Teen Challenge

Teen Challenge

WellConnected has been doing research around the world to find the best local ministries and unique program models in next-generation ministry, based on expert recommendations. We found Teen Challenge. Watch the video above to find out why!

The Story

Late in the 1980s, the city of Desamparados, Costa Rica was riddled with neighborhoods where education was inconsistent, and where substance addiction was rampant among even the youngest school children. Local youth pastor Walter Garro saw the need for a drug prevention program that specifically targeted youth. He responded by immersing himself in prayer, and in the writing of David Wilkerson, the future founder of Teen Challenge. 

At a local prayer event, Garro audibly heard the voice of God, who told him to pray that David Wilkerson would come to help him build a youth drug prevention program in Desamparados. Garro had only been operating his own fledgling version, “Drogras No, Jesus Si” (Drugs, No. Jesus, Yes), for a short while before David Wilkerson arrived on his doorstep. “I’ve only come because God asked me to,” he said. 

Together, they officially opened Teen Challenge in 1993, and since then, our program has grown into a thriving, evangelical anti-drug campaign that provides shelter, food, counseling, and education reinforcement for school children from preschool through their teenage years. 

Whether written, spoken, or dramatically performed, the scripture has been a primary component of our ministry since the beginning. Capitalizing on the fundamental value of each person affirmed by the ministry of Christ, we focus on prevention through empowerment and work to make sure all of the children we serve are safe and happy. 

From early on, we have also been advocates in local schools and churches. We have developed campaign materials designed to educate our community about the deep needs and difficult decisions our children are facing every day. We now serve more than forty children, and are eager to expand, because though our results have been measurable, the need is still very great. 


Teen Challenge is specifically targeted to prevent substance abuse in local school children. Recently, we have been especially focused on reaching the very youngest age groups, from preschool through grammar school. 


We provide safe space, food, supplementary education, and counseling to children in an openly evangelical context. 


Our goal is to measurably decrease the youth drug addiction statistics in the Desamparados area and to introduce as many young people as possible to the Gospel of Christ along the way. 


We partner with local churches, volunteers, and NGOs–like Costa Rica's National Children's Trust–to provide high-caliber resources for our small, vital, and specialized ministry. 

Questions & Answers

What is the ultimate vision and dream of your ministry?

Our vision is to become a model center for other ministries who want to work with children to prevent substance addiction, and foster a better quality of physical and spiritual life. We want to open at least one Teen Challenge center in all eighty of Costa Rica's cantones (states).

How did you initially design and develop this program?

Teen Challenge began as a small, independent ministry called Drogras No, Jesus Si (Drugs, No. Jesus, Yes), which provided safety, food, and counseling to local young people in Desamparados. Once we were joined by David Wilkerson, we expanded into a larger and better-resourced campaign that serves as a model for the entire region. 

How do you know it is working?

Our research indicates that local youth drug addiction statistics are decreasing as a direct result of our work. Personally, we have seen profound results in young people that graduate from Teen Challenge, who reenter their communities and local churches in a state of freedom and restoration. Parents have also given us consistent positive feedback. 

How would you like to see it improve and grow?

We want to expand enrollment at the Desamparados Teen Challenge center from forty to one hundred and fifty children. Eventually, we hope to open centers in major towns and cities across Costa Rica. 

What recommendations would you have for someone doing a similar ministry? 

Support hard work with fervent prayer, and do not be afraid to act and pray boldly. Our very small, but well-planned and visionary ministry did not appear to have much local impact at first, but our model eventually drew the right people to the cause, and from there, expansion was rapid. 

Core Values

Education. Supplementary classes and counseling will always be at the core of our program because we know that substance abuse is best resisted by educated and empowered young people. 

Evangelism. The scriptures are an integral part of all our miniseries because we believe that the power to prevent and overcome addiction ultimately comes from the Gospel of Christ, the love of the Father, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Cooperation. We work with local churches, NGOs, and schools to get the word out about our ministry because we believe that the best and fastest way to reach young people is to meet them in the places and institutions where they already live. 

Check out more case studies on the state of children and youth ministry in Costa Rica!

For more in-depth research on ministry in Costa Rica, check out our Asset Mapping report on children and youth ministry!