadership roles and responsibilities is a joy as God raises up the next generation of leadership. It’s an honor to serve God as the TF in Orlando.

Why do you feel that leadership and training are valuable? God needs soldiers for His army and kingdom. Training is essential to be equipped to pursue the higher calling each one of us has in the Lord. Without training or a plan, we can be rendered ineffective as ministers.

Participant Hightlight

Name: Joshua Kreacic

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio.

Age: 28 years old

Teen Challenge Program: Orlando, 2018

Testimony: I have experienced the unfailing love, and mercy of God that I can only attempt to put in words. Drug addiction and the devastating ripple effect it has on those around seemed to be the norm of my reality growing up. My biological father had deceased from an overdose and was never given an opportunity to meet him and eventually was told the truth in high school that my Dad was not my biological father. Betrayal, abandonment, and identity issues were deep issues I couldn’t seem to cover up. Overdoses, jails, and multiple rehabs were all apart of my story with God’s grace and love disguised in everyone. My life was taken back by the love of Jesus when God pursued me after the two recent tragic losses of my mother and brother from both drug-related incidents. Today, I walk in the forgiveness, and freedom from the tormenting lies I receive through Christ with no shame of what I have done because he has used to it help bring others the same forgiveness and new beginnings by being places others have been.

Vision and Calling: God has given me the vision to continue with Teen Challenge and to further my education, better equipping me with experience and tools to bring those shackled in sin to the freedom of a new life.

How has ELP Impacted you? The ELP program has brought ample awareness to characteristics of myself, good and bad, that can be sharpened to bring forth effective discipleship. From identifying other’s character traits, confronting potential failures, to establishing necessary boundaries are all essential to be the most effective leader here at Teen Challenge, as well as one of my God-given heart desires of being the most efficient leader of my household I can be.

TF Highlight

Name: Samantha White

Age: 29

Hometown: Bristol, Connecticut

Teen Challenge Center: Jacksonville Women’s Center

Brief Testimony (3-5 sentences): I was saved when I was a young girl and surrendered my life to full time Christian ministry as a teenager after returning from a missions trip to Central America. Since then I’ve not looked back from the call to serve the Lord with my life. I now have the immense privilege to be the Director of the Women’s Center here in Jacksonville and am currently serving as the Training Facilitator as well, raising up the next generation of leaders.

What do you enjoy most about your role? Seeing women answer the call that the Lord has put on their hearts and seeing them be stretched as they take on more responsibility and in turn grow through the stretching. Women who walk through ELP become such strong women of God!

Why do you feel that leadership and training are valuable?  There are so many tools available for individuals to grow in their leadership, whether someone is at Teen Challenge or not. But if we at Teen Challenge fail to provide the training that is readily available we aren’t doing our very best to steward the lives of those who feel a call to ministry. At Teen Challenge we have the opportunity to first and foremost offer hope when a student walks through our doors, then to guide them to recognize their significance in Christ, and then we have the honor to be able to raise them up to be the men and women God is calling them to be. ELP is such an important piece in the process of life transformation for those who feel called to ministry!

Main Article – To Be or Not to Be

By: Bryan Sampson

Why is it such a battle to be who God has called us to be? I remember the transition from being a student into an intern with Teen Challenge Orlando like it was yesterday. A fierce conflict between being a friend and being a leader to the student body ensued in me. I was met with many internal and external challenges as I tried to maintain my friendships but also lead with boldness and courage. Needless to say, I was not enjoying being an intern as my need for approval from both the students and the staff was negatively impacting my work. I soon realized that it is impossible to please everyone and do my job with integrity and excellence, so which do I choose? Please the students or please the staff? To my surprise the answer was neither.

The solution was to find my identity, acceptance, and value in my relationship with Christ first and foremost. Trying to be who everyone else wanted me to be was robbing me from being who God created me to be. E.E. Cummings writes, “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight—and never stop fighting.” (Witt, 2018, p. 68).

I don’t know if you share in my struggle of people pleasing, but I know that we all live in a world that wants to block us from walking in our true identity with Christ and tempt us to chase after illusionary idols to find value and meaning from people and things that do not satisfy and only discourage. This is the battle we must fight against everyday if we are to become the men and women God is calling us to be. Think of the impact of a team where each member is solidified in their true identity where peace, courage, and God’s glory reign supreme and self-centered struggles and ambitions cease to exists! 

