Teen Challenge Choir
Rehearsal of Teen Challenge choir
By LINDA M. LINONIS
Ohio Valley Teen Challenge Choir pitches more than music when it performs. Members share powerful testimonies of their journeys from addiction to new beginnings.
Tyler Wisser, 23, is outreach coordinator, who schedules programs; and Ricky Jewell, 20, choir director and worship leader. Wisser said the choir was formed soon after Ohio Valley Teen Challenge was established in 2009. It’s a voluntary activity in the program for men 18 and older with addiction issues.
“There are standards for participation,” Wisser said, noting singers must have been in the program six months and be up-to-date on school. “Those in the choir are role models of the program,” he said.
The choir sings mostly contemporary Christian selections that Jewell picks. “My mother was a worship pastor, and I learned a lot from her,” he said.
Jewell can identify with choir members because he also had a drug addiction; he graduated from the program in August. “In the program, you take responsibility for your life,” he said. “The choir allows participants to express themselves ... and be involved in public speaking and performing.”
He said some song choices reflect “what people are dealing with.” The song, “I Know Who I Am,” is about finding your identity, he said, and that’s what happens to participants. “The songs are meaningful in their lives.”
Depending on the church, school or organization where the choir performs, the group sings one to four songs in a program up to 45 minutes long.
The skit team offers testimonies of how drug and/or alcohol played havoc in their lives and how the faith-based Teen Challenge program changed their thinking, overhauled their behavior and made their lives livable. “They share bullet-point testimonies,” Wisser explained, about the reality of their lives being addicted and their new truth. “Their lives have been restored,” he said.
Through the choir and members’ testimonies, Wisser said, “We show what Jesus Christ can do. We preach a message of hope and what the power of God can do.”
Three participants in Ohio Valley Teen Challenge shared their stories. Brant Bolen, 30, said he grew up in a small Ohio town in a middle-class family. His grandfather was a pastor, and he attended church.
Bolen worked in a factory. “I started to spiral downward slowly. My whole life began to be a mess, and I was trying to clean it up.” He enlisted in the Army to straighten out. “The problem was I took myself with me,” he said. By the time he was 25, he had been married and divorced twice and had two children.
“I was in and out of rehab. I was addicted to heroin and bath salts,” he recalled. “My life was garbage.”
Arrested in 2012, a court order sent him to Ohio Valley Teen Challenge. “It changed my life,” he said of the program. He then served as a youth pastor for a time, then relapsed. “The probation violation landed me in prison at Mansfield,” Bolen said. After his release, he returned to Teen Challenge. “I got sober,” he said, noting he will graduate from the program in January 2017. He then will participate in its Extended Leadership Program.
Bolen said the faith-based component of Teen Challenge makes it different and the reason why it succeeds. “Other programs seem to be a bandage on slit wrists,” he said. “This takes you from darkness to light and relationships are restored.”
Cody Mihok, 22, said he grew up in North Canton, and he was in three sports. He had a 3.98 grade point average. Before his senior year of high school, his father’s work transfer moved the family to Minnesota. Mihok said his grade average dropped to a 3.2 and he was in one sport. “I started using Xanax,” he said. “I was stealing to buy.”
His life was in turmoil as he had moved 11 times in two years. “I remember sleeping on a dealer’s floor in North Canton,” he said. There, he was pulled over by a police officer who had been a friend. “I got arrested,” he said. Discussing the situation with his parents, who had alcohol issues, Mihok came to Teen Challenge. “It was by the grace of God,” he said, adding “God has changed my parents, too.”
“Being part of the choir is being part of something ... an intimate relationship,” Mihok said. “Knowing I can help people come to God is transforming.”
Mihok will graduate in July 2017 and plans to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
B.J. Lawrence, 31, is married, has three sons and served in the Marine Corps. “I was sexually abused when I was young at a church,” he said. “My life was filled with sex and violence.”
The Warren man said while he was trying to support his family, he became addicted to heroin and cocaine and that compromised his efforts. “My life was out of control,” he said, adding he was on his way to ending up in prison.
He heard about Teen Challenge.
“God put it on my heart,” Lawrence said of coming to the program. “This is restorative healing.” His relationship with his family has been restored. He will graduate in February 2017.