Meditate on the truth that Christ came to remove the burden of legalistic, people pleasing pursuits where our “being has become our doing” and He wants us to enjoy the reality that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Once we identify with our son-ship in Christ, then we can fill every earthly role for His glory and watch Him bring transformation to our teams and in through our programs.

Works Cited

Witt, L. (2018). High Impact Teams: where healthy meets high performance. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

ELP Participant Highlight

Name: CJ Hutto

Age: 19

Hometown: Eufaula, AL

Teen Challenge Center: Jacksonville women’s center, graduated January 2019

Brief Testimony: My Grandparents raised me because my Mother and Father cared about drugs and alcohol more than me. That caused me to feel like I was not good enough to be loved. At a young age I was molested by a family member and I quickly turned to food. Food was my comfort for a while and then something in me changed and food became my worst enemy. I found myself bound by an eating disorder. I just wanted something to fill the void inside of me so I started looking for love in all the wrong places. I got involved with a guy and he introduced me to drugs and I then understood why my Father was so caught up in that lifestyle. Soon later I was sitting in jail all by myself thinking of all the mistakes I did to get myself there. God showed me mercy. I deserved to sit in jail but God had a plan for me. I came to Teen Challenge and my life has done a complete 180. God has delivered me from my chains and has set me free!!

What is the vision and calling that God has given you? God has been speaking to me about becoming staff at Teen Challenge. I know I want to help people become what God has called them to be. Wherever God leads me, I’ll go.

How has the ELP Program impacted you? Since being in ELP I have grown so much. I am growing as a leader and women of God. I am so grateful for this program!

TF Highlight

Name: Kevin Campos

Age: 25

Hometown: Satellite Beach, FL

Teen Challenge Center: Graduated Central Florida Teen Challenge in 2015, Working at Tallahassee Teen Challenge since 2017

Brief Testimony: I was raised with a loving family and going to church, although never had a true relationship with God. When my dreams to receive a college scholarship for football were crushed, I turned to drugs, stealing and bad relationships to find my purpose. After many arrests, moving from city to city and burning bridges between family and friends, I was left with no choice, but to change my life. Teen Challenge accepted me, regardless of my financial situation and that’s where I became a disciple of the faith. Since then, the Lord has blessed me with provisions, gifts, motivation, discipline, education, a purpose and most of all the priceless benefits of the best family and friends anyone could ask for.

What do you enjoy most about your role? What I enjoy most about my role are the moments I experience as a teacher and spiritual leader, to witness men and women choose to love God and live it out in the context of the Word of God.  

Why do you feel that leadership and training are valuable? Leadership and the training that accompanies it are necessary and valuable because in order to fulfill the great commission and make disciples, there needs to be a sense of leadership and taking responsibility to influence others in the best way that promotes Christ-like change. And although someone can be naturally talented in qualities of a leader, much like a naturally talented athlete, we will never reach our full potential and have others grow in their level of potential without choosing to be trained well and training others along the way.

ELP Participant Highlight

Name: Ezra Perez

Age: 38

Hometown: Pensacola, FL

Teen Challenge Center: Tallahassee, FL – 2012

Brief Testimony: God spared my life in April of 2015. He had a greater purpose for me than being the drug addicted, alcoholic son of a single mother. After 25 years of addiction and incarceration, God provided my escape. I have been living for Him ever since.

What is the vision and calling that God has given you: To help others find freedom from the their addictions while pursuing a better relationship with our Lord and Savior.

How has the ELP Program impacted you: The ELP Program has helped me further develop my leadership skills, and continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Main Article – Finding Your Rhythm

By: Bryan Sampson

I remember the first time I tried paddle boarding. I wouldn’t recommend trying on the ocean for your first time. Needless to say, I couldn’t stay on the board for more than a couple of seconds; just long enough for the next wave to knock me over. As the sun bore down and the waves kept crashing into me, I kept trying, growing more and more frustrated. I could not keep my balance to save my life. I thought that mental focus would help, so I focused more intently on my body, just to be tossed aside time and time again. Nearing the end of my patience, I decided to start praying. Interestingly the more I forgot about balance and focused on God, the longer I stayed on the board. I was shocked and elated at this revelation of were to focus my consciousness. By not focusing on my balance, my body would properly adjust to every wave, keeping a perfect rhythm, that allowed me to stay on the board and start paddling. My focus switched from balance to rhythm.

I believe this picture captures the essence of what Lance Witt (2018) was getting at in establishing rhythm (see p.53). Life, like the waves in the ocean, has a lot of ups and downs, calmness and motion and if we try to keep balance, we will constantly find ourselves frustrated and weary of our pursuits. So how do we switch from the pursuit of balance to the dance of rhythm? God gave us the practical strategy to help us live a life of rhythm and it is called Sabbath.

There will always be more to do, more to strive for, and more to accomplish, but you can choose a rhythm for your life that allows you to stop, rest, and restore. God gave you the Sabbath as a gift. How are you treating it? Witt (2018) states that “if you don’t have a biblical and theological conviction about the practice of Sabbath, the gravitational pull toward busyness will always win”. If busyness is always winning in your life, what is your prognosis? Balance or burnout?

Take time today and start to think about how you can begin to consistently participate in Sabbath keeping. Think about ways that will help you connect with God, relax, and restore. Find a hobby, meet with friends, go to a movie, go shopping, whatever it is, go enjoy yourself and relax. Remember God infused the Sabbath day with blessings (Exod. 20:11) and a healthy you is the best gift you can give your team (Witt, 2018).

Main Article – Rapid Distraction

By: Bryan Sampson

I have always been fascinated with how God can use natural wonders to show us spiritual and immaterial truths. Truths that help us gain greater insights into ourselves and into His character (Rom 1:20). The other day I was walking by the river here in Columbus and the rapids were raging. After marveling at the beautiful fury, I began to wonder “what could possibly be going on underneath all of those waves?” I then began to think about how my life is very similar to those rapids. On the top, it can be so busy, so much going on, that it would mimic the rushing white water. Go, go, go! No time to do any self-reflection or to nurture and care for my internal parts. The rapids get all the focus.

When the busyness of life takes center stage, our awareness of what is going on internally can easily drift away. Our lives can easily become roaring rapids, with so much external commotion going on that our inner life begins to be neglected. Paul makes clear that our spirit is in danger of being contaminated (2 Cor. 7:1). When the externals of your life gain more attention than the internal, you will try to manage your brokenness by adjusting and rearranging the externals in your life (Witt, 2018). This only turns a smooth river into white water, as you head for disaster.

I encourage you today to take time to find a quiet place, to do some self-reflection with just you and your Heavenly Father. Don’t miss these God-given opportunities to engage in peaceful personal reflection. These are the moments that keep you healthy, humble, and strengthened to continue to do the job God has set forth. Remember the best gift you can give your spouse, family, and team is a healthy you (Witt, 2018 p. 39).

March Participant Highlight

Name: Hannah Adams

Age: 25

Home Town: Charlotte, NC

Teen Challenege Center: Kansas City Girls Academy

Brief Testimony: I was raised in a Christian home and heard the gospel multiple times before I decided to put my faith in Christ when I was 8 years old. I came to understand that faith in Christ alone is our only hope for salvation. Since then, God has used multiple people and situations in my life to sanctify me and show me just how much I need Him. A verse that comes to mind and that has been convicting for me lately is Revelation 2:5 “you have perseverance and have endured for my name’s sake and have not grown weary. But I have this against you , that you have left your first love.” It can be easy to get so caught up pointing others to Christ that I forget my own need for the gospel; my prayer is that I wouldn’t be like the Ephesians but would be constantly reminded and humbled to depend on God that much more. 

What is the vision and calling God has given you? To be used by God as conduit for life-change for others so that they may be sent out to do the same. My life has been transformed by the gospel and I have a deep desire to share the hope fo the gospel with those God has placed in my life. From a young age (in 2nd grade) I felt God was calling me to ministry and I thought that missions was how He was going to use me in that. As I got older and prayed more specifically for direction and clarity with that call, He showed me that counseling was what He had planned for me to do. Then, at the perfect time, He gave me the opportunity to work at TC to do just that.

How has the ELP Program Impacted You?  So far, I’ve been encouraged that the ministry I am a part of is not my own, but that it is God’s and I just have the privilege to a part of it. It’s also been cool to be reminded that my job as a counselor (or even as a Christian for that matter) is to be obedient and God will bring the change in His time. Trusting in His timing is easier said than done, but it produces and even deeper dependence on Him.